Beyond the Celebrity Pastor

I was getting ready to blog about Mark Driscoll’s decision to quit social media for the remainder of 2014 and to “reset” his life, when something else–something much bigger–caught my blogging eye.

And by the way, I’m in favor of what Driscoll is doing with his life–if it is indeed legitimate. According to WaPo, Driscoll wrote to his church: “I don’t see how I can be both a celebrity and a pastor, and so I am happy to give up the former so that I can focus on the latter.” I am hopeful that he is turning over a new leaf, but I am doubtful that someone addicted to the spotlight can kick the habit, cold turkey. (And it’s a little suspicious–read PR damage control–that a change of heart would conveniently follow a string of public scandals.)

Driscoll’s own words point to part of the problem in American Christianity: too many pastors only want to be celebrities and not pastors.

But Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, goes beyond the celebrity pastor mold. Something else is going on altogether. Despite his own recent controversies about staged baptisms, Furtick is apparently heralded by his own church leaders and congregation as something more than just a pastor. Or even more than “just” a celebrity.

The “Reasons Elevation Church Is the Best Place to Work” document on their Web site is downright chilling, especially for Protestants like me who are allergic to the exaltation of one man. The #1 reason makes Furtick sound more like a prophet than a Southern Baptist preacher: “We serve a Lead Pastor who seeks and hears from God.” Hmm. #3 sounds more like propaganda for a dictator than the description of a pastor: “We serve a Lead Pastor we can trust.” Ditto for #7: “We serve a Lead Pastor who pours into us spiritually and professionally.” And #16 sounds downright un-Christlike: “We serve a Lead Pastor who goes first.” Yikes.

Perhaps the most disturbing word in all of those reasons is “serve.” Like the pastor is a “master” who needs to be “served”? Or a “lord” who receives the “service” (as in worship?) of his servants? Very scary.

The coloring page from Elevation Church just reinforces the messianic status of the Elevation coloring pagelegendary capital-L, capital-P Lead Pastor (shown at right).

If I could say anything to pastors who strive to become a celebrities (or more), if I could say something to aspiring pastors who have ambitions of building themselves a kingdom, I would say, “Don’t.” Just don’t do it. Model yourselves and your ministry after Jesus, who became a servant and lifted up meekness as the pattern of God’s kingdom. The world has plenty of celebrities and false messiahs. But the world needs more humble servants who serve the true Lord of lords.