Celebrity Preachers & The Bloggers They Love To Hate

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Yesterday, Mark Driscoll sent out this tweet…

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It was a not so subtle attack against the entire blogging community (ironic considering he has a blog himself), implying that bloggers don’t “get stuff done.” The logical inference being that people like him do.

There’s nothing really that surprising about this tweet attack.

It’s just another volley in a never ending stream of defensive maneuvers from celebrity preachers (not all, but many) who’s biggest pet peeve in life is apparently criticism or, more likely, criticism from people they don’t consider their equals.

As far as I’m aware there is not a secret cabal of celebrity preachers who meet to strategize their efforts to take over the world. Not being a celebrity preacher I can neither confirm or deny such a cabal’s existence. However, secret cabal or not, the vast majority of celebrity preachers that I’ve come across do seem to share the same defensive maneuvers.

It’s a two pronged effort that begins by simply ignoring the criticism.

Visit just about any celebrity preacher’s blog (most them, ironically, keep one) and you’ll notice a common theme: there is no comment section. Virtually every non-celebrity blogger (and many non-preacher celebrity bloggers) has a comment section where their fans/followers/random strangers can interact with the blogger, sharing their own thoughts and insights on what has been posted.

No so with celebrity preachers (again, not all, but many).

They apparently are to bee seen and heard, but not responded to.

Now, admittedly, celebrity preachers have a lot going on that occupies their time and prevents the sort of interaction that you would see on a regular person’s blog. However, while they, understandably, cannot respond to every comment or question that is tossed their way, completely removing the ability for others to directly respond, engage, or critique what they have said reeks of fear and arrogance.

Fear of being proven wrong on their own turf.

Arrogance in thinking they are above criticism from anyone outside their chosen circle of friends.

By choosing to become public figures they open themselves up to public criticism. Pretending as if such criticism is somehow an injustice or, worse, sinful, is the height of absurdity. Likewise, being a preacher is in no way a form of holy insulation from criticism within the church. The New Testament is full of bickering between disciples, churches, and even great church leaders like Peter and Paul.

Critique is not a sin. It’s an important tool in the practice of faith that keeps us accountable for the claims we make.

Yes, their time is valuable and celebrity preachers have less of it than most, and there are plenty of things online not worth responding to, but if Jesus could find time to respond to his critics, then for the sake of the church they should find time to do the same.

The second prong in the celebrity preacher defense is to be dismissive of bloggers and/or the online community in general.

This usually happens in a couple of different ways.

The first is to caricature bloggers as lazy nerds who live in their parent’s basement or, and this seems to be a particular favorite, simply “haters.” Celebrity preachers default to these caricatures because, well, they work. Why do they work? Because they dehumanize the opponent, turning them into a ridiculous parody which is fair game for treating as less than a person.

The reality is that many bloggers, at least those with the widest audiences, are smart, creative, active leaders in the church and their community. They’re missionaries, preachers, authors, artists, and activists. Which is probably why their critiques sting.

Are there “trolls” out there who do nothing more than pop out of their parents’ basement to attack and then disappear? Sure. But labeling everyone who critiques you as “haters” is absurdly juvenile and pathetically lazy. The truth is they may “be hatin'” on what you said or did because what you said or did was terrible.

But if caricaturing bloggers doesn’t work, then the other great way to dismiss them is the sanctimonious dismissive attack.

In this approach, celebrity preachers (and their defenders) dismiss bloggers as busybodies, or as Driscoll said yesterday, pontificators, who don’t “get stuff done.” In other words, according to celebrity preachers, if you’re taking the time to write down your thoughts, this must mean you don’t have time to do anything else “productive” for the kingdom of God with your life. After all, if you did, then you would be a celebrity preacher too, right?

Does it take time to organize and write down one’s thoughts? Of course. But it’s not an all consuming activity. If celebrity preachers can churn out books, sermons, podcast, blog posts, and tweets and still “get stuff done,” then why can’t the rest of us? Are we simply not as awesome as they are?

Again, many of the bloggers with the widest audiences are incredibly active people in both their church and their community. They volunteer, organize charity drives, become missionaries, campaign to get clean drinking water to those in need, fight about the sex slave trade, and raise awareness for a whole host of important issues that are often taboo to talk about in the church. In other words, if the measure of “worthiness” is who is getting the most “stuff” done, then that prize goes to the blogging community.

