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Christian Leaders and Celebrity Culture

April 15, 2016

I recently read about the “crash and burn” of another well-known Mega-church pastor.  It is truly heartbreaking.  We have all watched this movie before.  We cry every time.  I hurt for the spouse and family of the pastor, the congregation and the many people who are just a little further from Jesus than they were before the announcement.  I also hurt for the pastor.  I don’t know a single person who accepted the call to ministry hoping the whole thing would blow to crap and cause harm to the Kingdom of God.  Satan laughs.  Skeptics sneer.  People of faith weep.  Again.  It is tragic by any account.

As I was reflecting upon the situation, Matthew’s account of the Temptation of Jesus came to mind.  A clear theme of the wilderness showdown between Jesus and Satan was the lure of “celebrity culture.” Satan attempted to entice Jesus to throw off the larger mission for just a moment to “jump off the Temple” so everyone could see the angels rescue him.  It was a straight up publicity stunt.  Satan effectively said, “Just film the whole thing on your iPhone, post it on YouTube, it go viral and you will be a star!”  Jesus responded, “Do not test the Lord your God.”  He passed the temptation of celebrity.  Countless others who followed him would fail.

The convergence of celebrity culture, worldwide social media and massive congregations have certainly conspired to tempt and eventually ensnare some of the most gifted and talented Pastors in the country.  A part of Satan’s temptation was to take Jesus “off mission.”  To distract him from the purpose of his earthly manifestation; toward the marketing and leveraging of it.  Jumping off the Temple and the following “angel rescue” clip would no doubt sell books and gain Facebook friends and Twitter followers.  It might even spark a new reality television show.  The Jesus Brand would be benefitted immensely but the cost would come at the expense of the Jesus Mission, “To seek and save the lost.”

High profile Christian leaders today are in a precarious position in many ways.  On one hand, they have the opportunity to reach more people for Christ than was imaginable just one generation ago.  On the other hand, there have never been more opportunities to lose your way, your principles, your morality or your soul.  And if they fall, they will take many down with them who deserve far better.  It is easy to get lost in celebrity culture.  Leaders must remember as a spiritual discipline that we are called to be servants and not celebrities.

In a culture that worships at the cult of personality, Christian leaders who have been entrusted by God with the spotlight, must remember that celebrity is precisely what Jesus rejected.  Jesus said, “What should it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his soul?”  (Mark 8:36 JKV)  It remains an excellent question.   Keep it real.

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.

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