The Lesson of Driscoll’s Plagiarism: A Rant On Rejecting Celebrity Leadership

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Celebrity leadership is the death knell of the evangelical church in America

What can be learned by yet another Mark Driscoll fiasco. Is it even worth talking about?

The Poison of Celebrity Pastor Leadership

Forget the issue of Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism and his recent book. It’s the larger issue of celebrity pastoral leadership that bothers me. When a pastor is elevated into celebrity status, when he/she is removed from being among the people, actually knowing the people he/she ministers among, it inevitably distorts the church. The leadership itself becomes intertwined in power interests that are more broadly cultural. Such leadership can do little to lead the church forward into mission. It will at best hold the status quo, at worst cause division among followers of Christ into those who are for the celebrity and those who are against in order to gain more followers (or customers) faster. This is the way celebrity leadership works. Removed from the local workings of people’s lives on the ground, this kind of leadership becomes ideological. It leads in order to gather more people as fast as it can and then use that people for some ulterior purposes (fame, money, etc.) even when it appears (and probably intends) to serve the Kingdom. Celebrity leadership is poison for the church.

A while back, I got ripped because of some questions I asked of Rob Bell. Rob Bell had made an affirming statement about gay marriage which attracted attention because he was a Christian celebrity preacher. My concern was to show how celebrity leadership leads inevitably into antagonism, the taking up of sides, the arousing of all those who already agree to agree more firmly with what they already agree with, and the arousing of those who don’t agree to become more angry, more dug in their existing position and embittered towards those who don’t agree with them. IMO, There’s just no leading from this space. So celebrity leadership accomplishes nothing on the ground in terms of furthering the real discernment on the issues that are actually taking place in people’s lives and local congregations. It is not involved in the real lives of churches ensconced in real histories dealing with real life issues. Whether Rob Bell meant it or not, I feared his affirmation of gay marriage fell into these bad habits of celebrity leadership. For all these reasons, I asked Rob Bell, “Who he is speaking for/to whom in his affirming gay marriage?” It wasn’t his position on the issue I was questioning (that’s another post or book or something). It was the poison of celebrity leadership and what it does to the witness of the church.

The Tragedy of Driscoll’s Plagiarism: The Evangelical Celebrity Machine

To me the tragedy of Mark Driscoll’s latest controversy is not the plagiarism. It is the afterwards development of the revealing of his plagiarism by radio talk show host Janet Mefford where  Mefford was evidently called upon to recant. In the mean time Driscoll is silent and Mefford’s part-time producer resigns with the telling words: “There is an Evangelical Celebrity Machine That is More Powerful Than Anyone Realizes.” Here the power interests have been revealed. Here the money at stake is exposed. Here lies the eruption of the Real. And so the question really is NOT did Driscoll plagiarize or not (he did). It is, why doesn’t Mark Driscoll simply repent? Why doesn’t he just go before his congregation, lie prostrate on the ‘stage’ and confess his sins of plagiarism, greed, trying to do too much publishing too fast, and what he will do to rectify and make the situation whole. It’s what us Christians do? Of course this too could be used ideologically. But at least this would be the actual practice of the Christian faith (Matt 18:15-20, James 5:16) one step removed from managing the ideological factors (his public image, his sales etc.).

Instead Driscoll’s silence in this regard reveals that there is ideology at work. His clear avoidance of one of the most basic practices of the Christian life and the continuing charades surrounding him, the publishers and the lawyers to avoid dealing with the lies, illustrate how far the Driscoll’s book and leadership has been removed above the actual practice of on-the-ground Christian life in the form of a celebrity pastor, and has become a product to be sold, an image to be upheld. This is not Christianity, this is ideology, and (for all the reasons mentioned above) I believe cannot lead our churches anywhere.

So really, pastor Mark, I think it’s just real Christian life to repent before your local congregation, return the advance, and step down from pastorate for a while to work on some stuff with real people involved in your life. We all need to do this from time to time. It is no shame. It is the Christian life.