But “getting stuff done” isn’t limited to these sorts of activities. Writing, blogging, and speaking have the capacity to change hearts and minds, and, in turn, “get stuff done.” This is what bloggers do, or at least hope to do, when they write and, yes, even when they critique. This is also the exact same thing that celebrity preachers do when they preach, publish books, and write blog posts. For them to criticize and dismiss others for doing the same, simply because those others don’t agree with them, is the height of hypocrisy.

Whether celebrity preachers like it or not, the world has changed. The online community and the bloggers that come with it are here to stay.

And I, for one, think that’s a great thing.

Why?

Because faith is not done in a vacuum.

It’s not a one way street where you can say whatever you like without repercussions. The online community brings this reality to light. Facebook posts get “liked” and commented on. Tweets get retweeted, favorited, and responded to. Blog posts are commented on and reposted. People say things and other people respond.

The technology may have changed, but this process is nothing new.

This sort of exchange has been going on in the church since its inception. The early church fathers wrote countless letters, sermons, books, and treatises making their cases for and against each other’s theology. If they had the internet 2,000 years ago, I have no doubt that Augustine, Irenaeus, and Origen would all have had blogs or websites of their own because writing, critiquing, debating, and dialoguing are how theology is done and how the faith the faith is shaped. And blogs are a great place for that conversation to happen. Not a perfect place, mind you, but a good and vibrant one when done well.

Likewise, the online community offers an important element of accountability, particularly in the case of celebrity preachers whose accountability often doesn’t seem to extend beyond a hand selected group of “yes men.” The church is a body and as such a hand can’t say to the rest of body “I don’t need you.” Which means in the modern context of an interconnected world, and despite claims to the contrary, local church autonomy and accountability is being shown for the myth that it is.

As Christians we are all connected and, therefore, all accountable to one another, particularly in a globalized 21st century society.

The model of a celebrity preacher only accountable to his (almost never “her”) local congregation is dying. And that’s a good thing because it’s an unhealthy, unchristian, and simply dangerous model that left unchecked leads to theological tyranny. When no one is allowed to question the celebrity preacher (or local preacher for that matter), then their version of the faith becomes the only version of the faith and, in the end, Christianity itself because a faith shaped in their particular image.

That’s not leadership.

It’s idolatry.

This is exactly why celebrity preachers need their critics, why they need bloggers, and, in turn, why they need to find healthy ways to engage those within the Body of Christ who disagree with them. Critics keep us in check. They send up red flags when we go too far. Does it hurt? Yes. Can it be annoying? Of course. But that’s why they’re called “growing pains.”

Of course some people take their criticism to unhealthy extremes, but that is not justification for dismissing everyone. We need one another to remind us who we are, who we’re supposed to be, and to drive us to become the people God created us to be.

Reaching the status of a celebrity preacher isn’t a sign that growth is over. If anything, it’s a cause for more critique and accountability because more people are being affected by what these celebrity preachers have to say.

If celebrity preachers (once again, not all, but many) could stop ignoring or dismissing everyone who disagrees with them and, instead, find the humility to seek out healthy, creative, and productive ways to communicate with their critics, then everyone would benefit and the church as a whole would be stronger for it.

I, for one, hope that day comes quickly.

The church needs her people to communicate with one another.

She needs healthy and vigorous debate.

And she needs us to work together.

What the church doesn’t need is more juvenile whining about “haters.”

 

Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt

 

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  • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

    THIS is how this topic should be addressed. I’ve read a lot of reactions to Mark Driscoll’s inflammatory (and cowardly) tweet yesterday, and none of them hit the heart of the matter as you have done, Zack. Thank you for not taking shots at him out of anger, but simply addressing what he said and what’s wrong with his reasoning. It’s critical analysis and Christian love at its best. Thank you.

    • ZackHunt

      Thanks Bethany, I really appreciate it. To say I’m not a fan of Driscoll would be an understatement, but for me, his tweet was just symptomatic of a deeper issue that goes beyond him and pervades the entire celebrity Christian culture.

      • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

        Yah. It’s the same for me. I totally get why so many distrust him, and I feel the same. But I’m getting the sense that a lot of bloggers are taking advantage of the opportunity to throw him on the guillotine for a multitude of other wrongs he’s committed, and that other celebrity pastors have done, too. It’s an eye-for-an-eye, and they’re becoming an embarrassment themselves. Can we just address the issue at hand? You have done so, and I appreciate that.

