Part 2: The Evangelical Industrial Complex & the Rise of Celebrity Pastors
It isn't simply followers who are creating celebrity pastors, it's the market.

Read Part 1.

This market-driven cycle of megachurches, conferences, and publishers results in an echo chamber where the same voices, espousing the same values, create an atmosphere where ministry success becomes equated with audience aggregation. (Thankfully there are outliers like the Epic Fail Conference and the Q Gathering that defy these trends by platforming important, non-celebrity voices.) But there's a reason you won't see a flashy conference for the house church movement. And there's a reason a brilliant, godly, wise, 50-year-old pastor with a gift for communicating, carrying a timely message, and leading a church of 200 in Montana is highly unlikely to get a publishing contract. And even if he does, good luck getting the stage at a conference or any marketing energy from the publisher; their efforts will be poured into the handful of megachurch pastors in their lineup whose book sales pay their salaries. It is exceedingly difficult to break into the club without a large customer base (a.k.a. a megachurch).

Are the publishers evil for focusing on sales potential more than quality? Of course not. They're businesses that have to sustain themselves. They are simply reacting to the realities of the market. But sometimes they fail to see how they also shape the market by their decisions. And am I saying all megachurch pastors' books are subpar? Not at all. Some of them are my friends and I've deeply appreciated their writings (Dave Gibbons and Tim Keller immediately come to mind.) But we mustn't be naive–the system is rigged to favor a writer/speaker's market platform rather than his/her content, maturity, or message.

Yes there are exceptions, but they generally prove the rule. And we've all been to ministry conferences where we've scratched our heads wondering why that yahoo is on the platform...oh yeah, he's got a big church and a book to sell, just like the guy before him, and the one before him. It's a system that rewards sizzle whether or not there's any steak.

Consider the scale of the evangelical industrial complex that survives by perpetuating this system. The Christian Booksellers Association, representing 1,700 Christian stores, sells $4.63 billion worth of merchandise a year. And that doesn't count retailers like Amazon and Walmart. Some estimate the total evangelical market to be over $7 billion a year. Evangelicalism is a very, very large business...that's why I call it an industrial complex.

And this massive market has grown in conjunction with the rise of megachurches since the 1970s; they rely upon and perpetuate each other. Megachurch leaders offer publishers pre-existing customer bases (their own congregations), and publishers make megachurch pastors into celebrities to perpetuate and expand their bottom lines. As a result, evangelicalism is not a meritocracy where talent, gifting, character, or wisdom result in a broadening influence. It is an aristocracy where simply having a platform entitles you to ever-increasing influence regardless of your talent, gifting, character, or wisdom.

Displaying 1–10 of 21 comments


March 04, 2012  7:28pm

Karen "I also see a truth in the reality of "Apostolic Succession" that I believe you cannot see because of the strongly prejudiced lens through which you view Church history. " Church history is not inspired by God. Only the Word is. I should not need to know any church history to have a complete understanding of God's design for leadership in His church. Have you added the lens of selected church history pronouncements to your reading of God's Word in order to agree with "apostolic succession"? "It certainly doesn't help that those invested with senior responsibility and authority in the various churches throughout history have sometimes scandalously abused their positions." Sometimes? I think it is more like quite frequently and in every generation. It certainly does not help your claim. It really helps me to see that when God's Word is corrupted yet said to be "God's will" , that the results will show corruption regardless of the claim. The corruption is evident in every brand name, big or small, local or world wide, that props up clericalism as God's will. Your inability to take into full account this systemic "scandalous abuse" makes you a part of it's continuation. The corruption matches up where the system exists. The notion that one man dominates the expression of truth when the saints gather is celebritising and scandalous enough on it's own. I have been bamboozled in the clerical system long enough to know the tricks these authority filled bishops and pastors play to hide their spiritual inauthenticity and duplicity. The posturing is phenomenal, "white washed sepulchers", just like the Pharisees. Alas God's grace is more phenomenal than all of it. He will purge it all in His time.

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February 26, 2012  5:14pm

Many politicians, as well as non-politicians, claim to be both devout Christians and also great admirers of Ayn Rand. Are they aware of her most controversial views: Her hatred of religion; her hatred of altruism; her contempt for the poor and the weak? I don't think the two worldviews are compatable. What do others here think?

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February 23, 2012  2:05pm

Tim, we likely would agree on far more than we don't. Authority in Christ's Church does not equal lording it over. Properly, the bishops and pastors of Christ's church should operate in a way analogous to the loving and godly father in a family (who also knows how to properly honor his own elders). I see, however, clearly in the Scriptures an appropriate authority (as responsibility, not overlordship) invested in the biblical offices of bishop, pastor/priest and deacon, etc., to teach and shepherd Christ's flock (as undershepherds to Christ Himself), and consequently I also see a truth in the reality of "Apostolic Succession" that I believe you cannot see because of the strongly prejudiced lens through which you view Church history. That's okay. I can agree to disagree with you on that. It certainly doesn't help that those invested with senior responsibility and authority in the various churches throughout history have sometimes scandalously abused their positions.

