Celebrity culture has invaded the church. Pastors, who should be shepherds serving the flock, have become idols attracting adoring fans and commanding six- and even seven-figure salaries.
What has happened to the church? How did we get here? And what can be done to counter this truly anti-gospel culture?
In this podcast, I explore this pervasive problem with Katelyn Beaty, author of Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church.
As Katelyn explains, platforms and influence can be used for good. Billy Graham, for example, used his star-power to reach millions for Christ. And thankfully, Billy, unlike so many other Christian celebrities, never succumbed to public scandal or sin.
But he’s almost become the exception. It seems monthly—or even weekly—we hear about another celebrity pastor, or Christian leader, who’s fallen into sin, or revealed as a bully or fraud. And with each revelation, there are scores of people who are disillusioned and alienated from Christian community.
In this podcast, Katelyn describes the historical development of celebrity culture in the church. They also look at the three major temptations celebrity culture has spawned. And lastly, they explore what believers can do to counter celebrity culture in the church.
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JULIE ROYS, KATELYN BEATY
JULIE ROYS 00:03
Celebrity culture has invaded the church. Pastors who should be shepherds serving the flock have become kings demanding us to serve them and commanding six and even seven figure salaries. What has happened to the church? And how did we get here? And what can be done to counter church celebrity culture?
Welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And joining me today is Katelyn Beatty, author of Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms and Prophets Are Hurting the Church. As Katelyn explains, platforms and influence can be used for good. Many point to Billy Graham, for example, who used his star power to reach millions for Christ. And thankfully, Billy, unlike so many other Christian celebrities, never succumbed to public scandal or sin. But it seems monthly or even weekly, we hear about another celebrity pastor or Christian leader who’s fallen into sin and revealed as a bully or fraud. And with each revelation, there are scores of people who are disillusioned. There’s often a pile of bodies, so to speak, behind the bus. But perhaps even worse is what’s done to God’s name and his reputation. Instead of glorifying Him as we should be. The Church and its representatives are dragging his name through the mud. What’s happening is grievous, and it’s anti gospel. As author and theologian Scot McKnight said at our last Restore conference, the church has one celebrity and his name is Jesus.
Well, I’m so looking forward to exploring this topic with Katelyn, and I think you’ll find she has an eye-opening perspective, given her years in Christian media and publishing. But first, I’d like to thank the sponsors of this podcast, Accord Analytics and Marquardt of Barrington. In your ministry or business your reputation is your most valuable asset. But what do you do when you suspect misconduct? Hopefully, you do the opposite of many of the organizations I report on. Instead of covering up wrongdoing, you investigate it, and Accord Analytics can help. In just 72 hours, their team of experts can scour emails, call logs and other records to produce usable evidence. They also can analyze your organization to identify specific threats and to suggest best practices. For a free consultation go to ACCORDANALYTICS.COM. Also, if you’re looking for a quality new or used car, I highly recommend my friends at Marquardt of Barrington. Marquardt is a Buick GMC dealership where you can expect honesty, integrity, and transparency. That’s because the owners there Dan and Kurt Marquardt men of integrity. To check them out, just go to BUYACAR123.COM.
Well again, joining me is Katelyn Beatty, author of Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms and Prophets Are Hurting the Church. Katelyn is editorial director of Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group. And she’s the former managing editor of Christianity Today magazine and has written for several Christian and mainstream outlets. So, Katelyn, welcome, and thanks so much for joining me.
KATELYN BEATY 03:04
Thanks so much for having me, Julie.
JULIE ROYS 03:06
And I discovered reading your book that we have something in common that I didn’t realize before, and that is that we both love the song Jesus Freak. So.
KATELYN BEATY 03:16
I mean, who doesn’t? It’s one of the classics from my growing up years, for sure.
JULIE ROYS 03:22
It really is. But the question is, can you play it on guitar?
KATELYN BEATY 03:25
No, can you?
JULIE ROYS 03:27
I can play it on guitar.
KATELYN BEATY 03:29
Oh my gosh, well, you should do that on one of these podcasts.
JULIE ROYS 03:32
I really should.
KATELYN BEATY 03:33
Your listeners would appreciate that.
JULIE ROYS 03:36
I think that would be a good way to lose all of my listeners on this podcast. But thank you so much for taking the time. I appreciate it. I so enjoyed this book, and I should also mention is that we’re offering your book, Celebrities for Jesus, as part of a two-book gift pack to anyone who gives $50 or more to support The Roy’s Report in the month of December. The other book in that pack is Redeeming Power by Dr. Diane Langberg. So, if you’re looking for a great Christmas gift or just want the book for yourself, go to JULIEROYS.COM/DONATE. Or you can text 22525 on your phones and the word REPORT. Again, that’s 22525 and the word REPORT. So, Katelyn, let’s start by just defining our terms. How would you define the word celebrity and how is it different from merely being famous?
