Jonathan ES Lin
Life · Tech · Faith

Celebrity Pastors

Oct 17, 2021

In the aftermath of the fall of Mars Hill church, it is a good time to explore the rise and fall of celebrity pastors, and what it actually means for the lay Christian. Because this is also happening everywhere in Malaysia.

A celebrity pastor (usually the Senior Pastor) is one who holds a lot of clout in his own church, to whom many churchgoers go to hear every Sunday because of his compelling preaching. He is not necessarily world or country famous like John Piper or Tim Keller (both of whom are celebrity pastors who have aged well, so far). Many a churchgoer started attending said church because "he preaches so well". He may or may not actually preach the gospel.

This is a red flag for the church.

If said pastor is hogging the pulpit and preaching most of the time at the church, it is a very risky church to attend. It would be a matter of several years before the church implodes internally due to the pastor's own fall from the top. I've seen this happen again and again.

Inevitably, due to human nature, pastors are not immune to sin. This is a fact which many Christians find difficult to accept. If the pastor is preaching well and people sing praises of him, it gets into his head. Even worse if he preaches week in and week out, and there is no one else to actually preach to this pastor. He develops an infallible complex over time. He also becomes a prime target of the devil.

Church members start making excuses for the said pastor when there is some questionable behavior. After all, isn't he a man of God? Hasn't he been such a blessing to the church? So many have come to Christ via his preaching, our church is growing like crazy!

There are of course exceptions. Many celebrity pastors that are still going strong such as the aforementioned. In each case, there is probably a period of time where that pastor matured without the internet. However, in the age of the internet, the internet platform often becomes a drug that many emerging pastors are unable to resist. The desire and hunger for power becomes insatiable. It is like the ring from LOTR. Some of them are: Mark Driscoll, Joshua Harris, Bill Hybels, Ravi Zacharias, to name a few renown ones. There are also Malaysian cases that I cannot name.

In light of all this, I begin to appreciate the church model where there is plurality of preachers or elders preaching every week. The ability to preach should be a requirement for being an elder. You should never see the same face for two consecutive weeks. Too many times when the celebrity pastor has shot himself in the foot (via some big sin), the elders find themselves scrambling to get guest preachers because they are unable to themselves shepherd the flock in the ministry of the Word. When the ministry of the Word crumbles, the church erodes.

In the end, it is a simple matter of church (business) continuity. Why do so many churches fail to plan this? Perhaps a case of the Senior Pastor wanting all the glory for himself? Train up the elders or the young ones to preach! The celebrity pastor (if there is one in your church) can at least take a break and still listen to the Word preached to him, instead of being the one dishing out the Word all the time, burning out, and becoming susceptible to all kinds of traps.

Again, this is a very simplified take on the larger issue at hand surrounding pastors. Do check out the Christianity Today podcast (linked above) to listen more and try to learn something from it. Just praying for your pastor isn't going to cut it anymore. Maybe more systemic change is necessary to protect from inherent human nature.