A Call to Reject Celebrity Leadership

One of the things I have found myself doing these past five years is paying attention to how ideology functions. My observation is simple. Once Christianity/church devolves into an ideology it ceases being an authentic embodiment of God’s Triune work in the world. It becomes a product. It works off antagonism (or lack) as opposed to being the overflowing of abundance of God’s work into the world. Ideology twists Christianity into a form of false consciousness, bad drives, insecurities, and lastly cynicism (I’m playing off Zizek a bit here). But the life we have been given in Christ under His rule is ultimately about overcoming all those things. Ideology is to the church of Christ as disobedience and idol worshiping is to the nation of Israel in the OT.

Celebrity leadership is the death knell of the evangelical church in America. It’s killing us. And so I believe it’s of utmost importance that everyone under the age of 35 reject celebrity leadership. Realize that once beliefs, products, preaching, leadership is extracted from the local life of the local concretely engaged church, it tends to quickly devolve into ideology. And we then are just a short period away from the death of that church in a swirl of inevitable contradictions, hypocrisy and moral failures that inevitably attend celebrity leadership.

Instead, the church that shall go on into the new challenges and unreached regions shall be led by organic on the ground leadership, in Gramsci’s terms: the organic intellectual. We need more of these kind of leaders. I continue to believe that the “revolution will not be televised.”

For those who are developing platforms, do it organically. There is a good way to develop a platform and a bad way, an organic simple way that develops from within on the ground relationships, and a bad way that plays off antagonism, trumped up activity and is devoid of local context. I contend the true leadership that shall lead into the future will come from the good way.

What do you do with celebrity leadership? What are some examples of organic local on the ground leaders that we can learn from? How can we all (including myself) avoid the pitfalls/desires of being a celebrity leader?

 

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Posted in Mark Driscoll, Missional Leadership
49 comments on “The Lesson of Driscoll’s Plagiarism: A Rant On Rejecting Celebrity Leadership
  1. Greg Arthur says:

    David,

    Thanks for these thoughts. The nature of celebrity in and of itself is inherently contrary to kingdom work. That is the constant example we gather from Jesus. He left behind the celebrity machine of his day to do the real work of the Messiah. This was life on life work that required him to touch people personally and look them in the eye. The crowds were always in the way.

    As Christians shouldn’t we automatically distrust anything that reals of celebrity? In a culture where anyone with a youtube channel can create their own platform why would we trust the machine? In a culture where poorly written but titalating books can sell tens of millions of copies why does having an audience lend any credence to what we have to say?

    I am convinced the sure fire way to kill my effectiveness in my current ministry is to either one day become rich or famous.

  2. Andrew Holt says:

    “Celebrity leadership is the death knell of the evangelical church in America.” Spot on. I appreciate your comparison between ideology and idolatry. I hadn’t considered that before, but it seems to be a valid point.

  3. Dyfed says:

    Strong stuff! But fair I think.

    As a student of revival history in Wales I am of the opinion that the star status given to Evan Roberts, Dafydd Morgan, Howell Harris et al was not helpful to the movements they were a part of. It detracted from the good work being done in tghe local

  4. Dyfed says:

    … and was more of a distraction than anything else. (Apologies for messing up my first comment!)

  5. Dan Jr. says:

    Dave good rant.
    I’m convinced that the macro celebrity culture is a reflection of the micro celebrity culture. I think the gritty work is done in our own local communities. It is easy to be a little deity in our little empires. If we coalesce with this on a local level then we cozy up to it on a larger platform level. How do we self-sabotage our own Hero-Complex that our parishioners want to put upon us. Thoughts from my own story> http://danwhitejr.blogspot.com/2013/12/sabotaging-hero-complex-in-discipleship.html

  6. Stephen says:

    I am actually hoping that he does not lay his prostate on the stage and confess his sins. I think prostates are private things. But maybe I’m weird.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist :-)

  7. Laura Stone says:

    Can you talk about how you understand blogs in light of your emphasis (very important, I think!) on ministering to/among a community? I say this as an open question from someone who has for a long time been ambivalent about writing to an audience with whom I have no more than a written relationship with… and whose lives and situations I largely do not know. How do you articulate your sense of authority in this forum, and how can a person keep it from being a smaller version of a celebrity voice, inadvertently doing the kind of polarizing you point toward? In what way do you understand blogging to contribute to on-the-ground ministry and reconciliation?

