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The Celebrity Pastor

The word pastor is a verb before it’s a title. The Latin term pastor is derived from the verb pascere, which can mean a variety of things, including “to lead to green grass,” “set sheep to grazing,” and “inspire them to eat.”

What an awesome term, don’t you say?

As one who serves people with the Means of Grace, it’s a humbling honor to be referred to as “Pastor.” The title comes with a built-in reminder that ministry is not about me—it’s about Jesus. Ministry isn’t mine; it belongs to Jesus. I am a pastor to others because Jesus is the Ultimate Pastor, the Chief Shepherd, of my life and of the lives of all who trust in Him.

As one who likes to dabble in sociology and has always been intrigued by the study of people and their behavior, I often find myself sitting back and observing the culture of the American church. One thing I notice is the growing number of people who bear the label of “pastor.”

I’ve been blessed to learn from a wide variety of servant leaders and professional church workers through the years—at home, at church, at school. I’m thankful that my experience with such Christian leaders and pastors is very different from the experiences I fear that many in today’s world have with people who have the same title I do.

Some mornings as I catch up on work or visit with friends at a local coffee shop, I see a cultural phenomenon play out.  I watch as local “Celebrity Pastors” slide in and out of my local caffeine café.

First, they love to give fist-bumps to fellow patrons.

It’s pretty evident that they’re dressed for success, as their flashy, open-collared shirts seem to come straight from the racks at high-end retailers like Nordstrom.

I can’t help but eavesdrop when they loudly carry on about the latest and greatest conference they’ve just attended or the best “Church App” they’ve recently developed for smartphone users.

To someone who slides up beside them with a cup of joe, they counsel: “Brother, I may be a ‘pastor’ but I’d prefer to be known as your personal life coach.”

Sometimes the Celebrity Pastor isn’t even in the coffeehouse, but congregants gather to dissect their recent worship experience: “Pastor Brooks gave an amazing talk today! I just love him. He really speaks to me instead of preaching at me.”

Yep. It’s now a “talk” because I guess “sermon” or “message” simply isn’t palatable to the average Christian consumer.

Yep. It’s “life coach” because “preacher” or “minister” just doesn’t sell.

Yep. It’s a “We’ve got an app for that” before “Let’s sit down and visit for a while.”

Yep. It’s a fist-bump instead of a good old handshake and a “How are you doing today?”

Honestly, I’m disturbed. Can you tell?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I agree with the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:18: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

I’m not the judge and the jury of the intentions and motivations of Celebrity Pastors, any more than I can stand in righteous judgment over anyone. At the end of the day, I agree with Paul. Even if people’s motives are less than pure, and even when I question what another pastor is really trying to do, I rejoice that people are coming to Christ through what many Celebrity Pastors are doing.

That being said, I still have stomachaches about the celebrity culture of the church. (And I tend to think Paul would have a thing or two to say about it as well!)

Here’s what I wonder.

For every person who flocks to hear his or her favorite Celebrity Pastor talk and to experience the latest and greatest goods and services their churches are providing, how many people in my community today are sickened by what they see?

For every American who jumps on the bandwagon of the latest-and-greatest movement within the Christian community, how many others dislike the Church even more because they see Jesus’ Bride having this celebrity-crazed attitude?

I mean, it’s one thing for the Kim Kardashians and the Bruce (Caitlyn?) Jenners of the world to keep pushing the limits, creating the media buzz, and getting more and more famous simply for being famous, but why must this constant pursuit of stardom and celebrity status be the M.O. of some Christian churches?

Whatever happened to the day when pastor didn’t mean so much life coach as it did “shepherd,” “preacher,” “minister,” and “servant leader”?

Whatever happened to the day when people would be consistently served the solid food of the Gospel and continually learn of the life-giving, life-saving Chief Pastor, Jesus Christ, and Him alone?

I’m sure that any pastor in any day, in any age, and in any culture could gripe about what their fellow clergymen do or don’t do. But I tend to think that the majority of pastors from both back-in-the-day and in the present-day would be honestly disheartened by the trending of the Celebrity Pastor brand.

Before I keep ranting about this, I come back to what happened to Jesus Himself, and I hear a gentle whisper: “Jeff, why are you surprised?”

Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19).

The insatiable desire of sinful people is to be loved by the world.

Jesus hasn’t called His Church and His pastors to be in the business of generating this kind of love through spiritual superstardom. He’s assured us of His unrelenting, never-ending love, and He’s called us to share such love with the world for which He gave His life.
 
Remember when Jesus fed the 5,000 (cf. John 5-6)?

He worked a sign to showcase His glory and to reveal His true identity. As the Chief Pastor for the souls of humankind, Jesus came to shower His mercy on His creation.

Jesus had given what many in the crowd may have described as a “talk.”

Jesus had “coached” folks about His identity as God’s Son and shared the love of God with them.

And then He gave them lunch.

Five loaves. Two fish.

And, with a miracle that only a “Celebrity Pastor” could pull off, Jesus fed them all.

Plus, there were leftovers!

“This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:14)

He had become their Celebrity Pastor, and they quickly wanted to make Him their Celebrity King.

So what does Jesus do? He pulls away—first to a mountain, and then across the lake. But by the time He reaches the other side of the lake, the people clamoring for another encounter with their latest and greatest Celebrity Pastor are already waiting for Him.

“I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves,” Jesus said to the crowd. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set His seal” (John 6:26-27).

Consumers will always take and take and take. They like food that’s cheap and easy to swallow.

That’s what we sinners do.

And Jesus, because of His perfect mercy for sinners, keeps giving and giving and giving.

But He never gives simply what we want or even demand.

No, He gives what we so desperately need.

He gives Himself. And, in giving Himself, He gives forgiveness, life, and salvation.

To those wanting salvation on their own terms, He gives it on His terms. He freely offers the never-perishing Bread of Life for those who’ve settled for cheap imitations for far too long. He gives nothing short of Himself—because that’s what our Ultimate Pastor was sent to do!

And, as my Ultimate Pastor, I want to make Him known, even if I never achieve celebrity status in doing it.

 

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