Update (3-23-2021) The creator behind the popular PreachersNSneakers Instagram account has finally revealed his true identity after nearly two years of staying anonymous.
In an interview in The Washington Post, Benjamin G. Kirby explained how the Instagram account @PreachersNSneakers got its start. With a friend’s encouragement, Kirby started the account to expose and question church leaders who wear [assuming they purchase and aren’t getting them for free] outrageously priced sneakers.
In his first post on his 400 follower personal Instagram page, Kirby called out Elevation Church’s Steven Furtick after spotting him wearing an $800 pair of Yezzy’s designed by musician Kayne West. Kirby asked, “Hey Elevation Worship, how much you paying your musicians that they can afford $800 kicks? Let me get on the payroll!”
Today Kirby has over 240k followers on his PreachersNSneakers Instagram account, and he has now expanded to exposing the expensive clothing preachers are wearing.
Kirby told The Washington Post that, “At the beginning, it was easy for me to make jokes about it. Some of the outfits are absurd, so it’s easy to laugh at some of the designer pieces. The price tags are outlandish.” But as the Instagram account grew in followers, he said, “I began asking, how much is too much? Is it okay to get rich off of preaching about Jesus? Is it okay to be making twice as much as the median income of your congregation?”
With a degree in marketing management and an MBA, Kirby decided to release his true identity because he has a book coming out that will launch at the end of April. PreachersNSneakers: Authenticity in an Age of For-Profit Faith and (Wannabe) Celebrities includes a foreword by famous “Community” TV show actor Joel McHale.
Kirby grew up in a Ruston, Louisiana, Christian household, was homeschooled, and was brought up in what he describes as a “comfortable but modest lifestyle.” Kirby’s father is a family-practice doctor so they gave generously to the church they attended, and Kirby remembers his pastor at the time owning a Harley Davidson cruiser which confused him because it cost more than his parents’ yearly tithes alone. He said that’s when he realized the “somewhat fuzzy line” between ministry and business existed.
The newly announced soon-to-be father said his desire for the site isn’t for Christians to abandon fashion or their celebrity friendship, but he hopes PreachersNSneakers will bring more “transparency and accountability.”
Our previous exclusive interview by Megan Briggs with Kirby continues below.
“Christians don’t know what to do with social media.” That’s just one of the lessons the man behind the infamous PreachersNSneakers Instagram account has learned in the five months that have transpired since the account’s debut. “People have lost their collective minds over this account because nobody knows what to do with it,” the account’s creator told churchleaders.com. The account, which features mash-ups of well-known ministry leaders (preachers) wearing expensive clothing and accessories (sneakers) with the price of said clothing and accessories, has caused quite the stir in the evangelical world. While PreachersNSneakers started as a joke (and its creator still crafts humorous captions to accompany the images he posts), it has grown to over 192,000 followers. For someone who calls himself an evangelical Christian, this is one believer who has figured out how to use social media.
Who Is Behind the PreachersNSneakers Account?
Honoring his request to stay anonymous, Fashionista.com dubbed the PreachersNSneakers creator “Tyler Jones” when they interviewed him earlier this year, and the pseudonym has stuck. When churchleaders.com reached out to ask him a few questions, Jones explained when he started PreachersNSneakers he wasn’t very familiar with many of the preachers whose pictures now grace the account, with the exception of Carl Lentz, Erwin McManus, and T.D. Jakes. Otherwise, he wasn’t following the so-called celebrity pastor culture. He was watching a worship video featuring Mack Brock when he noticed the singer was wearing some pretty expensive shoes. The flashy style of the musicians and the obviously expensive sound system utilized in the worship service represented a far cry from Jones’ own church-upbringing. As a kid, Jones and his family attended non-denominational churches, which “might as well have been Baptist.” After growing up in the deep south in a very small town, Jones says he’s just now realizing “how close-minded a culture like that is.” As far as where he personally stands on whether a preacher should wear $3,000 shoes when he or she is preaching, Jones admits especially when he first started posting his iconic mashups of preachers wearing expensive apparel and the list price of said apparel, he often thought: “I’m giving my own money [to the church] and I can’t afford these shoes; how are these dudes affording these shoes?”
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Now, however, Jones can appreciate more of the nuances of the debate. He admits he is not a theologian nor is he a disgruntled church member with an agenda or axe to grind. Rather Jones is just an “average” person who is facilitating a discussion about hefty topics such as church transparency and personal accountability—all through an Instagram account he thinks of as “an opportunity to make people laugh.”
The Conversation That’s Happening
From the onset, PreachersNSneakers posts have garnered all kinds of comments. Some of the discussion has been good and civil with followers contemplating their own convictions and doing their best not to judge someone else they don’t know. But as can be expected on social media, hateful comments do fly. Jones hides the nastiest ones. Still, “even though it’s messy, it has brought up really good discussion and thought points on both sides, which I never thought would happen,” he says. On the PreachersNSneakers podcast, Jones interviews ministry and other Christian leaders who are in the spotlight to varying degrees to ask their take on the account. He’s done a good job offering a gamut of perspectives. The preaching pastor of City Church in Fort Worth, Texas, Will Bostian, told Jones he would confront T.D. Jakes about his “false teaching” before he would bring up his expensive clothing. On the other hand, Justus Murimi, a pastor turned motivational speaker, would be more inclined to thank Jakes in the form of a gift for his teaching, which Murimi says got him through a difficult time in his life. The fact of the matter is the debate is complicated. John Gray (who has been featured on the account) essentially argues he wears the clothes he does to make the people he’s trying to reach feel comfortable. Jones finds this particular argument a little “thin.” “Can we really not reach Millennials without dressing like Millennials?” he asks. “If we truly believe that God’s the creator of the universe and he put us in a position to reach a certain type of people, it’s kind of a thin argument to say that the Gucci belt is playing that big of a part.”