Now, celebrity worship in the church is nothing new. Before Warren, Keller, Piper, Driscoll, Young, Osteen, Meyer, etc. there were Moody, Spurgeon, and Whitefield. Every generation has had its celebrity pastors, all the way back to Paul, Apollos, Cephas, etc. back in New Testament times.
But what is happening today is something different. The rise of Christian media in the last few decades has completely and totally changed the game. It has created a culture where celebrity megachurch pastors are promoted, not because they are faithful or have a message worth hearing, but because they have an audience. This audience (their church) will buy their books, which makes them profitable. This causes the Christian bookselling industry to grow, and as it grows it needs even more celebrity megachurch pastors with huge audiences to fuel its growth–a vicious cycle. Jethani notes the uncomfortable similarity between this and the “military-industrial complex” that Eisenhower warned of, and even goes so far as to call it the “evangelical industrial complex”.
At the end, Jethani offers a good recommendation on what to do from here:
And what are we to do about it? Avoid conferences or popular books? No, not necessarily. But we do need to be discerning and recognize that popularity does not equal maturity, and a wide audience does not equal wisdom. Don’t let the publishers or conference organizers determine what’s right for you and your community. Seek God’s wisdom about what voices and ideas to allow into your life and church. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you and not just the marketing departments of the industrial complex.
And when it comes to books, remember that best sellers don’t always contain the best thinking. Because of my role and access to the latest books, people ask me frequently, “Who should I be reading?” I always give the same advice: “Read dead people. And if they’re not dead they should be close.” If a Christian book written 50 or 500 years ago is still being read today, it’s probably worth reading. I’m not opposed to reading contemporary books or listening to living leaders, but engaging historical authors and perpetually relevant human issues is an antidote to the shallow celebrity culture we current bathe in.