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Megachurch Pastors: Heroes, Villains or Something Else?

Imagine you’re watching a movie or TV show and one of the characters is a megachurch pastor. Are they likely to be a hero or a villain?

Yeah, I know. It’s obvious, right?

Megachurch pastors are a step beneath used car salesmen and ambulance-chasing lawyers in the eyes of many people in our culture. According to Hollywood, they’re all money-hungry, style-over-substance manipulators.

Yes, I’m aware that Hollywood’s view of the world is not reality. But this caricature is not pulled out of thin air. They’re reflecting something back to us.

And I think it’s something we need to pay attention to.

No, there’s nothing wrong with a church growing to megachurch size. And we certainly shouldn’t be taking our cues about our fellow pastors from Hollywood movies.

But we need to approach our own culture much more like missionaries approach a foreign culture. Learn their language, their thought-patterns and their belief-systems. Only then do we have half a chance of reaching them in a way they’ll understand.

This culture perceives megachurches as ego-driven and corrupt. Where do they get this idea? 

Is Hollywood leading or following us?

Here’s an idea how negative the culture is against megachurches. While looking for a photo to use with this post, it was almost impossible to find a picture of a megachurch or a megachurch pastor that wasn’t attached to an extremely negative, even hateful post.

Even worse, it didn’t matter whether the post was on a secular or Christian website. Their attitudes and much of the language was the same—not just negative and critical, but often hurtful, angry, sarcastic and mean.

No wonder Hollywood thinks megachurches are evil! That’s what they’re reading on our own ministry-based blogs and Facebook pages!

By the way, I chose the photo of Rick Warren from an Easter service at Angel Stadium because it was one of the few I could find that wasn’t attached to a hurtful article. It was from a secular newspaper. And, in case you’re wondering, I’ve never met Rick, but I know a lot of people who know him well. He’s one of the good guys.

Meanwhile, on the other side, we have a church growth culture that idealizes megachurches almost to the point of idolatry.

So who are these megachurch pastors? Villains who have corrupted the Gospel? Or heroes of the faith?

How about this. Maybe megachurch pastors are just like the rest of us. A bunch of faithful but faulty servants, with a few manipulators and charlatans who have infiltrated their ranks and made the rest of them look bad.

Here are five principles that help me avoid either extreme in my attitude toward megachurches and their leaders.

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Karl is the author of four books and has been in pastoral ministry for almost 40 years. He is the teaching pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, a healthy small church in Orange County, California, where he has ministered for over 27 years with his wife, Shelley. Karl’s heart is to help pastors of small churches find the resources to lead well and to capitalize on the unique advantages that come with pastoring a small church. Karl produces resources for Helping Small Churches Thrive at KarlVaters.com, and has created S.P.A.R.K. Online (Small-Church Pastors Adapt & Recover Kit), which is updated regularly with new resources to help small churches deal with issues related to the COVID-19 crisis and aftermath.