Was Jesus a Celebrity Pastor?

Jesus and the crowdsThe apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things –Mark 6:30-34

There’s been a lot of talk about “Celebrity Pastors” lately, especially in light of all the recent Steven Furtick/Mark Driscoll shenanigans. While most of the criticism remains needed, solid, grounded, and helpful, Kevin DeYoung had a few thoughts yesterday, 9 to be exact, that I thought were helpful correctives. (Of course, some might write this off as DeYoung defending himself in advance as a somewhat well-known, well-published, and popular pastor-blogger. I don’t, so I’ll move on.) The first one in particular caught my eye:

The term “celebrity pastor” is decidedly pejorative. I don’t know anyone who would be happy to own the phrase. That doesn’t mean we can’t use it. But it means we should not attach it to pastors in a knee jerk way. A Christian with some combination of influence, social media followers, books, a large church, and speaking engagements may be a public Christian or a well known individual, but let’s not use “celebrity pastor” unless we mean to say he relishes the spotlight, has schemed his way into the spotlight, and carries himself as being above mere mortals. Does this fit some popular preachers? Probably. Does it fit all of them? By no means.

This is important to say: just because so and so happens to be very popular, have a big name, sell books, and so forth, that doesn’t mean they’ve fallen into the celebrity pastor trap. They may just be attracting a lot of attention in the midst of a faithful and smart ministry. I’m struck with the fact that the for the first part of Jesus’ ministry, judging by numbers and popularity alone, Jesus was a celebrity pastor–for a bit.

People crowded towns to see him. They filled up countryside hills like amphitheaters to hear him speak. Everybody wanted him at their dinner parties. They wanted his opinion on important subjects. His ministry was the subject of controversy and great furor…you see where I’m going. Popularity and controversy alone doesn’t make a “celebrity pastor.” What are his practices? Does he seek out the fame? Does he avoid speaking the whole Gospel in order to keep the crowd?

What’s more, the inverse is also true: obscurity and the lack of a New York Times Bestseller is not an automatic badge of righteousness. (Actually, I had one chap boasting at me the other day that he never had a Bestseller. Now, that might have meant something if he had actually written a good book, or really, any book.) DeYoung is insightful here as well:

Let us also acknowledge that one can become something of a “celebrity” critiquing celebrity pastors. This doesn’t make the critiques wrong or inappropriate. But it does mean we aren’t out of the Woods of Pride just because we’ve aligned ourselves against the proud. Besides, are pastors the only Christians susceptible to these pitfalls? What about celebrity professors or celebrity pollsters or celebrity social justice advocates?

Again, the celebrity pastor phenomenon is not a good thing. This is NOT defense of Driscoll or Furtick whose behavior needs to be called out. We need the faithful critics. We just may need to be careful about assuming our own righteousness because we’re so good and ferreting out the wickedness in the hearts of others. I know I’ll probably be a little more careful about the conversations I have around this subject matter.

How about ya’ll out there? What do you think?

Soli Deo Gloria

2 thoughts on “Was Jesus a Celebrity Pastor?

  1. I suspect that today Jesus could have been easily been labeled a “Celebrity Pastor” But I think we do a great disservice to a lot of great churches by lumping all high profile pastors / churches into one negative category. While Jesus walked the earth he used a variety of ways to reach the people and he still does today. We also have to remember that our failings and our sin do not always discount the work Jesus has called us too. For if it did, it would be best for me to stay home.

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