Who Created Celebrity Christian Culture? You Did.
Keith Simon : Are you tired of tribalism?
Speaker 2: I think a lot of what the left supports is satanic.
Speaker 3: The only time religious freedom is invoked is in the name of bigotry and discrimination.
Patrick Miller: Are you exhausted by the culture war?
Donald Trump: If they don't like it here, they can leave.
Hillary Clinton: You could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.
Keith Simon : Are you suspicious of those who say Jesus endorses their political party?
Speaker 7: Is it possible to be a good Christian and also be a member of the Republican Party? And the answer is absolutely not.
Speaker 8: From certainly a biblical standpoint, Christians could not vote Democratic.
Patrick Miller: We trust the Lamb, not the donkey or the elephant.
Keith Simon : This is the podcast that's too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals.
Patrick Miller: I'm Patrick Miller.
Keith Simon : And I'm Keith Simon, and we choose truth over tribe.
Patrick Miller: Do you? Before we hop in, I want to let you know that we recorded this episode before the SBC released its absolutely devastating report about sexual abuse inside of its own churches. That's a great reminder that institutions aren't the answer to our problems. We can't live without them. We need them. But when institutions are corrupt, it can create even worse problems than individuals who are corrupt. So I hope that as you're listening to this, you understand that Keith and I are trying to talk about the importance of healthy institutions while acknowledging that no institution is perfect. If you want to hear more about abuse within the SBC, we recorded a different episode. We'll link to it in the show notes. Keith, we're in the middle of a series on Christian celebrity and, in our last episode, we talked about the evangelical industrial complex. I hope that interests you because we were talking about this weird interchange that happens between the media that creates celebrities and then consumes them for the sake of the public, which then, in turn, makes the public trust churches less. I think it's a really interesting pattern that doesn't get discussed. But today, I want us to change our focus and talk about something slightly different, still related with this idea of Christian celebrities. But maybe let's start with the story of Mark Driscoll.
Keith Simon : One thing you pointed out last time that I thought was really good is that when celebrity Christians, celebrity pastors fall, people trust their church less and they turn to more celebrities. So it's a cycle that just kind of keeps on.
Patrick Miller: Because the celebrities seem so pure and they know all the problems with their local church pastor and so they think," Well, he must be the bad guy, and so I'm going to go to the celebrity good guy." Even though the one who caused all the problems was the celebrity to begin with.
Keith Simon : Well, and the reason that comes to my mind, the reason I thought it was so good is because I saw it firsthand with The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll, where we kind of left off a little bit last time, where people listened to that podcast, and if you haven't listened to it, we're not necessarily encouraging you to. We just know so many people have or are at least familiar with it to one degree or another. So they listened to that. And then they would come to us and tell us they trusted us less because they had listened to the podcast, not because of anything we had done. Of course, that podcast tells the story of how Mars Hill Church was founded by Mark Driscoll and how he started off probably on a good path, but somewhere along the line got corrupted, treated people horribly. It became more about him, shaped his board in a way that he really didn't have any accountability, no checks and balances on his own ego, and things got out of control to where it all just kind of eventually tumbled down.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. It's a really sad story. It's a story about a guy growing his celebrity, his popularity, his attention, and then scandal hitting, and not scandal hitting internally because no one could take him down internally, scandal hitting externally. That's what ends up taking him down is that things come into the public eye that he can't really write out in the end. But here's what I want to talk about today. If you want to understand what it's like to be inside of a celebrity church, I'd actually say," Go listen to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill." It shows you what happens on the inside of these institutions and how they often create fertile ground for abuse. But I think a lot of things get left out of the podcast. They aren't quite in the eye of the podcast. For example, one of the things that's hardly discussed in the podcast is the fact that Mark Driscoll, and he bragged about this a lot, Mark Driscoll had no seminary education. Mark Driscoll had no institutional connections. He didn't come from another church. He didn't learn how to do church in a different church. He was kind of his own guy doing his own thing without any education or connections. Now, I understand why that wasn't discussed much because it kind of sounds boring.
Keith Simon : Well, it was a big part of his story early on especially, that he had become a Christian through his girlfriend that eventually became his wife and that he kind of had a call from God and started this church on his own. Now, I think later on-
Patrick Miller: The charismatic leader has the call from God, who's going to do this amazing thing.
Keith Simon : A great American story that we're going to explore. Yeah. So anyway, I think later on, he did develop a relationship with some seminary professors and did take some classes. I don't know if he ever finished a degree or anything like that. I kind of doubt it.
Patrick Miller: No, he did.
Keith Simon : But in the podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, it approaches the topic from a individual perspective. Here's a guy who had these issues, and here are the consequences of that issue. But the bigger story, and I think maybe the more interesting story, is the culture that created Mark Driscoll. It's not just a story about individuals. It's a story about institutions, or the lack thereof, and how those institutions failed. So we want to try to give a little broader meta- analysis of the culture that allows not just Mark Driscoll, but a lot of people like him to thrive inside of the Christian community.
Patrick Miller: Well, and I think it's really easy to get stuck in your cultural moment and think that this is the only way that things can happen. So right now, what gives someone authority, what gives someone credibility is their followers, their downloads, the amount of attention and celebrity they have. That's how you know someone's a good pastor, an interesting pastor, a good Christian teacher, an interesting Christian teacher. That's the most important thing, but that's not the way it's always been.
Keith Simon : Yeah. That's really different than the way that it used to be. Your credibility, your authority came from ordination by a denomination or ordination, even by another church who said," Hey, we are vouching for this person. This person has been trained. Their character is solid. Their theology is good."
Patrick Miller: Yeah. Those institutions educated people. They formed and shaped people. They didn't just form and shape their theology. They formed and shaped the way they did ministry. And again, this might not be something that people think about because they aren't pastors. Keith, I mean stop and think for a second. If you had gone to a charismatic seminary and you had learned how to do ministry in a Assemblies of God church, and then you went and planted a new AOG church somewhere, do you think you'd be the same person doing the same ministry as you're doing right now?
Keith Simon : Well, in that specific tradition, which I know is why you picked it, they put more emphasis on the Holy Spirit and your gifts as opposed to being formed and shaped by the institution and asking what does my role as pastor require of me? Instead, it is more along the lines of how does the Spirit call me to live or teach or have my ministry?
Patrick Miller: I hope everybody knows we're not mocking that tradition. I have lots of friends who are in that tradition. They will notice though, Keith and I never say some things. You never hear us say," The Spirit led me to go do this."
Keith Simon : "I have a word of knowledge for you."
Patrick Miller: Yeah."I have a prophetic word or word of knowledge." That's not how we do pastoring. When we're pastoring or counseling someone, we don't typically pray over them or ask for God to give us a word. That doesn't mean that we're not doing something spiritual. We will pray with people. We might read the Bible with people. But the manner in which we do ministry has been really, really shaped by the institutions that we've been a part of, the seminaries that we attended. So my point is that if you are in the AOG, the Assemblies of God, you're going to have one kind of formation. If you're where we're at in a Presbyterian church, you're going to have a different kind. Both of us are being formed by institutions. But the problem is when you have these celebrity pastors or these celebrity Christian teachers who weren't formed by educational institutions, they weren't formed by churches. What shapes them? What gives them accountability? How can you trust that they're going to be the right kind of person. That's what we want to explore today.
Keith Simon : Like you said earlier, the credibility and authority is now rooted in attention, downloads, how many books you've sold, how big your church is, how many social media followers you have. That means that there's really no gatekeepers, no accountability, no one that these people have to answer to that could hire or fire him. It's a very populist- driven movement. The people who are giving them the credibility and authority, just to be frank, don't know them. They live in different states. They don't know anything really about their character. All they know is that they're talented. So think about it this way, that the credibility and authority has moved from people you know in institutions that you can trust for education and personal formation to how good are you at being a public speaker. It's moved to gifts and grace.
