Atlanta, like most cities, is plastered with billboards. Among those most prominent are ones promoting such Atlanta-based iconic brands as Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, and Chick-Fil-A.  Amidst these familiar corporate brands, however, are billboards advertising local churches, complete with larger than life sized pictures of pastors (and often their wives). From the well known, to the wannabe well known, many churches use these billboards like companies do, to promote their ministry and build their brand.  Unfortunately, often it also has the effect of building the pastor’s celebrity.

Admittedly, celebrity is not inherently bad. Like most things, its what we do with it.  Unfortunately and invariably we make too much of it.  Our infatuation with celebrity tends to get the best of us. This is true in all segments of society. It is particularly true in the predominantly black American context. We like celebrity. We like notoriety. We like our athletes to be celebrities.  We like our politicians to be celebrities.  And yes, we even like our preachers to be celebrities (the many billboards around Atlanta with images mostly of black pastors gives this away every time).  The funny thing is that we not only like our celebrities, but we also expect them to use their notoriety for our purposes. When they fail to do so, we often dismiss, discard, and disown them.  Perhaps this is what lies behind the recent dust ups concerning our brother Lecrae.

No one in Christian Hip-Hop today has the celebrity of Lecrae. As with most celebrities, no one therefore is under more scrutiny than he is. He is a talented brother, and by most accounts has earned his place in popular culture. However, because he does not always choose to use his notoriety and voice in ways some in the church think he should, he is subject to accusations of unfaithfulness and compromise.

Please understand, I do not write in this space to defend Lecrae. He’s big enough and grown up enough to defend himself. Besides, some of the criticism may be valid. But my point is simply that we make too much of celebrity.

There is an over emphasis on what celebrities say and think. As Christians, many of us spend too much of our energy consumed with the work that men and women like Lecrae are doing.  Lecrae is a rapper.  He is not a pastor, an elder (last I checked), a professor, or even ordained to any official office of leadership in the church. He is a gifted hip-hop artist. Amazingly, we seem to expect more than that from him.  We want him to be our mouthpiece to the world; the spokesman and advocate for our brand of Christianity.  When this is not the case, it is not the artist who has the issue.  It’s us!  We have our priorities confused.  We have our principles out of place.  I, like many of you, find Lecrae’s work interesting and at times, entertaining.  But I don’t look to him for a vision of what Christianity should be.  I look to the Scriptures for that (Ps. 119:105).  I look to my local church for that (Eph. 4:11ff).  I look to the men and women God has immediately put in my life to help me discern God’s direction for my life, not a celebrity hip-hop artist.

We do brothers and sisters like Lecrae, and consequently ourselves, a disservice when we look to them for direction on how we should now live. We wrongly expect them to interpret the Scriptures for us and to apply those answers to our lives.  We not only do it with celebrity artists, but we do it with “celebrity pastors” as well. Consequently, this issue is not impersonal for me.

Let me say, if you are ever in Atlanta, you won’t see our church’s name on a billboard as you dart around I-285.  An overblown picture of my face won’t be staring you in your face as you sit parked at a busy intersection.  Nevertheless, some at my church like to tease me by saying that I’m a celebrity pastor. I sure don’t feel like one. And if I ever did, I am sure my church family would be sure to do all they could to change that feeling.  Nevertheless, if I am a celebrity pastor, I believe I have the responsibility to do what I can to keep that celebrity to a minimum (1 Cor. 3:4-9).  In order to guard my own heart, I must resist the temptation to be on stage at conferences all the time. I must resist the temptation of answering every question posed to me. I must resist the temptation of being away from our local church as much as I am present in our the local church.

Too many people look to the opinions of the best-known pastors and teachers more than to the pastors and teachers who know them best. Don’t misunderstand, like most people, I enjoy good conferences and the people who speak at them as well. However, I must remember that most men on stage don’t know me, or my church and thus should not have a more prominent voice in my life than do those who faithfully labor for my life and soul every week.  Ironically, most of the so-called “celebrity pastors” I know would agree.