KATELYN BEATY 04:35
Yeah, for as much as we talk about celebrity dynamics both in the church and in mainstream culture, it’s a bit of a difficult phenomenon to pin down. I would say it is a uniquely modern phenomenon in that it relies on the tools of mass media to project a personal image or persona or brand that inspires adoration, affection. We talk about celebrity worship. So, there’s something, I think even spiritually, there’s a posture of putting someone on a higher plane or seeing them as higher than the rest of us mortals. I think for the purposes of identifying celebrity dynamics in the church, I’ve really come to the definition of social power without proximity. It is the ability to shape hearts and minds, often, you know, thousands, millions of people if you’re using the tools of mass media, but always from the distance, that the stage and the screen, create a distance. And I think in that distance comes all sorts of temptations and problems. It’s almost like, the more people know of you, or know your name, or your face or your voice, the fewer people can know you in a real intimate kind of flesh and blood way. And I think that’s a dangerous place to be for any church leader, because we all need people who know us good, bad, and ugly, you know. We all need people who are not necessarily impressed by us but are also not going anywhere. They’re committed to us for the long haul, they know how to speak the truth in love. And so, when someone has their star rise, and they become, they find themselves with a celebrity status, I think healthy leaders will say, this can create temptations, and I need to be all the more willing to seek out accountability from people who can name my blind spots. But oftentimes, of course, I mean, the stage and the screen and the spotlight are intoxicating. They feed our ego, our need to be important or desirable. And obviously, we’ve seen so many stories, you know, the higher your star rises, oh, how much harder the fall is on the other side.
JULIE ROYS 06:55
Well, and you mentioned the biggest name that I think most people think of when they think of the first Christian celebrity. I think the first name that comes to mind for my generation would be Billy Graham. And of course, there were some before him, Billy Sunday, and DL Moody, for example. What are some things that you would say some characteristics that all of these early sort of pioneer Christian celebrities, whether they wanted to be or not, what would you say are some characteristics that they all have in common?
KATELYN BEATY 07:26
Well, all of those men, to one degree or another, and especially Graham, were very pragmatic in their embrace of the tools of media. You know, starting with newspapers, Dwight Moody formed relationships with reporters in Chicago and beyond, like, come get a front row seat to this big crusade we’re about to hold, there was a sense of spectacle. And using the tools of media to draw more people in. Of course, Graham, very powerfully used radio and television and even social media to reach you know, he even bragged about this, and I say this as a fan of Billy Graham’s, but he bragged that, you know, he could reach millions more people than even Jesus, because he had these tools, which is a very bold thing to say. But kind of, yeah, pragmatic embrace of media. Going back to the role of spectacle and event and drawing crowds, and the bigger the better, I think all of those men, to some extent, use the tools of spectacle to draw crowds. With Graham at least there was an attempt to connect people to the local church, but there was a sense for all of those men that going to church is not enough. You need to have a real born again, experience with Jesus. And I think it was probably easy for crusade attenders for any of those men to walk away and maybe have the church, the local church, deemphasized in their conception of discipleship, and I think that it is true that Graham reached many more people just numerically than Jesus did. But we also have to ask, well, what are people being discipled into? And are they being discipled into a kind of need for a powerful emotional experience? Or are they being led into that proximity into that community, where discipleship and spiritual formation over the long haul can happen?
JULIE ROYS 09:30
Well, it’s interesting, I actually volunteered for a Billy Graham crusade. I don’t remember how many years ago this was, it’s probably 25-30 years ago. But I remember they would send a team out and they would train the local church to be involved in the follow up and the discipleship. There was that connection to the local church. And there was too You mentioned something called the Modesto Manifesto, which I guess is where we get the Billy Graham rule from where Billy Graham would never be alone with a woman. But there’s another part to it that I didn’t know about that deals more with accountability, right?
KATELYN BEATY 10:08
Right. I really am struck by the holistic nature of the Modesto Manifesto. I mean, we tend to kind of fixate on the sex part, and the Billy Graham rule and its application in modern life. But I think Graham, to his credit, understood. He and his colleagues early on, when they were getting written up in every major newspaper, I think that he knew, you know, this could be a problem. This could lead to real pride, evading accountability. So, he sought financial accountability, he decided his salary would be set by a board, it would not be based on attendance at crusades or kind of a moment of giving in this very kind of emotional moment, we’re not going to manipulate the crowds to give more. I would love contemporary church leaders to become familiar with the Modesto Manifesto and how it works out in application is going to be unique to specific contexts, but I think Graham was prescient in a lot of what he understood. I mean, even just the notion of financial accountability, and as you know, how many churches and ministries essentially want to evade it or have found ways to evade it and have used deceptive means to hide, you know, how money is being spent or where money is coming from. And Graham wanted to be a transparent person and leader. He was a person of integrity, and I’m so grateful for that.
JULIE ROYS 11:46
Well, and I like Billy Graham, too. In fact, I don’t think I missed a Billy Graham crusade in our house that was like an event, right? And when Billy Graham was on TV, we would watch and I still to this day, like when you hear you know, Just as I Am, I’ll get choked up. I mean, to see people streaming forward coming to know the Lord. What he did was really amazing. And I know people personally who have become believers.
At the same time, as much as that Modesto Manifesto was a good step and a positive step, I think some of the things he failed to do, for example, his board, BGEA is full of family members. Very, very big problem. Franklin Graham, who is the CEO of the BGEA, drawing two CEO salaries, which at one point when they were published, was close to a million dollars. Now, I don’t know how much he makes, because the BGEA is no longer filing 990s. It’s become, you know, by an IRS classification, it’s become a church. And so, we see some of these things that I mean, it seemed like Graham was trying to be a pioneer, in a way making it more transparent, more accountable. Yet, today, we’re seeing this kind of, you know, I think it’s really on shaky ground when you stop filing 990s.