Patrick Miller: Maybe it'll help people if we change the metaphor, and then they'll understand what we're saying. Let's talk about doctors for a second. Okay? If I'm looking for a doctor, whether it's a pediatrician for my child or maybe a surgeon to do a serious surgery, you know what I'm not looking for? I'm not looking for a friend. I'm not looking for a great speaker. I'm not looking for someone who's entertaining. I'm looking for someone who's well- qualified, well- trained, and experienced in their profession.
Keith Simon : Okay. This is the story of us trying to find a pediatrician when our kids were young. We would talk to people and say,"Well, who do you use?" And they would go," Well," So- and-so." I'm like," Okay, well, why do you use Dr. So-and- so?"" Well, he or she is so nice. They explain everything. They listen. They got great bedside..." I don't care. You can't tell me something I care less about than how nice they are. What I'm looking for is a doctor who is really good at their profession, who is well- trained. So what we did is we found out who do the doctors take their kids to? I don't know if you can still do this now, but you could find where doctors in a state, in a region, would tell you who they would take their kids to for a pediatrician, and so we signed up for this person. Now, this person was nice enough, but he was older. He was a little socially awkward, but you know what? He turned out to be a fantastic doctor. But let's switch that and say if you were trying to find a surgeon, would you care about how nice they are? Well, it kind of gets into clearer focus there, right? You want to know is this person board- certified? How many times have they done this surgery? So what you find out is that when it comes to your doctoring, as you think about it more and more, as the health issues you're facing become more serious, you want somebody who really knows what he or she is doing.
Patrick Miller: It's not just that. You want a doctor who has been formed and shaped and educated by an institution. This is why we have medical school. It's why we have residencies. Look, if my surgeon went to the University of Phoenix, I am out. You went to the University of Phoenix Med School. Why? Because I understand that their education will shape the kind of surgeon they're going to be. Same thing with their residency. If they did the residency in a hospital that didn't have any expertise in the area that they were doing surgery-
Keith Simon : Weren't accredited or whatever.
Patrick Miller: ...or weren't accredited or something like that, again, that would throw up some red flags because I understand that they need to be shaped and formed by other doctors to be capable, trained, and qualified to do the surgery.
Keith Simon : So you would never go to a doctor who hadn't had formal education and training, but you will go to a pastor who hasn't had that. What does that say about us, that we think that your physical health needs training, but your spiritual health? Well, not so much. That a doctor who doesn't have the right training can do a lot of damage, but what about a pastor who doesn't have the right kind of training?
Patrick Miller: Yeah. What about a pastor who hasn't been shaped by an institution? What about a pastor who doesn't have accountability? What about a pastor who hasn't gone through a form of accreditation? I mean people don't realize, to be ordained is a massive headache. I mean it really is.
Keith Simon : Amen.
Patrick Miller: Three to four years of education, which costs a lot of money. So there's the beginning of the headache. And then the ordination exams and the examination of your character and the psychological exams, the things that you have to go through. And then by the way, you have to convince a church that you have the quality of character and gifts to be able to do the job that you're called to do. So there's all these things that come into being a pastor. And yet, I see time and time again, these pastors who become celebrities, who part of their qualifications is the fact that they weren't shaped by an educational institution. I'm not trying to mock these guys by bringing them up. I don't know their hearts. But Mark Driscoll's one of them. You can look at guys like Matt Chandler or JP Pokluda. People love these guys. It's like, well, who shaped them? Who formed them?
Keith Simon : I don't want to come across as saying the only way pastors can be formed is by going to seminary. Because obviously, there were, for centuries, pastors were formed quite well without that. But there has to be some sort of formal structure-
Patrick Miller: Hold on. I just want to go back there. What century were pastors not formed by seminary? Are we going by the early church?
Keith Simon : Well, I was thinking the early church all the way up through some part of the Middle Ages, right?
Patrick Miller: Yeah. Well, I mean once monasteries are formed, Christians literally invented universities because we were getting good at training pastors. Let's go back a little over a millennia. That's not how it's been done. Sure.
Keith Simon : So your point is, sure, you can find pastors who are not trained in seminaries, but not in the last several hundred years. That has been the-
Patrick Miller: Not in the last millennia can you find that in any significant way until you get up to the last 200 years.
Keith Simon : Well, it's kind of interesting because now we're finding that more and more big churches don't send their pastors to seminary.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. So JP, again, a kind of celebrity pastor guy-
Keith Simon : A guy we've talked to on Truth Over Tribe, right?
Patrick Miller: Yeah, we talked to him. Yeah, we had an interview. Well, it was actually on a different podcast, but we did have an interview with him. I don't know him. So someone's going to get really offended you said something bad about my celebrity pastor.
Keith Simon : I know a lot of people who love JP. Be careful.
Patrick Miller: Again, don't hear what I'm not saying. But when he left his church, Watermark, he'd been there for 12 years. Now, I will say that's a form of formation to be inside a church. So I want to validate that.
Keith Simon : People were investing in him. People know his character and his gifting and all that.
Patrick Miller: But what was interesting is that when he left, he give a sermon called What I learned in Seminary, and the whole point was," I didn't go to seminary."
Keith Simon : Oh, really?
Patrick Miller: "Iwasn't a part of an educational institution. This church, this was my seminary. This was all I needed." Now, I've been largely at one church my whole life, The Crossing, where we're at right now. It's where I became a Christian. It's where I've had my whole job. I understand that, actually, one of the tremendous risks of that is the fact that I've been shaped almost exclusively by one church. That's been my experience. So one of the gifts I had going to seminary and having to go to other churches around that seminary and get to know pastors around there was realizing my experience wasn't the sole experience. That allowed this larger institution to shape my character, to shape the kind of pastor I was going to become.
Keith Simon : All right. So let's just remind ourselves of the big picture. You don't go to a doctor that doesn't have the right kind of training, the right kind of education, the right kind of experience, and for good reason. But our tendency is to be attracted to pastors who don't have that same kind of formation by institutions, education, training, all that kind of stuff. That says something about us, and it says something about the kind of celebrity pastors that we create.
Patrick Miller: I think that's totally right. I'm going to make a blanket statement that I don't know I could prove right now in the podcast. I find it interesting that a lot of the celebrity pastors that fall into scandal are the celebrity pastors who don't have some of this institutional formation. I'm not saying every case. You can find guys who went to seminary who do terrible things. So I want to be really careful here. That's not what we're arguing. But I do want people to see that you can listen to these podcasts and miss a giant part of it, which is what we're saying, that we need forms of accountability. We need institutions to shape people. So let's look at some examples, Keith, of what happens when celebrity Christian leaders move beyond accountability, they move outside of this institutional formation and become a thing unto themselves.
Keith Simon : Okay. Everybody's being shaped by something, and what we are shaped by is celebrity culture. So I'd just been saying that a culture that has Kim Kardashian is going to have churches with their own celebrities because that's the water that we all swim in. So let's take somebody like Jen Hatmaker. She started out being really well- known because of her work in the adoption area. There's a lot to really commend about that. She developed a big following. She shared her life, her story, her family's life, their adoption ups and downs. With that, she got tons of followers. Then in 2016, she changed her view on the sexual revolution, LGBTQ issues. When that happened, the question is who does she kind of have to report to? Who's she accountable to? Who is it that processes that with her? For example, if you were to do that in a denomination-
Patrick Miller: I'd be defrocked.
Keith Simon : Potentially. It depends on their views, the denomination's views. But would say," Hey, you're no longer qualified to be a pastor because you've moved outside of our statement of faith, our confessions, our creeds, the things that we hold important together." But because she is kind of in the celebrity atmosphere of blogger/ social media, she's not really accountable to anyone like that, right?
Patrick Miller: Yeah. Well, I mean her qualifications for ministry were fundamentally followers. Lots of people listen to me. Why do you have authority? Because lots of people listen to me. Who holds you accountable? I guess the lots of people who listen to me. If those people are just people who listen to you and like what you say, guess what they're not going to do? Hold you accountable for what you're thinking, especially when you're moving kind of in step with the culture. I think one of the interesting questions to ask here is how would things have been different for Jen Hatmaker had she been a part of a institutional denominational structure? I mean do you think it really changes things?