    • David Fitch says:

      Laura,
      yep.. and important questions …I have a post coming up on Good platforms versus bad ones … and ways I think they work from the ground up, locally engaged … and ways they detached and become “ideologized”… I hope to have it up in near future.

  8. Seth says:

    In the words of Nouwen, True Christian leadership (and the antidote to cultivating celebrity status) happens in daily habits where “power is constantly abandoned in favor of love.”

  9. Jeremy Penn says:

    Great thoughts.

    I happen to be a minister at Northland Church in the Orlando area – a very large church. Our lead pastor is anything but celebrity seeking. He just happens to be, among other things, a strong leader, great communicator, and transparent from the pulpit. Because of this he draws a crowd and a good bit of influence.

    Do you think it is possible to lead a large church with out falling into the celebrity pastor mode? or do the two simply go together?

    • David Fitch says:

      Jeremy,
      I think pastors who are great communicators who gather thousands of Christians around them have a choice. To center the focus on their own teaching, build multiple venues and disperse their influence via all manner of technological means, or to keep it local, refuse to market, and instead invest agains and again in local leaders calling for indigenous communiyties to manufest Christ’s presence uniquely in each local context. That pastor-great communicator can use his abilities and gifts as an apostle, from place to place, galvinizing leaders for new contexual engagments with real people outside the gospel.
      Only by staying involved, close, engaged with real church life, can a pastor avoid the nasty habit of becoming an image that he has to live up to, that has no soul, versus a real person who struggles, fails and triumphs in the Spiirt alongside others and can lend his gifts to the furtherance of God”s Mission, with, alongside and among the brothers and sisters of the local “body of Christ”.

      • Jeremy Penn says:

        Thanks for the reply. Our church is currently moving into the world of indigenous communities you describe. It is proving a hard task but we recognize it has to be done.

        Any ideas on how a mega-church can break free form the traditional mega-church models?

        • David Fitch says:

          There are some large churches that have worked to foster and nuture local leadership networks and incarnatiuonal church plants … check out for example the Mill City network of churches in Minneapolis … from Woodridge Church in Minneapolis.

        • Chuck Baker says:

          Mulitiply. Over and over. Raise up new leaders. Always choose live teaching over screens.

  10. Joshua Baulding says:

    Dave,

    Kindly, I’m wondering if your blog post is creating a helpful dialog for church leaders, or falls into gossip.

    I think there is a danger in lumping all “celebrity” preachers into one category. Paul, Apollos, Peter, and certainly Jesus would have qualified if the definition was someone with a wide audience. I think it is a character issue you are touching on more so than the wide audience. I think you also raise a valid concern with whether greed is a motivator.

    I don’t know if he plagiarized. If he did, I’m not sure it is a sin. Culturally we have a value of the material we publish should be original, but biblically…I’m not sure.

    Paul faced a similar problem where there were some who were preaching the Gospel with selfish intent. His response to that was to celebrate that they were preaching Jesus. All of us who teach will give an account for each word–whether said in a pulpit, book, or in a blog.

    My suggestion is that we celebrate publicly, rebuke privately, and pursue unity. Remember Jesus’ prayer that we would be one.

    2 Billion people have yet to hear the Gospel, and still have no access. Let’s go make him known.

    With the hope of unity,

    Joshua Baulding

  11. Beau says:

    As a 34 year old, I completely agree. But why do the old farts all get off the hook on this?

    • David Fitch says:

      Beau,
      I am primarily concerned with young up and coming leadership of the churches that IMO is often swayed into modeling their lives, goals of success, and understanding of leadership after the Mark Driscoll’s and other celebrity leaders. In my opinion, for some of the reasons outlined in this post and many more, this will not be the way God uses to change the world through the church. For the rest of us older folks, if we have already modeled our lives/minstries in this way, we already think of ourselves as failures (if we’re not one of the 2000 mega church pastors in the US) or we have achieved some success and cannot be talked out of it. That’s an overgeneralization, but I hope you get my point.

