Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Christians & The Cult of Personality

The digital age in which we now reside has caused the profile of a growing number of Christian leaders to grow among Christians and non-believers alike. In the past a relatively small number of Christian pastors were well-known by the general population, often because of their prominence in a certain field. Billy Graham (evangelism), Martin Luther King, Jr. (civil rights), and Jerry Falwell (politics) are a few that come to mind.

Nowadays, there are several pastors that are well-recognized among Christians and non-church goers, as well. Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes are a few of the more prominent examples. With thousands flocking to hear their sermons each weekend, these pastors are also able to spread their message through their books, television broadcasts, the Internet and other forms of modern media.

Because of this accessibility, many of these figures are treated as celebrities. In fact, even those that aren't well-known carry themselves as such. For example, there is a church near my home that is not that well-known. I've met a lot of people who attend church in Orlando and I can't recall ever meeting anyone that attends this particular congregation. Right at a major intersection near my house towers a huge billboard with the pastor's picture and name advertised for all to see. The billboard almost shouts out, "Hey, don't you want to go to a cool church led by this cool guy?"

The ad seems to market the pastor as the reason to attend this church. And, to be honest, I doubt few outside of his congregation really know who he is. But even if he was a best-selling author and the church had a popular television program, should the pastor be the selling point about why someone should check out the church?

John Piper, a well-known pastor himself, comments on this phenomenon in an article entitled, "Hero Worship and Holy Emulation." Pastor Piper addresses this issue of celebrity pastors from a perspective that few of us can equal. Namely, because he is one. His wisdom is telling:
"What is the meaning of the attention given to well-known pastors? What does the desire for autographs and photographs mean? The negative meaning would be something akin to name-dropping. Our egos are massaged if we can say we know someone famous. You see this on blogs with words like “my friend Barack” and the like. And I presume that, for some, an autograph or a photo has the same ego-boost.

However, I don’t assume the worst of people. There are other possible motives. We will see this below. But it is good to emphasize that all of this is more dangerous to our souls than bullets and bombs. Pride is more fatal than death.

When I say “our souls” I mean all of us—the signature-seeker, the signer, and the cynic who condemns it all (on his very public blog). There is no escaping this new world. The question is, How do we navigate it for the glory of Christ, the crucifixion of self, the spread of truth, the deepening of faith, and the empowering of sacrificial love?"
Piper goes on to share the difference between worship and appropriate admiration in a balanced and convincing manner. While it is fitting to look up to and admire those that are godly leaders, our worship should always be reserved for the Lord Jesus Himself. You can read the whole article here.

1 comment:

J. Hill said...

Pastors ought not be the selling point of a church. For if he were to die, fall to sin, retire, or be called to a new order of service, what would the church stand for. Pastors most certainly play a major role in the perception of a church and in the decision making of membership. Yet, they ought not be the selling point.

Christ, His power and presence in the people of that church ought to be the selling point. Is the church sound in doctrine, true in its commitment to the Gospel, Healthy? These are some of the questions that an individual should ask concernig a church.

So many people are caught up in the celebrity of the Pastor that I wonder who they realy worship. The Chapel, the largest church in Akron, does not feature its pastor as a selling point (In commercials he has not been the focal point.). If you were to visit their website you would struggle to find the senior pasto's name, profile, or picture. Yet, they continue to grow. Christ, worship, and service are the hallmarks of there church. Let's put a picture of the cross on our billboards.