February 2, 2012
Celebrity Pastors, Bloggers, and Questions of Authority
The Elephant Room highlights the problem of authority in the contemporary church.
Above is a video from last year’s Elephant Room. The clip highlights a panel of popular pastors discussing the behavior of perceived “wolves” in the church and in Christian media.
During the first minute and thirty seconds, several members of the group react harshly against Christian bloggers as sources of doctrine or opinion. Painting them as limpwristed, “loving, inclusive guys” living “in their mom’s basement,” the group dismisses Internet-based writers as legitimate sources of doctrinal opinion or interpretation.
This dismissive response of a panel of high profile pastors to the general blogosphere garnered a sharp reaction by bloggers like Zack Hunt over at The American Jesus.
The small spat raises big questions. How does the church view authority in a digital environment? How do we determine if a given voice – whether blogger or pastor – is reliable to shape our theology and practice?
Is legitimacy determined only by the massive number of followers of a celebrity pastor or blogger? If that’s not enough, then what gives weight to the words we speak, type, shout or tweet?
For most Protestants, this is further complicated by the fact that many high-profile pastors are under little or no direct authority themselves. For bloggers, the dynamics are similar.
Skye Jethani references our confusion with authority (full piece available here):
Today authority is granted to those who have simply proven they can build a platform. Consider Oprah Winfrey. No doubt she is very competent when it comes to the media business, but I'm guessing the Queen of Talk is a lot less savvy about digital cameras. Still, when she featured a new Nikon on her "Favorite Things" show and called it "one sexy camera," it started to fly off store shelves. Why? Platform. Millions of people listen to Oprah, so she must be right … even about digital cameras.
How does this relate to pastoral ministry? Authority is best established through proximity—being in close personal contact so that trust can be built.
Such a relationship of authority is impossible for both bloggers and the celebrity mega-church pastor. Their respective platforms ensure that their voices carry much farther than any possibility for deep pastoral ministry with their hearers, for the breaking of bread, for visiting the sick, for listening, laughing, and mourning with their community of “followers.” They’re no more real, no more embodied to most of the people who sit under their preaching than a blogger is.
To what degree does this disqualify them, then from shaping the church’s collective heart and mind? From shaping my heart and mind?
These are hard questions. As we consider them, let’s heed Zack Hunt’s excellent reminder, applicable to all of us who have half a platform to stand on:
Having the loudest voice doesn’t make you right, nor does it make you and your tradition the representative of faith. Represent your tradition and do it proudly, but do so with humility, knowing that you are but one of many voices who also proclaim “Jesus is Lord.”
Amen and amen. Let’s pray sincerely that the most visible among us—blogger, pastor, or both—can begin to exemplify this. If they can’t model how to live out the self-giving doctrine of the Servant-King, it may be time for us to find new “experts” in his theology.
How do you evaluate the Christian “experts” that compete for your attention? Is blogging – or mega-pastoring – inherently untrustworthy? How do you choose your experts?