Keith Simon : I think she would have had to have been in dialogue with people in that structure who I guess disagreed with her. Because she changed her view, so there was a time in which she believed the biblical traditional sexual ethic. So I assume she would have been in a structure, an institution, a denomination, whatever you want to call it, who all were on that same side of the issue, and she would have had to have processed her views and then perhaps had to leave that structure and institution. That would have been a signal to those people who follow her," Hey, there's a big thing going on here, and it might have-"
Patrick Miller: Yeah. See, that's the problem right there is that there's someone who gets to say," Stop listening to this person," not a someone, but a institution, which is protecting something bigger than itself, that gets to say," Hey, stop listening in this case," because that's what would happen to me. So let's say I decided I wanted to change my mind. Here's what I would have to do. I have 11 other pastors that I am in mutual submission on our theology and ideas with here in the church. So they would have to weigh in on this issue. I'm a part of a denomination, again, that would have to have me weigh in. I'd have to change my vows because I'd be breaking my ordination vows. So what would end up happening there is I would probably be unordained. They'd say," You can't be a pastor anymore." I would lose my position on the church. I wouldn't be able to preach and teach Bible studies here at the church.
Keith Simon : It's not that you couldn't go off somewhere else and do all that and get a new set of followers. Maybe some people here from the church would follow you as you made these choices. But there would be a clear sign to everyone that something has happened and you need to reevaluate. Now, with Jen Hatmaker, she was open and honest. It's not like she hid anything. It's just that she was able to do this independent of other people weighing in. All she had to do is convince people to keep following her.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. And fast forward four years, she ends up getting divorced. Who knows what that caused in her relationship with her husband and her children and all that? It's really interesting. You see different patterns, and I'm probably going to be accused of being a sexist for what I'm about to say. But you do see different patterns in how this celebrity thing affects men and women. It seems like with men, what ends up happening is secret abuse. They use their power to take advantage of people, and then it comes out in a scandal. With women, this seems to be more the pattern. They begin to change their views from orthodoxy to unorthodoxy and then their life, several years later, starts unraveling. Divorces happen, bad relationships with children. All that stuff starts happening.
Keith Simon : Yeah. I don't want to go down this road too much because it's not what we were planning on talking about today. But Tish Harrison Warren wrote an article in Christianity Today several years ago saying," Who is it that oversees the blogosphere?" She was kind of wrestling with some of these same questions of where do authority and accountability like? Her point was that oftentimes women are not incorporated into the institution and the life of the church, so they create their own side ministries, para- church ministries, whether that's blogging or speaking or whatever it is. Therefore, they're no longer accountable to anything. Tish Harrison Warren's point is the church at large needs to find a place for them within the church, so there is structure and accountability.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. She's saying that as a woman who is ordained. She's Anglican.
Keith Simon : Anglican priest.
Patrick Miller: That's her denominational background. I actually think that's a really valid point in the midst of this and one of my problems I have with institutions that tend to keep women as far on the margins as possible.
Keith Simon : It's not good for anybody. It's not good for the church.
Patrick Miller: It's not good for the church.
Keith Simon : It's not good for the women. It's not good for the ministry, the people who follow and are influenced by that ministry. Okay. Let's switch gears. Ravi Zacharias. So he was the famous apologist who, by the way, was trained in institutions and got his credibility from that. He was internationally known as a person who defended the Christian faith.
Patrick Miller: He had a lot of respect, a lot of followers, wrote a lot of books. Now, let me make a point here. He went to Ontario Bible College, and so he was shaped by one of these institutions that was designed to shape and create pastors. So this highlights a point, that going to seminary and going to make someone a perfect pastor nor, by the way, will being a part of a institution prevent you from those things happening. The point is that these things are accountability. They create protection. Ravi was never a part of a institution. He wasn't a part of a church.
Keith Simon : Well, he started his own institution, so he-
Patrick Miller: He started his own institution, which protected him.
Keith Simon : So a few years ago before Ravi's death, it came to light that he had developed abusive sexual relationships with women who worked for him because he happened to also own these... I don't know. I guess massage therapists worked for him. I don't know if they're massage parlors. I don't know what the right word is.
Patrick Miller: So you want to talk about red flags that an institution might pick up on." Hey, did you guys hear that Keith bought the massage parlor down the street? Does that strike anyone as-
Keith Simon : Awkward?
Patrick Miller: ...strange or-"
Keith Simon : So there's a woman named Lori Thompson who was involved in the ministry, a big-time fan.
Patrick Miller: So she didn't work at one of the massage parlors. This is a different story.
Keith Simon : Yeah. She brought it to people's attention that Ravi Zacharias had been sexually inappropriate with her.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. He's sending her text messages that are sexually inappropriate. I think he sent her some pictures. I mean it's bad stuff.
Keith Simon : Now, he countered by accusing her of being the one who was the problem and threatened to do all these things to her, take her to court and tie her up and exhaust her finances. Now, eventually it all comes out that she was the one in the right. He was completely in the wrong.
Patrick Miller: Well, and it gets crazier than this. He had a multi- billionaire who was funding his lawsuit back against Lori Thompson and told him," You spend as much money as you want to defend your name." Now, this actually highlights the point. If you, as part of a church institution like a denomination, the denomination, of course, wants to take care of pastors, but it's more interested in taking care of the church and the denomination at large. So if there's an accusation in our denomination against a pastor, that can go to the denomination and it's dealt with there. It's not dealt with always right inside of the church. In other words, they are people who are able to hold those pastors accountable, but there was no one there to hold Ravi accountable. In fact, the entire institution was designed to keep him clean.
Keith Simon : Well, because Ravi had stacked the board with people that were kind of on his side and always gave him the benefit of the doubt and allowed him to hide. So the person that you just mentioned just came out yesterday in the Washington Post. The guy's name was Bill Hwang, who was the multi- millionaire, maybe billionaire, I don't know, that had-
Patrick Miller: Multi- billionaire.
Keith Simon : ...supporting Ravi, but there were also people inside his organization that were part of his family who supported him. So they didn't really do quite the investigation because this is our friend, our family member.
Patrick Miller: He had multiple phones. He refused to hand over his phones. He wouldn't give them his laptops. He wouldn't give anyone access to anything, which again-
Keith Simon : And they were okay with that, I guess.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. Well, and the one person on this who is actually on the internal investigation board who tried to press it forward, she was constantly mocked, made fun of, pressed down, said," Don't go there. Don't look into this."
Keith Simon : I think she was suspended.
Patrick Miller: Yeah, she was suspended. She got into trouble for doing the honest, right thing. Why? Because this was an institution that was designed to protect Ravi.
Keith Simon : Sam Allberry was on the board of Ravi Zacharias Ministries. He saw what was happening, and he bailed. He said," I'm out, guys, because this is not being handled the right way." He was suspicious that there was more to it, and it turned out to be a lot more to it. All right. So what's the big point? The big point is that here is a guy who created his own institution. So-
Patrick Miller: Formed by his own institution. He never came out of a church. There's no one who can hold him accountable.
Keith Simon : And he hand selected the people who were going to be a part of the board of directors and the people who would hold him accountable. So it's really not genuine biblical accountability, therefore, we shouldn't be surprised when he falls and the institution covers it up.
Patrick Miller: So again, we're just tracing this pattern. We can go in story after story. We have a bunch sitting out on our notes here. I don't know how many more of these we actually want to do to make the point.
Keith Simon : Okay, I want to do one more here.
Patrick Miller: Okay, yeah.
Keith Simon : There's a guy named Jeremiah Johnson, who's a Pentecostal pastor who prophesied. God told him that Trump would win the 2020 election. This is one of several Pentecostal pastors who were in Trump's camp and who said things like this. But what I really liked about this guy, even though I'm sure my theology is really different, and there's a lot about us that are really, really different. What I liked about him is he came out and he said," Hey, I was wrong. I claimed God told me this. It didn't happen. Clearly, I was wrong." He repented about it. He repented of his sin. He creates this thing on YouTube, this video series, and the first one is titled, I Was Wrong. He just came clean on it. Here's the deal. He said that 90% of the feedback was negative. In other words, he said he was wrong, and people were upset that he admitted he was wrong. What he should have done is doubled down and said," Oh, the election was stolen and, really, I was right. Trump is somehow still the president. We just aren't acknowledging that." This ended his ministry. So he had a really big, popular ministry that was completely ended by the people because the people are sovereign. The audience is sovereign.
