The Evangelical Industrial Complex & the Rise of Celebrity Pastors (Pt. 1)
Behind the rise of today's pastoral pantheon is a systemic economic force.

Last week Bob Hyatt wrote about the temptations created by the celebrity pastor culture we live in and the harm it causes to our souls. He's not the only one talking about the issue. Both Relevant Magazine and the Together for the Gospel conference are talking about it. The issue I'm referring to is celebrity pastors. Rachel Held Evans' recent article in Relevant, "When Jesus Meets TMZ," seeks to explain the rise of celebrity pastors within evangelicalism. (A panel at the T4G conference will address the same topic in April.) Evans' article does a good job of outlining our corrupt human tendency to make our leaders into idols–a temptation evident from Christianity's earliest days (see 1 Corinthians 3:21), and which has marked every era of the Church. Before Osteen, Warren, and Driscoll, there were Moody, Spurgeon, and Whitefield. Celebrity pastors are not new.

But what is new is the number of celebrity pastors and the speed with which they are being created/coronated. This is what Evans' article doesn't address. Every generation has had a handful of well known pastors, but why are there now so many? What explains the creation of an entire celebrity-class within the evangelical world?

Yes, our human proclivity for leader-worship is as potent as ever, but there is more than a spiritual or psychological reason behind the rise of today's pastoral pantheon. There is a systemic economic force at work as well; what I call the Evangelical Industrial Complex.

First a little background. In 1961, in President Eisenhower's farewell address to the nation, he warned about the unintended effects of what he dubbed the "military industrial complex." Following WWII, for the first time in American history, a permanent arms industry was created to manufacture weapons, tanks, warplanes, etc. This industry employed millions of Americans, and Eisenhower feared its influence over the government, and its need for armed conflict in order to grow, would prove damaging to the country.

He recognized the potential for a self-sustaining cycle of (1) a growing arms industry, (2) supplying an expanding military, (3) resulting in more armed conflicts and fewer resources for domestic needs like eduction and infrastructure. It's worth remembering that this warning was coming from a Republican, an army general, and a war hero, not a Democrat or anti-war activist. Many now consider Eisenhower's warning prophetic given the exponential growth in military spending and wars over the last 50 years. You can watch a segment of his speech below.

Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments

DW Gaines

November 02, 2012  11:26am

Your effort here is instrumental, the Pharisees must be exposed for their corruption of the Word and ruin of Christian culture! "The Scribes and Pharisees have taken and hidden the keys to knowledge, nor do they enter the inner chamber, but you be as wise as Serpents and innocent as Doves."

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Headless Unicorn Guy

March 03, 2012  2:06pm

Or if that doesn't work, sometimes sugar daddies purchase thousands of copies of the book to literally buy the pastor onto the best-seller's list where the perception of popularity results in more sales. (Yes, it happens. Not a lot, but it does happen.) That is exactly how L Ron Hubbard kept getting on the best-seller lists! Tone 40 LRH orders from Flag for all Scientologists to buy multiple copies, then turn them in at their Orgs, who returned them to the Scientology-owned publisher, who resold the same copy four-five times through this cycle. Instant Best-Seller!

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March 03, 2012  1:33pm

This seems to really be a case of "To him who has, more will be given. To him who has not, even what little he has will be taken from him." I think that Christianity ought to be a community where this is turned on its head. I am glad my pastor is not a celebrity, but a real person whose time I can have access to. I don't understand how people would not desire this.

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February 20, 2012  9:57am

Skye, having spent most of my paid working life working for a major Christian publisher, I can assure readers what you are describing here in terms of the impact of the marketability and PR issues on what works are published and who rises to a level of pubic visibility and celebrity in an Evangelical leadership role is quite accurate. That a little-known person or pastor with an extraordinary testimony or with what might be a recognizably genuinely prophetic message for our generation may occur once in a while, but it is the exception and not the rule. Sadly, among those who can afford to buy air time and get a "TV ministry," the chances of the theological and spiritual soundness of the ministry seems to decline proportionally!

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