Late last year I was working a booth at a conference in Los Angeles, CA for a popular Christian pastor.  A man, lets call him Tim, came to my table and noticed a book written by another famous pastor.  Tim turned to the stranger next to him, pointed toward the book, and with great pride exclaimed, “That is my pastor.”  The man either did not hear Tim or chose to ignore him, so this time Tim picked up the book and said, “That man is my pastor.” The other guy walked off—Tim was clearly hoping the man would be more impressed.

Tim turned to me, a captive audience at the booth, and proclaimed, “That man is my pastor.”

Tim’s “pastor” leads a popular church in Seattle and since I had recently moved from that area, I was interested to know if we had some friends in common, so I asked, “Oh, so you are from Seattle?  What brings you to LA?”

Tim’s answer surprised me, “No,” he said, “I live here in LA.”

Now I was intrigued.  How could Pastor X, be Tim’s pastor if he lived 1,200 miles away? So I asked,  “Did you recently move here from Seattle?”

“No.” Tim replied, “my church meets in my house and we watch Pastor X’s sermon every week on DVD.”

I immediately felt a twinge of sorrow—sorrow for Tim and sorrow for the Church and what She has become.  Pastor X may be an engaging Bible teacher, but he certainly has not taught his followers a biblical definition of what it means to be a Pastor of God’s people.  Read the Pastoral Epistles from the Apostle Paul, a pastor is a not a talking-head who ‘phone’s it in’ via DVD.  A pastor is someone with a gifting from the Holy Spirit to be a shepherd, a caretaker, a guardian, a servant, and a lover of God’s people.

It is impossible for a anyone to be “my pastor” via DVD or multi-site video.  He may inspire, educate, or even motivate, but he is not fulfilling the biblical role of pastor in my life or yours. Sadly, it did not matter to Tim that Pastor X wasn’t really living out the biblical role of “my pastor.” Rather, what mattered most to Tim was that he had a claim to fame through his Paparazzi Pastor.

I was reminded of this story when reading a recent article in Relevant Magazine written by Rachel Held Evans.  Rachel is the author of Evolving in Monkey Town and blogger at rachelheldevans.com.  She opens her article with the following words:

Much has been said in recent years about the rise of so-called “celebrity pastors” within Christianity, particularly within evangelicalism. Just mention names like Ted Haggard, Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, Joel Osteen, John Piper, Francis Chan, Bill Hybels and Joyce Meyer, and you’re guaranteed to get a fair share of impassioned praise or heated criticism.

Rachel goes on to share four ways in which the church has been overtaken by the celebrity-pastor.  Let me share an excerpt from each of her main points and then I will add two of my own.

We make celebrity pastors when we believe they can do no right or do no wrong.

Everyone has Christian friends who speak about their favorite pastors with the same reverence and awe generally reserved for Jesus or Apple products. These folks hang on every word the pastor writes, preaches or tweets, and can seem incapable of forming opinions of their own without first consulting the person behind the pulpit. This reveals an unhealthy dependency that elevates celebrity pastors to near idols.

We make celebrity pastors when we become their disciples rather than Christ’s.

When Christians look to pastors for wisdom on how to better love God and love one another, they become better disciples of Jesus and better lights of hope in a dark world.

When Christians look to pastors to tell them how to dress, what to eat, what hobbies to have, what systematic theologies to prefer, how to vote and what personality to adopt, they become creepy, unthinking clones of broken people—and big red warning flags to a culture that has grown increasingly suspicious of authority figures.

We make celebrity pastors when we measure success by numbers.

It has become popular for pastors and their followers to imitate the world by bragging about “fruitfulness” in terms of numbers…

But neither Jesus nor His earliest followers ever taught that fruitfulness should be measured in numbers. In fact, like many who labor for Christ around the world today, most of the early disciples were dismissed, marginalized, imprisoned or killed. Rather than attracting big-shot Roman officials and important Jewish scholars, the earliest churches were overwhelmed with the poor, women, widows and slaves. That is because Jesus established an upside-down kingdom, a kingdom in which the last are first and the first are last, a kingdom in which the poor, the meek, the humble and the downtrodden are blessed, while the rich, powerful and elite often walk away scratching their heads.

We make celebrity pastors when we think we need them.

Paul concludes his instructions regarding celebrity apostles by saying: “So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Corinthians 3:21).

In addition to Rachel’s thoughtful post, I see two other areas where the Paparazzi Pastor and celebrity culture have overtaken the church.

We Make Paparazzi Pastors When The Pulpit Is Used For Profit

When a pastor turns to his Book Agent for ideas on his next big preaching series, the celebrity culture has won the day.  At some point, the tail wags the dog, and teaching becomes a mere means to popularity and profit, but profit is not the purpose for the pulpit.

We Make Paparazzi Pastors When PR Agents Become Their Accountability

I read in the news yesterday that Pastor X hired a Public Relations Agent.  When a Paparazzi Pastor takes the tithes of the people and, instead of helping the needy, he hires a PR agent to manage his public image, you know that the celebrity culture has overtaken the church.

What Can We Do?

Reformation begins with discernment.  We need pictures of faith in action to contrast against PR machines in motion.

Check out this video which inspires me and makes me long for a day when the Church will stop consuming the Paparazzi pablum. and embrace humble servants within the local church who teach, practice their faith, and share their lives with the people.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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