Over the last week, I found myself reflecting on the culture of the celebrity pastor and how we have seen well respected, loved and largely followed men fall from their positions of pastoral authority.
It’s effortless for us to point the finger at them and think, ‘it was about time, it was bound to happen at some point’ or ‘we’re not surprised.’ I know I’ve found myself uttering those words during conversations about James MacDonald’s situation. However, after some further reflecting, I felt challenged by the Holy Spirit to begin asking myself some honest questions.
What is our responsibility?
As a local church pastor, ‘how have I contributed to the erroneous animal that is now the celebrity pastor culture? And how have I encouraged my flock in this direction too?’ Yes, these men are entirely responsible for their own choices, emotional responses, and actions over the years. I don’t want to take anything away from those they have sinned against, but I do think it’s important that we don’t overlook the question, ‘how could we (as the big-C Church) have been better stewards of the power they were given?’ Yes they are talented, and yes they have strong leadership personalities, but let’s face it, without the support and attention, they would never have been elevated the way they had. The power one man or women has is typically given to them by a group of people (large or small) who gravitates to their strengths, resonates with their message and ability to articulate it. I truly believe that God gave them their gifts and skills, but did we then paint them in gold? Did we begin to worship them instead of the one giving the gifts?
No man was created to be an idol
I think of the struggle that the Nation of Israel experienced in their desire to have a king. They wanted to look like the other nations around them that were prospering at the hand of their human leadership. And even though the God of the Universe was their King, they failed to see it and continued to request a monarchy. After a time God gave them over to their desires and raised up kings for them. This era was a season of great unrest in the Nation’s history. Israel experienced over 40 different kings, with only 9 of them being men after God’s own heart, the others fell prey to the temptation of power and prestige. They became men who desired the praise and worship of the people, and the people gave it to them. God’s loving hand eventually removed these kings, and after a significant season of destruction and exile, the Nation of Israel began to see and return to their True King again. Perhaps our hearts still desire an earthly king today, but do we know that no man was created to be worshiped like God?
Our contribution to their fall
The truth is, people, love to belong. People gravitate to strong personalities. And humans often desire to belong to something that is impacting the world in a significant and positive way. Therefore rallying around a vivacious disposition who articulates the message of Jesus effectively, makes complete sense. The danger, however, lies in our temptation to then turn a blind eye on their inconsistencies and character flaws for fear of halting the momentum we want to belong. Making a difference is nice. Making a difference can become our identity. And making a difference comes with a lot of cool things, like awesome worship sets and state of the art facilities. Could it be then, that we have played more of a role in who they’ve become than we care to admit? Could it be that we have failed to stir them towards growth in their weaknesses, and instead hung on their every word and decision as authoritative and profitable for our continued benefit at times? We cannot forget that they, like us, are fallen and broken people who are redeemed by the same grace as you and I?
What can we do?
Now I’m not naive. I am fully aware that most of us don’t have front door access into the lives of these celebrity pastors, which makes the solution to this problem difficult. However, how can we act in such a manner (even from afar) that will promote the health of this person instead of their demise? Honestly, I think it starts with a prayer and a heart change.
Father, give us discernment. Teach us how to embrace these gifted communicators and leaders. Give us the wisdom to love and encourage them well. Convict our hearts when we begin to idolize them, and show us when we value them over you. God, may we always remember that you are our King and Redeemer, not them. And may we never forgot that life, freedom and real prosperity belongs in your hands.
Humbled by an accountable church
As I reflect on own my journey as a pastor, I’m keenly aware that the celebrity pastor culture is not solely exclusive to the mega-church scene. It’s very possible in any sized-church because the issue is not one of size, it’s one of the heart.
I am grateful to God for giving me the church that He did. When I think about this body at Wilson FBC I see a crucial ingredient in our culture that continues to prohibit me from acting out on some of my sinful and selfish tendencies; that ingredient is accountability. I became a Lead Pastor at 22 years of age (after serving as Youth Pastor since 21), and within the first couple of years, we experienced significant growth in our small country context. However, despite that growth, the body has never been shy to hold me accountable, encouraging me to consider the choices I was making on their behalf, as their leader. I can’t say that I enjoyed every challenge or that the motives of all those who challenged were genuine; however, I continue to believe that the principle of accountability remains vital to my health and the health of the church. We must all be willing to kindly to call our leaders (locally, Nationally and Globally) towards explanations when we spot inconsistencies in their character or are confused by their choices, and as leaders, they must be willing to receive the challenges. The more significant the platform, the larger the influence. We must think through ways of encouraging those close to them to press into their motives and desires. We cannot, and must not, for the sake of Jesus’ Bride (the Church) turn a blind eye on the things we see for fear of rejection or halting momentum. Have we walked through tough seasons that dwindled the energy at FBC? Absolutely! Has it been hard at times? Very! But I know that after ten years of pastoring that I would take those hard, humbling seasons any day, over the day I disqualify myself from ministry because I was never held accountable.
This culture is a complex one that doesn’t have an easy answer attached to it, but I know that if we don’t play our part, then we will continue to read articles of Pastors falling.
May we be a people who aren’t searching for another earthly king, but a people who are partnering with our leaders in pursuit of our True King.