KATELYN BEATY 13:10
Oh, yeah. And you just wonder, gosh, I mean, what would Billy Graham think about the state of the BGEA, and I want to believe that he would not have made the decision to switch over to church status in order to not have to file with the IRS. Even the idea that the CEO would be making over a million dollars. I mean, that just seems outlandish, and unethical and inappropriate for a minister of the gospel. And so, gosh, if this has happened in just one or two generations of the BGEA, when you had a founder who was trying for transparency and accountability, what is going on in the American church that even in just a generation or two, in this one particular organization, you have such a change of spirit and direction?
JULIE ROYS 14:08
Yeah. And it’s interesting too, this whole celebrity thing. I do think it’s uniquely evangelical. I don’t know if you’ve read Nancy Pearcey’s, Total Truth. She actually traces back this whole celebrity to George Whitfield, and the late, you know, mid to late 1700s. Because there you have someone who before he would come in and preach, he would send the assistants in, and they would hand out flyers. So, some mass communication, right? And then you’ve got George Whitfield, who was trained as an actor, and everybody’s sitting in these churches where you have hour long sermons, very monotone, from what I understand, sometimes a preacher wouldn’t even look up. He just read the whole thing, right? So, people were dying for something that was a little more animated. And that led to you know, the great awakening. And so, we see these revivals, but it really is kind of in our DNA, isn’t it? as evangelicalism that we want to reach the masses? Do you see Whitfield is I heard you, um, and so I’m guessing you kind of see that maybe there’s a connection there as well.
KATELYN BEATY 15:14
Yeah. What strikes me about Whitfield and, you know, his rhetorical power, his charisma, I think, personal charisma and centering churches, ministries, movements of the gospel around charismatic leaders and figures who can truly wow a crowd with their oratory skills, that feels very quintessentially Evangelical, quintessentially American. I think celebrity just more broadly, has been seen, as I think foolishly, ultimately, of course, but has been seen as a neutral tool that can be adopted to reach more people with the gospel.
We know that we live in a culture that’s obsessed with celebrity, where celebrities dictate our hearts and imaginations and our money and gosh, you know, there’s the celebrity worship. Well, if we had Christian celebrities, could that be used as a tool to draw more people into a church or a ministry? And of course, the reality is that celebrity is not a neutral tool. It is not a tool that you can just pick up and put down; it shapes leaders in the process. And it’s very easy when you have a taste of it yourself as a leader to start believing your own hype, you know. And so, you might think, well, having a charismatic, passionate, likeable, attractive leader who has celebrity status, has national renown, this is going to be good for our church. But on the other side of a fall, or moral failure or scandal, you also have to count costs, you know? What does that look like to a watching world, even just when you look at opulent spending, opulent wealth? I think many of our neighbors, our non-Christian neighbors, know that there’s something very dissonant in that when a minister of the gospel is showing up on stage with $3,000 sneakers. I mean, we think that it’s a tool and then we end up presenting a representation of the Christian life that doesn’t look like Jesus, that doesn’t look like how the Christian life has been lived out traditionally, and historically. So, if the gospel and the good news is warped in the process, then this is not a tool that we can just pick up and put down. I think it has changed us and has harmed us.
JULIE ROYS 17:56
I would agree. And I’m wondering to put you on the spot, but you talk a lot about mega churches and mega pastors. Is it possible, do you think I actually was asked this question recently. I’ll say what I what I said, but I want to hear what you said first, but is it redeemable, the mega church? Or is this a model that really just needs to die?
KATELYN BEATY 18:21
I have also received this question. And I think we are in a moment when we are seeing the costs more than the benefits. And there have been critiques of the mega church for the last several decades. Kind of the consumeristic element and felt need and entertainment. And there are all these elements of the mega church model that have been critiqued. I would say, if you find yourself helping to lead a mega church or in a mega church, why not split the church and by split, I mean, branch off into smaller churches and empower other local pastors to invest deeply in a smaller community, and when you reach a certain size, you continue to plant? I just think there’s something about the size and the distance between the pastoral leaders and the members or attendees that is unhealthy and unsustainable.
JULIE ROYS 19:31
I’m 100% with you, and in fact, the Village Church, which I’m not really a huge fan of either, but one thing they did do, right, I think they’re in Flower Mound, Texas, I think it is, the individual campuses split off and became independent churches recently. So, there is some of that I hope happening where mega churches start to think maybe this multi-site thing isn’t the best model. And I wonder, too, I mean, I was thinking about this recently, when you have a church, where the pastor can’t really know you, and you can’t know him, is he really a pastor? And is this really a church? I mean, it might be a great Christian organization, but is it a church? And I think we need to start asking those questions. And I used to be much more circumspect about how I felt about mega churches. I’m at the point right now where I’m just like, no, this is just a toxic model, and especially for Americans, and where you talk about how we’re almost susceptible to it, because we’re almost conditioned to like this model.
KATELYN BEATY 20:45
Yeah, we’re also conditioned to think as Americans that bigger is better. And I just think we have seen time and time again, that numerical growth can’t be the only metric. And it can negatively affect other really core metrics of the Christian life. The primary role of a pastor is to be a shepherd of the flock, and you can’t shepherd well, if you don’t know your flock. And of course, the megachurch model has imported an understanding of the pastor as a CEO-type visionary, who’s going to lead our church into bigger, better, scalable. And do we need another CEO in the world? I mean, we do but not in the church, you know that the pastor is called to do something countercultural, and that is different from the world and that is to care for souls. And that work is not really scalable. It’s very personal. It’s very, oftentimes one on one or in small groups. It takes time, it’s inefficient. But this is how Jesus ministered to people. The Son of God was willing to take the time to meet with people who were getting in his way, or you know, derailing his plans, and he would stop. And how refreshing and just perpetually radical that is over and against an American church where many pastors it seems like they’re just too busy.
