For Pastors: Avoid Celebrity

A couple weeks back I wrote about evangelical groupies and what the average Joe could do to discourage celebrity culture in the church. Now I want to talk to the pastors. I asked this question on twitter a couple weeks back, “What could pastors do to protect themselves from celebrity culture?” and someone replied back that in effective true pastors wouldn’t need this kind of warning. I assume we share a concern for the problem of celebrity but I disagree that we should warn, encourage, and admonish if necessary pastors about this particular issue. Seeking recognition and acceptance is within all of us. We still are sinner and saint, not just saint. So without further ado.

1. Understand the difference between faithfulness and fruitfulness.

Somehow the church has moved from talking about the importance of faithfulness and changed the conversation to fruitfulness. That’s a huge mistake. It eats the brains of the bible’s emphasis on living a life in obedience to the gospel. And replaces it with a scarecrow. You don’t dare enter the field unless you’ve experienced a certain level of fruitfulness.

Instead we need to return to celebrating faithfulness. Most people will not enjoy a ministry followed by thousands or millions. Most people will labor in relative obscurity with little to no recognition, and some possibly working another job. We need to encourage these folks by talking about faithfulness.

2. Don’t act like a celebrity. You’re not Bono.

This encompasses a broad range of things. I’ve heard tells of pastors who roll so deep you’d be hard pressed to touch the fringe of his garments. And if you dare tried to speak to him you might need to be vetted by thirty members of his personal posse. I’m only half joking to make my point because sadly some of this does happen.

Just examine the way you travel and the way you interact with the normal folk. If you don’t act like Justin Bieber being followed by paparazzi then you won’t be encouraging the evangelical groupies.

3. Stop treating church like a venue.

I see two ways this is happening. First, it’s all the rage for church buildings to look nondiscript. Instead of looking like a church building it might look like a venue where Lady Gaga could perform her next smash single. I know I know. I’m being a fuddy duddy. But let’s be honest here. Even our architecture says something about God.

Look at the Roman Catholics cathedrals which are beautiful and vast. They make you feel small and draw your eyes to the mass. Then examine an old reformed church. Still beautiful in many ways but the building points to the word of God and makes God feel present. Finally, our modern architecture. There’s no hard and fast rule about what a church must look like but ask yourself honestly what your goal is. What is the truth about God you seek to convey. Is it that he’s cool? Kind of like a cosmic Bono. Or is he holy, just, loving, and all powerful? Are you building a venue or a church?

Second, stop using terms to describe your church that create a celebrity atmosphere. Hand in hand with the above issue we’ve disregarded common phrases for church stuff and replaced them with terms which might describe anything from a rock concert to a motivational speech. I recall a pastor getting defensive about being loosely tied to a critique of celebrity culture and he said that he does all he can to discourage celebrity culture by exiting the stage right after preaching. More than one person commented on the use of the phrase “stage” and that mingling with your flock wasn’t the problem. There’s actually a twitter parody account @CelebrityPastor which mocks some of the crazy stuff you will see pastors do and say and 90% of it is pastors doing ridiculous things to create entertainment value and encourage celebrity.

Maybe some of this is unavoidable. Maybe not. But again we should at least think hard about these things. Check our hearts. Check our motives. Check the message we’re sending.

4. God’s Kingdom or Your Own?

I saw this tweet today and thought, “Yes this!”

Every pastor has a choice; God's kingdom or their own empire. Church empires come in all colors, sizes, and denominations.

Every pastor should ask this question, “Is it about me or him?” One way I see this played out is when receiving critique. Pastors and average Joe’s included need to learn to grow thicker skin. Especially when debating theological issues people will disagree with you. You must understand this and be able to respond without acting like your mom just took away your favorite toy.

Now on the off chance your position wasn’t interacted with at all and the person beat up a straw man and then made short order with your character, Matthew reminds us to rejoice when we’re lied about (5:12). If it’s about Jesus then as much as you struggle with it, you can let those kinds of criticism roll off your back. If it’s about you then you will most likely respond in anger or bitterness and look silly to the every one else.

Another way in which I see this played out is something I mentioned in my evangelical groupies piece. I have heard more than one pastors tell his people that good church members don’t disagree with their pastors and just fall in line. That can’t be farther from the truth. Good church members are actively involved in the church, hold their pastors accountable, and love each other like family. Now there is a difference between causing division and offering an opinion. But that difference will have to be explored another day.

5. Do the dirty work

I heard one prominent pastor in my area tell his congregation that he didn’t like them. He grinned while explaining that most pastors won’t tell you this but he doesn’t want to come to your house or small chat. He wanted to make sure he didn’t sacrifice family on the altar of church. As if loving your congregation and loving your family were mutually exclusive.

And if he’s visiting you (he got real serious) you’re most likely being carried out on a stretcher. I was slack-jawed. I can’t think of anything more antithetical to pastoral ministry. I can guarantee you this if my kid was sick in the hospital I wouldn’t want him as my pastor.

Pastors if you’re busy getting your hands dirty with your congregation you won’t have time to build your own name. I can’t say it better than this.

Thales, the philosopher, walking in the field at noon, was gazing into the heavens to see the stars, and stumbled into the ditch. So many are gazing after a great estate, but neglecting industry and care, they, by speculation, plunge into the gulf of insolvency and ruin. So, likewise, preachers, sometimes gazing after popularity, or money, like Demes, but neglecting the humble duties of the closet, and the labors of the cross, they fall into the the gulf of apostacy [sic.] and disgrace."

Leland, John The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland (New York: G. W. Wood, 1845), 729.