Admittedly, most men who are regarded as celebrity pastors (few would admit it themselves, but we mostly know who they are) are not the designers of their own celebrity. Others do that for them.  Yes, there are some pastors preoccupied with building their own brand and making themselves a known commodity; but for the most part celebrity is what others project on us. Nonetheless, I must admit that no one makes me accept conference invitations. No one makes me sit for an hour playing Bible answer man to thousands of people I don’t know. Obviously, the reason all the same names appear at the large conferences is because those same men keep accepting the invitations. If I am viewed as a celebrity pastor, I have to own some responsibility for it – billboard or no billboard.

Don’t get me wrong I am not naïve. Celebrity artists and pastors are not going away. The church likes its celebrities too much for that.  However, we can do ourselves a big help if we could give less attention to the celebrity and more attention to community; less attention to the opinions of superstar artists and mega-conference pastors and more attention to work of the ministry through the elders and deacons, pastors and teachers in our local church. Besides, if we are rightly thinking, we are all unworthy servants (Lk. 17:10). In my estimation, unworthy servants make poor billboard icons.

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39 Comments

  • Avatar Kyle J. says:

    Good word brother

  • Avatar Louis Love says:

    Hey Carter,

    Man you brought up some very good points, especially this one:

    “Too many people look to the opinions of the best-known pastors and teachers more than to the pastors and teachers who know them best.”

    If I was on face book I would “Like” it.

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Uh oh! Is the Love looking to join the Facebook fam?

  • Avatar Louis Love says:

    No sir, I got too many friends, couldn’t keep up and I’m not even a celebrity.

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    With a name like Rev. Love, celebrity is definitely in your future!

  • Avatar Ethan Seifried says:

    Thank you, Pastor Carter for this insightful post. And thank you for your faithfulness here in Atlanta.

  • Avatar Rose De La Cruz says:

    THANK YOU 🙂 YES! GOD IS GOOD! AWESOME! BLESSINGS TO YOU AND YOUR MINISTRY ALWAYS :-)!

  • Avatar Matthew Murphy says:

    Pastor Tony,
    Good word. After having lived in ATL for a few years and moving away to a much smaller city it was wild watching some pastors trying to “keep up” with the big names. I still remember a church with the word “MEGA” in it’s name and I think there might have been 10 people in the church!

  • Avatar Eric Muldrow says:

    Pastor Carter, good points! I do have a few question though. What are we to make of those who seek to minister to the lost through their music? Are we not to be concerned when those who profess to be a voice for the church display compromise? Should’nt we speak out when a brother or sister starts looking like the world?

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    What up Matt? I know what you mean bro. I think sometimes we are not even aware of our infatuation with the big and celebrated. Always good to see you hangin around The Porch.

  • Avatar Trevoron Jones says:

    Good food for thought. I especially need to be aware of a point you made about making more of a celebrity pastor’s opinion than my own pastor. Or looking for Lecrae’s approval over the approval of my close friends. I think everyone is susceptible to that on some level.

    I also agree that our hearts should be extra guarded against the allure of “celebrity” especially in this digital age where a celebrity can be made or broken overnight by social media. If you’re not ready for it, it can be devastating.

  • Avatar Thabiti says:

    Great post, doc.

    But why you advertising for the Upper Room Bible Church all over The Front Porch? 🙂

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Bro Eric, I feel what you’re sayin. Naturally, we desire to hold those brothers and sisters we love accountable, and to be held accountable ourselves. However, I do believe we must distinquish between those people (especially entertainers) who we want to be “a voice for the church” and those who, as you say, “profess to be a voice for the church.” Often times we make them something they never voiced a desire to be themselves.

    Now, none of us are above criticism. And often it is through constructive criticism we learn best. However, when our criticism gets into judging the intents and motives of the heart, then we have probably become too preoccupied with our subject. I have found that judging from a distance rarely works, no matter how well intended it is.

    Man, I really appreciate your thoughts. They have already caused me to think how I might adjust some things if I were to write this article again. Thanks for coming on the Porch and joining the conversation.

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    That’s the same thing I said! Brother IA must be gettin a kick back! 🙂

  • Avatar Warner Aldridge says:

    Great post brother. I think that is what the dichotomy is in so many different areas of the Christian faith. Its almost like we help feed the egos of individuals who are already struggling with pride then when they don’t live up to our expectations or do things that we are accustomed to it seems as if they fail or fall off.