JULIE ROYS 22:18
And speaking of some of the characteristics of mega church, which again, sort of the Billy Graham thing gave way to what in the seventies. Well, I guess the first megachurch was Schuler’s, which would have been, you know, mid 50s. And then Willow Creek became sort of the model, which you spent quite a bit of time on, which is a church that I attended at one point. And I remember at the time just going like, wow, because like, I grew up in this local church, the very typical, the organist, and you know, as a high schooler me going, like really?, who would ever come here if they didn’t have to kind of thing and seeing much more the parachurch was what got the work done. And when I came to Willow Creek, I just went, wow, it’s like the parachurch church. Like they’re doing, what Youth for Christ would do or what Nav would do, or what you know, InterVarsity would do. Like, I always saw the parachurch as the only ones capable of actually reaching people who weren’t going to go to the church anyway, because they were born into it. And I saw that happening. Now to think back that what I didn’t know, was happening behind the scenes. You’ve mentioned some characteristics. One, the pastor doesn’t know his people. What are some other characteristics you see sort of embodied in Willow, that you know kind of typifies some of these toxic qualities of the mega church?
KATELYN BEATY 23:42
Well, in a lot of these stories, and this is very true at Willow Creek. You have a dynamic visionary founder, and the church very early on comes to understand itself and its story as enmeshed with their founder or the lead pastor, to the point where over time, it can become hard for the church community to even understand themselves apart from the founder, like who are we without Pastor Bill? I think that was probably true for a lot of people a Willow Creek, and I also think it went the other way; that Bill Hybels couldn’t understand himself apart from Willow Creek. So you had this enmeshment, where if there had been concerns, and there were concerns, obviously, they were kind of subsumed under this sense that, yeah, but he’s our pastor and his Pastor Bill and who are we without Bill Hybels and we rely on him to lead us into the future.
When you look at board composition, you know, multiple conflicts of interests where you have not in the case of Willow Creek, to my knowledge, there weren’t family members, but people who had been selected by the pastor to serve on the board, which is not the way to go about it. because it’s too close. You need proper distance so that people are free to speak truthfully about concerns so that their own status or sense of importance in the church is not tied to the rise or fall of this particular leader in the investigation that Willow Creek eventually signed off on and commissioned it, it just said plainly that board members saw Bill as their celebrity. And so, it was hard, he was very good with words, very sharp, and people were intimidated by him, or he had been the person to have brought them to Christ to have, you know, preached the gospel to them. Well, who am I to stand up to my spiritual father, my hero in the faith, my mentor? That power differential is very hard to come up against.
JULIE ROYS 26:04
You talk about this concept of refracted light. And I have seen this not just at Willow, I’ve seen it in my Harvest reporting. I see it even in reporting about John MacArthur about what’s going on there at his church, but there seems to be a lot of people who have benefits from being around this super mega church pastor. Talk a little bit about this concept, and maybe about our dark sides that we like being close to these celebrities.
KATELYN BEATY 26:37
Yeah, well, the concept of refracted light is actually from Diane Langberg, who you mentioned earlier, and I would highly recommend her book, Redeeming Power, in her work. And it’s essentially a term that describes the glow that we receive from our closest or attachment to powerful celebrity figures. One of the examples that Nancy Beach, writer and leadership expert who is involved at Willow Creek for several years and was actually one of the women to come forward with allegations against Bill Hybels several years ago. She spoke with me for the book, and she talked about very plainly about when she was in the orbit of Bill Hybels. And when she was in that inner circle, she got opportunities that she wouldn’t have had otherwise; opportunities to travel around the world, to do big conferences, book deals, speaking engagements. You think about, I hate to put it this crassly, but a certain monetary gain that can come from having received the imprimatur of this other very important person. Wendy Alsup is another woman I spoke with for the book who talked about a similar dynamic at Mars Hill when she was there. She said, if I hadn’t been at Mars Hill and been in good graces with Mark Driscoll at that time, I wouldn’t have gotten my first two book deals with Crossway. So, it’s a way of talking about a kind of interdependent sharing of power that can come, which of course, then disincentivizes you to say something because you think, oh, gosh, well, I’ve tried my, I’m following on their trail. So, I don’t want to lose that.
But I think, you know, even for people who aren’t necessarily in that inner circle, but who really look up to a celebrity leader or figure, there is this sense that we can get that we are special, that we are spiritually, we are doing big things for God. I think Willow Creek very much understood itself to be on the front lines of Kingdom work and what God was doing in the world. It may be even a spiritual superiority, like this church is kind of where it’s at where it’s happening, and that, you know, we all want to sense that our work in the world is making a kingdom impact, that there’s a sense of purpose and meaning that comes from our connection to a leader or a specific community. And I don’t think that that’s wrong, per se, I think we are meant to find joy and meaning in our life in the local church. But I would distinguish that from a kind of spiritual superiority, which could be something like spiritual pride, which could be we’re right and they’re wrong, or God is uniquely present to us in a way that God is not present to other types of Christians or other churches, and I think that is not a healthy place to be.
