Why do some megachurch pastors wear shoes that cost as much as a mortgage payment? Is that wrong? Or do some pastors deserve to be rich?
On this episode of The Roys Report, Julie explores this issue with Ben Kirby, creator of the hugely popular Instagram account PreachersNSneakers.
PreachersNSneakers began as an online experiment that showcased photos of famous Christian leaders wearing insanely expensive sneakers and clothing. In just four weeks, PreachersNSneakers grew from zero to 100,000 followers. And today, the Instagram account has attracted a following topping a quarter-million!
Clearly, Kirby’s posts have touched a nerve. But they’ve also sparked conversation about important questions like:
- Should pastors grow wealthy off of religion, and why do we get so angry when they do?
- Is it okay to stoke envy among others with curated “lifestyle” images on social media?
- Do we really believe that divine blessings are monetary, or is that just religious wallpaper to hide our own greed?
- Why are Christians making other Christians into celebrities—and what happens to the gospel when we do?
In this podcast, Julie explores all these questions. Plus, she and Kirby turn the conversation personal—and consider how each one of us deal with money and vain temptations ourselves.
JULIE ROYS, BEN KIRBY
JULIE ROYS 00:00
Why do some megachurch pastors wear shoes that cost as much as a mortgage payment? Is that wrong? Or do some pastors deserve to be rich? 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 Ben Kirby, creator the hugely popular Instagram account Preachers in Sneakers. And today you’ll hear how it started as a simple post, poking fun at the extravagant shoe choices of a worship pastor has turned into an entire phenomenon. Preachers in Sneakers now has hundreds of 1000s of followers. And it’s catapulted Ben Kirby to a bit of fame himself. And as you’ll hear, Ben’s passion is not only to expose the lavish lifestyles of some Christian celebrities, but also to urge all of us to evaluate the deeper questions like, should pastors grow wealthy off of religion? And why do we get so angry when they do? Does God really give monetary blessings for obedience? Or is that just religious wallpaper to help pastors grow rich by stoking other people’s greed? And why is it that Christians are making other Christians into celebrities and what happens to the gospel when we do? These are incredibly relevant and important discussions to have, especially given all of the scandals and crises that we’re experiencing in the church and I’m so looking forward to my time with Ben discussing these issues. But before I do, I want to take a minute to thank the sponsors of this podcast, Judson University and Marquardt of Barrington. Judson is a top ranked Christian university providing a caring community and an excellent college experience. Plus the school offers more than 60 majors, great leadership opportunities and strong financial aid. Judson University is shaping lives that shape the world. For more information, just go to Judsonu.edu. 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, are men of integrity. And I’m so proud to partner with them. To check them out, just go to buyacar123.com. Well, again, joining me today is Ben Kirby, the man behind the Preachers in Sneakers Instagram account. He’s also the author of a new book by Thomas Nelson called Preachers in Sneakers: Authenticity In An Age of For Profit Faith and Want-to-Be Celebrity. So Ben, welcome, and thanks so much for joining me.
BEN KIRBY 02:30
Thanks, Julie. This is fun. I appreciate the time.
JULIE ROYS 02:32
Yeah, well, I appreciate you joining me and, you know, I absolutely love what you’re doing with your Preachers in Sneakers account.
BEN KIRBY 02:39
JULIE ROYS 02:42
It’s so much fun. And in a way, we’re in the same business, but you’re doing it in a little more lighthearted way with pictures. I’m doing it with investigative journalism. I mean, my method has existed for a very long time. Your method is relatively new and very creative. And I’m just wondering about how you got started on this whole Instagram account Preachers in Sneakers?