      • I really enjoyed your post but I have to challenge you over the ageism. 1) It’s never OK to generalise about any group of people; 2) Obsession with youth is a feature of the very ideology you expose so effectively; 3) One of the most magnificent truths about our faith is that it is never too late to change. If you are talking to the Church, which I believe you are doing, talk to the whole Church and please don’t draw dividing lines based on something as random as chronological age. Wishing you every blessing for 2014.

        • David Fitch says:

          OK. I repent. The only thing I need help on is seriously, how can we never generalize. It’s the very nature of the way we accumulate observations. So, I should couch what I say more carefully, and so I like regret it came across in the way it did to you Joanna. I presume (until shown differently) that leadership isn’t born, it’s developed formationally. Most leaders are formed by the time they reach significant leadership unless they hit a good crisis. For these reasons, I focus on upcoming leadership still in formation or leaders in crisis.
          Blessings!! and thanx for commenting.

    • I agree. I passed 35 more years ago than I care to admit..

      No, that’s not true… I’m 52 and love being the age that I am.

      Loved everything about this article except that I got lumped into.. what, exactly? The “Irrelevants”? The “old farts so who cares if they’ve followed Jesus for a long time and might actually know something”?

      I’m sure that’s not what you meant, Dave. That’s probably why it was a wee bit jarring to see it in an otherwise timely and wise article.

  12. Ed Brenegar says:

    Totally agree.

    I’ve decided that “ideology” can no longer be considered a form of intelligent thought. The ideologues, whether in the church, in politics or in society as a whole, are some of the least thinking people I have ever encountered.

    Ideology opens the door for celebrity worship, which makes the faith easy and without consequence.

  13. Beau says:

    Fair enough. And, again, I think you’re right. But given the way modelling and learning work, as well as the power structures of even the most humble local churches, a young “up and coming leader” who thinks like this will immediately find themselves confronted by the structural problems that replicate this logic and the micro-processes of replicating the kinds of ideology you’ve worked so well to name and deconstruct. But if this isn’t going to be another point of schism the current cohort of leaders has to, I don’t know, make space for it.

  14. Nathan Smith says:

    Great perspective Dave. The more I think about how leaders can impact people positively and negatively beyond their natural immediate influence, the more it seems that these kinds of leaders can harm people beyond their ability to practice real reconciliation. If a leader’s positive impact is exponential, then so is their negative impact and without the ability to reconcile with people who experience the negative impact, leaders should, in kind, mitigate their positive impact.

    In thinking about your post, I kept ruminating on this – leaders who keep their influence more local are then able to practice real reconciliation locally. Once their ability to reconcile exceeds their influence – they should just stop and withhold their gifts, trusting that the Spirit is able to do good in those places without them. If they provide beneficial influential outside of their local sphere of influence, but at the same time, cannot practice reconciliation in that sphere when that becomes necessary, they need to self-mitigate, otherwise they’ll end up self-medicating to hold up under the strain of and demand for their influence.

  15. Tim says:

    Good analysis of the problem with the development of a celebrity culture. It seems related to the same problem Paul spoke against with that whole “I am of Apollos-Cephas-Paul” thing. Mr. Driscoll could so easily have defused the situation with a quick admission of making mistakes. Instead he has been silent and his employees and publishers are speaking for him. Sad.

  16. It seems to me that our assimilation of the celebrity culture into Evangelicalism is a reflection of our assimilation of the wider culture of consumerism. I’m not sure you can untangle the two cultures, but I fear that our embrace of the latter inevitably produces the former. Local prophet-pastors seeking to resist those cultures by embedding a culture of discipleship often pay a hefty price. Their missional leadership, fired by discipleship is the untold story of resistance in our day.

  17. Joe says:

    If we’re going to get away from celebrity leadership, and have power pushed down the ladder, we’re going to have to accept a less polished “product.” I have a hard time imagining this working in a large congregation where church is consumed as a product, rather than in a smaller congregation where grace is more easily distributed through close relationships.

  18. It occurs to me that maybe some Christians are gifted to speak TO thousands … I’m not sure that any are anointed to speak FOR thousands. And yet, that seems to be part of the gig that goes with celebrity “leadership” — figureheadship, as it were.

