Carl Lentz is the latest of a rather long line of celebrity pastors to fall off his pedestal.
Lentz, until very recently, lead pastor of Hillsong Church NYC, has apparently had a string of extramarital affairs.
Prompted by this sad turn of events, Ben Sixsmith (not a professing Christian) has written a thoughtful article about the perils involved with the cult of the celebrity pastor.
Lentz seems to have deliberately nurtured his celebrity image. Not only has Hillsong NYC tended to put celebrities (such as Justin Bieber) front and centre of stage, so has the pastor himself:
Lentz turned himself into a brand. His Instagram is full of photos of his sharp suits, hipster glasses, rippling biceps and mid-life crisis jackets. Even when he addresses social causes, he is self-involved, in the classic manner of the modern ‘influencer’.
One problem with turning yourself into a celebrity is that your failings become scandals. Lentz was fired from Hillsong in November for cheating on his wife. His mistress, seeing the chance to get her 15 minutes, sold her story to the press. Other women have come forward with claims about sexual relations with Lentz, and Hillsong have announced that they have decided to appoint a third-party legal team to ‘conduct an in-depth review and investigation into all concerns and any wider cultural issues’.
All too often,
‘whenever Christians seem to attach themselves to mainstream culture, with all its vices, in the hope of drawing people towards God, they seem to get drawn towards vice.’
And then you lose you very reason for being:
Making yourself a very public representative of God, rather than a humble messenger, is a dangerous business when you are — like all of us — a very flawed human being. When you add in all the sweet temptations of wealth and fame, that becomes especially true. If you put yourself up on a pedestal you have further to fall, and when you are a religious authority, unlike an artist, or an athlete, or even a politician, your rectitude is your only excuse for being there.
Lenz represents just one version of worldly culture ‘with a twist of Christianity’. But the question then has to be asked, ‘Why become a Christian at all?’
I am not religious, so it is not my place to dictate to Christians what they should and should not believe. Still, if someone has a faith worth following, I feel that their beliefs should make me feel uncomfortable for not doing so. If they share 90 percent of my lifestyle and values, then there is nothing especially inspiring about them. Instead of making me want to become more like them, it looks very much as if they want to become more like me. That, sadly, appears to have been true of Lentz and his celebrity acquaintances. (Emphasis added)
[I am grateful to David Robertson’s Quantum podcast for drawing my attention to this article]