  • Avatar Todd says:

    Great post Rev.!!!!!!

    Question: Could you explain your convictions about not using a billboard to promote or inform others about your ministry or Church. (By the way, I completely agree with you. I wouldn’t either)

    Thanks,
    Todd

    P.S. This much be thefrontporch and not the gospelcoaltiion because I thought I just saw the word doc!!! in the comments!! lol!!!

  • Avatar IsaacOnThePorch says:

    The things that occur when people don’t suggest pictures w/ their articles :-X!!!

  • Excellent piece brother. God bless.

  • Avatar Latwon Hunt Lundy says:

    Unfortunately, so many Christians are entirely to judgemental! We are constantly looking to criticize the Saints of God and the teachers of God’s word! A lot of satan’s work is sadly done by those whom are suppose to be saved sanctified holy ghost filled and fire baptized! Well, I’ve known since a small child that God is not the author of any confusion (1Cor 14:33), so if you are causing confusion than you are not operating like God operates! God wants His word to be spread throughout the world. (Mark 16:15-16) (Matthew 28:19) (John 4:34) Before I was saved I would occasionally tune into TD Jakes, Joel Olsteen and many other “celebrity” pastors! They were always on point in their teachings of the gospel and subsequently I received my salvation during a TD Jakes sermon on television. Have you ever considered the thousands of people who are pastored by these “celebrity” pastors receiving a life changing word? Promotion of their ministry shouldn’t be considered to be self serving but God serving! It is our duty as Christians to see the Christ in one another. (2cor 5:16) It’s bringing awareness to a place that someone could go for fellowship and teaching! It’s easy to see an unacceptable side to a situation if that is what we are looking to find! As far as Lecrae, I listen to his music and he is more of a teacher of God’s word than most pastors I’ve heard in my years of living. He is reaching the younger generation, they are hearing God’s word in a way that is understandable to them. I think the next article should about self evaluation, asking ourselves to evaluate our motives and thoughts and seek to make sure that they line up with our Heavenly Father’s words!

  • Avatar Matthew Marshall says:

    Good word brother! It reminds me of 2 Cor. 8:18, Paul says “With him (Titus) we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel.” What I have always loved about that passage is that Paul doesn’t actually tell us the name of this famous brother he is sending with Titus. I would like to think that he made that decision intentionally, as he would probably say that the only person’s name that is really important is Jesus’. After all, who truly cares about the name of the instrument that the musician is playing on? Unless the musician fine tunes the instrument, and dictates all the right notes, the instrument itself is worth nothing, and produces no melody. Praise be to God that He is the Divine Composer, and that He has chosen even us on which to play his symphony!

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Thanks man. Blessings to you and the family as well.

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Yeah Todd, the “docs” are out on the Porch from time to time. 🙂

    I can’t speak for any one else, but sharing the gospel in our area is hard enough. We don’t need my face as a stumbling block. Rather than drawing people in, it may drive them away.

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Hey Sis Lundy, thanks for stopping by the Porch. We welcome all voices, even those who misunderstand or disagree. So thanks for coming and sharing your thoughts. However, I must say that I think you have missed the point of this post. It seems to me that you are answering questions that this particular article didn’t ask. But thats, ok. If you have a particular question or point of clarification concerning the article, I would love to try to answer it for you. If not, no problem. Thanks for your comments and feel free to stop by anytime. God bless.

  • Avatar Latwon Hunt Lundy says:

