The Celebrity Pastor Factory

Every generation has had a handful of well known pastors, but why are there now so many, and how do they achieve so much influence with so little accountability?

In summary, the rise and fall of any celebrity pastor is merely a symptom of an underlying malady within American evangelicalism. Why are there now so many celebrity pastors? Because they generate a lot of revenue for the Evangelical Industrial Complex. Why do these pastors fall with such regularity? Because the Evangelical Industrial Complex uses a business standard rather than a biblical standard when deciding which leaders to promote. What should we do about it? Here are three suggestions:


Celebrity pastors are not a new phenomenon, nor is our human tendency to exalt our leaders to unsustainable heights.

What is new is the number of celebrity pastors and the speed at which they are being created and corrupted. Every generation has had a handful of well known pastors, but why are there now so many, and how do they achieve so much influence with so little accountability? What explains the creation of an entire celebrity-class within American evangelicalism?

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 (EIC)—a phrase I coined in 2012.

First a little background: In 1961, in President Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation, he warned about the unintended effects of the “military industrial complex.” Many now consider Eisenhower’s warning prophetic given the exponential growth in military spending and wars over the last 50 years. (Watch a segment of his speech.)

So, what does Eisenhower and the military have to do with the rise and fall of celebrity pastors? Well, just as America’s militarism for the last half century is partially the result of systemic economic forces, so is the rise of the present clergy celebrity-class.

There is an Evangelical Industrial Complex that helps create and relies upon celebrity leaders. Have you ever wondered why you don’t see pastors from small or medium sized churches on the main stage at big conferences? Or why most of the best-selling Christian authors are megachurch leaders?

Here’s the answer we like to believe:

The most godly, intelligent, and gifted leaders naturally attract large followings, so they naturally are going to have large churches, and their ideas are so great and their writing so sharp that publishers pick their book proposals, and the books strike a nerve with so many people that they naturally become best-sellers, and these leaders become the obvious choice to speak at the biggest conferences. As a result they ascend to celebrity status.

Is this possible? Yes. Does it happen? Sometimes. Is it the norm? No.

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