The Fallacy of Following Celebrity Pastors
It’s always hard to hear when the truth about our heroes comes out. As a kid, I can remember my dad saying not to call them my idols because idols worship was against God.
This becomes kind of a sticky wicket when we talk about it in terms of pastors. The celebrity pastor has been a thing longer than we care to admit. In the Great Awakening, people knew of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, and John Welsey.
We have books we hold dear from these and many others we call heroes of the faith or classic theologians. Just about every pastor’s library has 1-12 of these books in their collection.
So then, why is it hard for us when we see pastors fall today?
Let me explain.
In the last several years, we have seen an unprecedented number of pastors fall from grace, and for some of their “fans,” it has been a hard thing to take.
Why is that?
I believe it is for some of the following reasons.
1. Some were greatly influenced by their ministry and helped shape their walk. Let’s take three of the most recent ones. James MacDonald, Mark Driscoll, and Ravi Zacharias
MacDonald had a nationally syndicated radio ministry, Walk in the Word. He was known for his lighthearted way of teaching it like it is, without adding fluff.
Yet, what was happening behind the scenes told a different story, including investigating him looking to hire a hitman on someone within the church who was against him.
He also was known to purchase luxurious gifts for guest pastors to the church, including a new car for Ed Stetzer when he moved to the Chicago area to teach at Wheaton College. Stetzer has since given the vehicle back.
He would go beyond what many pastors do to treat visiting pastors—demanding that this go onto a special expense account for Harvest Bible. Eventually, investigations were called, and the church risked losing its 501c3 status.
Driscoll was a rising star, someone who at one time said he didn’t want to be a megachurch pastor.
Known to swear from the pulpit, it gained him a following. Holding to Calvinism, he made it cool. But some noticed a double standard with him, along with MacDonald ganged up on Mark Dever in a Gospel Coalition video about Dever’s conviction on megachurches. He would do the same again with Joshua Harris to Francis Chan after Chan resigned from Cornerstone Community Church because he felt God didn’t want megachurches.
Several elders launched complaints against him for his leadership style and behavior. When asked to submit to the authority of the elders, he resigned. The plagiarism also existed first in his book A Call to Resurgence, which led to investigations on other books of his and the eventual pulling of those books.
He has since reneged on Calvinism and called it garbage while pastoring Trinity Church and hanging out with pastors he used to criticize from the pulpit.
Ravi Zacharias is one that was a massive shock to many. The Christian apologist has proven to be anything else.
His books were bestsellers, and he was known as one of the top Christian Apologists globally, debating many skeptics, atheists, and agnostics.
He had an international ministry and radio program that was making an impact on many Christians lives.
Then shortly after he died in 2020, alligations arose that Ravi had not been as he appeared.
Sexual misconduct allegations came from several women, and later it was discovered that he had ties to a sex shop in a massage parlor.
RZMI and his children hired a law firm to investigate the allegations, which turned out to be true. As a result, the Christian and Missionary Alliance posthumously revoked his ordination after conducting their investigation. HarperCollins ceased selling his books, and RZMI has scaled back on what it once did in the reach it had due to defunding from many supporters.
2. We are looking for the next “big thing.”
Let’s be honest for a moment. Many people want to latch to the next big thing and say they were there when it all started.
I have been studying Strauss and Howe’s generational cycle theory for a few years now, and if this is true, we are on the cusp of something, but what, and so it is not surprising that many have been holding on to several pastors as the next big thing.
If we look at the church this cycle alone, we have seen the church growth movement, the church planting movement, and are in the use of the church revitalization movement, of which I am a part of at this moment.
Taking revitalization a decade ago, you were lucky to find two books about it, Gordon MacDonald’s Who Stole My Church? and Thom Rainer’s Who Moved My Pulpit? are probably two of the earliest.
There are countless volumes dedicated to church growth and church planting, but now revitalization is taking off, and there are several “stars” in the movement, but I will say that they are not as prevalent as those in the other two movements
Recently one of these men pointed me to a book by AW Tozer, yes, that classic theologian of the last century, and his book Rut, Rot, and Revival, a book about revitalization. This shows that Solomon had a point saying, “there is nothing new under the sun.”
3. We need to be we. I mean that we need to be the person that God has created us to be.
We try to copy so many of these people because we see their success and want that for ourselves.
Yet, we are beside ourselves when they fall, and we don’t know how to handle our emotions.
I see guys who take offense to the number of projects out there examining the men’s ministries I mentioned. The Rise of Mars Hill is one I see in social media where people are taken back by the investigative look into Driscoll and the church he founded.
One of the hard-to-swallow things for me recently was the account that Driscoll had abandoned a standard size for his church to try and make it reach 50,000 after seeing Rick Warren give the convocational prayer at one of President Obama’s in iterations.
That thinking makes one question a person’s motives, but we also need to remember that not everyone is called to pastor a big church. However, in hindsight, we see what happened to Mars Hill, and many question whether it was a God thing.
This podcast reminds me of Paul’s words in Philippians 1:15-18, where Paul admits that not everyone who preaches Christ is frank, but still, the message gets out there.
We may never understand this side of heaven why God uses people like these three and many others who have come in years since Christ and proven to be false teachers.
But he does, he is God, and we cannot understand his ways versus our ways. However, we often confuse our questioning with reasoning.
Many will not like to reason that these men have done these things because they believe God used them, and he did. We also see the damage done, with many of the people walking away from church and God.
We can get into messy theology in another post, but we have to ask not why or what about these people who walked away. Still, we must look at we should continue to hold a person in high regard when what they have done has caused in many cases irreparable damage to the Church.
That may sound weird to some, but look at revitalizations; many churches have people walk out of their churches because of the damage leaders do all the time.
Leaders need to be held to a high standard, and in many cases, people are afraid because they hear horror stories like MacDonald and Driscoll.
Every situation is different, and so it goes back to us being us. You and I have ministries, but our conditions are different. I do not know where you are, who you pastor, and what difficulties you have.
I am in a rural setting, with a church between 30-40 people, in a 300-year-old historic church. I struggle to get younger families to stay, and the few have prayed for more to come and join the church.
Yet we must rely on the power of God and not on our own or the ministries of others.
I have had to re-examine the ministries I follow over the years. My podcast list is different from 3, 4, 5, even ten years ago. Because I do need to hear fresh ideas, but not every idea will resonate with my ministry.
However, there are podcasts where many unique individuals are pastoring churches similar but different to mine, not selling me on “do these three things” but keep hoping, praying, and moving forward in the mission God has given me.
I pray this was filling for you today.