    Yes sir, I do disagree with the article. For the record I am in complete understanding of your article. I would like to began with Lecrae, you stated in the article that he was merely an “amazing hip hop artist” and that he was not “ordained” with any leadership roles in the church by the church. We are ordained by God technically and it’s more than evident that our Father has ordained him. (You know a tree by its fruit) I have witnessed his ministry live hearing him minister to myself and thousands of God’s children in attendance at this particular event. No, you didn’t ask a question there however you did make a statement that in a nutshell disqualified him from ministering to God’s children in which I disagreed with. There was another statement in regards to people looking to “celebrity” pastors rather than there own local pastors who know them better. To elaborate more on my previous response to that statement, I grew up in a loving Baptist Church that I loved attending. When I was in the streets (or the world), I attended my home church on a regular basis. It was not there that I received my salvation. It was a “celebrity” pastor used by God to bring me on in! (Divine appointment) Speaking more about the word “local”…..Jesus could do no mighty works in His own home town except for a few healing of the sick (Mark 6:1-6) sometimes those who know us best are more judgemental!…..I could go on and on but for the sake of time I wont. I will end with the “less community and more celebrity” statement. The “celebrity” pastors, teachers, apostles and music ministers are reaching the lost and found in many communities around the world. It’s all about God’s will! You’re a man of God so I am sure that you’re aware of His thoughts and ways being so much higher than ours! I do have a question for you? If God told you to take your ministry world wide, because he wanted to use you to save souls of millions and bring the word to millions…..Would You Do it? Ps. Although this would make you a “celebrity” pastor in the eyes of many……..God Bless you as well Pastor.

  • Avatar Pastor Bruce says:

    Hi Pastor Tony

    Like what say. Couldn’t agree more with your conclusions, but I have a problem with how you arrive there (in peace bro).

    I wish the church were more radical. I wish the church wasn’t so afraid to point
    out worldliness. I wish the church could boldly state that there is a right way to live the Christian life. I wish the church woke up to the fact that the world does the world better than the church. We shouldn’t pretend.

    You’ve correctly pointed out the issues about celebrity. But it’s deeper than that bro’. It’s our desire of acceptance from the world, so we advertise like the world, our churches function like businesses and we bought into to the motto that if you put the word ‘Christian’ in front of it, then it’s fine.

    The problem is not only Lecrae’s celebrity status, the problem started when we accepted it was fine for a Christian to walk with his pants hanging off the waist, wear the caps anyhow , and a whole manner tainted by the rebellion innate within Hip Hop and rap. I watched one of his concerts. So sad. And I have no doubt brother, that the vast majority of those billboard churches will have worship and a system designed to appeal to…?

    Celebrity is just a symptom of a greater ailment in the church.

    I’m Black and a pastor (who loves the brothers here on the porch), but I don’t buy it bro.

  • Avatar Todd says:

    I understand and agree. Amen……..doc lol

    Thanks

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Pastor Bruce, it is always good to see you on the porch and sharing your throughts. I couldn’t agree with you more. The problem with our infatuation with celebrity is probably rooted in our desire for worldly acceptance. There is something to be said for that. Thanks.

    As far as Lecrae is concerned, as I stated in the article, I don’t write in defense or justification of Lecrae’s music or methods. He is more than able to do that himself. My point is that there is an over emphasis on (and even at times, an infatuation with) what the so-called “celebrity” does and says, including pastors. As I say in the article, criticisms of Lecrae, me, or anyone else with a public platform, may be valid. Your opinion of Lecrae, my be a valid one. That, however, is not the point of this article.

    Concerning you last statement brother, I recall fondly when Christian and Faithful came nigh unto the town of Vanity, wherein was Vanity-Fair. Much of Vanity was for sale, but like you, Christian and Faithful said, “We don’t buy it!” And they were asked, “What will you buy?” They replied, “We buy the Truth!” (Pr. 23:23).

    Thank you for seeking to help the Porch get at the truth. Every conversation hopefully leads us further down that road. Blessings my man.

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Sis Lundy, we really appreciate your passion for these things, but it is evident that we are missing each other. I don’t recall ever saying Lecrae is disqualified from sharing his gifts, talents, or abilities with the church. He has and he does. Praise God. I think there is a misunderstanding on this point, and if there is, I do apologize. We can credit it to my dullness and leave it at that.

    As far as celebrity pastors are concerned, they may be able to preach the gospel to us (and many do) but they rarely, if ever, are able to shepherd us. There is more to pastoring than preaching. Most large conference and celebrity preachers and teachers, while preaching to us know that the real work of the ministry must be handled by the local church. it’s the celebrity-seeking laypeople who seem to miss this. When I speak at large conference, all the people there hear me preach, but very few, if any, actually know me as pastor.