    As one who studies paradigm systems, and also markers and metrics of personal and social transformation, I have a couple thoughts on the whats, whys, and whens of this.

    Consumerism is a key underlying paradigm issue in this syndrome — nothing earth-shattering about that news. But it does mean that publishers, conferences, buyers, and obeyers all support [enable] the celeb to keep on keepin’ on, with their entourage in tow.

    And at some point, the celeb system all slips off the integration point of Jesus and Christlikeness, and devolves into promoting the celebrities and becoming like them. Maybe the key indicator of the slipped disc is when the celebrity’s point of view is presented as if it were “inerrant theology and practices.” (Celebs, publishers, conferences — all can deny it’s happening, yet that’s how at least some celebrity followers have picked up on the teachings, and imitated a copy of the original.) When we start hearing sock puppets and start seeing simulacra (copies of copies of copies), we know the matrixapocalypse is nigh. And when we see these fan-clubbish para-ministry movements turn para-military in their protection of the celebs, we know it’s over.

    Final thought. Instead of local leaders who serve as role-models who inspire, equip, and empower people to follow Jesus, “translocal” celebrities offer the supposed bonus of an imputed identity — either with their persona or their ministry system. Don’t blame the groupies — it’s part of the “macro-platform package” they’re buying and buying into, isn’t it? I wonder if it is possible to truly encourage disciples to link their personal and communal identity with Jesus, and at the same time act as the kind of ungrounded celebrity as is being talked about here.

    Anyway, Dr. D., thanks for the opportunity to present some serious points about possible root issues … that, uhh, isn’t exactly happening on many of the threads on the current incidents.

  19. Bedford Otey says:

    Thank you for a thoughtful post. I’ve never commented on a blog post before, so it seems strange to begin with this one.

    This is an issue with which I have struggled for a long time. Having grown up in Adrian Rogers’ church (more than 25,000 members) and seen the “cult of personality” up close, I am aware of some of the dangers. However, most of the “celebrity pastors” that I know (and I know several personally), did not seek celebrity and even resisted it. The majority of them have the gift of evangelism combined with a powerful gift of teaching and proclaiming God’s Word. Thus, many people become Christians and their ministry impact grows.

    God has his own reasons for raising up certain people and expanding their ministry for a season (think Spurgeon!). It is not bad or wrong to be popular or well-known. It is certainly wrong for pastors to seek these things and that is a heart issue.

    It seems to me that most of those crying out about the need to do “only local” ministry are those who would dearly love to be celebrities themselves and either lack the talent or the opportunity. That seems harsh, but I’m simply telling what I know of my own heart at times. Seriously, what pastor wouldn’t love to write a book that God uses to help so many people that it becomes a NY Times bestseller?

    Having said all of that, thankfully, 99% of us will never have to worry about the pitfalls of being a celebrity pastor. However, all of us should be taking heed to our own souls and seeking integrity before the Lord in our ministries.

    • Tim says:

      Bedford, that is one of the best insights I’ve read from a big-church attender on this issue. What I wonder is how to promote pastoral acts by pastors who find themselves caught in the celebrity hype. In the present situation, I think this might have been a better course pastorally: http://timfall.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/plagiarism-apologies-and-pastoral-personalities/

      Cheers,
      Tim

    • David Fitch says:

      Bedford …
      Thanx for the comment. I think you have a valid point concerning the wider influence of some pastors. In the NT I think they acted as apostles. But I think the difference that I am aiming at uncvering here is that the apostle Paul always was deeply involved in his communities locally. Witness all of his letters were occasional written to problems and people he knew and was involved in. He spent himself developing and empowering those leaders to local expression. He denied celebrity status (some say they follow Appolos, some Cephas, dsome Paul some Christ? Is Christ divided? … 1 Cor 1:12) … He called all his leader co-leaders, co-laborers, never exerting his authority as apostle unilaterally (even though he could have) .. always appealing to Christ. My distinction is a leader who markets, and makes himself the issue. Tim Keller, once said in an interview, “The worst thing about becoming known is that people now cometo church to hear me”… I see Keller as resisting … although admittedly with questionable success. The way celebrity works within ideology is the theme of this post. So all people of influence are not necessarily doing this.
      Peace