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February 23, 2012  1:42pm

Karen "You take your crusade against clericalism not a little too far sometimes…" Thank you for naming the foundational erroneous beliefs underneath all celebrity on a world level or on a local level- clericalism. If you do not get what the scriptures say about ALL believers being saints and called or clerics, then you have missed the Word of God at these points. Biblical leadership has nothing in common with clericalism or leaders appointed based on seminary degrees, or alleged gifts for dominating the expression of truth when the saints gather, or even the fabled doctrine of apostolic succession. All appointing of elders was done in a local body for a local body and to reproduce more local bodies. Of course there have been men over the centuries full of faith, wisdom and suffered much. They wrote about many powerful element of growing faith, but if they said anything to confront the gross errors of clericalism, it has not come through. If they did, it was thrown under the bus just like the teaching of Paul on these issues. 90% of Paul's teaching on the use gifts of the Spirit and the filling of the Spirit are rendered meaningless by the clerical system of dominating leadership, no matter what brand name of church is on the door. (The translators who use ruling for the gift of ruling or elders who rule well are grossly out of line with the N.T. context of "not lording over the flock") Clericalism is a school of thought or a lens through which all scripture is reinterpreted (and translated) to justify it's practice. If you ever come to the place where you can give yourself permission to hear God's voice outside this box, there is much more to rejoice about and give praise to God for His wisdom in designing His household. Jerry Well done with the Word.

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February 23, 2012  8:45am

Contrast all of that with - Is 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like one people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn't value Him. Or how about: 2 Cor 11:23-27 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. One thing's for sure - we'd not let Paul or Jesus near one of our Christian conferences

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A. Amos Love

February 23, 2012  8:36am

Seems most who take the "Title" Pastor/Reverend desire "Celebrity." To be well known. That simingly innocent "Title" comes with something "A Little Bit Extra." Power - Profit - Prestige - Honor - Glory - Reputation. ALL those things Jesus spoke against. ALL those things that become "Idols" of the heart. Ezk 14:1-11. ALL those things that are highly esteemed among men... but are an abomination in the site of God. Luke 16:15. And the Bible warns us to "hew down "the graven images" of their gods." But, we make the "Title" Pastor, reverend, a "graven image." An "Idol." "A Graven Image" On Diploma's and Denominational licenses, placed on office walls. On business cards handed out, books, Conference Ads, tracts. On office doors, secretarys desks, church letterhead. On Sunday morning bulletins, church street signs, etc, etc... And anyone who reads them knows who "the Pastor" is. Yes? Isn't that - marketing self? Seeking "Celebrity?" Seeking to be known? Isn't that - He who speakes of himself seeks his own glory? John 7:18 KJV. What is popular is not always "Truth." What is "Truth" is not always popular. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall "hear My voice; " and there shall be "ONE" fold, and "ONE" shepherd. John 10:16 One Fold - One Shepherd - One Voice - One Leader {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

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February 23, 2012  8:34am

Not sure about all the hypothesis of how Christian Publishing works - but I do believe the internet is a game changer for sure. Now everyone has access to the info that once we had to totally rely on the "experts" to provide. Don't most people blindly follow others because they are successful - not because of what they stand for or what they believe???? We want formulas - not relationships. If you blindly follow a blind man - you'll blindly fall into a pit. I guess I got tired of yelling for someone with a ladder. Now I stand watching from a distance with a ladder in hand. Luke 16:13-15 No household slave can be the slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can't be slaves to both God and money." The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and scoffing at Him. And He told them: "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly admired by people is revolting in God's sight.

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February 22, 2012  8:12pm

I don't think anything will shut down the "complex" as you describe it. However, as more orthodox, biblical, gospel driven, mega-pastors are waking to the Internet/facebook twitter age, the "complex" is at least providing more balance to the messages out there. I think televangelism started this, creating a sense extremism to mega-pastors, but the Internet is leveling the playing field somewhat. At least the balance seems to be moving towards equilibrium in the future. Our Christian beliefs are so diverse, it would be expected that each belief would have their heroes. So the more knowledge out there, the better. No doubt economics would drive it to a large degree.

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February 22, 2012  7:17pm

Tim, it's true (as it was in the Old and New Testaments) that there have always been prophets, priests/shepherds, and teachers who have risen to a place of prominence and some renown by God's appointment within the narratives of the community of faith (including since NT times, i.e., throughout the history of the Church). You take your crusade against clericalism not a little too far sometimes, and not least of all in this case by equating such "celebrity" with that driven by modern marketing and consumerist forces (and let's not forget modern mass media where so often image, and not reality, prevails). Those historic biblical "celebrities" and those in Church history that have been deemed "Saints" became such because they were personally known by their heroic godly lives and Scripture-saturated mindsets and teaching. Many of those historic giants of the faith (if you will) became such exactly because they evidenced the gifts of the Spirit, not the least of which was extraordinary humility and Christlike sacrificial love for all people and especially the household of faith. You think you follow the Scriptures so dreadfully closely, but you seem very blind to their teaching about the place of appointed leaders in God's Church and their narratives that are full of heroic figures of faith (who held positions of authority in politics and in the community of faith, both through office and also charismatic gifting). You go so far overboard on this issue, I can't personally take most of your posts seriously anymore–even though I believe there are times you make a good point.

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February 22, 2012  3:29pm

Rob Skye says "...or even the historical fact that celebrity preachers have always existed. " Even the oldest of dead writers were a part of celebrity driven church. You have celebrity orientation as long as there has been one man dominating the "Worship" gathering with one-way communication where God has specifically asked for all believers to participate in mutual, one another driven expression. (Heb. 10:24,25, and others) They might abhor this degree of celebrity, but they were a part of that same system to a lesser degree. All this does not mean they have nothing to say of value for today, but it does mean they would not have a solution to this situation. It seems many try to make claims that older writers are closer to the truth because they were closer to the apostles in time. This is a grossly inaccurate claim (not that you made it). The N.T. is where the true correction and and instruction is found. Taking seriously the Apostle Paul and the specific actions and ministry priorities he very passionately took to reject the flesh driven pull of celebrity would kill the celebrity dynamic quickly. Today's "leaders" have read every word, but they throw Paul under the bus at these points. I've even heard them on the radio chuckle with glee as they do this. Though they might posture that they don't like it, their actions betray that they love it.

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