Addressing the “Celebrity Pastor” Problem
We live in a celebrity culture, a culture which exalts personality over principle, hype over holiness, fame over faithfulness, prestige over prayer.
Regrettably, this celebrity culture has been absorbed by the church today, and it all but dominates the mindset of contemporary Christianity. With the contemporary Christian embrace of celebrity culture has arisen the problematic phenomenon of the “celebrity pastor.”
Certainly the church in the past has produced its share of famous preachers and theologians. We rightly recognize and celebrate great and gifted churchmen and witnesses such as St. Athanasius, St. Augustine, the Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin, and numerous others. We thank God for these gifts of Christ to His church, and we can learn much from such great teachers of the Faith.
But historically the church has recognized and appreciated such men in their capacity as pastor-theologians and faithful witnesses; as faithful-though-flawed men whom God graciously used to carry forward the gospel in our lost world. Not as gospel “celebrities” who build personal empires (known in today’s parlance as “ministries”) centered primarily on their personal charisma, winsomeness, and hip-ness. (Try to picture John Calvin as a “hip” celebrity pastor, dressed in skinny jeans and a t-shirt, covered with tattoos and body piercing, sitting on a bar stool sipping a latte as he has a “conversation” with his congregation about predestination. It just doesn’t work.)
Over at The Gospel Coalition website Jared Wilson has written a highly-relevant and thought-provoking article on “Troubleshooting the Celebrity Pastor Problem”. The link to the article is here: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/gospeldrivenchurch/2016/05/11/troubleshooting-the-celebrity-pastor-problem/#comment-16374
I highly recommend the article.
Here is one of my comments in response to this article:
“Good, thought-provoking article. A number of thoughts:
“(1) I believe video satellite campuses which broadcast a sermon from a preacher/pastor not physically present borders on a neo-gnosticism. Jesus the Good Shepherd became Incarnate and actually dwelt (lived, walked with) among His sheep. He was not a disembodied Savior who only came to us on a video monitor. He continues to be really (though Spiritually) present with His people in the Word and Sacraments. Christ’s undershepherd (the pastor) is called by Christ to be with the sheep he has been called to serve. Except in extraordinary providential circumstances where a pastor is unable to be physically present, the people of God should hear the word of God from the mouth of God’s ordained servant who is physically present in the gathered assembly.
“(2) The megachurch, business-type model for church is simply unbiblical, and the celebrity pastor problem is the bitter fruit of following an unbiblical model for ministry. Christ knows his sheep by name, and He calls his undershepherds to know the sheep entrusted to them by name. This is simply impossible in a megachurch of multiple thousands of people. Churches which are too big for the pastor to actually know the average church member are simply too big. (If you are at a church where you can’t have ready access to your own pastor, then you are at a church that is simply too big.) Pastors and elders will give an account on the last day for the souls entrusted to their care (Heb. 13:17). Even in multi-staff churches, it is simply impossible for effective shepherd-care to take place when the church has multiple thousands of members. The church today needs to get over its addiction to bigness and the hyped-up “next big thing” mindset and return to the old paths of biblical pastoral care and covenantal nurture. And that will mean pastors resisting the temptation to be ecclesiastical CEOs and celebrities and to be content with being servants of the Word who wash the feet of the disciples. Which will, in most cases, mean being content with smaller, less hyped-up churches.
“(3) I believe the problem of the celebrity pastor is also a symptom of the denigration of the ordinary, God-ordained ministry of Word and Sacrament. In Scripture God delivers Christ and His benefits to us by the Word and Sacraments, benefits which we receive by God-given faith alone. “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ…How shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10). But in contemporary mega-churchdom the presence and benefits of Christ are believed to be mediated through the celebrity, “vision-casting” pastor. This is almost a neo-sacerdotalism, as the celebrity pastor (along with the praise team) becomes the new sacramental conduit through which God’s people “experience” God. But in Scripture the man doesn’t matter (1 Cor. 3:1-9); the message and promises of God conveyed in Word and Sacrament through the ministrations of a weak, sinful man called and ordained by God to such a service is what matters.”