Patrick Miller: Okay. That's really interesting because that actually flips the script. In celebrity culture, it's not just that you don't have the accountability of institutions, which are not built around yourself for the protection of yourself. It's the exact opposite problem where also the audience can hold you accountable in the wrong way. There are going to be things that you and I believe, that we hold true to, that people in our church are not going to like. If we were just free to say whatever we wanted, maybe we would change it just to keep people happy and like us more. But we don't have that freedom because we're, again, a part of an institution because we've been educated by an institution that helps us to think properly and rightly. So if we went by what the audience said, we'd be in a very different place.
Keith Simon : Okay. So we have a church culture that has been formed more by the celebrity culture of America than we do by the Bible. How did we get there? How did we get to a point where you care where your doctor went to school, that your doctor went to school, but how did it become something that pastors bragged about that they didn't go to school, that they didn't get that training that we would expect of our doctor? How do we get to a point where there is no accountability for some pastors? How did we get to a point where pastors became bigger than the churches they ministered to? How did we get to a point where people would start ministries with their name on the front door, their name attached to it? How did we get to a point where what really mattered was how many social media followers you had, how many book sales you had, how many downloads of your podcast you had? That didn't happen overnight. There's a story behind how we got to this place. Let's look at that next.
Patrick Miller: Man, I love this question, Keith. First of all, you and I both love history. People who listen to this podcast have to love history on some level because we always start with this question. Here's where we're at. Genealogy, how did we get here?
Keith Simon : Well, that's the right word, genealogy. Not only do people have a story of how they got here, but ideas and cultures.
Patrick Miller: Institutions, yeah.
Keith Simon : Institutions have a story of how we got here. They didn't just pop up this way. There's a reason we're at this moment.
Patrick Miller: So Keith, why don't you take us back to the Reformation? Because I think that's where the story starts.
Keith Simon : Well, you know about the Pope, who is-
Patrick Miller: I've heard of him.
Keith Simon : ...the person who is the leader of the Catholic Church. Of course, the line is there is no Protestant Pope.
Patrick Miller: Except for Tim Keller.
Keith Simon : If you had a Protestant Pope, he'd be a really good one.
Patrick Miller: He'd be a pretty good one to have. I'd sign up for that one.
Keith Simon : So when you go back to the Reformation, what you find is that among many issues, one of the key things the Reformers, like Calvin and Luther, rebelled against, pushed back against was the authority of this Pope, that the Pope spoke ex cathedra, with the voice and power and authority of God. What the Reformers wanted to do is say," No, God's authority is not invested in a person, in the Pope. It's invested in the Bible." So instead of us being under the Pope, Protestants are under the authority of the Bible.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. So in many ways, the Reformation was kind of a populist movement. It was a movement that said, hey, authority isn't to be found in the church, like you said. It's to be found in the Bible, but it's also to be found in the people. This is part of why the Reformers emphasize vernacular translation to the Bible. Let's give a German Bible to German speakers. They didn't want to give them Latin Bibles that they couldn't read. Let's give English Bibles to English speakers. I mean there's literally quotes where they talk about the plowboy plowing along. He's also got his Bible open, and he's reading it. Of course, that comes with the idea that you can understand the Bible on your own. You don't need a priest to do it. You don't need the Pope to do it. This is something that you can manage in your own world. So you have to imagine what a phase shift this was to go from thinking I need the priest to mediate the scripture to me, to now I can have my own Bible that I'm actually able to read and I can make sense of myself. I mean this is a massive shift.
Keith Simon : But you can probably see the problem that it's going to cause is that if you have all these people who are reading the Bible for themselves, they are going to have different interpretations. Who is it that's going to decide which interpretation is correct? In the Catholic model, they had a way to make that decision. They had an arbiter. It was church councils. It was the Pope who made that decision. But in the Protestant world where we don't have a Pope and everybody gets to read the Bible for themselves, as great as that is, now we don't have that arbiter. So now, what we have is a fracturing of churches, and we have all these denominations that end up coming out of the Reformation.
Patrick Miller: There's a reason there's 200 years of religious wars after the Reformation. It's not just Protestants killing Catholics and Catholics killing Protestants. It's Protestants killing Protestants because, all of a sudden, you have this massive fracturing. You have Baptists and Anabaptists and Reformed people and Lutherans and I mean it just keeps going. You've got Presbyterian church. You've got the Methodists later on. I mean it just keeps fracturing over time because each group believes they have the real take, the right take on the Word of God. Now, early on during the Reformation, that didn't happen as quickly as it could have because there were state churches. You had in each little region in Germany and then in England and other places, churches that were established by the state. So if you were English, I mean this is one of the major battles in England is, is England going to be a Catholic country? Is it going to be a Protestant country? Hey, if it's going to be Protestant, what kind of Protestant is it going to be? You see the battles between the early Anglicans. And then the Puritans come in. I mean they literally kill a king. It's wild stuff. People are all fighting over who's got the right interpretation. There's lots of different takes.
Keith Simon : And which faith tradition a country went with could change as quickly as their leader changes.
Patrick Miller: As their monarch. That's Bloody Mary. Everybody knows the story or they at least know it from their mirror as a child trying to do the Bloody Mary trick. But that's who she was. She was a Catholic monarch who came back to England after it had become Protestant. She was called Bloody Mary because she was killing Protestants.
Keith Simon : And then as soon as she went off the throne and she was replaced, it went back to being Protestant. So it just went back and forth with the king. All right. So now that sets us up for the United States, for coming to America, where what do we do? Well, our nation was founded by overthrowing the king.
Patrick Miller: Well, it's not just that. I mean you go back to the early era of American settlement has a lot of different kinds of people. But amongst its people, especially in New England, are religious dissenters, people who are leaving England in part because they weren't free to practice their religion the way they wanted to. So Keith's making the right point though, time keeps going on. Eventually, America says," We're going to overthrow the monarch. The monarch's not going to rule over us." Right there inside of that idea of we need to throw off the institution of monarchy, also comes this idea of we need to throw off the institution of the church that's associated with that monarchy.
Keith Simon : Yeah. There's a great book called The Democratization of Christianity. The title kind of captures the moment, is that Christianity used to be something that had structure and hierarchy and authority. But just like our country was democratized, so was the church. So when we overthrew the king, we also overthrew clergy. We became suspicious of all those institutions that were training and educating and forming people. The power left the clergy and started to be invested more and more in the average person.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. So this explains the rise of what were called congregational churches. So you have churches where the pastor's determined by a vote. You can vote the pastor in. You can vote the pastor out. There's not a larger denominational structure around it. But even the denominations that exist, like Presbyterianism, were much flatter and much less high on control than a state- run church would have been. So in America, you're seeing the spread of denominations. You're seeing the spread of Christian movements that, like Keith just said, are more popular. The people who are sitting in the pews have a lot more say and authority over what's happening inside of the church. By the way, we're not saying all this is bad. We're just tracing a genealogy here. I mean we're not Anglican, so it's not like we're looking to go backwards.
Keith Simon : No, I mean we're American. So we drink the same water, live in the same culture-
Patrick Miller: The Kool- Aid's good here.
Keith Simon : ...that everybody else does. It happens in America is that you have some Great Awakenings. There's a first Great Awakening in the mid 1700s. And then there's a second Great Awakening in the mid 1800s. That second Great Awakening is one that is famous for the democratizing of Christianity, that what happened is that these famous preachers, like Dwight Moody or Charles Finney, they became people who would travel around the country and who would preach these sermons to the common people. They were not associated with denominations. They were independent, on their own. They started speaking in the common person's language. So it wasn't private school Patrick. It was just more like public school people, like you and me, that they started talking to. They emphasized emotion. They would bring out props. Charles Finney had this kneeling bench, and he would ask people if they wanted to come forward and kneel to receive Christ. He would kind of put the pressure on, play the music. If you're from one of those traditions, maybe play Just As I Am over and over and over to appeal to people's emotion to get right with God, to appeal to fear. So what happens is authority is moving from the clergy in these institutions back down into the people who can build an audience and who have these special gifts to communicate with the average person.
