Perhaps you heard about the young pastor recently who preached a twenty-four hour sermon. This was not a case of the Holy Spirit falling upon the preacher and inspiring him to keep at it. It was a planned event. He actually designed and advertised the sermon as a means of promoting his new book. By all accounts, he has been a successful pastor, starting and growing a rather large congregation. He had just finished writing the book and felt like the message would “change lives.” Speaking as a writer who has published a few books myself, I agree that if you do not have something important to say that needs to be heard, don’t bother writing a book. To be honest, when I heard about this twenty-four hour sermon, my first thought was that I am glad I have lived long enough that people have forgotten all the dumb stuff I did in my twenty’s. Hopefully this young man will live long enough as well.
The underlying issue of this whole business is preachers performing some kind of stunt in order to attract attention and draw a crowd. It raises the question of celebrity preachers. The basic definition of celebrity is quite simple. A celebrity is someone who is widely known. We have raised the idea of being a celebrity to new heights. There are magazines, websites, and television programs that exist for the sole purpose of revealing insights about celebrities.
It is a viscous cycle–do something that get’s noticed, appear in a magazine or newspaper, other magazines notice, people follow you around, do something else, everyone notices, get on more magazine covers, do something stupid, one last burst of notoriety, loose all your friends. The amazing thing is that so many folks are striving to be celebrities it is almost like a chosen profession for some – What do you want to be when you grow up? A celebrity!
I do not have a problem with celebrity preachers. The issue that concerns me is preachers who strive to be celebrities without realizing the cost. I think it is safe to say that Billy Graham was a celebrity preacher. He is very well-known all around the world. However, he became famous by preaching. His celebrity was a by-product of his work. I don’t know him personally, but I never felt like he sought out the celebrity status, although he certainly knew how to utilize it. There have been many celebrity preachers throughout history – Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield. It might even be correct to say that Jesus was a celebrity preacher in his day.
Since we live in such a media saturated society, there are numerous celebrity preachers today. I saw a recent article that listed twenty-two in the city of Houston. I don’t know if I would consider them all celebrities because I don’t think most of us have heard of many of them, but they are well-known in certain large circles.
When a person becomes a celebrity, it changes everything about their life. They are constantly faced with the temptation of ego. I don’t know, but I suspect it is hard to remain humble when you constantly see your face on magazine covers, or read stories about yourself in the newspaper, or see your name on top of a list of speakers at huge conferences. It also exposes everything you say or do to questioning. You must be ready to explain why you spent money in a certain way, why you made a particular statement, what you believe about a subject, or give your opinion on something you know nothing about.
Celebrity preachers are also very susceptible to having their sins exposed. We all know they sin, they are celebrities not deities, and when everyone is watching so closely, their sins will be made known. The truth is that we do not expect them to be perfect, but we hope they will not sexually molest others, seek after extravagant lifestyles, or try to cover up secret activities. It is tough to be a celebrity preacher and remain faithful.
I read a story about a preacher once who was a very persuasive and powerful man. In fact, he possessed such a gift from God that he actually healed a man who had been crippled from birth. The man stood up and walked and everyone heard about it and believed it was true. Consequently the crowds believed the preacher and his associate were gods and brought great offerings to them. In spite of the preacher’s protests, his reputation spread and ultimately angered the religious establishment. These religious leaders grabbed the preacher, drug him out of town, beat him, and left him for dead. End of story you might think.
However, the preacher rose up (perhaps he was not completely dead, I don’t know), and returned to the city. At this point he could have been on the front of every newspaper and magazine cover in the region. He could have used his celebrity status to proclaim Jesus to the masses. He would have been known as the miracle working preacher who came back from the dead. No need for a publicist. Talk about having something to say!
Instead of seeking celebrity status, this preacher and his associate left town the next day in order to carry the Gospel to another place. He wanted nothing to do with the worshipping crowds. In case you are a little rusty on your New Testament, this is a story about Paul taken from the fourteenth chapter of Acts. Paul seemed to understand the danger of being placed on a pedestal and wanted nothing to do with it. The problem with pedestals is that they are normally quite wobbly.
I have a problem with preachers and churches that are all about attracting attention and drawing a crowd. It concerns me that our motives may not be pure when we seek to become a well-known, a celebrity. Jesus seemed to have little interest in attracting crowds. He instructed folks to remain quiet about His miracles because He was not interested in the wrong kind of attention. He often spoke to crowds about laying down your life and taking up your cross–both concepts guaranteed to thin out a mob.
When Jesus was finished, he only had a handful of followers. After receiving the Holy Spirit, Peter stood up at the Pentecost gathering and proclaimed a message of Jesus’ resurrection and a call for repentance by sinners. This was a sermon that no one seeking to be a celebrity would dare proclaim. The one point that continually appears in the sermons recorded in the book of Acts is the resurrection of Jesus. If we constantly preach that message, we will probably never be a celebrity, but Jesus just might be.