  20. Dr. Fitch, you have put together an insightful piece. Thank you.

    Paul the Apostle on famous pastors:

    With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. (2 Corinthians 8:18-19, ESV)

    Fame is somewhat neutral in this controversy, though it contributes. Likewise, ideology (also a contributor, and yours is a compelling argument that ideology is the primary catalyst for the evangelical celebrity status) is somewhat neutral, though the tide of the ideological movements like neo-calvinism certainly thrust personalities such as Driscoll’s into the role of celebrity. For this controversy, I would say it is an issue of branding. A ministry starts with a mission statement + ideology + personality, and coalesces into a BRAND. The brand is protected because it is foundational to the story of the ministry, and it is what connects the consumer to the producer in a way that keeps the consumer loyal (like Gladwell’s stickiness factor in The Tipping Point).

    For Mars Hill/Acts 29/Driscoll, the brand was sold as masculine, no-holds-barred, counter-cultural Christianity. That’s attractive to me. In the Mark Driscoll plagiarism controversy, the masculine, counter-cultural step is to face the music and take your licks. But that’s not the brand– the brand is controversy and rebellion. And that brand is selling right now, and Driscoll’s silence is protecting it. In short, you either teach your kids to stand up and admit mistakes, or you teach them to wait for problems to go away and protect their image.

  21. Grant says:

    I think the premise of this argument, at its core, is poorly supported. Instead of taking the Driscoll example and saying this is proof for the poison of celebrity leadership, it could be used as a case to support the danger and responsibilities tied with such a “status.” For every Driscoll example I can show you a Warren, Hybels, or Stanley that have reached similar levels of status and lead very well. They have navigated the status well. At that point the argument really devolves into a slippery slope conversation, which really isn’t a valid form of reasoning.

    Maybe a larger problem is the plethora of individuals thinking that there is a singular best way to lead, or “do” church. There are simply methods that are useful and effective for different people in different cultures. Driscoll drives me absolutely nuts because of his chosen ignorance to the impact of his brash antics, but he’s helping people experience life change through Christ. So I’m not about to step in the way of that. Does he do it perfectly? Absolutely not. Does the pastor of a smaller church do it perfectly? Probably not. He may not be on center stage for many to examine, but that doesn’t mean he is functioning any more authentically or effectively. Maybe instead let’s say, different people have different abilities and gifts. Now with each gift that helps propel us to success for the Kingdom, there is a dark-side, an intrinsic danger that we must be conscious of. Leaders who are ignorant of this reality are the actual poison and danger to the Church and local congregations. I could care less about the number of people you lead or your choice to intentionally market your message, what I do care about is whether or not you are aware of the dangers that exist in leadership and what you are doing to keep yourself from destroying the work of God’s Kingdom.

    All that to say, Driscoll messed up and he should maybe consider acting on his own words (though I hate the phrasing and alienation connected to such terminology) to “man up” and own his mistake, publically apologize, ask for forgiveness, and move forward.

  22. Rohmeo says:

    David,

    I really appreciate your thoughts and agree with you overall. The Ghost-writer article by Andy Crouch to me was also very enlightening & great reminder of the dangers of idolatry on both sides of loving to tear “celebrities” down or loving them too much.

    The one thing that I’ve hear a lot of concerning Driscoll on the Janet Mefford show debacle is that he’s been silent. I’m not sure a lot of people listened to the interview but he spends a great deal of time apologizing on air if he made a mistake & would fix it. What’s left undone? Janet was the one who would not let go of it.

    I would bet that Driscoll’s first move after that interview was calling Dr. Jones and apologizing & asking him what he would have him do. Perhaps that was done in private like everyone always says should be done. Or maybe Dr. Jones is the one that is silent? Has anyone heard from him?

    The other part you mentioned is how Janet’s part-time producer quit. Her name is Ingrid Schlueter and she has spent at least the last 10 years doing one thing. Making a living as a Christian watchdog ripping on every Christian leader you can think of carelessly using convenient Scriptures to make it sound like she’s the only true Christian. What a depressing way to live and wasted time that could be used to spread the Good News.

