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John Cooper: We Have a Cool Pastor Problem

Christian rock

Most people who look at Skillet’s John Cooper think he’s a pretty cool looking guy. As a Christian rock musician, he thinks looking cool is part of his job. But he’s not ok with pastors trying to look cool. In fact, Cooper believes the trend of “hip” and “relevant” pastors points to a very dangerous shift in orthodoxy the Church has taken lately.

“Pastors are not supposed to be cool. They’re not supposed to be the best looking people in the world,” Cooper said during an interview with the PreachersNSneakers podcast. “They’re not supposed to tell people what they want to hear in order to get famous.” 

Instead, Cooper says pastors have a “front lines” role that requires them to preach the truth—however unpopular it may be. “They’re supposed to be on the front lines taking some shots. They’re supposed to be the ones telling people like me what to do,” he says.

After posting his thoughts on this topic on Facebook, Cooper experienced some pushback. Some pointed out the irony of a Christian rock star who wears eyeliner and works out calling other people out on their preoccupation with appearance. 

Cooper’s Comments on Appearance Aren’t About Appearances Per Se

Cooper was raised in what he describes as a fundamentalist Christian home. He wasn’t allowed to wear black or even listen to most Christian music. In fact, Cooper shared that some in his family aren’t too happy about the tattoos that grace the musician’s skin. “Part of the reason I dress the way I do was a revolt—not against the Bible—it was a revolt against religion. It was a revolt against [the idea that] the most important thing in Christianity is outward appearance,” he explained. 

However, as Cooper matured, he came to understand that “Christianity is about having your heart changed from the inside out.” 

So why his beef with pastors who look good on the outside? 

Cooper says the difference between how he chooses to dress and how a pastor dresses comes down to calling. Being a pastor or a teacher in a church is a calling, Cooper explains, pointing to Ephesians 4:11  “There is a difference between being a pastor or a teacher in a church—that is a gifting, it’s a calling….That is different than being a musician.”

Furthermore, Cooper argues there’s something to be said for dressing appropriately for the calling you have. “It would be really strange to be a swimsuit model and a pastor at the same time.” Musicians, in contrast to pastors, Cooper argues, use image to promote their careers and sell their brand, as some people put it. Christian musicians are, as far as Cooper is concerned, in a business. And he’s ok with people who think Christian musicians shouldn’t view their jobs that way. He agrees to disagree with those people.

He also clarified that he doesn’t think any pastor that looks cool is sinning. “I still think it’s a motive of the heart. I think where the question comes in is if you’re called to be a pastor, the motive of your heart is to equip the people of God for the work of the ministry.” Plus, a pastor’s job is not to be liked by the world, Cooper reasons.

The whole issue of the trendy-looking (or the “hot pastor” as some have described) points to a deeper, more sinister issue than vanity, though. Cooper believes the rise of the cool pastor is linked to the rise of relativism that our broader culture has embraced. Relativism is the belief that there is no absolute truth, that all truth is relative. In other words, one person’s truth is different from another’s. People are defining their own truth instead of relying on the truths that their forefathers believed. 

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Megan Briggs is a writer and editor for churchleaders.com. Her experience in ministry, an extensive amount of which was garnered overseas, gives her a unique perspective on the global church. She has the longsuffering and altruistic nature of foreign friends and missionaries to humbly thank for this experience. Megan is passionate about seeking and proclaiming the truth. When she’s not writing, Megan likes to explore God’s magnificent creation.