The danger of the celebrity pastor/leader
James Davison Hunter’s new book, To Change the World, has much to say. Regarding the question of Christian engagement in the world, the book is unavoidable and has been a paradigm-buster.
In the midst of a discussion on leadership, Hunter launches into the problems of the celebrity model of leadership, a model quite popular in evangelicalism in general and the SBC in particular.
Celebrity is, in effect, based on an inflated brilliance, accomplishment, or spirituality generated and perpetuated by publicity. It is an artifice and, therefore, a type of fraud. Where it once served power and patrons, in our own day it mainly serves itself and its pecuniary interests. Celebrity must, of necessity, draw attention to itself. In American Christianity, the relentless pressure to raise funds within churches and para-church organization reinforces the pressure toward celebrity, with an endless flow of direct mail, advertising, and ghostwritten sermons, speeches, articles, editorials, and so on. These pressures are difficult to resist even for those who, by instinct, might find celebrity either tasteless or problematic. The reason is that celebrity is not just a certain kind of status one achieves but it is also a powerful institution the entire structure of which is oriented toward burnishing a leader’s image and projecting his or her visibility (260).