My grandparents’ pastor was a simple guy: Simple home, simple old van, simple garden, simple church building, complete with wooden pews. Well actually, the church building for the first 25 years of ministry was a wooden structure, built in Iowa and hauled – in sections – to the South. It had a pot-bellied stove and cement floor. The new building wasn’t much fancier.
Bro. Ronald Shoesmith didn’t have a book contract or a television ministry. The only jet he’d ever seen flew high overhead. He was a simple gospel preacher, and when he died in 1995, after 53 years of ministry in a rural area, grown men stood and cried, recounting how the Shoesmiths had picked them up for Sunday school, rain or shine.
So it is that I lament the current state of the celebrity preacher in 2013 America.
The hallmark of the modern celebrity preacher is something awfully close to narcissism. They don’t haul their own water. No utilitarian facilities for them. That’s old school, man.
And the flat-out abuses of power that have cropped up only recently are like something out of a crime novel. Seattle Pastor Mark Driscoll was recently outed as a plagiarist by radio show host Janet Mefferd and, incredibly, after several days of a relentless PR machine in action, Driscoll – who never said one word publicly after the infamous radio interview – pulled an apology from Mefferd, who also deleted the clear evidence of his plagiarism, from her website.
This is the same Mark Driscoll, humble shepherd, who infamously advocates running over “bodies” with the “bus” of the vision-casting celebrity preacher when dissenters question the vision and implementation of said vision.
He also referred to discernment ministry folks as “extremist.”
Not a peep from national evangelical leadership.
When Rick Warren tweets that a person’s character is measured by how he or she treats others, then hours later urges followers to un-follow “negative twits,” one is left wondering: Where is the outrage? Where is the accountability?
The modern celebrity preacher’s ministry is marked by privilege, perks, protection from scrutiny and hubris. No one in a position of authority says a word.
And the fawning!
The adulation, backslapping and cross promotion is breathtaking. Steven Furtick provides canned endorsements for his friends’ books, and they in turn invite him to speak at top conferences, et cetera. The marketing of the modern American pastor, something aggressively endorsed by men like Andy Stanley, is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Many of them spend so much time advancing their own personal brands – on church time – it’s amazing members put up with it.
And each celebrity pastor has another’s back.
Driscoll, who is mentored by Warren, tweeted the following fawning message after Warren and his wife, Kay, appeared on “Piers Morgan Live,” discussing the aftermath of their son’s suicide: “With tears in our eyes Grace I watched @RickWarren & Kay on CNN while our 5 babies slept. Great job representing the hope of Jesus.”
No such tears for the people on the receiving end of Driscoll’s Mafia-style PR hits.
Interestingly, in an eerie-though-unintentional nod to Galatians 1:10 – “For I am now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” – Piers Morgan told Warren that their meeting was “the most inspiring interview I’ve ever done.” This from the guy who loves to shove his leftist views down the throats of Americans.
Ed Stetzer, who is somewhat of a key guy in the advancement of celebrity pastors in America, through his position as president of LifeWay Research, also tweeted a fawning ode to the Warrens: “Groups of people watched @RickWarren and @KayWarren1 at the two airports I flew through. Thankful for the #WarrensOnCNN.”
After the Warrens’ son took his own life last spring, several evangelical superstars, including Driscoll and Beth Moore, took to the blogosphere with semi-vicious warnings to discernment folks not to touch Warren. In other words, the tragedy of his son’s death provided cover for Warren and his purpose-driven methods.
No one in leadership seemed to think there was anything wrong with Driscoll’s and Moore’s warnings to “critics.”
Look, friends certainly have the right to support friends. But the culture of celebrity pastor is proving to be a danger to the church in one important area: the agenda.
Most will tell you that the “agenda” is about the gospel. In reality, it is about advancing the personal agendas/vision-casting of the celebrity pastor.
Plainly said, the monolithic big ministry culture is controlling the narrative in America. Mefferd’s fate, along with that of other whistleblowers, proves that the Christian media are in large part identical to that of the secular media: intent on crushing dissent and smearing opponents.
If you are on the celebrity bus to play ball, you advance to some degree through the system. You can play in that world. But if you question the vision-casting, the bus rolls over you.
One has only to listen to the hundreds or thousands of stories of long-time church members who have raised questions about purpose-driven methodologies – only to be shown the door – to know that something is very wrong with the top American evangelical leadership.
The leadership can push Muslim interfaith dialogue, a softening of views of critical social issues, tithing on steroids … and nobody challenges them.
When I say nobody challenges them, I mean that nobody publicly rebukes Warren or Driscoll or their friends when they marginalize and disparage people they don’t appear to like. The cult of celebrity preacher won’t allow it.
One can watch this train wreck proceeding apace every day: Evangelical leaders racing to the White House for a photo op with Obama; writers like Jonathan Merritt pushing center-left views; conferences hosting leftist speakers … all in the name of vision-casting and “leadership.”
Remember when Obama said that in five days, he’d fundamentally transform America? Rick Warren could have said the same thing in the early ’80s, when he began to be mentored by the likes of Peter Drucker – except the transformation would be the American church.
No, the role of the American pastor is changing. It is being fundamentally transformed into an entity that pushes leftist thought and values.
Think I’m crazy? Then remember this in the near future when you see what’s happening with your own eyes. Very soon, America’s top evangelical leadership will support and endorse views that would have been alien to men like Ronald Shoesmith.
But if you then want to sound the alarm, be sure and count the cost. You just might end up with tire marks on your back.