BEN KIRBY 03:05
Sure. To preface everything, a lot of this fell into my lap. There was some stroke of luck and timing and everything that went into this where I’m not some I don’t have a journalism background, or an investigator background or anything. Some of this was kind of the perfect storm in a lot of ways. But two years ago, I happened to notice this worship leader wearing a pair of sneakers that were worth about $850 or so in the resale market. And that morning, I felt compelled for whatever reason to make a short video about it just telling my personal Instagram followers I had, I think I had 350 people following me and just saying, Hey, did you know this worship leader is wearing Yeezys that are worth 800 bucks? That makes me feel something I don’t know what that is. So that was on a YouTube video. And then YouTube, basically on the side serves up other related videos. And I realized very quickly that Oh, there’s all these pastors and worship leaders that were wearing shoes that were worth a mortgage payment or more. And as a guy that kind of grew up in Louisiana and lives in Texas now, there’s a very, I had a very southern Christian upbringing, I had never considered how Christians do things on like in LA or New York City. Come to find out there’s a whole culture of Christians that wouldn’t bat an eye at somebody wearing a $500 belt or a $2,000 pair of shoes. So I made a few of those videos, a friend reached out to me saying, hey, you should just do an account just doing that. And so after a few days, I thought about it, I thought of the name. And eventually I copied those videos over and I started pulling basically screenshotting pastors own photos of their Instagrams and then juxtaposing the price of their sneakers right next to it. And just those two things, kind of in tension with each other, caused many people to lose their minds. Doing just that over four weeks, I gained 100,000 followers from zero. And I was interviewing with the New York Times and The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal and I couldn’t believe it. I was in the middle of my masters of business program, all while having this viral moment happen. Two years later, somehow I’m still around, and it just kind of ballooned into a much bigger discussion then. Preachers literally wearing sneakers, it turned into more of a discussion about the church’s relationship to wealth and fame and self help and image, social media, all that kind of stuff. So it’s just interesting how things work out.
JULIE ROYS 05:15
Yeah, well, I want to get into some of these deeper issues that are surrounding I mean, you’re kind of having fun in a way. But the reason it’s really gained traction, your account, is because there’s deeper issues involved, like, with wealth, and with celebrity and all that in the church. But there’s kind of an interesting story about how you even knew about the sneaker culture, because I would see that picture and I see a pair of Nikes. And I’d be like that pair of Nikes. You know, I would have had no idea that the shoes are worth 850 bucks. So I mean, for a lot of people listening, I’m bet there’s a lot of people in my boat. It’s funny. I asked my kids about this. And they’re like, Oh, yeah, yeah, definitely. There’s $5,000 shoes out there. And I’m like, who would do that? And they’re like, it’s status Mom, like, it’s a thing. And I’m just like, it blows my mind this whole thing. But tell about how you kind of became aware of the whole expensive sneaker market. And they’re kind of like collectibles, right?
BEN KIRBY 06:16
Yeah, I have a very non standard background for doing what I do now. The reason I’m into sneakers at all is because I have a very good friend that’s in the NBA. Before business school and before a couple years in the corporate world, I was in the Marines, I was a logistics officer. In 2015, I was deployed to Eastern Europe, and I was there for my birthday. And my buddy who’s in the NBA, let me go through the player specific Nike store. And let me basically pick out whatever I wanted. And, up to that point, I’d never considered sneakers. I mean, most of them, I can’t even pull off. I’m a very average looking dude, not athletic or anything. But he let me get all these sneakers and basically shipped them to me in the states while I was on deployment. And I came home to all that. Very quickly got interested, it’s kind of got an art feel to it. It’s got a tech feel to it. It’s got pop culture intertwined amongst all of it. And then there’s also for me, the most interesting thing is kind of the entrepreneurial aspect of it is where you can really flip some of these sneakers for a profit just with your phone. And at the time, that seemed interesting to me.
JULIE ROYS 07:11
So, it’s like an investment?
BEN KIRBY 07:12
Yeah, well, it’s like a it’s kind of a micro economics lesson where a lot of these sneakers are in very limited quantities. And there’s outsized demand for the amount of which there is supply. And so that inherently drives up the price in the resale market. And so yeah, kind of like Beanie Babies, or Pokémon cards or any other type of collectible thing. There is an outsized market value for a thing that started at maybe $120, or $190. But because it’s so hard to acquire some of these sneakers, or you have to wait in line for overnight or have to get really lucky on online raffle, prices that people are willing to pay for those in order to wear them, it skyrockets. So much like you, many people before they saw my account had just always assumed that some of these preachers and pastors were just dressing to look hip or trying to look relevant, were trying to not look like the stuffy suits in pews and all that. But once I said, Hey, did you know that these are worth $1200? People had to contend with that. And it kind of frazzled people in the mind which forced, you know, some ended up being really mean, some were just shocked. Others were not surprised and encouraging and thought, you know, God had blessed these people with this kind of thing. So it opened up quite the can of worms in not a perfect answer one way or the other.