    As far as your last question is concerned, it is not always helpful to answer hypothetical questions concerning what God will or won’t do. So let me reiterate, the problem is not celebrity, per se, but what we do with it and expect from it. Too much, most of the time.

    Well thanks again Sister. I hope this helpful. Peace to you.

  • Avatar Warner Aldridge says:

    Bro Tony, I agree that when we start trying determine ones motives that we could come close to or began to judge but my question for you is when do you raise a flag when something is suspicious or odd about a brother who once did something one way then changes his methods. Shouldn’t brothers and sisters in the faith exercise discernment?

  • Appreciate this article, brother Tony.

    Question: Given the influence of celebrities, who would you say has a greater responsibility to minimize the impact of celebrity, the celebrity or the individual Christian?

    I’ve thought about my question over the years. I am not 100% settled on an answer. Individuals are certainly responsible for how they allow a celebrity (pastor, artist, etc.) impact them. At the same time, Scripture gives a great responsibility to teachers and leaders. Despite your humble acknowledgement above, I don’t recall having ever heard any celebrity Christians giving caution that they are not the attendee’s pastor and/or spiritual leader.

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Hey Mark,
    Great hearing from you, my friend! Your question is a good one, and the right question to ask following a careful reading of the article. Thanks.

    I would say that the responsibility lies with all of us. As you say, as individuals we need to be responsible for how we use and allow celebrities to impact our lives. Yet, those of us who have a public platform (most are larger than mine, though I must admit that I have one) must be careful to minimize our celebrity. Billboards don’t help. Accepting every request offered to you from large conferences don’t help.

    I have found in my own heart and church, it is necessary for the both the notable pastor and the individuals to know the need to keep the personality cult to a minimum.

    Thanks again my friend. Always good to hear from you. God bless.

  • Avatar Latwon Hunt Lundy says:

    You’re welcome and yes, I’m passionate about God’s word and his people. The goal is always to assist the lost in finding God and then helping the found grow more in Him! Celebrity or non celebrity it’s ultimately about the WILL of God and not so much our personal opinions unless they are aligned with the word of God. God bless you and yours! Ps…I didn’t expect an answer to that question, I knew the answer….I DID expect that response…again, God Bless and I will continue to stop by the front porch. It’s an interesting place!

  • Avatar Tim says:

    “Too many people look to the opinions of the best-known pastors and teachers more than to the pastors and teachers who know them best.”

    Tony, let’s think realistically about this. To what extent are the saints known by the man who stands behind their pulpit? If there are even 100 people there, much less 1000 or more, that “known” level is not much beyond name, job awareness, and some surface evaluations from casual conversations. One man cannot have any kind of depth or mutuality with more than 20 people, maybe even less. Intimacy does not happen or even heart connection does not happen on even a monthly short conversation. This is a systemic reality for the majority form of church life in America. No wonder saints feel it’s no big deal to connect emotionally, even though with complete non-mutuality with the radio preacher. Of course the radio preacher will take their “gifts” and refer to them as “ministry partners” and other terms of endearment. Both radio a TV preachers are merely and extension of an approach to teaching that is very heavy weighted to one-way communication with very little conversation beyond that of any kind. There are much better ways to teach the word, but that is not what this blog is about. A quote I”ve heard from Howard Hendricks is “The closer the contact, the more powerful the impact.” Of course the corollary to that is also true. The “word of Christ” will dwell in us “richly” as we “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom”. Col 3:16 Most saints have never even heard of this kind of teaching participation, much less have any confidence that God desires them to be a channel of truth to the body of Christ.

  • Avatar george canady says:

    Late to the game….but I am grateful for the faithful followers of Christ who would insist on sharing their pastors when they know God has gifted these men in a way that would help the masses. My prayers are for the pastors who except this calling and the dangers inherent. Who really knows unless your it. Tag, your it.

  • Avatar DréAn says:

    Great article, Pastor. I am just now finding your website so I apologize for this late post. As a newly ordained Preacher I definitely needed to read this piece.

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Thanks bro. Glad to have you on the porch. Better late than never!

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