Children leading children. That was the initial thought that ran through my mind as I read New York Magazine’s expose on the celebrity pastors who are helping shape Hollywood. My subsequent thoughts steered more to concern over the potential damage being wrought in the name of Christ to American evangelicalism by celebrities and their celebrity pastors.
The long article (linked to above), written by Allie Jones and titled “A Guide to the Evangelical Celebrities and Pastors Dominating Hollywood,” provides background information about four celebrity pastors. Included among the information is the list of celebrities currently connected to each pastor and celebrities that have been connected in the past. For example:
[Carl] Lentz popped up in the tabloids again in January, when TMZ and People reported that he was personally offering Christian couples counseling to Bieber and Gomez, who briefly reunited at the end of 2017. Sometime after Bieber and Gomez broke up in March, however, Bieber and Lentz had a “major falling out,” according, again, to TMZ. … Lentz has plenty of other celebrities to minister to, thank God. Bieber’s ex-girlfriends Gomez and Baskin Champion,remain, by all accounts, devoted followers of the church. Kendall and Kylie Jenner have been photographed attending services, as have several NBA players including Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving (Lentz played college basketball and has been the chaplain for the Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets). Lentz may not get to officiate Bieber’s wedding, but he could do the honors for Hillsong follower Nick Jonas, who just got engaged to Priyanka Chopra.
Besides Carl Lentz—of Hillsong and Justin Bieber fame—Jones explains the celebrity connections of Chad Veach, who pastors Zoe Church in L.A.; Russell Wilson’s pastor Judah Smith; and Rich Wilkerson, Jr. who officiated Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s wedding. There is even a chart to help the readers keep track of who’s connected to whom. Justin Bieber is in the middle of the chart, with the four pastors making the ends of a cross around him.
In the past four years, Justin Bieber’s done for Pentecostal megachurches what Tom Cruise did for Scientology and Madonna did for Kabbalah https://t.co/y8G2kH9Nef
— The Cut (@TheCut) August 14, 2018
As the kids say, I ain’t mad at the article. In fact, to be fair, Allie Jones wrote an engaging article. Besides, it’s not her fault that many professing Christians have shied away from taking actual stands and have instead pursued the “American Dream” at the expense of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Many seem to have jettisoned “take up your cross and follow me” for a slavish devotion to pop culture.) American Christians worship celebrities as much, if not more, than their secular counterparts. Jones’ article is merely a reflection of the tepid faith and compromised commitment to Jesus expressed within large segments of American evangelicalism.
My concern is with a true statement Jones made. “In the past four years, [Bieber]’s done for Pentecostal megachurches what Tom Cruise did for Scientology and Madonna did for Kabbalah,” she wrote. “When he posts about Bible study at Hillsong or is photographed attended a Zoe Church conference, more millennial celebrities (and celebrity-obsessed millennials) join the flock.”
That raises the question, what kind of “flock” are they joining?
The answer to that question must begin by asking another question: what kind of pastor is leading the flock? Allie Jones provides insight into the answer to that question:
But the Pentecostal interpretation of the Bible is not always what millennials want to hear. Media outlets have questioned Lentz, Veach, Smith, and Wilkerson about their views on marriage equality and abortion, which more traditional Pentecostal churches rail against. The cool pastors, however, prefer not to share their opinions on these issues.
Setting aside the fact that the “Pentecostal interpretation of the Bible” regarding things like marriage equality, abortion, and sexuality mirrors that of traditional, orthodox Christianity, it’s nice to read that NY Mag’s Jones recognizes that the beliefs of broader evangelicalism are at odds with the beliefs of the broader culture. Shamefully, she also points out that these celebrity pastors twist themselves into pretzels attempting to avoid answering the hard questions about marriage equality, abortion, and sexuality. Pandering to celebrities like Justin Bieber and the Kardashians takes precedence over boldly taking a stand for Christ. And, make no mistake, that milquetoast stance will be reflected in how those pastors shepherd their flocks.
Furthermore, these celebrity pastors are not only feeding the idolatrous love for celebrities and pop culture in general that plagues much of American evangelicalism, they are modeling it for their congregations. Taking what’s supposed to be praise and worship centered solely on our Creator, churches like Hillsong drag the transcendent into the crass and self-gratifying.
The fact that the words “popped up in the tabloids again” can be applied to a pastor should cause people to run as quickly as possible from the church associated with that pastor.
Following Jesus is a counter-cultural act. Compromising the truth in order to snuggle up with celebrities is the exact opposite of counter-cultural. What would be counter-cultural, though, is for one of these celebrity pastors to shepherd the “celebrity-loving millennials” in their congregation to denounce the anti-God lifestyle and creed of Hollywood and commit to following Jesus at all costs.
Jesus told us that the world will hate his followers because the world hates him. Chasing popularity is the antithesis of that.