I hate to speak against the Church or various movements within the Church, but I have to admit that it has always bothered me to see the way many pastors seem to set themselves up as “rock stars” within their congregations and within the Christian world. And sometimes it’s not that they set themselves up as rock stars, but it’s their churches or Christians in general who elevate them to that status.
I am happy that these pastors and ministries often win souls to Christ. At least the message of the good news of Christ is being proclaimed (Philippians 1:15-18). That is why I normally don’t speak against others or write blog posts like this.
However, in the past few weeks we’ve seen the sad events unfold around the indiscretions of Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and this has renewed my concerns about this approach to Christianity. Let me say here that I am not trying to say that Mark has sought that rock star status. I have no way of being able to discern his motives. He has clearly done many great things for God’s Kingdom and has rescued many souls along the way. And I don’t believe the last chapter has been written for his ministry.
I just feel like pastors, ministries, churches, etc. that have a rock star mentality are extremely vulnerable to Satan’s attacks, and there is a huge risk of hurting a lot of people who are watching. The rock star model for ministry leadership is certainly not a healthy, sustainable approach.
Jesus never set Himself up as a rock star. If anyone could have done so, it would have been the Son of God. But that was not his approach. No laser light shows, no smoke machines, no tour buses. Jesus modeled servanthood, humility, and sacrifice.
Consider the most amazing sermon that has ever been delivered on this side of the universe: The Sermon on the Mount. Here are a few snippets that contrast greatly with the rock star mentality that we see so often today:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
14 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.
15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Later in the same sermon, Jesus rebukes those who do their spiritual work in order to be seen and honored by men. Ponder His words here:
1 “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.
5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
8 Therefore do not be like them.
Likewise, Paul also echoed this humble approach. For instance he made these statements to the believers in Philippi:
3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,
7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
My hope is that pastors and churches and ministries will work to make Christ the true Star of their ministries. Self-promotion needs to go. Celebrity status should be rejected.
Pastors, resist the seductive lure of fame and popularity. Do not allow people to lift you up, and certainly do not engage in self-promotion. Work to become invisible so that others can see Christ through you.
Church members, avoid the tendency to elevate Christian leaders to rock star status. They are simply people, just like you.
For another interesting twist on this subject check out this podcast by Brant Hansen here (Brant and Sherri).
By the way, I’d love to hear your comments about this subject. Do you agree with me here? Disagree? Let me hear your feedback!
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Chris Russell (send me a Facebook friend request!)
Veritas Church (Cincinnati, OH)
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12 thoughts on “Rock Star Pastors”
I agree with you. The different coloured lights on the platform tend to draw attention to those up there instead of on Christ.
Chris, I agree. The cult of personality is alive and well in evangelical America. I think that early on, this happened somewhat innocently, in that pastors didn’t seek rock star status because it wasn’t even on the menu of available options. Rather, it was gradually put upon them as their ministries grew, particularly through the media of TV and radio. Some were able to handle it and stay humble (e.g., Billy Graham), and others weren’t. Today, I think that some actively seek it, and that immature congregations actively award it as they rally around personality and style instead of the faithful teaching of the Word of God.
Phil Vischer and Skye Jethani have talked about this quite a bit on the Phil Vischer Podcast (highly recommended!) in recent weeks as a result of the Driscoll situation and the scandal around Michael Gungor. Some interesting points they’ve made relate to what you just wrote about.
One, evangelicalism really has no formal structure of accountability within it. On one end of the spectrum you have the Roman Catholic church or even the Mormon church, where there is a very clear chain of leadership and accountability in everything from doctrine to practice to government. On the other end of the same spectrum are megachurches where the senior pastor is accountable to no one. In fact, in many (such as Mars Hill), the church board is made up of pastors of other megas rather than laypeople within said church. They handle issues for a body they’re not even in, and even set one another’s salaries (congregants often not even knowing how much the pastor makes). When a pastor goes off the rails of doctrinal orthodoxy, there is no internal structure to right his trajectory and no denominational oversight to make sure that the overall statement of faith is intact. I think a healthy church’s structure is somewhere between these two extremes, as rock stardom is easily achievable when a pastor has the final (or only) say in what will happen and how. Add to that the young age that some of these men are when they grow or inherit a mega, and it’s no wonder they succumb to temptation when they don’t have their own depth of mature experience to draw on and nobody at their side to say, “Whoa there, wait a minute son.”
Second, when I think of a pastor, I think of a shepherd with sheep. “If you love me, feed my sheep.” “My sheep hear my voice and they know me.” How many congregants in a megachurch actually know the senior pastor, and vice versa? In fact, many are now called “teaching pastor” because they don’t do any direct guidance with the flock on a personal level, they just speak. I don’t want to minimize the time and energy it would take to prepare and deliver a good message in four services every weekend, but not having a relationship with my pastor on a personal basis would bother me a great deal. When the pastor doesn’t have individual names and faces and lives and struggles to think about and deal with, all that’s left for him to think about is himself. And you’ve stated pretty well in your blog post where that can lead.