    I wonder if they pulled one over on everyone accusing Driscoll of the very thing they did over-dramatized their own apology and then Ingrid’s resignation to prove a point of this over-powering celebrity dangerous machine out there & in the end borrowing the same tactics.

    My last point is that “celebrity” has a certain negative Hollywood connotation to it. No doubt there are celebrity pastors that we all know are out there and it fits. I wonder if “Popular” might be a better term for some of these guys who happen to have a gift that does draw more people. I wouldn’t call John Piper a celebrity but he’s just as well known as Driscoll or Matt Chandler. True that the younger guys like Driscoll have made more public mistakes but I’m not sold they are “celebrities”. It’s not their fault they have a gift of preaching & relate well to an audience. It’s our fault for having man-crushes on these guys and not their message if that’s the case.

  23. Rhonda Baker says:

    Thank you for this blog. I am on my knees!

  24. Paula says:

    I wouldn’t argue that it is neutral.

    “Woe to you when all men speak well of you… ” etc.

    One reason they are celebrities is because they are, like politicians, in some way pandering to the lowest common denominator. Something is being left out, or something is being overemphasized, something that appeals to our old nature.

    And if a guy gets rocketed into celebrity status without any of that stuff helping him, the celebrity status will then create it, or else they will chew him up and spit him out. That’s how human society operates, unfortunately. Especially a society as decadent and idolatrous as ours is. Narrow is the way and few will find it, we are told. There is no way that a celebrity can be a celebrity with a truly Christian message that appeals to and nourishes that remnant while starving the goats.

  25. Tim A says:

    Celebrity is more and more people listening to what you say vs True leadership where more and more people do what you do (assuming what you do is what God asked for). – Full leadership reproduction on a local level. This is what Jesus and Paul did. There is no need for celebrity except Jesus.

    The local pastorate is a microcosm celebrity situation.
    1. Success is more and more people listening to what he says and no one grows to do what he does week after year after decade. When he leaves for a bigger church or position, someone else must be hired in to do everything he did. This is celebrity perpetual dependency with zero “fully training” his students “to be like him”. (Luke 6:40) The leadership of Jesus is gone.

    2. The celebrity method is performance oriented presentation – usually one-way communication with zero participation, no questions, no additions, no nothing for the rest of the body members who were designed by God to be heart and verbal expressers of truth to the rest of the body. This is not the function of the body God designed.

    3. Celebrity relationship is distant, shallow, and postured intimacy. “I love you all” from a platform to 150 people is no different than the same words from one rock star to 40,000. “One another” mutuality, two way faith building with love, teaching, admonishing both ways is gone. Niceness, friendliness, warmness are seen as the same as faith mutuality. The saints feel like he is one of them, but he is not even close to that. We all know pastors have to go to a pastors only conference to get their faith fired up and can only share their ministry struggles with a “peer” in another church. The saints are – non-clergy – not called to “the ministry”, and have nothing to offer “the pastor”. It’s assumed that as a patient can’t help his surgeon, a believer can’t help his pastor. Bad comparison.

    This is a system fully accepted and embraced by both clergy and laity as God’s design. Celebrity leadership is merely an extension of local pulpit celebrity that bugs those in microcosm celebrity leadership.

    Paul spoke of no one for famous status to read their books or attend their seminars. He promoted churches and individuals by name so that others would follow their example of faith and service and be a conduit for truth rather than a cup-de-sac.

    I’m not trying to be mean with this but it may be a little prophetic in terms of rebuking the main stream of God’s people to return to what God asks for.

    The biggest deterrent to celebrity – serve free of charge.

  26. Thanks for these thoughts about celebrity pastors. My question is whether you think it is ever legitimate for pastors to serve an audience beyond their own local congregation?

    Obviously, great pastors throughout the ages have preached and written to the tremendous benefit of believers around the world, so there must be a distinction I’m missing here. With the ease of sending podcasts and blog posts out to mass audiences, would you expect a talented preacher to avoid this technology and save his words only for the locals? Or is the problem on the receiving end, with the Christians who unwittingly elevate these leaders beyond their rightful place? (In which case I’m part of the problem, having listened to and appreciated many of Driscoll’s sermons.)