Patrick Miller: Sometimes it helps just to stop and put yourself in the shoes of the average person. Let's say you're living in, I don't know, Kentucky. You're going to your local church where everybody goes to this church, and it's just part of their daily life. And then someone like Charles Finney comes along and has a revival. You have this exciting moment of a charismatic preacher who's speaking with emotion, and he's exciting your heart and your soul. You were watching as the people who normally on Sunday mornings are bored to tears are weeping tears now, and they're coming up to the front in a bout of emotion and they're being converted. You will be skeptical of the church because you're going to say the church is the place where no one's converted. The church is the place where nothing good happens. This is the real deal. What's happening with the charisma, the excitement and this, in a sense, celebrity who's able to call people by God's power perhaps to do tremendous things in their life, that's where the real deal is. So you can understand why this takes so deeply in our culture.
Keith Simon : This is like the forerunner of, say, a Billy Graham crusade. This was the first time that that was happening. Anyway, the denominations that spread in the United States were the denominations that didn't make it hard to be a pastor. Like Patrick said, in our church it's really hard to be a pastor. You got to get the education and training and ordination. But some denominations, Baptist and Methodist, you needed a call from God. You could be a 17- year- old in the field, become a Christian, get a call from God and become a pastor really quickly, really easily. Those denominations spread because they could put pastors inside of churches out on the frontier. I mean Kentucky is one of those places.
Patrick Miller: That's why I picked Kentucky.
Keith Simon : And not just random, it's one of those places that used to be the western part of the United States that these churches grew quickly in.
Patrick Miller: There's some sensibility to this. It was hard to get pastors to go into these areas, and there weren't enough people to pastor. So you'd have people who would ride around on horse back from place to place to place to go preach. So there were practical things that were causing it, but there were also things inside of the culture. Again, we are a very democratic culture. We like the idea of the everyday man being able to do anything. We see this with us today. I had that interview with Greg Locke not too long ago, and that's exactly how he got ordained, what you just described a second ago. He felt a call of God after being in prison for a time, and that is what led him to go become an evangelist, which then led him to go become a pastor. But he never had any formal training. He never had any formal education. He wasn't really shaped by any institution, and now he's out there saying that you're going to catch the devil virus from vaccine. So it's inaudible point.
Keith Simon : Yeah. So in our denomination, he couldn't be a pastor.
Patrick Miller: No, he couldn't.
Keith Simon : But he can call himself a pastor and get an audience as long as he has an audience who's willing to refer to him as a pastor.
Patrick Miller: But you know the funny thing with him, I could tell that he didn't like that I didn't call him Pastor Greg or Pastor Locke, which I was not trying to be offensive. We don't call ourselves Pastor Keith-
Keith Simon : Oh gosh, no.
Patrick Miller: ...and Pastor Patrick which, by the way, you want to talk about an expression of the democratization. We don't like that because we hate the formality.
Keith Simon : We're just ordinary people, right?
Patrick Miller: Exactly. So we're kind of playing at the exact same game and system.
Keith Simon : Yeah. We're affected by it. Yeah. So you're probably familiar with Alexis de Tocqueville. He's the Frenchman who came over and that wrote a lot of really insightful stuff about early America. It's like he was able to see America as an outsider and really appreciate what America was good at, but also see some of the ways which America was different, in good and bad ways, from Europe. But he has this great line that I just came across recently, and I just love it. He said," Where I expect to find a priest, I find a politician." So he's used to the priest, the institution, the formal, the hierarchical, the structural kind of religion, Christianity in Europe.
Patrick Miller: The less charismatic, the less democratized.
Keith Simon : So he goes to expect to find a priest who's humble, trained, a part of this institution. He goes," But everywhere I go in America and I try to find a priest, what I really find as a politician," someone who knows how to work the crowd-
Patrick Miller: Do a stump speech.
Keith Simon : ...somebody who knows how to get the people fired up and draw a crowd. I think that's kind of where early America is. We have created pastors as politicians, and now we're reaping some of the consequences of that.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. So you have a people that are skeptical of institutions. We threw off the greatest institution in the world, the English monarchy. So you have a people that are democratized, and they like the idea. I mean this is part of the American story of self- reliance, pulling yourself up on the bootstraps. We like the idea of people who are able to do it without institutional support.
Keith Simon : Be suspicious of those elites out there who think they know it all because they went to the big school. Private school people, be very, very suspicious of them.
Patrick Miller: I see what you're doing there. And then we come up into the present. Really, in the present moment, all this stuff is able to go into hyper drive. Because when you get into the'50s and'60s, you have the birth of the suburbs. This means that people are transporting themselves to places using vehicles. In the past, maybe you had a radius of two miles that you would travel on a regular basis to go get your food or other things, and your church would have to be in that two miles. You'd have to be in the parish where your church was at to go there. Now, all of a sudden, you have a car and you can drive 10, 15 minutes. We're talking about 10, 15 miles away to go to a church. So what are people going after? Well, they're consumerists, and so they're going to go find the preacher who's got the best preaching charisma. They're going to go to the church that has the best children's ministry. And again, we're not critiquing this. We're not saying all this is totally wrong, but we're just saying what they aren't looking for, all of a sudden, is where's my local Lutheran church?
Keith Simon : Yeah. So I think that people think the internet has changed the way we do church.
Patrick Miller: Oh, no, no, no.
Keith Simon : Of course, it has. But the biggest change, I think, was the car-
Patrick Miller: By far.
Keith Simon : ...because before, you had to go to a church that was close to you, that you could walk or ride your horse or however you were going to get there. But as soon as you could drive, now you could go past those churches to find one you really like. That meant the audience had power. The average person had power, and churches had to start to appeal to people to get them to come to their church. They had to start emphasizing that we are a church that has what you want. Now, like you said, it could be children's ministry. It could be preaching. It could be music. But they had to start to target a certain kind of demographic they were going to go after and tailor their church around that demographic. So I think the car was the game changer of how America did church.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. There's this funny, old image from Rick Warren when he launched Saddleback. He came up with this target persona that his church was trying to get. I think it's called Saddleback Steve or something. You could go online and find the images of it. It's pretty funny. It's this guy. It's so 1990s. He's got his white button- up, and it's tucked in. But he's got this giant modular cell phone and a pager on his hip. The whole thing is this guy's kind of a yuppie. He's busy. He has a lot of things to do. He's successful. He doesn't feel like he has a lot of problems with his life. He's trying to describe who they're trying to reach because they knew people had cars. They knew there were lots of people in the neighborhood who didn't look like Saddleback Steve, but we knew Saddleback Steve could get to us because of the vehicles. We're not blaming, saying something's right or something's wrong here. We're just saying this is how church has to be done now. People care less about the denomination. They care less about the institution. They care more about the charisma, the celebrity.
Keith Simon : Yeah. So the celebrity becomes a reason to go to a particular church. The church was motivated, incentivized to pump up who the pastor is, to pump up who the music worship leader is. This also gets to something that you and I have seen a lot and maybe experienced in our own life, and this is the idea of church hopping. If the church does something I don't like-
Patrick Miller: See ya.
Keith Simon : ...if they stop meeting my needs-
Patrick Miller: See ya.
Keith Simon : ...then I'm out because I can go to another church. So now churches have to listen to their congregants and do what their congregants want in order to keep them giving, keep them serving, keep them attending their church. Is there something good about that, that if your church goes crazy, you can go to another church? Absolutely. Of course, there is. But there's also something dangerous about it because now it puts too much power in me as just an average member. It says that if you challenge me, get into my business, say some hard things to me, well, I'll just go to a different church, so that means you better be nice and do what I want. It puts control and power probably in the wrong place.
