I was saved listening to a celebrity pastor. Yes, you read that correctly.
The year was 2009 and I was on a road trip between Montgomery, Alabama and Biloxi, Mississippi. For those who don’t know, that stretch of road is about ten miles past the middle of nowhere. I was listening to the Mars Hill Church podcast, and Mark Driscoll said something I had never heard before.
He said, more or less, that I learned how to act like a Christian my whole life, but never actually became a Christian. I knew how to behave, to talk the talk, to fit in with the Christian culture, but I never really loved Jesus.
“Jesus, please save me,” I said. After twenty-three years of professing to be a Christian, what followed that trip in February of 2009 was actual salvation. My desires changed. My hope changed. My heart changed.
That’s the short version of my testimony, but why share that? Because I was saved listening to a celebrity pastor.
2009 was peak Driscoll. I heard his most popular sermons on the podcast and I watched the video. I shared his material with every guy I could. I became a Driscoll-ite for a little while. I read his books. I tried, in vain, to move to Seattle several times.
I owe Mark a debt of gratitude for preaching the gospel to me, a man he never met and will likely never meet. I watched his decline and the eventual dissolution of his church. I watched it and I mourned over it.
God used a celebrity pastor, two thousand miles away from me, who later fell from public favor, to do a crazy work in me. I write this not to pile on to the criticism or defense of Driscoll. He is what he is, and I pray God continues to use him. No, I write this because I want to expound on the concept of celebrity.
“But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great.” -Acts 8:9
We are watching, in horrifically detailed real-time, the evil that celebrity brings. Whether it’s the celebrity president, the celebrity pastor, or even the celebrity chef, God is showing us the hollow idol of fame and not allowing us to look away. Mark Driscoll preached the gospel to me and I was saved by the power of the Holy Spirit. In a different vein, Alton Brown taught me to cook.
Alton Brown was on Hot Ones and had this to say about food culture and celebrity, “It [Iron Chef] made so many young cooks want to be a cook, so they could become a star.”
I believe, wholeheartedly, that Driscoll had a very similar impact on those of us who longed to do ministry. I can’t begin to tell you how many men I’ve seen and known who didn’t have a heart for ministry, but a heart for a platform. They desire a pulpit, not a shepherd’s staff. They are often gifted communicators or gifted planners or gifted listeners, but the call they feel, the burden they carry, isn’t to shepherd God’s flock.
The false god of Celebrity promises us a number of very alluring things.
Acceptance - Crowds will accept you and all your flaws. If you fail? Well, you’re good at what you do and everybody is human right? There will always be fans. These fans will worship you no matter how badly you hurt yourself or others.
Power - People listen to celebrities. They listen, even when they disagree because the celebrity has been granted the cultural stamp of approval. People do things they don’t want to do because a celebrity tells them to.
Money - Obviously there isn’t any such thing as a poor celebrity. And with money comes comfort, security, and ease. I can even remember Driscoll saying once that many young men want to be pastors because you get to work indoors and sit down much of the time.
Most idols promise you one thing and give you nothing, or promise you one thing and give you something else entirely. Celebrity doesn’t work quite like that. It delivers on most of its promises. This is what makes it so enticing.
Jesus is Better
Jesus looked celebrity in the eye, every time, and told it no. He rejected a crowd of thousands. He rejected people worshipping His miracles. He rejected people worshipping his preaching. He rejected the allure of popularity.
And He did all of that to show us a better way. He did it to show us His way for us. His way shuns the accolades of this world in light of one central idea, “and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” -Matthew 3:17 (ESV)
The right view of celebrity isn’t, “The bigger my platform, the bigger I can make Jesus.” The right view of celebrity is that I must decrease so that He might increase. If Jesus truly is the best thing in this world, we are free to be nobodies. We’re free to be nothing. We’re free.
Like Jesus, because of Jesus, we live our lives in light of the approval of God. We live beloved. We live in the pleasure of God. No amount of celebrity could compare to that.