The Danger of Popular Pastor Idolization

 

One of my very first memories of Sunday school was when I was probably no more than six years old. I was rocking a killer button-up (untucked of course because I was fashionably ahead of my time), a sweet clip-on necktie, and velcro strap kicks. My wardrobe has nothing to do with this article other than to convey to you the sheer awesomeness that was Landon circa 1987. I digress.

I remember the Sunday school teacher saying to us, “There will always be someone better than you. For instance, if you’re a football player, there will always be someone who’s better at that. If you’re an artist, there’s always a better artist.” I remember at the time being heartbroken that I would likely never be the best at something. However, through the years, that one moment at that young age brought patience and mature expectations to my life that would have otherwise not been present.

We’re always looking to be the best at something and if we can’t be, we gravitate to whomever fills that role. The obvious example of such idolization is in the sports and entertainment industries where we elevate millionaires to a higher level of respect, influence, and reverence than God. We want to align ourselves with people who are seemingly successful and whom we can follow.  Pastor Steve Reeves once wisely observed, “Everybody is religious. We are so designed, we are incurably religious! We can’t help but worship something. It’s just the way we’re wired.”  Often the “something” that becomes the affection of our worship is other fallen, sinful humans.

Enter the celebrity or rock star Pastor.

 

Mark DriscollWith the dawn of the information age, it became very easy for people to get noticed.  Gone were the days of needing to land a spot on TBN because churches easily and effectively posted their weekly sermons on the web for all to hear.  This exposure generated a cult-like following of a few evangelical Pastors and the movement has grown since then.  Somebody once said, “The Gospel came to the Greeks and the Greeks turned it into a philosophy. The Gospel came to the Romans and the Romans turned it into a system. The Gospel came to the Europeans and the Europeans turned it into a culture. The Gospel came to America and the Americans turned it into a business.” And business is booming. Millions of churchgoers file in to buildings each week, line up in rows like shelves at Wal-Mart, and watch the stage. They come for one purpose: to see a show and hear a pastor.1

On the outside this certainly looks like a rousing success.  I mean, after all, the more butts in the pews the better, right?  This allows the church to afford a bigger and better building, larger staff, and more event opportunities.  The problem is that being more recognizable or having large numbers of attendees each week is a poor indicator of spiritual and discipleship success.  I could put a $100 bill on every seat each week and guarantee that I’d have a good size congregation, or butts in the pews, if you will.  This is, in effect, exactly what happens each week at mega churches across the nation.  However in lieu of a $100 bill, you have a rock-star Pastor who all too often is scratching the itching ears of his (or her, for those completely ignoring the Bible) congregation.  They preach little to no Gospel, what small bit they do preach often centers only Jesus’ love and nothing more, then send they each of those congregants back out into the world worse off than when they ever arrived because they now know less about their sinful condition than when they first arrived.

Furthermore, I think that any pastor of any church can fall into the “rock star” trap.  It is a sin issue and not just a size issue.

Ed Stetzer wrote, “Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying pastors who look or act cool, or who speak dynamically, or who lead confidently, or who have large congregations are the problem. I’d have to rebuke quite a few of my friends if that were the case.  And, I am not against large churches. It is not the look, following, or size of the church, but the culture of the Super Pastor that can do great harm.”  Even Pastors of mega churches have a heavy-handed influence on every one of their congregants.  So, the culture they foster becomes the conduit by which their teachings are received; or the stick by which they are measured in a time of moral and/or spiritual failing.

Judah SmithI’ll admit, I struggle with this notion quite often.  I would be lying if I said I hadn’t left a church because the Pastor was too boring, or stuffy, or not engaging enough.  I’ve had family members leave a church because they liked one Pastor’s delivery better than another.  While these things may sound innocent, the problem becomes that we slip into a cult of personality where we care more about the Pastor than the message.  If someone doesn’t go to church one particular Sunday because they’re favorite preacher is on vacation, that is a very real problem and a very real indication of the idolization of a man.  The danger of such a mindset was relayed to us in Psalm 146:3-4 “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.  When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.”

Again, please do not hear me saying that mega churches and their Pastors are wicked.  What I am saying is that we must exercise a healthy dose of discernment when attending such churches because we must not idolize a Pastor regardless of his Charisma, speaking skills, or implied piety.  When we put our faith and trust in mere mortal men, we set ourselves up for disappointment.  Men will always disappoint us.  That is why we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ and his atoning work on the cross.  In other words, that is why we should attend corporate worship for the message, not the messenger.

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