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The Real Reason for the Rise of the Celebrity Pastor

You know something is cooking when both Relevant Magazine and the Together for the Gospel conference are talking about it. The issue I’m referring to is celebrity pastors. Rachel Held Evens’ recent article in Relevant, “When Jesus Meets TMZ,” seeks to explain the rise of celebrity pastors within evangelicalism. (A panel at the T4G conference will address the same topic in April.) Evens’ article does a good job of outlining our corrupt human tendency to make our leaders into idols-a temptation evident from Christianity’s earliest days (see 1 Corinthians 3:21) that has marked every era of the Church.

Before Osteen, Warren, and Driscoll, there were Moody, Spurgeon, and Whitefield. Celebrity pastors are not new.

But what is new is the number of celebrity pastors and the speed with which they are being created/coronated.

This is what Evens’ article doesn’t address. Every generation has had a handful of well-known pastors, but why are there now so many? What explains the creation of an entire celebrity-class within the evangelical world?

Yes, our human proclivity for leader-worship is as potent as ever, but there is more than a spiritual or psychological reason behind the rise of today’s pastoral pantheon. There is a systemic economic force at work as well, what I call the Evangelical Industrial Complex.

First, a little background. In 1961, in President Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation, he warned about the unintended effects of what he dubbed the “military industrial complex.” Following WWII, for the first time in American history, a permanent arms industry was created to manufacture weapons, tanks, warplanes, etc. This industry employed millions of Americans, and Eisenhower feared its influence over the government and that its need for armed conflict in order to grow would prove damaging to the country.