Americans have had a long history of celebrity worship. The first movie star was Flo Lawrence, The Biograph Girl, who began her rise in 1907. The cult of celebrities has only increased over the years from movies to radio, then TV. Now athletes are seen as celebrities. Then there’s the “influencers” with their Instagram accounts and even the kids with their own YouTube channels. Various sections of America look to these individuals as celebrities, and they hang on their every word.
Celebrity worship has entered the church. This is not necessarily new, but TV and the Internet have made it easy for some preachers to gain quite a following beyond their local church. Of course, the fact that they have made themselves well-known has only attracted people to whatever churches these pastors lead. With our herd mentality, their churches only grow in size because the pastor has some form of celebrity status. (“Let’s go to his church. Look at how popular he is. He must be doing something right.”)
I’m not throwing pastors of mega-churches under the bus. Just some of them. I know of many—some even personally—who pastor large churches because they care for people; they minister to people; they talk about Jesus; and when they’re finished talking about Jesus, they talk about Jesus some more.
No, the pastors I have a beef with are those who make themselves the center of their ministries. One example is a prominent church in a prominent location in a prominent city. The church’s name is not emblazoned in huge letters on the side of the building, but the pastor’s is.
As with all celebrities, the herd tends to follow whatever the celebrity pastor says or does. Michael Jordan gave a plug for Nike shoes, and the Nike Jordan shoe now carries 75% of basketball shoe sales. Ray-ban sunglasses were about to go under until Tom Cruise wore a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers in Risky Business. Sales shot up 50% for no other reason than Tom Cruise was seen wearing them.
That’s fine if you’re selling footwear and eyewear, but it can be dangerous if the celebrity preacher is hawking a watered-down version of the gospel or is putting his own twist on truth. Too many people are enamored with their celebrity preacher and just assume he’s teaching truth. (“It must be true. Look at how many people listen to him!”)
The first-century church did not have celebrity preachers, but they did have the apostles. These were the Big Dogs who knew Jesus, walked with Him, and were commissioned by Him. And the two who seemed to stand above the others were Peter and Paul. They played key roles in the formation of the church, and yet they never endorsed themselves.
When Paul had a chance to preach in the city of Berea, the people were eager to hear the message but they “examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). You’re questioning Paul the apostle??! Yes—and since they did this, Luke called them noble!
That’s quite different from the Elevation Church coloring book that highlights the importance of following the pastor, Steven Furtick, because God gave him a vision. Apparently, you don’t question the pastor at Elevation Church
Before you jump on the bandwagon with the latest celebrity preacher, place what he says—and does—under the microscope of Scripture. When Paul came to the end of his life, he wrote to Timothy but didn’t tell him which pastor he should now listen to. Instead, he told Timothy to “be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Study Scripture. In the same letter, Paul lifted up the source and value of Scripture.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
In other words, Scripture comes from God and it tells you everything you need to know. Period.
Don’t build an empire around any pastor or preacher. They do not supplant the Bible, and if they claim a vision that says otherwise, that vision is not from God. And, preacher, don’t build an empire around yourself. Preach Jesus and only Jesus.
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