    I’m asking in good faith. You write that there is a “good way” and a “bad way” to develop a platform — the good way having its basis in “on the ground relationships” — and all I can get out of that is [big platform = bad] while [small platform = good].

  27. Erik says:

    David,

    Couple of things I’d love to hear your thoughts on…

    - Others have pointed this out in some way/shape/form, but is celebrity really the problem? Or rather, is it not the character of the person in question? Celebrity seems a bit like money — inherently neither good nor evil, but with the potential to be used for either. (And, admittedly, much like money, celebrity clearly has it’s many pitfalls.) But, again, there are plenty of “celebrity” pastors like Spurgeon, et al., who have had a broad, positive impact, no?

    - As Joshua mentioned above, is plagiarism really something we should be spending a lot of time worrying about in the church when it comes to spreading the gospel? It’s a Western legal construct circa ~1700, not a biblical issue, as far as I can tell. i.e. should we not all (in the church) be willing to have anything we say/write be freely available for others use if it will help minister to people? (Obviously, if his motivation was selfish greed, that’s a different story, and clearly a character problem. But, again, seems orthogonal to the “celebrity” issue.)

    - Lastly, how do you differentiate between ideology and doctrine? I’d appreciate some clarification on how you would define each, and what makes ideology bad and doctrine good (presuming you think doctrine is good. :)

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  29. Andre Lefebvre says:

    Keen observations, David, objective and lucid. Untold numbers of believers I’m sure haven’t been able to put their finger on it, but noticed or suffered from the poison. How many have been blasted for leaving churches with such leadership cultures, when it was the healthiest thing for them to do…

    However this: “And so I believe it’s of utmost importance that everyone under the age of 35 reject celebrity leadership. Realize that once beliefs, products, preaching, leadership is extracted from the local life of the local concretely engaged church, it tends to quickly devolve into ideology. And we then are just a short period away from the death of that church in a swirl of inevitable contradictions, hypocrisy and moral failures that inevitably attend celebrity leadership.”

    1- And so I believe it’s of utmost importance that everyone under the age of 35 reject celebrity leadership.”

    I would argue that, in this very case, is a call to engage in the dynamic of celebrity leadership (you, this blog, vast network of influence). I think it would be helpful to leave people with asking themselves the questions after exposing the reality so clearly. I find it healthier to REPLACE than reject. Rejection calls for a whole other system of reference, and a dependable one. Better nurture discernment. For example the call to a specific age group “to reject” : I think Jeanne had a good comment on that. Maybe that’s the teacher in you, but I think encouraging people to make their own decisions in this case, could be the empowering factor giving enough escape velocity to a contagious house-cleaning.

    As for : “Realize that once beliefs, products, preaching, leadership is extracted from the local life of the local concretely engaged church, it tends to quickly devolve into ideology. And we then are just a short period away from the death of that church in a swirl of inevitable contradictions, hypocrisy and moral failures that inevitably attend celebrity leadership.”

    Personally, it would read better this way: “Realize that once beliefs, products, preaching, leadership is extracted from the local life of the local concretely engaged church, and served to the leadership wider audience, it often freezes the local church into a state of confusion, as what has given it those riches is suddenly put on tap and reproduced, packaged and loses its freshness and genuine spontaneity. So we are left with the glory of days gone by, while the leadership is framing that church in a time and life that has become irrelevant to the continuation of its maturing. So they are left with an ideology which should govern them, yet, many won’t recognize who they are at the present with this manufactured ideology. And we then are just a short period away from the death of that church in a swirl of inevitable contradictions, hypocrisy and moral failures that inevitably attend celebrity leadership.”

    Or something like that.

    But, a very needed and clear exploration of a drama which we as the flock, need addressing. I am sharing with my networks friends,

    Regards,

    Andre

    • David Fitch says:

      Andre … thanks for refining my hyperbole … Blessings ! Hope to meet along the way,

      • Andre says:

        You’re welcome, David, I would have corrected many things in my own post after re-reading, but there was no “edit” button, so there it stands, flaws and all… :O)

        Thanks for the note, though, much appreciated!

        Blessings,

        Andre

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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