JULIE ROYS 29:58
Well, and you have the quote at the beginning of the chapter I think, where it’s the Hybels saying something about the local churches, the hope of the world. But he kind of conflates the local church being the hope of the world and Willow Creek being the hope of the world. And I heard the same thing when I was reporting on Harvest, that there was this idea that we really got it right at Harvest Bible Chapel, and everybody else was sort of second fiddle to us. In fact, they really looked down their nose, at Willow, because Willow wasn’t, it was too seeker sensitive. It wasn’t, you know, biblical enough. And that same dynamic that you’re talking about, the refracted light where I know James McDonald would stock his board with people that their ministries were bolstered by Harvest. And so, there’s also the flip side of that, not only can they make you, but they can break you. That is a dynamic that is throughout evangelicalism and kind of this dark side. So that would be one of the temptations of this celebrity, is abuse of power. So, we’ve touched on this already. But there’s so much to unpack here, and you do a lot of talking about the publishing industry, which you’re really quite honest about it for somebody who’s in publishing. And I think, when I first discovered how you get a book deal, like I thought it was you wrote a good book; I mean, how silly of me.
KATELYN BEATY 31:26
That’s just icing on the top. If you can write a good book, great, but.
JULIE ROYS 31:32
That’s great if you could write a good book. And thankfully, there are good books, we highlight them all the time. But the point is, if you write a great book, unless you’re really lucky, like the author of The Shack or whatever, if you don’t have a platform, it’s going nowhere. There’s this whole marketing thing behind it. There’s a whole platform building. And it’s all driven by one thing. And you talk about that one thing. So, give us the insider’s view here of what really drives the publishing industry, even in Christian publishing, which isn’t really even Christian half the time because they’re owned by secular companies.
KATELYN BEATY 32:09
Right, right. Well, big reveal, the one thing is money. And it wasn’t, I do want to say I don’t think it’s always been so driven by platform by questions of platform. I think there was a time before the big Christian publishers were owned by multinational conglomerates that had no kind of faith or missional element, besides making money as businesses. Before they were owned by those companies, I think there was genuinely more freedom to take risks and chances on people who weren’t household names. This was before social media. I think, obviously, social media has added jet fuel to this platform obsession for all of us. But I think what we have lost in many cases in Christian publishing is the willingness to take risks on really good writers with really good ideas and important messages, who don’t have the time to build a platform. I mean, I even think about the work and craft of writing is kind of being antithetical to the work of marketing yourself. It’s interior, it’s laborious, it requires a lot of solitude. And a lot of writers are introverted, and just the whole, the work that is required to even get on the radar of so many Christian publishers these days, almost supersedes the work of actually writing. It’s like you can get a book deal if you’re just really good at creating viral content. I mean, it is genuinely the case that today, if you have, you know, 50,000 followers on TikTok, and you have a lot of really funny or interesting videos, but have never written a great paragraph, you can get a book deal. You know, the publisher will find ways to work around that deficit; they’ll you know, you can hire a ghostwriter, or they’ll just have a really good editor. Whereas if you are an excellent writer who’s really spent years honing your craft, or you’re an expert in a particular topic that’s really important, you have the credibility and the credentialing, but you don’t have the platform, it’s going to be very hard to get a foot in the door. And in this way, I do think that a lot of Christian publishing has kind of just looked at what works in the rest of the world and thought, I guess we need to do that too. Instead of thinking, maybe Christian book publishing ought to be different from how the world works, ought to bring other really important questions of discernment to the table when we’re trying to figure out who to partner with and extend a platform to, because that’s what you’re what you’re doing, when you publish someone’s book.
I personally feel grateful, you know, I work for Baker Publishing Group. And because it’s an independently Christian owned publisher, there is, I think, more freedom than I would have at other places to ask important questions of spiritual maturity, the craft of writing, quality of writing, the importance of the topic. But we asked the platform question too. And so, it’s not that platform or reach or audience is totally unimportant in a lot of cases. But it certainly needs to be less important than it’s made out to be. And, of course, you have people who really want to be authors who have found ways to falsely present their following on social media. I talk in the book about the purchasing of fake followers to give really impressive social media numbers, and then you run an audit and you realize that like half of the followers are robots. Needless to say, Christians should not be purchasing fake followers, it is a deceptive practice.
JULIE ROYS 36:21
Well, and even if you look at certain Twitter accounts, and I’m gonna step on a toe, but I’m gonna do it anyway. But Ed Stetzer, he’s following over 200,000 people? Like, how do you follow over 200,000 people? I mean, obviously, that’s.
KATELYN BEATY 36:38
Wait, he’s following over 200,000?
JULIE ROYS 36:41
He is following over 200,000 people. Now he has slightly more, he has slightly more followers, people following him that he’s following, but he’s following over 200,000 people on Twitter. I mean, that is a tactic to get people to follow you. But to have 200,000?! I mean, and this is somebody who is seen as a guru to the Christian world on, you know, he was quoted on the rise and fall of Mars Hill about, you know, integrity and everything else. And I’m looking at his Twitter platform just going like, this is a manufactured platform in a way. Now do a lot of people genuinely follow Ed Stetzer and what he tweets? Yeah, but at the same time, you know, it’s become so common, we’re almost not surprised by it.
KATELYN BEATY 37:26
Yeah. And I think about social media too, as a way to, I’m thinking about the recent story about Matt Chandler, who was asked to step down from ministry for a season over inappropriate messages with a woman who isn’t his wife. You would probably know better than I would, I think he’s back or he’s coming back soon. He suggested in a recent Instagram post that he is on his way to a return.
JULIE ROYS 37:55
He suggested and then the elder board said that they’re very pleased with his progress with said vague online relationship.