Patrick Miller: Let's add one more layer on here because what we're showing right now, I hope people see, are all these converging tributaries into this giant river. We've seen the democratization. We've seen the anti- institutionalism. We've seen the suburbs and the ability to go anywhere. We've seen the consumerism, the church hopping, the church shopping. You see how all these things are coming together to create the kind of celebrity culture we have. One last thing that I think we need to talk about is anti- intellectualism.
Keith Simon : Because it goes right along with the democratization of American Christianity. We resist the clergy. We resist the people with all that learning up there, and we-
Patrick Miller: Why'd you say it that way, Keith?
Keith Simon : We don't need that. We can figure out the Bible for ourselves. It goes all the way back to the Reformation.
Patrick Miller: Yes.
Keith Simon : People are given the Bible in their language so they can read it. I can read it, and I can understand it on my own. So when Christina and I were in Michigan for a year back with Campus Crusade right after I graduated from college, there was a student there who was a really smart person. If you go to the University of Michigan and you're an engineering student, you're super smart. I think right now, to tell you the truth, I think he's a pastor. But he insisted that he would only read the Bible. He would not read any other books because he thought if you were reading other books, you were kind of selling out to the elite. You don't need other books. You just need the Bible. I can sit down and read this Bible and figure it out all on my own. I don't know if he still believes that or not, probably not, but that's that anti- intellectualism that I don't really need to learn from other people. I don't need to learn history or I don't need to read biblical commentary is what other smart people throughout the centuries have said. I'll figure it out myself.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. I want to say there's something really good here. I mean this goes back to the Reformation and the idea, it's called the perspicuity of scripture. It just means that scripture is clear. It's simply the notion that anyone can read the Bible and get something valuable out of it. But if you read what the actual Reformers wrote about this topic, you begin to realize they were very complex in their view. They understood that some things were harder and some things were easier, that some things were easier to apply and some things were very difficult to understand. If I could just press beyond that, the major problem here is if you come at the Bible and say," All I'm going to read is the Bible," it's not as though you don't have outside influences that are shaping how you read your Bible. You haven't escaped the problem you think that you've escaped. In fact, it would be far better to choose learned people who can shape your thinking in the right way, people who've spent way more time thinking about a topic than you have, to shape your thinking so that you can understand the Bible better. Wouldn't that be a better approach?
Keith Simon : Also, just to read people outside of your decade, maybe even outside of your century, because there were people who lived in a different time and a different place in a part of the world where they may have insights that you could learn from that you won't have reading on your own. It turns out that when you read the Bible on your own and you won't read any other books, you limit yourself to your own perspective, and that's pretty dangerous.
Patrick Miller: It's not just that. I haven't thought about this, so I'm sorry if I'm externally processing right now.
Keith Simon : It's a safe space.
Patrick Miller: It's a safe space. I wonder if something else that happens is when you're not a big reader and when you haven't gone through an educational process and you're a pastor communicator, you have to, week in, week out, come up with new, interesting ideas to share with people. If you don't have an education and if you're not much of a reader, if you're not consuming, the only option you have is to do your own stuff warmed over, over, and over and over and over again. So what makes that stuff unique? What makes that stuff drawing? The only thing you have left is performance. The only thing you have left is emotion. The only thing you have left is charisma. So I do wonder if there's a feedback loop that happens when you lack an education that actually presses you in the direction of becoming the celebrity, because that's all you have.
Keith Simon : So think of the people who have a wide following today and whether they've been shaped by institutions, why they've been shaped by seminary, graduate- level training and education. What I think you'll find is a lot of the most popular ones, not all of them, but a lot of them, they maybe went to college, but they didn't have that institutional, traditional seminary, graduate- level education.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. I mean it's not hard to come up with ones who have, in a sense, been discredited, so Mark Driscoll, Bill Hybels, Carl Lentz, Jen Hatmaker, Brian Houston. And then you could come up with ones that maybe haven't been as discredited. It just shows-
Keith Simon : Or not discredited at all. They're great.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. Again, it isn't a critique. It's just to say this is a thing, that our celebrities aren't educated. Matt Chandler, Jen Wilkin, JP Pokluda, Beth Moore, Joe White, TD Jakes. Actually, as we get to TD Jakes, we now find a group of people, by the way, who have bad theology, so Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen. The list goes on and on and on.
Keith Simon : So this kind of brings us to a question that I've been asking people, and that is what makes a celebrity pastor a celebrity pastor? Because I think when I talk to people, what it turns out is they start mentioning names that are just well- known people. And yet, there's kind of a negative connotation to celebrity pastor. It might be somebody who ends up on PreachersNSneakers or somebody who falls or somebody who's got bad theology. If we reduce celebrity pastor down to just being well- known, then really good people, like Tim Keller, would fall into that camp. I think when we say celebrity pastor though, do we mean more than just being well- known? Do we mean somebody who's become the show, somebody who has kind of manipulated the circumstances to protect themselves, they're not accountable? Do we mean somebody who's maybe taken advantage of their ministry to become wealthy? Or do we just mean celebrity pastors are well- known pastors, some of whom are really faithful and follow Jesus and have great theology and some don't?
Patrick Miller: I think there's 15 different definitions of what a celebrity pastor is. That's what I've discovered on this journey. I will say this. I wonder if another element on the negative end, because I think you'd have a definition that would include so many people that you'd have a hard time making it negative, which is how we all tend to think about it. But maybe part of it, too, is on the negative end, a celebrity pastor is someone who is not shaped and formed within institutions, that something bad happens when you're able to get fame apart from the systems that can hold you accountable. Maybe that's not what makes you a celebrity, but there's something there. I think we actually need to transition to that point because we have to ask the question, why should we care about... I mean institutions, that's not exciting. Why should we care about authority structures? Why should we care about accountability? We'll get back to the episode in just a second. But before we do, I want to encourage you to go and follow Truth Over Tribe on social. It's not because we need more followers.
Keith Simon : Well, I need more followers. Follow me on Twitter to help my insecurities and build my ego.
Patrick Miller: Okay. So go follow Keith to help his insecurities. The reason why we want you to follow Truth Over Tribe is because we love interacting with you and hearing from you. For example, we did an abortion episode a while back and we asked you, what do you think the church should do if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and you had so many great ideas. It was fun to chat and talk and hear what you were thinking.
Keith Simon : Yeah. Without you, we can get locked into our own tunnel vision, and you bring so much perspective and different opinions to the conversation. So follow us and participate. Give us your feedback. We want you to help make this show better. Does it offend you if I say that Jesus established an institution? I think it kind of does because we are anti- institutional people. I mean I feel that tug in my own heart. We've already recounted the history and how the audience is sovereign today. We're suspicious of institutions in our culture for a lot of good reasons that we're going to go into in a future episode pretty soon. So to say that Jesus started an institution, wow, that's hard for us because we want to have Jesus being our personal Savior, a personal relationship with us. It's just He and me. We can be in the woods or we can be in the desert or we could go to a church or we don't have to. We can do whatever we want because it's just me and Jesus. But Jesus started the church. He didn't leave behind that much when you think about it. But He-
Patrick Miller: Yeah, He didn't write any books.
Keith Simon : No, but He invested in a church. The church that Jesus invested in had structure. I think that's hard for us to buy into, but it had things like preaching, leadership, sacraments, like baptism and the Lord's supper. So Jesus created an institution with structure where everybody wasn't equal, that you were supposed to listen to people who had authority over you. I mean that's pretty shocking.
Patrick Miller: It is shocking. I think we should just ask ourselves why. I think one of the reasons why, as hard as this is for me to accept as an American myself, it's that God believes that accountability is important. He actually thinks that we should be held accountable for our actions. You can look at Paul's letters to Titus and Timothy. They were pastors. So it's kind of a place you can go in the Bible and see how Paul thought about churches and how churches should be run. But one of the things Paul thought is that churches should be run by a plurality of people. Paul didn't have this image of the solo pastor who's above everybody else, and everybody works to serve him. In fact, he wrote to Titus. He said," This is why I left you in Crete," which was an island in the Mediterranean," so that you might put what remained into order," and catch this," and appoint elders," not elder," elders in every town as I directed you."
