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Christianity Inc. Confronting Celebrity Culture in Church


Rob W

MARK 10:35-45

"Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame." - Andy Warhol

"In the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes." - Banksy

Has a desire for mass acclaim found its way into church?

In 2019 Kanye West held church services at Lakewood - the home of Joel Osteen’s congregation.

Tickets to attend appeared on Twitter selling for $300 each

Would you pay to go to church?

The culture of celebrity is present and should be confronted. "Once a system is ingrained it becomes reality" - Brueggemann

​Prophets who “assault the public imagination” (Brueggemann), can prevent a congregation from becoming toxic.

Toxic Culture in Church Story 1] At a megachurch leadership team retreat the senior pastor had a favourite game to play. Putting the name of former ministry leaders who had left that church into a jar and handing around the jar. Each person would take a name and try to get the team to guess who they had by telling the bad things they had done while on staff.

Story 2] A congregation situated beside a university campus was surprised to find a church in their city setting up shop right next door to begin a campus ministry. Without any conversation or discussion this is more about brand prmotion than Kingdom work.

Celebrity in church and toxic culture are usually accompanied by another concept - Leadership.

​Leadership is on display in both OT and NT.

A significant portion of our concept of leadership as it is found in church has been projected from the business world.

When Jesus actively demonstrated leadership it took the form of service; simple & sacrificial.

Compared to the 6 or so times leadership appears in the NT as a taught principle, the word serve features 70.

Story 3]

NY Times article

Bill Hybels was a celebrity pastor at WillowCreek church in Chicago with a congregation in the 1000’s.

He organised the extremely successful Global Leadership Summits.

He wrote dozens of books and grew a church into something spectacular.

In 2018 he was accused of sexual misconduct.

When the accusations came out about his conduct and the culture of WillowCreek the celebrity pastor was defended and the victims were accused of wrongdoing, lying and colluding to ruin Hybel’s reputation.

Celebrity culture only looks up into the blinding glare manufactured around the idol.

A toxic culture that had formed around a strong, charismatic, talented leader whose celebrity blinded them all to even the possibility of wrong doing.

Do you have dreams of celebrity? Are those dreams deemed acceptable if held within a context of helping others?

Icarus flew too close to the sun. The wax wings he had been given melted and he plummeted to earth. The moral is to not be too proud, not to be too ambitious.

But the other point is that someone gave him wax wings in the first place

Who gave him the wax wings?

Icarus’ father but in the example of Bill Hybels, it is the culture perpetuated by the church as a whole that enabled him to fly too close to the sun

Putting a pastor on a pedestal leaves that pastor in a precarious position

The list is long.

They all tell the same tale.

Someone who got to the top, like an OT king full of wealth and self-importance.

Who began to worship somewhere else.

Who began to worship someone else.

Celebrity is both a person and a product of the culture of a congregation. Maybe introduced by a pastor who wants to see their name in lights, or maybe the pastor’s ambition is formed by the congregation.

Scott McKnight writes that some congregations are guilty of playing the 'Who’s got?' game

Who has the...

Best music

Best preacher

Best Kids programs

The most people

In a toxic celebrity driven culture a congregation can see themselves as superior to another or more celebrated within a community.

Has celebrity culture begun to affect the way we view church growth?

What to do with growth?

More room!

More services!

More sites!

Attitudes toward growth need to be informed by scripture, not by corporate models of success.

I don't want St John's to be the biggest and shiniest.

This is our family home and those concepts are not in keeping with a healthy family dynamic.

A place to practice for eternity

Church is about becoming more like Christ

“The church exists for nothing else but to draw [people] into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.”

C. S. Lewis Mere Christianty

A minister or a pastor is not a CEO.

The ground before the cross is even.

Any system that promotes one above another departs from the foot washing Jesus.


We are all ministers,

We are all called,

We are all ordained to do what God has called each of us to do.

The foil for celebrity culture is sevenfold; 1] Embrace our humble ordinary-ness.

This changes how we see worship services and helps us revel in the ordinary work of others.

Being ordinary means to be ‘Against conspicuous publicity’ as a promotion of our brand.

2] And all the rest actually...

I only said 7fold to make it sound really biblical

Having all that we are and all that we do begin with Jesus

Consist of Jesus’ will

And bring glory to Jesus

We mean nothing less than this when we call Jesus Lord

Here is a final image that I gained from Scott McKnight’s book, A Church called Tov - where much of what I was feeling and thinking resonated, where may of the stories and points in this sermon originate.

The Church is The cross bearing wife of Jesus

When we acknowledge that our primary identity is the cross bearing wife of Jesus we undo all our pretensions and find ourselves at peace and in agreement with God,

We dethrone ourselves,

Shun the spotlight,

Becoming little Christs .

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