A celebrity pastor is one who, in addition to shepherding a local congregation, has attained a certain amount of celebrity—that is, he is famous and known far and wide. Celebrity pastors usually maintain a national or even international teaching platform. They typically use mass media to expand their reach and influence a multitude of hearts and minds from a distance. Podcasts, book deals, large social media followings, and large-venue speaking engagements are often part of a celebrity pastor’s experience.
The Bible does not forbid being famous, so being a celebrity pastor is not a sin. However, there are some potential issues with being a celebrity pastor. For example, shepherding a local congregation is a huge responsibility. Keeping track of a local congregation as well as thousands of other followers is more than a person can usually handle. Pastoring a local church well requires cultivating and maintaining personal relationships with congregants. It is nearly impossible for one pastor to maintain the required level of care for both local congregants and fans abroad. While caring for a multitude is an honorable desire, it can sometimes create a sense of false intimacy with followers and unintended distance between a pastor and his local congregation. Fans may begin to trust the celebrity pastor on tv more than they trust their own pastor or possibly even Scripture. Meanwhile, the celebrity pastor’s local congregation may suffer from a lack of attention.
Shepherding beyond one’s local congregation is exhausting and can lead to burn out. A healthier and more realistic alternative may be to focus attention and energy on the local congregation that produces resources benefitting both the local church and the masses.
Other potential issues with celebrity pastors are pride and lack of accountability. First Timothy 3:1–7 defines the characteristics and qualifications of a pastor:
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.The warning against being conceited is especially apropos for the modern celebrity pastor. Once pastors enter the world of fame and fortune, it can be difficult to live in humility and pursue accountability. As people become more familiar with the pastor’s public image than with the pastor’s heart, isolation increases, which often leads to decreased accountability. Without accountability, it is easy to fall into secret sin. Heartbreaking stories of abuse, sexual scandal, or financial scandal among admired celebrity pastors point to the importance of extensive biblical accountability.
The temptations that accompany fame are nothing new and can affect anyone. David, a man after God’s own heart, grew in power and authority and eventually found himself in the middle of a sex scandal with Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 11). Solomon, great in wisdom, grew in wealth and power and eventually worshiped idols with his 700 wives and 300 concubines (see 1 Kings 11). Despite being two of Israel’s most godly, well-known kings, neither fully followed God’s instructions. Even godly people can make sinful choices, and pastors who have reached celebrity status should heed the warning of 1 Corinthians 10:12, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
The best model for celebrity pastors—and for all pastors—is Jesus Christ. In Mark 9, the disciples argue about which of them is the greatest. Jesus responds, saying that “anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35b). This passage highlights the importance of modeling true servanthood in daily life to combat pride. It is also helpful for celebrity pastors to examine their motives: Am I using my platform to make my name great or to make the name of Jesus great? Do I want others to follow me or to follow Jesus? Am I modeling biblical faithfulness? Asking honest questions helps celebrity pastors protect their hearts from pride.
All pastors should prioritize their local congregation, pursue daily accountability, and humbly acknowledge that their platform is a gift from God that exists for His glory alone. John Bunyan, who was a celebrity pastor, of sorts, in his day, understood the deceitfulness of fame. Once a friend complimented Bunyan after a sermon: “You have preached an admirable sermon,” said the friend. “Ah!” Bunyan answered, “you are too late; the devil told me that before I got down the pulpit stairs” (quoted by Charles Spurgeon, “Pride the Destroyer,” May 27, 1883, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 44).