Keith Simon : Yeah, it's interesting. Every time Paul says something like that and gives instructions, and he does it in a variety of places, not just here in the Book of Titus, is it's always plural, always plural, never singular. So what's come out of that is this idea that a church should be led by a plurality of elders, and you can imagine why. They have checks and balances on each other. It doesn't allow one person to become too big.
Patrick Miller: You know what's funny, Keith? When I was in seminary, I was kind of interested in church planting. It's something I thought I might do someday. I don't think I'll do that now. But the one thing I knew was this. If I planted a church, I would never do it by myself, which is weird because that's the model. We love to send church planters off by themselves solo, and it's because it's cheaper. There's less money. I'm not critiquing that. But here's why I didn't want to do it. It was because I'd been here at The Crossing and seen the model that you and Dave have. We don't have a head lead pastor who preaches every Sunday. You guys switched off. I knew from being a part of the church, that means that there's people who like you and people who like Dave, people who like both of you-
Keith Simon : Neither of us.
Patrick Miller: ...people who like neither of you.
Keith Simon : Just like the music or the children's ministry and endure both of us.
Patrick Miller: But then working alongside you guys, I began to see the way that that held both of you accountable. There were things that you weren't able to do that you might want to do because you knew, well, what's Dave going to think about this? It's not just Dave. There's other leaders who are on this team. I'm mentioning you two. In fact, there's several other people on that team who are making those decisions. But I realized I didn't want to go by myself because I wasn't sure I could trust myself by myself.
Keith Simon : Yeah. We kind of stumbled into it. God's sovereignly behind it, but at least humanly speaking, it's not as if I went away and prayed and had this great insight and that Dave and I came together to do it in this kind of mutually submitting way. It's that we decided we wanted to do it together. It was really uncommon at the time. I think maybe there are some more people trying to do it today.
Patrick Miller: I mean our denomination didn't even have a structure for it.
Keith Simon : Oh, no. They didn't know what to call us. They had to close one eye in order for us to pull it off. But essentially, we don't have a senior pastor. We have, like you said, several people who are part of a team, and that means you have to compromise. It means you don't get what you want. It means that other people are not dependent upon you, a senior leader, for their paycheck. It means that they're incentivized to say hard things or at least not penalized for saying hard things.
Patrick Miller: But there's someone else they can go say the hard thing to if they need to, right?
Keith Simon : Right. It's mutual accountability because we switch off in our teaching and there are several people who will preach in a given year at The Crossing, but nobody preaches more than 25 times. That would be a high watermark for anybody. Probably nobody even does quite that many. That means that the church doesn't become a cult following after one personality.
Patrick Miller: It's interesting to see how that's become the DNA of the church. You can go ministry by ministry, and many of the individual ministries within our church are co- led. In fact, I haven't really solo led a ministry here at the church at any point, and I think that's really healthy because God likes accountability. The way to have accountability is plurality. It's one of the problems that happens in these celebrity cultures is that there is no plurality. There's one person whose name matters. There's one person who's in charge. There's one person who must be defended.
Keith Simon : And then the church is built around that person's gifts, that person's talents. But it's interesting when you look at the Bible, that it doesn't say that the leaders of the church should be uber talented in a variety of ways. Instead, what it does is it goes to issues of character. I mean you see this in 1 Timothy and in Titus where they lay out the qualifications of an elder. There are things like be self- controlled, respectable, hospitable. It does say able to teach, so they should have some gifting in some of these areas, but it goes on, like drunkenness, not be violent, but gentle. I won't read them all, but you get the point that the issues are about character. Now, we flipped that. We don't know people's character as celebrity pastors. If you follow somebody who lives in a different state, it turns out that you don't know his or her character, but you do know their gifts and their talents. That's what attracts you to them.
Patrick Miller: Okay. Actually, along those lines, let's shift. God doesn't just want accountability for the leadership inside of a church. He wants accountability inside the church itself. In fact, God thinks it's good for you and it's good for me to be under authority.
Keith Simon : Wow.
Patrick Miller: Swallow that pill. Can I read some of the most un- American verses in the Bible?
Keith Simon : Yeah. People used to say John 3: 16 was un- American because they said the only way to God is through Jesus. While I still think a lot of people resist that, I think there are some more verses in the Bible that are really un- American for our cultural moment today.
Patrick Miller: I'm going to read two. Hebrews 13:17," Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this, that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you."
Keith Simon : Wow. Did you catch that? Submit to their authority. The people you're supposed to submit to are the authority of your local church, not every Christian leader. You can't submit to the authority of the pastor who lives in the next state over.
Patrick Miller: Well, that might be why we like them.
Keith Simon : Because they don't know us, and we don't have to submit to them because they don't get in our business. They don't ever say hard things to us. We idealize them. We're able to live our outer life without their intrusion. But the Bible says, no, there should be leaders in your church who know you and who you have a hard time with, and you've got to submit to them. Because you know what? If you don't have a hard time with them, if you don't disagree about anything, then you don't have to submit to them. But it says," Submit and do it with joy," because sometimes it's going to be hard to do that. You're not going to see things the way they do, but you're going to have to trust that God put them in this position as part of this church. See, Jesus established an institution.
Patrick Miller: Well, it doesn't just say that, by the way. It says," Have confidence in your leaders." Now, I would suggest to you, the only way you can have confidence is twofold. One, there's a level of do you know leaders inside your church? So that's one way you're going to grow confidence, just getting to know them. Now, they're not going to be perfect people. So let's not go to this ridiculous standard of you haven't said anything that's ever offended me in your life. Here's one of the ways I think you grow confidence is you have confidence in the institution.
Keith Simon : That's good.
Patrick Miller: In other words, because you know that the people who ordained this person, who accredited this person... See, the same thing with a doctor. You don't know the doctor in a lot of ways, but why do you trust them to literally cut your body open? It's because of the accreditation.
Keith Simon : Because they've been shaped by institutions.
Patrick Miller: Exactly.
Keith Simon : They've been trained, educated.
Patrick Miller: I think, again, the irony of becoming anti- institutional is that it's not just that we end up trusting leaders we shouldn't trust. We end up not trusting leaders we should trust, who have gone through the ropes. They've done the hard things to get where they're at. It doesn't mean that they're going to be perfect. That's why you should look for a church with accountability in the leadership. Can I read one more version, then we'll move on something else? 1 Peter 5: 5," Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourself, all of you, with humility towards one another, for God opposes the proud, but brings grace to the humble." I just would ask, the Hebrews passage and this one about submitting to leaders, having confidence in leaders, can you obey that verse right now? When's the last time you obeyed that verse?
Keith Simon : Of submitting to authorities in your church?
Patrick Miller: I can imagine because we live in a cynical generation, someone wants to turn the mirror around on me and say," Patrick, when's the last time you've done that?" And you know what the irony is? I have to do that all the time because my teaching is in constant submission to my ordination vows. There are things that I would probably say and teach and want to do that I have to think six times about because I know if I did it, it would get me into trouble. In other words, this institution is shaping me in a profound way as a leader.
Keith Simon : It's just slowing you down, putting the brakes on, causing you to ask questions. I have to do that all the time. There are all kinds of ideas that I have or I might think we should allocate money in a particular way or that we should do X, Y, or Z, and I have to enter a dialogue with other pastors, other leaders that got us put here and we have to come to a consensus together. Sometimes that'll be my idea. Sometimes it will not be my idea. Sometimes it'll be a better idea that just bubbles up from the conversation that we all get to contribute to.
Patrick Miller: Yeah. I think that might be the other reason that Jesus established an institution is because He understands institution is a boring word, but it's where all the exciting stuff in life happens. What do you go home and gossip about? It's about what happened in the institution called your work. What are you worried about in your day- to- day? It's an institution called the family. Who are your friends and the people who shape you? It's in that institution called the church. I mean all the best parts of life happen inside of institutions, and I think God understood that those institutions shape us. I'm a dad. My role in my family institution shapes how I act in my family. I'm a pastor. You have to believe that shapes how I act in our world.