JULIE ROYS 08:25
The reason I said investment is I kind of jokingly, you know, said investment because so many of these pastors when they get caught with whether it’s the vacation home worth $5 million, or you know, whatever it is, it’s an investment. Yeah, that’s me. I’m sure these collectibles aren’t frivolous at all. No, no, no, not at all. Although I do think that’s the thing. I feel like this is kind of symbolic. I don’t know if you remember the PTL scandal with Jim Baker back in the 80s?
BEN KIRBY 08:53
I know who Jim Baker is. I know the stuff he’s trying to Hawk now. I wasn’t around in the 80s.
JULIE ROYS 08:57
Yeah, yeah. But when that whole scandal blew, it was the heated dog house that he had that people just blew up over. It was just something.
BEN KIRBY 09:05
That’s the straw.
JULIE ROYS 09:06
Yeah, I mean, it was just like, that’s so ridiculous, a heated doghouse. But same thing, I think with the sneakers, and yet, as you’ve been bringing these things to light, you’re getting the same kind of heat. I mean, when I read this in your book, I just had to chuckle. You write, the world’s most famous pastors and their followers messaged me to say I was divisive, that I was being a gossip and that I ultimately would have to account for the souls loss to hell, apparently, due to my posts. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that about my articles, the same sort of thing. But these crazy allegations that if we expose it’s not the problem of the people who are wearing the $1,000 however many dollar sneakers or handbag or whatever it is. But it’s our fault for exposing it right? I mean, how do you respond to that?
BEN KIRBY 09:52
That’s been the most shocking thing is like I distinctly remember a woman telling me that about the accounting for the souls lost to hell. Because of my I count I’m okay with people being angry at me for posting pictures and price tags of sneakers. But if you’re mad at me about that, how could you not also be mad about people making immense wealth off of preaching about Jesus? If you have the wherewithal to be mad at me for posting pictures about this kind of thing, how on earth are you good with people taking advantage of those that are trying to genuinely tithe out of sacrifice and commitment to further God’s kingdom? It’s just like, the most backwards thing ever. You get exposed to everyone’s personal expectations of what you should be on social media versus what they think their pastor should be. And so everybody’s got a different line, a different idea about what’s appropriate or not. But yeah, it’s always been interesting to me that, that I’m the problem that I’m showing the pictures and the fact that the price tag is what it is, versus the idea that they’re wearing a pair of shoes that is worth a mortgage payment.
JULIE ROYS 10:51
Well, if it makes you feel any better, I have a friend who has been an investigative journalist for like over 20 years. Recently, he sent me a mug that actually had one of the comments on my site calling me a divisive dingbat and I think the B-word or something like that. And he texted me that day that it went up. And he was like, man, in 20 years, I never got hate mail that good, I’m so jealous.
BEN KIRBY 11:21
That’s got to be some kind of validation. Like, if I’m so easily able to cause people to erupt into hatred like that, then there has to be something deeper there. I follow you on Twitter, and I see the responses that you get, and it’s interesting that people will get more upset about maybe you exposing some things or being “divisive”. Christians would much rather accuse people of being divisive than accuse someone of being a sexual abuser or a financial abuser, like us being divisive is hardly the tip of the iceberg. I would say.
JULIE ROYS 11:51
Hmm. Well, I totally agree, and I sympathize with you, because I know what it’s like to be in the hot seat. You know, we’ve talked about some light hearted things, but your book really does get to some of these more deeper issues that I think are at the root of this and make us question these guys wearing this expensive clothing. And really, the underlying question is, is it okay to get rich off of God? You talk about this Harley moment that you had as a kid. So you know, would you describe that and what your take is on this whole idea of getting rich off of doing ministry?
BEN KIRBY 12:27
Sure. The Harley moment is a story from 25 years ago, when I was like six years old, and our local pastor came to our house to show off his his new motorcycle. And in an exercise for writing the book, I wanted to think of the first moment I realized I at least had a thought about the distinction between living off people’s donations or living off the money you earn yourself. And this story kind of got me into some heat, because it come to find out the pastor had other sources of income, might have not even taken a salary. He’s a family friend, and everything. But the story still was valid to me where even I, as a young kid, at least had raised an eyebrow like, wait, I thought my parents were kind of donating to our church in order to run the operation. That seems like a big toy. I just have a question about that. I at least had the thought as even as a six or seven year old kid.