KATELYN BEATY 38:06
Yeah, this is the kind of story, Julie, that I’m sure is like designed to infuriate people, because it’s so intentionally vague, right? Just tell us what happened, oh, my gosh! But I was, you know, I was looking at the responses to his posts, Matt Chandler’s post, about returning to ministry. And a couple of things I noticed just how many people said like, we love you, we support you. And I think you don’t know; I don’t have any reason to think that you know what’s going on. And you know, what restoration or repentance has looked like for him personally. We can’t know that from social media. We know what he wants to tell us. And also, how many people said, I don’t go to the Village Church, I listen to your sermons online every week, and I can’t wait to have you back? And truthfully, I don’t know the details of this story. Like, you know, it’s been kept intentionally vague. And I don’t want to impugn Matt Chandler, you know, I just don’t know. But it was just striking to me how quickly people moved into we love you; we support you, we’re ready for you; this fandom, that I thought could be really unhealthy when you’re talking about unhealthy leaders. Coming back being restored to a place of authority or power when it’s not time. It’s way too soon.
JULIE ROYS 39:39
There’s dark sides on both the receiving end, which we’re talking about. There’s dark sides if you’re the Christian celebrity. And this gets into one of the other temptations you talk about, which is this creating a persona and character splitting as you call it. Describe what character splitting is and why it’s dangerous.
KATELYN BEATY 40:02
Character splitting is essentially a way of describing a disintegration when we talk about integrity. And we want leaders who have personal integrity. Integrity means that the parts of the person are integrated. That who they are behind closed doors is who they are on stage. That if you were to find yourself in a private one on one setting with them, or in an elevator or something, you wouldn’t be shocked, you wouldn’t have this dissonance like, wow, they seem so nice and loving from stage and, gosh, don’t cross them behind closed doors, because they’re really an angry person.
So character splitting is what unhealthy leaders do to continue to perpetuate the glowy persona, what they want others to believe about them, and what others want to believe about them as well. And oftentimes, the other part of them, the hidden part, is unexamined, and unintegrated. And when you have that disintegration and splitting, the hidden person can get away with things. You know, there’s a kind of, as long as I can keep up the glowy persona, then behind closed doors, I can get away with things, I can do things, because, you know, everybody has bought in to what I’ve presented to them. I think this can create, in a lot of cases, a kind of a lonely at the top dynamic or alone at the top. Where, because a group of people, a community has attached so much to the public self and the glowy persona, they’re not actually that interested in knowing the more vulnerable or hurting or just less impressive parts of their leader. And leaders find well, who do I go to be authentic? Who can I really show up as my full self with? And I think that is oftentimes connected to stories of, you know, various addictions and unhealthy coping mechanisms. The loneliness and isolation is oftentimes where temptation comes in. And in this regard, I do have compassion for pastors whose communities have essentially asked them to be alone at the top. They’ve put so much pressure on the leader to perform a role for them, that we’re actually not loving our leaders well when we’re leaving them in that place.
JULIE ROYS 42:46
Yeah, absolutely. And when you talk about character splitting, and having parts of you disintegrated, I mean, we used to just call it compartmentalization, right? And when I think of that, I think of the Nazi concentration camp guard, who would go, and all day would be slaughtering human beings. And then somehow could put that in a compartment and go home and be a loving husband and father. And the ability of the human psyche to do that it’s scary. And when you begin splitting off your ability to justify the behavior, like Ravi Zacharias, you know? Here’s a man who I actually interviewed him face to face you might have interviewed him in person. Did you ever interview him in person?
KATELYN BEATY 43:42
I don’t know. I definitely didn’t interview him. I’m trying to think if it’s possible that he like came through the CT offices, but certainly, my impression of him from you know, watching these debates with atheists or reading his books was, this is a man of God. And I have no reason to think not, right?
JULIE ROYS 44:02
Right. And I remember meeting him in person; he was just as winsome and gracious in person as you would find him on stage. I would have said this man is the real deal. And now to know how abusively he used his power and must have somehow justified it in his mind. And yet his board look the other way.
KATELYN BEATY 44:28
Yeah, I mean, that story. Just, you know, it’s been a few years now since the reporting came out, but it is haunting for many reasons. How do you so winsomely and graciously get up in front of crowds of people and present the gospel and then abuse vulnerable women the world over? You know, in the same day, I imagine or in the you know, in a short period of time. I think Ruth Malhotra I mean, I have so much respect for her learning about the role that she played in trying to ask for the truth and trying to hold Ravi accountable when there were things that he was saying that didn’t line up with what they were learning. And gosh, how she and a few other women were vilified, for asking for the truth. We have to take the responsibility of calling our leaders to repentance when we see these types of patterns, even when it’s very, I imagine it’s very uncomfortable. And yet, how do you live with yourself if you don’t, and then you learn something like what the RZIM board and other leaders did?