Keith Simon : Okay. So let's don't lose sight of the forest. The big thing what we're saying here is that authority has to reside somewhere. In our culture, what we've done is we've created celebrity pastors, celebrity Christian leaders, because we've said authority resides in book sales, in conference talks, in downloads, in social media followers. What we're saying is let's be careful. That's not how the Bible set it up. The Bible set it up, the authority would be in God, mediated through the Bible and through this thing called the institution of the church made up of flawed people who has leadership and direction from God, but who also has to kind of figure things out on their own. They're going to make mistakes. But we, as followers, need to submit to them. That's the institution that Jesus set up and left and said," This church that I'm instituting, if you will, is the hope of the world. It's the one that I have put here to represent me in this world." So where does authority lie? The authority lies in the institution, of course, God's Spirit there working in and through that flawed institution.
Patrick Miller: I think He did this not just to keep people in check, to shape people. I think he also did it because Jesus cares about what you believe. Healthy doctrine is important for a healthy soul. You cannot have a healthy relationship with Jesus in a terribly sick theology. Now, I know theology, again, it's not something people get excited about talking about, but it's something that Paul cared about deeply. In 2 Timothy 4: 3, he warns Timothy, a pastor. He says," Hey, for the time will come when people will not put up with sound." It means healthy doctrine." Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say whatever their itching ears want to hear." Now, do you hear Paul's warning? It's almost as though he's speaking to this celebrity culture moment. Look, the crowds are going to find people who say what they want to hear, but the crowds are rarely right. The thing that matters most is keeping your doctrine healthy. How do you do that? Well, it might be that you need institutions that limit people's doctrine. Again, when I became a pastor, I had to make ordination vows. Some of those vows were around my theology. If I change my theology, I have to go report it to someone.
Keith Simon : We have to fill out a form each year-
Patrick Miller: Every year.
Keith Simon : ...that asks if any part of our theology has changed. All right. So let's just kind of wrap up with some final questions. These might be good for you to think about a little bit in your own personal life. But let's start with an easy one. Would you go to a doctor that never went to med school, never passed boards, really hadn't had that much education, but they had a lot of Instagram followers? To ask the question is to answer it, right? Of course, you wouldn't. But for some reason, you'll pick a pastor that way.
Patrick Miller: In a similar way, would you avoid going to a doctor because he had an Ivy League education? Ooh, that elitist doctor. Wouldn't want to do that. Let's find someone from the University of Missouri.
Keith Simon : No, come on now. My daughter's in med school at the University of Missouri.
Patrick Miller: I know. That Was my dig. No, I'm just kidding. We have a great school here, but you catch my drift. Are you buying into the lie that education doesn't matter, in fact, that having a lack of education is somehow a badge to wear around? I haven't been educated, so now you can trust my charisma because I'm so smart and I have so much wisdom. I have so much knowledge. Or maybe having an education matters for soul care.
Keith Simon : Yeah. I get the instinct to be anti- elite. If that's you, I totally get it. I'm the same way.
Patrick Miller: Oh, you totally are.
Keith Simon : I definitely am. But I just want to make sure that we haven't become anti elite to our own detriment.
Patrick Miller: Well, and that's the point with the celebrity pastor thing. That's why we're asking the question is you can go back in so many of these cases and see that they lack the education. They lack the institutional connection. That's a big part of maybe why they became who they were and were able to do what they did.
Keith Simon : As we continue to talk even in our next episode, I think what we're going to see is that instead of abandoning institutions, we need to reform them. We need to renew them. We need to be able to look at our churches and say," Hey, our institutions have done some good things and they've done some bad things." That doesn't mean we walk away from them. What it means is that we get involved more. We pray for them, and we work for renewal. Let me ask another question. Do you willfully, joyfully submit to authority, your local authority in your church? That means when they ask you to serve, do you do it? When they call you on some hard things in your life, do you get defensive? Do you maybe go to another church? If they're not meeting your needs at the moment, do you have the conversations where you say," Hey, how can I help, and how can we improve this as a church?" Or do you just start looking around and going," Well, I'm going to bounce over, hop over here to this other church because they'll meet my needs?" So what kind of relationship do you have with a church? Are you a consumer? If you don't like a certain restaurant, maybe you don't go back to it. That's fine when it comes to restaurants. You don't have to stay a part of that. That's not something God set up. But if you're starting to treat your church like you might treat a restaurant..." I had a bad meal. I think you raised your prices here. I'm out." That's a problem. So are you submitting? Are you church hopping? What are you doing?
Patrick Miller: Yeah. I think along the same lines, do you willingly submit yourself to the teaching and doctrine of your church? Your pastor is not an accident. Where you're at church is not an accident. God's put that pastor there. In fact, He's given that pastor a responsibility to teach doctrine responsibly. So maybe before you do what Keith just said... I mean we've had this happen I can't even count how many times now where someone says," You preached X, therefore I'm going to go to a different church because I don't like what you said." That's a really bizarre, funny place to be.
Keith Simon : It's very American, not very biblical, but very American.
Patrick Miller: Profoundly American. I know we're pastors and people say," Oh, here you guys are just trying to defend your power." Look, I can't control what people do, and we never try to control. When people say that, we say," Okay, I wish you the best." We don't manipulate people and say-
Keith Simon : I hope you find another church. Whatever's best for you.
Patrick Miller: Honestly, we probably could be tough and say,"You want to go read Hebrews 13?" We don't even do that to people. That's not what we're interested in here. What we're saying is what's good for your soul. And again, if you listen to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill and you find yourself deeply disturbed by it, and then you turn around and you stop trusting the institution of your church, which has shaped your pastors and your pastor who's actually been educated and who's gone through this process, that the celebrity who you're now doubting did none of it-
Keith Simon : You don't know the celebrity, so you tend to idealize that person. You do know your own local pastor and you know that he's got flaws. He's got weaknesses. So you are tempted to run after the idealized person in a different state who you like their preaching style and resist the local person who loves you and cares about you and knows your life, but has flaws that you're aware of.
Patrick Miller: If you are deeply disturbed by this, don't lead it to make you trust the institutions that are actually protecting against it.
Keith Simon : No, that's good.
Patrick Miller: Instead, what you should do is you go run to a church that has a denominational structure that can hold pastors accountable and say," I love this. I know it's not perfect. We're going to have to collectively forgive it for the ways it fails. And then we're going to have to work together to renew it and to reform it continually." You want to be at a place that's able to do that. We already said that. But if you listen to that podcast and the consequence is that you trust the institution of your church less, that's exactly the opposite. You should stop trusting a church that lacks these kinds of institutional connections.
Keith Simon : If you don't like celebrity pastors, then stop chasing after them. If we don't want to have celebrity Christian leaders, then we got to look to ourselves. We're the ones who created the Mark Driscolls. We're the ones who created the Ravi Zachariases. We're the ones who created the celebrity culture inside the church, and we are the ones who can end it. Thanks for listening. If you found this podcast helpful, make sure to subscribe and leave a review.
Patrick Miller: And make sure it's at least five stars.
Keith Simon : Stop. No, just be honest. Reviews help other people find us.
Patrick Miller: Okay, okay. At the very least, you can share today's episode. Maybe put it on your social, your favorite text chain.
Keith Simon : And if you didn't like this episode, awesome, tell us why you disagree on Twitter @ truthovertribe_. We might even share your thoughts in an upcoming newsletter.
Welcome to the second, spicy installment in our series on celebrity pastors! In the first episode, Keith and Patrick used Hillsong Church as a case study to show the cyclical process of celebrity church culture. This week, we're looking back to discover who's to blame. How did the church get here to begin with? Spoiler alert: It all started when the church became democratized and power transferred to the hands of "we the people." This episode is packed with context! We discuss the Reformation, the formation of denominations, the skepticism of institutions, the rise of anti-intellectualism, the influence of the suburbs, and what happens when celebrity Christian leaders position themselves beyond accountability. Plus, how we can end the celebrity church culture we helped to create? Listen now!
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