Thought No. 1 from #arcconf: Celebrity Preachers

–Daniel S. Ferguson

I had a great time with my church at ARC Conference 2017. I got to hear from such famous preachers as Steven Furtick, Justin Dailey, Chris Hodges, Stovall Weems, and Holly Wagner, as well as from some burgeoning pastors, like Andi Andrew, Dianna Nepstad, Earl McLellan, Micahn Carter, and Aaron Burke. It was a who’s-who line up of major pastors in the United States, and I’ll say this for them: they can bring the thunder.

And for the most part, they can bring the butts to the seats. Between those ten people, they lead over 100,000 weekly attenders on Sunday mornings.

But I do pretty much everything I can to keep those names out of the heads of people I want to reach for Jesus. They’re great for people who already know and love Jesus, but for my people–the post-Christians, the “Done”s, those who have left church with no intention of ever coming back–I would probably never suggest they follow the sermons of these celebrity preachers.

Here’s why: I am terrified they will end up following the celebrity and not the Savior.

I fear this because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it way too many times. I know all too well how people can get sucked into worshiping a pastor and not God.

It rarely starts out that way. It’s just that the church starts to grow beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. That’s often attributed to the communicative brilliance of the preacher. And that’s true: big communicators build big congregations.

But what’s missed–so often missed–is that the reason the church grew exponentially wasn’t because of a great communicator. It was because that great communicator was surrounded by great connectors, who reached out to the people they knew and said, “Come and see.”

Then the obvious question is “Come and see what?” See a great preacher? See a great worship music set? See a really great building? Come and see what?

And that’s where the trouble starts. Because the answer to that question ought to be, “Come and see the great Savior working in the hearts of everyone in this place.” And while that might be said out loud, the implicit statement being made by the nature of the services is that the thing to come and see is the celebrity and not the Savior.

I will not completely fault any pastor for this being the case. We humans do this naturally. We’re attracted to fame. That’s why even the most erudite and detached among us know what’s happening with Tarek and Christina. That’s why we can name the past three major relationships Brad Pitt has been in. That’s why we wait in line for days for concert tickets to hear songs we’ve heard a hundred times before. It’s not that the product is amazing (though it often is); it’s that we’re attracted to fame. We want to just stand near it and say we were close to it.

I thought about this a lot last night as I waited to hear Steven Furtick preach. The line was building up two hours before the doors even opened, and the second they did, people didn’t just walk in. They ran. Christians pushed each other out of the way to get one row ahead of other Christians, just so they could be near this preacher. No, not preacher. Celebrity. People hooped and hollered and stood and cheered, not because what they were hearing was groundbreaking or life-changing or anything they hadn’t heard before. But because they were mere feet from fame.

And if a room full of pastors can get sucked into that, so can anyone else.

There’s nothing against famous preachers. Some of them actually handle it really well and manage to maintain their humility. I don’t stand in judgment of them. But I also would be reluctant to encourage my friend on the edge of faith to attend their church. I just know it would be all too easy for them to follow the celebrity and not the Savior.

So I’d much rather build a relationship with them and invite them to a regular church, one where the preacher is solid but not a celebrity. And then, eventually, once they’ve learned to follow Jesus, I’ll ease them into these truly great communicators. They have, after all, some really good things to say.

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5 Comments

  1. Stellar assessment of the preacher worship cult. Like you say, they are often good people and good ministers but idolatry is easy to come by in all ages. We must be careful we aren’t too focused on the messenger over the Good News they bring – and that’s a great caution for anyone trying to reach all the rogues who have left churches.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve actually made a concerted effort to avoid all the big names. It used to be Mark Driscoll was the popular teacher, then his ministry at Mars Hill imploded. Joshua Harris replaced C.J. Mahaney as the big name at his church and both of them have had ministry troubles, the latter more serious though the former did step down to go to seminary. Matt Chandler’s watch saw a mishandling of a matter at his church. Even Furtik’s name has popped up at some point or other with something not so great about him – I forget what it was. By being an outsider, I distance myself from that crazy world and just munch on popcorn while they burn out and make a lot of mistakes. It makes me think that every endeavor, ARC, Acts29, TGC, CBMW, SGC/SGM, has flawed DNA and it’s only a matter of time before some representative or other gets it wrong or it all goes bad. The Cult of Celebrity seems to be doing a lot of damage, the only way I can see clear is to look and listen for teachers nobody has ever heard of speaking to small crowds of believers in churches that nobody cares what they’re called. That way instead of pointing to themselves and their own names, the only one that gets pointed to/at is Jesus and God.

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