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The Dangerous Pursuit of Pastoral Fame

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Excerpt from The Leadership Journal by Bob Hyatt

I want to be clear, though: I have no issue with writers/speakers who sell lots of books, go on speaking tours, and generally promote their works however they can. But there’s something very “off” in the proliferation of pastors who are mixing ministry in and to a local community with “building their brand.” I think a good case can be made that the self-promotion that’s inevitably needed to build a brand in today’s world in incongruous with the servant-leader model of pastoring and the attitude of humility that ought to accompany it.

The Celebrity Pastor certainly isn’t a new phenomenon. But the extent to which some take it today, I think, is. Yes, Spurgeon had his sermons published in the paper weekly. But can anyone really imagine him re-tweeting the fawning praises of his Twitter followers, or John Wesley selling tickets to his latest tour? Can anyone imagine Dwight Moody slapping his name on a couple ghostwritten books a year?

In other words, it seems as though we’ve thrown any reluctance over celebrity for our ministry endeavors out the window, and now many of us are now actively cultivating, pursuing, and—dare I say—grasping at the fame, increased money, and recognition that comes with hitting the big time in today’s ministry world.

And therein lies the danger and the challenge. Both for us personally and for the church as a whole.

When pastors start building their “platform,” growing their influence, and raising their profile, it’s generally talked about in terms of expanding ministry reach, being a good steward of the talents God has given, and, always, increasing “kingdom impact.” And while I have no doubt that many are humbly pursuing a God-given call to speak beyond the bounds of their local church community to a larger audience, I also suspect that for many, the motivations are somewhat more muddied, somewhat less altruistic.

For example, pastors who receive large salaries from their churches to produce sermons and resources for their community and then turn around and package and sell those same sermons and resources for personal profit need to rethink the model under which they are working. That kind of double dipping is not allowed in many other places in the world and probably shouldn’t be allowed in the church.

These last few years have seen a host of pastors and ministry leaders confronted with the challenges of a global audience and a personal brand. Some have done so with integrity, recognizing that their increased fame and recognition had become not only a danger to their own souls, but a hinderance to their church community, and they have wisely chosen to step out of one role so that they might more fully and faithfully pursue another.

Please don’t think I’m condemning any pastor who has ever written a book or spoken at a conference. This is a very fuzzy area in which much grace needs to be extended. But if we never talk about the danger zone of self-promotion, we’re doing a disservice to ourselves and those we are called to serve. If we don’t think hard, on a personal level, about our need to be known by people beyond those we are directly in relationship with and service to, we run the risk of becoming men and women who use the people God has given us to serve as a means to our own self-gratifying and glorifying ends.

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