JULIE ROYS 45:40
So, one of the things that we have in common in our background is that both of us attended the same church in Wheaton, Church of the Resurrection, which is an Anglican Church, an unusual church. I tell people, it’s a charismatic Anglican Church, and they kind of look at me funny. Although if you go to Africa, you’ll find lots of charismatic Anglican churches. But it’s been embroiled in scandal, because of alleged cover up of a sexual abuser. This is something because of my personal connection because I attended there, I haven’t reported on. I’ve published pieces, but they’ve been pieces that I’ve gotten from Bob Smeadna or Katherine Post. I think he’s done most of them actually, from RNS. We’ve republished them, but I haven’t done any editing, because again, it’s conflict of interest. I’ve attended there, and I know the people. But I’m seeing things now that I didn’t see then. And I think especially around this issue of celebrity, and celebrity pastor. Rez, in many ways, was the anti-mega church. Like they, I mean, the idea of inventing church and doing it your own way would be just, you know, anathema to them. They follow the great tradition, right? So, they’re gonna follow the way Anglicans have done services forever. The band wasn’t front and center, it was actually off to the side. And the musicians, very much did not bring attention to themselves. It was anti celebrity, and yet now we’re asking a question, because we have a Bishop who was also the priest of Church of the Resurrection, Stewart Ruch, who’s very charismatic. Let me just ask you, do you see, at Church of the Resurrection and what we’re seeing in ACNA, too. And for those who don’t know what that means, ACNA is for the Anglican Church in North America, which Church of the Resurrection is part of. Do you see celebrity dynamics in play there that have contributed to this alleged mishandling or even cover up of sex abuse?
KATELYN BEATY 47:58
I would say what I witnessed to some degree at the church in the few years that I was there, but also in reading about the alleged cover up of sexual abuse involving church leaders, is that there is a cultive personality at work. Stewart Ruch is a very charismatic, passionate, incredible speaker. I would say his style of spiritual leadership and even his personality are very much intertwined in the story of that church and its growth over the years. We might say, what would Church of the Resurrection be without Stewart Ruch? And what would Stewart Ruch be without Church of the Resurrection? And when you have those dynamics in place, and you have instances where someone with a cultive personality and a following has really made some mistakes in terms of responding lawfully and responsibly to allegations of sexual abuse, there can be a very quick move to protect the brand or the image that we as a community have in place for this person, that can be difficult to see and name places where the leader failed. And there might still be an opportunity for repentance or restoration. But if you can’t even name as a community, what went wrong and believe that your leaders might have actually really messed up; like really made some very significant missteps in the response to this, then you’re dealing in the realm where you’re not as a community willing to grapple with the truth. You know, where you’re trading the truth in for a story and an image and a narrative that is definitely easier to digest, but is not actually doing justice to victims, or even to the leaders to give them an opportunity for repentance.
I had no personal relationship with Stewart, meaning I was not part of the cultive personality at work at that church. Truthfully, I actually never interacted with him. You know, I heard him preach many times. And I knew many people in the community who would say that they had had these very powerful and personal experiences with him. I never had a conversation with him. And you know, I think the distance that celebrity can create, and if you believe that you really are a kind of celebrity figure in your own community, you’re not available for people in the same way if celebrities are very busy people. So, I don’t know I, you know, as these reports from RNS and other places have come out over the last year and a half now, I’ve thought a lot about my book; not because Stewart and other leaders are the preachers in sneakers type. As you said, Julie, they don’t kind of fit the standard American Evangelical celebrity mold. But I do think a common thread would be that cultive personality, putting someone on a kind of spiritual pedestal so that then you are not able to or willing to ask difficult questions when there’s serious problems or mistakes.
JULIE ROYS 51:40
Yeah, we overlook them, there’s no doubt. And I think the distance that you’re talking about, I mean, I would say my husband and I knew Stewart somewhat, and Katherine, his wife, but not well, and it would take literally at least six months to get on his calendar. And I remember at one point thinking he’s the bishop, I’m just not sure he’s the priest. Because if you’re not available, and you’re not really pastoring your people, and I think he used to be in the early days, but I think that stopped being there. But I think it shows that even at churches, and this is, I think, a cautionary word for those of you, you’re like, well, there’s no way we’re celebrity because we’re a church of 200, or we’re church of 100. Any sized church can be a celebrity and have celebrity dynamics, am I right?
KATELYN BEATY 52:38
Yeah, absolutely. It’s the kind of elevation where the pastor is seen as not even being capable of doing any wrong. And that just can’t, that’s just not humanly true. And it can happen in all sorts of churches, regardless of size, or tradition or theology. We’re talking about something that is ultimately about power, and the misuse of power. And that crops up in any context where there are fallen humans.
JULIE ROYS 53:09
And this brings me to your last chapter, which I love the simplicity of it, because basically, what you’re saying is, as individuals, as Christians, we need to begin embracing the ordinary; just embracing that our life in the ordinary, you know, it has meaning. And those relationships, those face-to-face friendships, those relationships, they have meaning too. I mean, that’s really where, you know, all the one another’s happen, in, you know, embodied relationships. And so, I love that to me, the gospel is all about loving people, and you have to know them to love them. And so, you know, I just thought that was a great place to land. But, you know, let me give it back to you as your opportunity to talk to people as they’re like, you know, detoxing from either being a celebrity or being caught up in celebrity, what are some, how do we become healthy ourselves?
KATELYN BEATY 54:16
I think a lot of this comes down to examining our own motives. And even in my own work, I mean, you and I both have public platforms. And gosh, wouldn’t it be both awful and ironic if in trying to let people know about my book, I tried to seek some kind of celebrity status, to sell a book that critiques celebrity status? But if we’re in the world of communication ministry, we have some kind of measure of platform asking, Okay, how much time am I investing in the stage and the screen? And how much am I trying to resist the lure and the glow of that by recommitting myself and rooting myself in types of communities where friendships can blossom that are not transactional? You know, I think, even looking at the dynamics of our friendships and relationships and thinking, I need people who, again, are not impressed by me and are also not going anywhere.
