Corinth, Christ and Celebrities

Enough of celebrity Christianity:

In many ways things are not so very different today than what they were 2000 years ago. Problems we face in the church today were problems back then. We might have new names for some of these things, but the core issues continue. Anyone familiar with the two letters the apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth will get my drift.

Back then a major issue Paul had to deal with were the “super-apostles”. These were leaders and teachers (often false teachers) who tended to put their personalities, their prestige, and their power forward as their credentials. They thought they were superior and more authoritative than people like Paul.

In 2 Corinthians especially we find him spending a lot of time dealing with this. In 2 Cor. 11:5-7 he puts it this way: “I do not think I am in the least inferior to those ‘super-apostles.’ I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way. Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge?”

He boasts not in great power or speaking ability or popularity, but in his weakness, so that Christ might be glorified: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the ‘super-apostles,’ even though I am nothing” (2 Cor. 12:10-11).

He had made all this clear in his first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor 1:26-31):

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Today things are no different. Indeed, with the new technologies and global media, it can be even more of a problem, with televangelists and mega-church pastors strutting their stuff for all the world to see. Not all misuse and abuse their positions in this way of course, but far too many do. And how often does mere eloquence, wit, good looks or youth become some of the main qualifications here?

I recall some 16 years ago writing about one of these super-pastors who would not go anywhere without first sending through a list of his demands. I had mentioned a terrific article in Charisma magazine by J. Lee Grady which spoke of the “deadly virus of celebrity Christianity.” This is how he described what one celeb leader required before coming to speak:

-a five-figure honorarium
-a $10,000 gasoline deposit for the private plane
-a manicurist and hairstylist for the speaker
-a suite in a five-star hotel
-a luxury car from the airport to the hotel
-room-temperature Perrier

Wow. Imagine Paul or Peter or John or Luther or Spurgeon or Lewis or Paul Washer sending out such a ludicrous list of demands. Indeed, I once was speaking with a pastor and he discussed having me speak at his church. He asked me what my speaking fee was. I laughed and said it was as much as Paul had charged. I have never had a fee, and I never will.

So all this has long been an area of concern for thoughtful Christians. Let me cite just two more of them. Back in 2017 Kate Shellnuttis, an editor at Christianity Today, penned a piece about “Pastoring in the Age of Celebrity.” She asked how the internet age was impacting ordinary churches and Bible study, with megachurch pastors downloading content, posting podcasts and televising everything.

Smaller and poorer pastors do not always have that luxury, and the author notes both pros and cons in all this: “On the web, readers can find and follow compelling, gifted teachers without assessing where their theological affiliations or beliefs fall in comparison to their own. And at times, a leader’s popularity, presence on a certain book list, or spot on a speaker lineup might be enough for churches to share or endorse that leader.”

She quotes Trevin Wax: “A pastor can’t be expected to address every specific need of every Christian in their congregation through their preaching. Good pastors seize the opportunity to resource their people with likeminded, trusted Christian leaders who may be especially strong in certain areas or speaking on certain subjects.”

But, as another pastor notes: “The prevalence of Bible teachers also seems to have dulled some people’s discernment. If a person has a podcast or is featured at a conference, then he or she is assumed to be solid. Sadly, as you know, that’s not the case.”  

A stronger and perhaps much more needed word on this matter comes from Michael L. Brown. He just wrote on this topic of celebrity pastors, and his words are much needed today. His piece is titled, “The End of Celebrity Christianity.” He begins:

It is one of the strengths of our American culture that we know how to make everything bigger and better. It is one of the weaknesses of the American church that we apply this same mentality to our pastors and leaders. We know how to turn servants into superstars!


How foreign this is to the New Testament mindset, where being a top leader meant persecution more than popularity and rejection more than recognition. In the early church, as a senior leader, you were more likely to be executed than exalted. Today, ministry is the path to stardom and success. How did we fall so far?


It is one thing to have a platform that reaches millions. We can be thankful to God for that. It is another thing to become a celebrity Christian. It is one thing to pastor a massive mega-congregation. That is a sacred entrustment.

It is another thing to cultivate the adoration and adulation of your people as if you yourself were a superstar. Careful! God will not share His glory with another.


Superstar leaders thrive on admiration and find identity in their celebrity status. They want to be seen and celebrated. They consider themselves special, a cut above the rest. Their image is carefully cultivated – first by themselves, then by their team – as the fawning crowds are reminded, “You are privileged to have such a man (or woman) of God in your midst!”

Brown continues:

Superstar leaders often travel with a large entourage, not because all the staff members are needed for purposes of security or ministry service but because the leaders are big shots, as untouchable as they are unaccountable. Is this not a blatant form of idolatry?


Who among us could remain Christlike and humble in a setting like that? And how much easier it is to stay low when you are thrown into prison after preaching rather than hailed as God’s gift to the world and viewed adoringly on massive video screens. Fame comes with a price.

He quotes the pastor and journalist Frank Bartleman: “The fact is when a man gets to the place where he really loves obscurity, where he does not care to preach, and where he would rather sit in the back [pew] than on the platform, then God can lift him up and use him, and not very much before.”

Brown finishes with these wise words:

As for those of us who are leaders or who influence large numbers of people, let us guard our hearts carefully, lest we crave the applause and recognition and lest we hunger after the prosperity and power. As Jesus warned, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).


Perhaps Paul could teach us something here too? He wrote, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).


Today, when the church of America is being shaken and the refiner’s fire is purging God’s people, we must learn to embrace the cross, putting to death the craving for celebrity status. And we must make every effort to point all eyes to the only One worthy of adoration and praise. Anything less than that is spiritual insanity, if not spiritual suicide.


If ever there was a time to get this right it is now, as the Lord Himself is saying, “Enough!” God Almighty is purifying His bride, and that means the end of celebrity Christianity. May it never rise again!

Yes Brown has nailed it. We live in an age of celebrity Christianity. We need to get back to an age of Christ-like Christianity. And what Isaiah 53:2-3 says about Christ should be a model for all of us:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

[1654 words]

4 Replies to “Corinth, Christ and Celebrities”

  1. -a five-figure honorarium
    -a $10,000 gasoline deposit for the private plane
    -a manicurist and hairstylist for the speaker
    -a suite in a five-star hotel
    -a luxury car from the airport to the hotel
    -room-temperature Perrier

    I’d be fine with a steak dinner. Me and another person probably under $100 total.
    I’ll take a coach seat on an airline plane.
    Just give me the name of a nearby barbershop.
    A room with a bed in a regular old hotel is fine I’m not fancy.
    Someone can pick me up and if the car won’t fall apart before we get to the hotel great. Or I’ll pay for a cab.
    If the place has running water and ice I’m satisfied.

    Another thing is celebrity Christianity is what turns so many away from the faith and gives so much ammunition to people to deride us. I know they would deride us anyway but we don’t have to make their job easier.

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