  • http://sayable.net/ Lore Ferguson

    Thanks for sharing. I was dismayed by the Driscoll tweet, but the (usual) backlash was unsurprising and just as bullying.

    I’m a covenant member at the Acts 29 church pastored by the president of the Acts 29 network, who is probably what some might call a celebrity pastor, but who does not blog, have a website, rarely tweets, has no fb, and who doesn’t enjoy the fuss others attribute to him, but whose greatest joy is pastoring us, his people (if you did a search on his name, our church would be the first hit, and his name ONLY appears under his photo on the staff page). I say all that because too often what people term “celebrity pastors” get lumped into one big pot—and I know how humble my pastor is, regardless of how well known. But here’s the deal, he doesn’t have multiple avenues to be approached or have robust dialogue for multiple reasons, but one thing this accomplishes is that the dialogues that happen with him are face to face, where inflection, tone, and flesh is present.

    I think the issue is less that pastors don’t have open platforms (I have a blog with a large following and do not have comments enabled simply because I don’t have the time to moderate the comments), and more the reality that the internet removes the sense of personhood that everyone ought to have. These bloggers Driscoll tweeted about aren’t just pages, they’re people. He’s not pastoring twitterers, he’s pastoring people, but it’s hard to remember that and do it in 140 characters that spread like wildfire.

    And I’d argue he shouldn’t try.

    But also, he’s just a man, a person, flesh and blood, a sinner. And while elders ought to be above reproach, there’s nowhere in scripture that says we retaliate and write vitriol filled posts in response (not that you have done that here—I’m referring to all the other posts I’ve seen today) to poor judgement. His poor judgement doesn’t give permission for others to exercise poor judgement.

    Good post, thanks for sharing. (And thanks Bethany for sending me over =))

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Ah, yes, Lore! I think that’s what’s been bugging me about all the other posts out there today, is that while they are right that because Driscoll has a large platform and abuses it, they are using his platform to obscure his personhood, and an excuse not to treat his misbehavior in love. He does need to be held responsible and accountable, but the way they’re going about it is just as damaging. They’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and sadly, proving Driscoll’s point.

  • http://somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | the smitten word

    this is fantastic. of course public figures and public comments get to be held to public critique. new media is a democratizing force, which the gatekeepers and hierarchy crew may despise (or fear), but they’re not exempt from accountability. their casting honest critics as sinful oversteppers is a truly shameful power play.

    it’s not just the celebrity pastors that pull this trick, though, and i’ve seen it on the “progressive” end of the spectrum, too. there’s a growing trend in christian community to equate all criticism with “un-grace” or even hate. i hope there’s room to raise the bar on our discourse and still engage honestly with critics. if we can’t, we’re just shouting in echo chambers and accomplishing little of value for the Kingdom.

  • Kent

    Wow – you read a lot into a few words. What if Mark is not the devil and is in fact just funny – or clever… Reading the tweet that way. I say yes – thank God that God sent his Son! And it makes me smile. Thanks for including a comment section.

  • Eric Soard

    I don’t exactly live under a rock in Tanzania, but neither am I attending conferences and having my Bible signed by famous pastors. I have to admit the most disturbing thing in this article for me is that there is any such group as to be labeled “celebrity pastors”.

    And I think a lack of willingness to submit to the authority or critique of the church is not just a celebrity pastor issue, but a Christian issue in the US right now. Especially when I compare American Christianity with what I see in East Africa where I currently work.

    Thanks Zach, I am now going back under my rock. :)

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  • Shawn Few

    I see no difference in what he does & what you do.

  • http://sermonsinstones.blogspot.com/ MeganInStones

    I really appreciated your words, full of grace and reason. I especially enjoyed this: “Reaching the status of a celebrity preacher isn’t a sign that growth is over. If anything, it’s a cause for more critique and accountability because more people are being affected by what these celebrity preachers have to say.”

    Oh, and I gotta say, I was gonna laugh if your comments section was closed. :)

  • CelebrityNoOne

    Excellent post, Zack.

    The ironic thing, if I may point it out, is that celebrity pastors criticize people for blogging, and yet, they will encourage their congregants to journal; claiming that writing out your thoughts helps you to process them in a way that can be helpful for reflection and change.

    Great job.

  • http://twitter.com/CaroleTurner Carole Turner

    So many little people yelling “the emperor is naked!” and the kings don’t honestly know how to deal with it. Blog on!!!

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