Great insight, Mark. Do you blog? You are clearly an excellent writer!
I don’t. I enjoy writing and I’ve considered it, but haven’t gone there. I’m not sure I have anything new to say.
I would recommend that you revisit that idea!
Thank you so much for this article. I think about this issue a lot. I’m not a pastor but the state of the church today is so different from when I got saved, and I feel I must be very vigilant to keep out of the stream of pastor worship and prosperity motivated.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe God wants to prosper us in every way–he says that. BUT, we must first have our spiritual priorities in order.
That churches use garish neon signs outdoors and smoke machines inside boggles my mind. Some churches even want to have a “brand.” This is opposite of Jesus. A brand means it’s about us, not the Lord. Jesus made himself of no reputation. I believe if we preach Jesus, he will add daily such as should be saved.
There are even “how to” teachings on FB about increasing membership. Isn’t it about increasing souls?
P.S. I do like your sensible, balanced teaching.
Thank you for the response. You make such great points here!
Interesting topic for me since I attend (and am very involved in) a megachurch with a nationally known pastor. I would add a couple of things to the conversation based on my experience there for the past ten years:
– Doctrine has to be the standard. In any church, of any size, with any pastor, there is no substitute for being a faithful Berean.
– It’s a rather amazing thing to watch the response to a very gifted teaching pastor. People visit the church, they hear the teaching, and they stay. They grow, and the church grows. Continually. While I understand that many people distrust large churches, the reality is that some churches will never grow beyond a certain size because the quality of the teaching (or their execution of ministry overall) is not that great. I am NOT saying that all large churches have good teaching pastors (obviously that is false), and I am absolutely NOT saying that small churches do not have good teaching (I LOVED my small church in previous years). What I am saying is that spiritually hungry people flock to good Biblical teaching, and only a deliberate decision to turn people away will stop it. It’s a blessing that requires godly stewardship.
– I am a believer in elder-run churches. I will never participate in a church with a voting congregation again, as it gives a platform and a lever of influence to spiritually immature or even destructive members. It can allow for factions to develop, and can bind the hands of the most mature people in the church who are willing to serve as elders. If I can’t trust my elders and see the fruit of their leadership and wisdom, then I am out of that church.
– In my experience, my church is subject to more scrutiny related to their programs, teaching, doctrine, and conduct than my previous 200 member church ever was. People often suppose that megachurches cannot preach the truth because they’ll lose members, which they need to feed their overhead (which is nonsense; if you attract people with God’s Word, you will keep them with God’s Word). But that cuts both ways. In a good megachurch, if you compromise you will lose membership. There is accountability, and it is rather inflexible.
– There is an industry/network of “discernment” ministries/blogs which make a lifestyle of drawing conclusions about churches and pastors based on one half (or less) of the story. I have heard ministries I admire commenting and pontificating with perfect confidence in what they are saying about my pastor and my church, in instances when I personally know for a fact that they are dead wrong and do not have accurate or complete information. This has really given me pause about the gossip mill related to churches, whether it is coming via Christianity Today, or a former congregant with a blog. Obviously, some failures are public, factual, and indefensible. But I have really been shaken and convicted by my experiences in this regard.
It’s a tough subject. I have a list of personalities and ministries that I dislike and disagree with based on doctrine, conduct, etc. But all churches are different… there’s no more a typical megachurch/pastor than a typical small church/pastor.
Excellent insight, Mike! And I especially liked your comment that “It’s a blessing that requires godly stewardship.”
Self Inflicted attention of their own making?
How really can we as Christians go about and around that issue.we want our own(Christian) entertainment, separate and different from that of the secular society.and as for the younger generations (or even the not so young ones) it’s so like a norm forthem to be looking for role-models. So the idea isilets have our own (Christian) kind of music focused on praising/worshiping our CREATOR,what goes beyond that ,ESPE. IF its beyond our power to control, maybe better left to GOD.
In response to the subject of Christian entertainment – most Christian forays into drama and/or comedy are sappy and boring. Life is gritty. Christian life is gritty and impure. Christian entertainment would be more entertaining if it portrayed the complexities (within and without) of our struggle to live as Christians in a fallen world.
On the subject of rock star pastors. . . what’re you gonna do? A lot — I mean a LOT — of people will not seek or tolerate sound teaching. But they still think they ought to go to church. Also — small church, medium church, large church, pastors with a shepherd’s heart are in short supply. I wish I could do more than just bemoan conditions, but I really don’t know what to do except to speak up when opportunity arises. I have a Facebook friend who likes to share Joel Osteen platitudes. I comment as to why he is off base. She hasn’t unfriended me yet, and her Osteen posts have dropped off considerably. Whatever that means. . . .