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The Real Reason for the Rise of the Celebrity Pastor

Consider the scale of the evangelical industrial complex that survives by perpetuating this system. The Christian Booksellers Association, representing 1,700 Christian stores, sells $4.63 billion worth of merchandise a year. And that doesn’t count retailers like Amazon and Wal-Mart. Some estimate the total evangelical market to be over $7 billion a year. Evangelicalism is a very, very large business…that’s why I call it an industrial complex.

And this massive market has grown in conjunction with the rise of megachurches since the 1970s; they rely upon and perpetuate each other. Megachurch leaders offer publishers pre-existing customer bases (their own congregations), and publishers make megachurch pastors into celebrities to perpetuate and expand their bottom lines. As a result, evangelicalism is not a meritocracy where talent, gifting, character, or wisdom result in a broadening influence. It is an aristocracy where simply having a platform entitles you to ever-increasing influence regardless of your talent, gifting, character, or wisdom.

So as more people begin discussing and worrying about the existence of a celebrity-class of pastors, we need to see beyond our human tendency to idolize leaders or even the historical fact that celebrity preachers have always existed. Today, it isn’t simply Christians who are creating celebrity pastors; it’s the Christian market. We live in a new age where consumerism and mega-congregations have resulted in a self-perpetuating evangelical industrial complex that not only creates but also depends upon a growing number of celebrity pastors. Should we be concerned? Yes, but at least they’re not building nukes.