I think it’s rare, actually, to have friends like that, to find friends like that in this lifetime, over the long haul. Those friendships and those relationships are where the real work of transformation and sanctification happens. That’s what we’re all called into. It’s what we need in order to be the people God intends us to be. So, looking at our relationship with churches and our church leaders, have I put someone on a pedestal that is inappropriate, have I come to see a leader as having a larger-than-life status in my own life and my own spiritual journey and just examining how, when you put someone in that elevated status, it can be hard to see problems until it’s too late. And I think just a way to guard against that is to be wise and discerning not just about our leaders integrity and character, but what’s going on in our own hearts toward towards them. I mean, of course, I think we all spend too much time on social media. But that’s like, it’s kind of a given.
JULIE ROYS 56:42
It’s so yeah, it is kind of a given. And especially if you’re in media, you have to be on social media. But there is a point at which you can feel thin. And you really, you know, need to disengage. And I know, Lori Anne Thompson, who most everybody who listens to this knows Lori Ann from the whole Ravi story, but she’s just a beautiful person. And she recently just disengaged completely from Twitter, and she said, I was here for a season. But I you know, what I loved about one of the things she said is the deception that people needed me. And I thought, wow, that is so important. Jesus doesn’t need any of us. He chooses by His grace to involve us and to partner, you know, allow us to partner with what he’s doing in the world, which is an incredible privilege. But he doesn’t need any of us and when we’re thinking I think Christmas is such a wonderful time because we talk about the Incarnation, right? Jesus came in flesh and blood, Jesus came and was real and was among us, and was one of us. To remember that, and to be that for each other. And I think your book, Katelyn, does a great job of inviting people more into that to be able to see the dangers of celebrity of platform, and then to invite them into, you don’t use the word incarnational. But I think it’s there in that kind of embodied relationship. So, thank you for what you’ve done. Thank you for this book. And thanks for your ministry.
KATELYN BEATY 58:31
Thanks, Julie. Thanks for a great conversation.
JULIE ROYS 58:34
Well, again, thanks so much for listening to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And just a reminder that we’re able to do this podcast and all of our investigative work at The Roys Report, because of support from people like you. And as you probably know, December is a critical giving month for us. This is when we raised about 30% of our total annual budget. So, your help in helping us get to this goal is absolutely crucial. Plus, in December, if you give $50 or more to The Roys Report, we’ll send you a gift pack of two hardcover books, Katelyn’s Celebrities for Jesus and Dr. Diane Langberg’s, Redeeming Power. To give just text 22525 on your phones and the word REPORT. Or go to JULIEROYS.COM/DONATE. Also, just a quick reminder to subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify, or YouTube. That way you’ll never miss an episode. And while you’re at it, I’d really appreciate it if you’d help us spread the word about the podcast by leaving a review. And then please share the podcast on social media so more people can hear about this great content. Again, thanks so much for joining me. I hope you were blessed and encouraged.
8 thoughts on “Celebrities for Jesus”
This problem isn’t just in megachurches, unfortunately. This celebrity mindset is just as prevalent in small churches, where the pastor or church leaders aren’t afraid to leave a pile of bodies behind the bus if it means keeping their job, status, and sense of security. They have the full trust of the congregation and they also have the platform in which to twist their narrative without being questioned. It’s all “for the good of the church’s mission”, and no one can really argue with that. It’s everywhere.
I agree. It is in big and small churches. That’s why, after being raised in the church and being a member (big and small churches) for 60 years. I quit going to church.
Agree. The Pastor system of one man that is the focus of the gathering is not found in the Bible. The Church has pastors not Pastors Pastor in the Bible is a function of being the priesthood of all believers, not a professional office. The pastor office is a tradition of men unknown in the Bible. Many problems in the disfunction of the ekklesia is due to the pastor office stifling the priesthood of all believers. For example in 1 Cor. 14:26 “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up”. When have you ever come together and seen each one having anything to share except for the professional priest? You haven’t because only the professional priest speaks and he keeps the ekklesia quiet.
Pastor in the Bible is a function of being an elder not a professional office. The pastor office is a tradition of men unknown in the Bible. Many problems in the disfunction of the ekklesia is due to the pastor office stifling the priesthood of all believers. For example in 1 Cor. 14:26 “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up”. When have you ever come together and seen each one having anything to share except for the professional priest? You haven’t because only the professional priest speaks and he keeps the ekklesia quiet.
Thank you, Julie Roys and Katelyn Beaty, for a thought-provoking interview.
My favorite part of the interview was when you both discussed the “Christian” publishing world. LOL. It’s nice to hear people state the truth about it. I learned the hard way by being thrown under the bus by a few of the big house “Christian” publishers, who not only stole my idea about blogging for books, but a certain CEO of a publishing house at first poo pooed my idea and then after he left said publishing house, launched his own “platform” to build his own and claimed my idea as his own, while making a ton of money. Nice to see some truth spoken.
One of the sad things I hear in my area is mega church pastors don’t do weddings, funerals, or visits at the hospital. Some of the rural pastors in our area, who are probably bi-vocational, are then asked to do a funeral of someone that is a member of the mega church. To me a good question is in observing your pastor is, “do they have a servant’s heart”? We are called to serve one another, even pastors.
And yet, Billy Graham did not protect his followers from the false teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, but encouraged involvement with the RCC. See Dave Hunt’s website for the info.
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