The "celebrity pastor" is now a thing. Maybe it's always been a thing (1 Cor. 1:10-17), but over the past few years it has become a source of concern and consternation for many. On the one hand I do see a problem, and on the other hand I can't help but feel that some speak against popular preachers out of a sense of jealousy. I do not think that a pastor whose "platform" is large, influence is broad, and following is numerous is a celebrity pastor. At least, not in a bad way. The real problem is leadership that loses sight of the glory of Christ and focuses on the glory of man. Or, at least one man.
But Celebrity Pastors do not simply build themselves. They are built with the help of fans. It's not wrong or idolatrous to get a photo with a person you admire. Nor is it dangerous to love the preaching or teaching of a particular leader. But at some point admiration turns into allegiance, and allegiance gives birth to adoration, and adoration, when it is full grown, produces idolatry. I am not sure exactly when the line is crossed--maybe when we start asking well-known pastors to sign our Bibles. Maybe. But the line is well behind us when a leader's word is more valuable to us than God's word and when they become our authority.
Some men do seek to build themselves up and turn their platform into a pedestal. But their efforts cannot succeed without the help of followers. And there are other men who have no interest in being a celebrity who are put on a pedestal by others and find themselves in a precarious position. It's dangerous on that pedestal.
Ultimately, every leader has a platform and a following of some kind. As leaders, how do we protect ourselves from the danger of celebrityism—on whatever level we might experience it?
Here is a place to start.
Leaders Must Have the Proper Ambition
Ambition is not a bad thing. It was Paul's ambition "to preach the gospel" (Rom. 15:20). His greatest desire was that the name of Jesus would be lifted up, that the person of Jesus would be believed upon. It is selfish ambition (James 3:16) that puts the individual at the center and makes the preacher more important than the message; the man greater than the mission. Godly ambition is not a passion for our church, our ministry, our ourselves in anyway, it is a singular passion for the glory of Jesus.
Leaders Must Learn Humility
The leader who is captivated by the glory of Jesus knows well his own weakness, sinfulness, and smallness, regardless of the size of his platform. The humble man never loses sight of the Savior for apart from him there is no hope. The humble man doesn't ignore his giftedness, nor is he blind to his influence. He is grateful for his ministry. But he sees these things as undeserved gifts that must be stewarded carefully. He does not consider himself better or more important than others, but continues to see himself as a servant to Christ and Christ's people (Phil 2:1-11).
Leaders Must Remain Accountable
Pastors who are not held accountable by the church are unprotected from themselves and the temptations of the devil. They are untethered in the storm of ministry and will not just drift with the wind, but will fly away on their own until they crash. Accountability isn't possible if the pastor is the pope of the church he serves. He is not held accountable if he cannot be told "no," and is surrounded by sycophantic yes-men. Everyone needs people around them who will tell the honest truth. Even when it's hard. Even when it hurts.
We should be concerned with the celebrity pastor, especially the one that can emerge from our own hearts.
Joe Thorn is Lead Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, IL and blogs at joethorn.net. His book, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself, was released through Crossway/ReLit. You can follow him on Twitter @joethorn.