JULIE ROYS 13:17
You know, the fact that he got it from a different source – you assumed as a kid, well, we’re giving our money, and is this what our donations are paying for? This Harley, right? But I think even when scripture talks about living above reproach, and also the appearance of evil, to not even have the appearance of evil. And I think that’s valid, you know, I mean, if you’re a minister of the gospel, don’t we have to think about our lifestyle? Right?
BEN KIRBY 13:42
Yeah. Now that I’m fully into this, and I’ve written the book and everything, that’s one of the big themes for me is that a lot of us have never even considered what our clothing or our purchases or our posts communicate to others, even if it’s an unfair message, or a message that you didn’t intend to send. I think there’s wisdom in pausing and saying, hey, do I care about the optics of this? Now granted, I’m in no position of authority to say it’s never okay to own a motorcycle. And this person that I wrote about, I have a ton of respect for and love for, and just used the story as the thing to point to say, Hey, this is the first time I had raised an eyebrow about this. You know, I don’t write the chapter to indict him or to say, hey, this was evil of you to do. But I used it as a thing to point to and say, Hey, there are thousands of other people that have had that moment where you saw a thing and you didn’t know how to put a finger on it. But it stirred something in you because it felt like a minister of the gospel or somebody who lives off donations should be living in a maybe more conservative way, then it seemed that they were.
JULIE ROYS 14:41
Well, one thing with the Harley’s you know, at Harvest Bible chapel, which I’ve done a lot of reporting on. James McDonald once rode his Harley into the church. And they were very open with the Harley’s that they had given away to pastors. These were gifts. So and they were bought with donations. I know that there were seven Harley’s given to pastors not just in the church, but some to some high profile pastors outside the church. Harvest to this day has not told who received I mean, I’ve gotten some of them that were actually pastors, who are pastors at Harvest. One of them after we reported, he said, Hey, we actually I gave that back when I realized the church had paid for it. But most of them, I’m guessing, you’re still riding those Harleys and they were bought with church donations.
BEN KIRBY 15:26
it’s wild. I could see how those kind of things trickle in. And until somebody I think, is willing to say, hey, this collectively looks like a whole bunch of extra stuff that isn’t supposed to come with the title of pastor or preacher, like I am fully in the camp that the job of a pastor is very tough, and it’s very demanding. And there’s a lot of irrational standards put on people that are just unspoken, and you get an email, after you preach on Sunday, from some angry person that doesn’t even know you. Like it’s a hard job. And they probably don’t get paid enough. The average small town pastor doesn’t get paid enough. But the mega church thing that is well beyond the scope of being rational or realistic to say, we have so much money, that we’re going to have a fund to give out $30,000 motorcycles to pastors that come speak, that’s pretty heinous to me.
JULIE ROYS 16:14
Well, and here’s the thing, there are places where it doesn’t raise an eyebrow. And this was happening openly at Harvest for a long time. And recently, you know, you may have seen a couple months ago, I reported on John MacArthur, who is a very, very well known very well loved you know, in certain evangelical circles, but on his wealthy lifestyle, and three salaries he’s taking from his three ministries and his three homes and you know, millions of dollars going to his son in law. This is donation money. This is from the ministries. The verse I keep hearing back from critics or from people who are saying that’s okay is I Timothy 5:17, where it says the elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. So what do you say to that? Is this double honor that these pastors deserve? Do they deserve to be rich, if they’re pastors of a mega church, and they’ve done so much good for the gospel?
BEN KIRBY 17:18
I don’t know. Because then in I Timothy 6, it talks about godliness with contentment is great gain, we brought nothing into the world, we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we’ll be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and too many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. It’s like, plenty of verses can serve our agenda. But it seems like God very consistently warns about the allure of riches. And I have to repent of this all the time, because I would love to make more money. But it seems like it would be counter for God’s highest chosen leaders to be dipping their toe into also pursuing riches. Like it seems, at a minimum, that’s a risky game to play. At a maximum, you’re turning God into a vending machine, where you’re saying, hey, because of the work that I’m doing, God’s gonna richly bless me every single time. Like, well, if your theology is based on that, that’s a pretty American only focused theology. And then you have to contend with the billions of other people, the pastors in Africa that are doing the same work that will never have that. To me, it’s kind of intellectually lazy, I think to say, hey, this one verse said, God’s chosen should get double honor. Like, well, define honor. Is honor a motorcycle or is honor, actual honor, like it’s, there’s all these mental gymnastics that we can do. And also like, I’m not a legalist. I don’t want to be the type of person that can prescribe dollar amounts or a possession amount that a pastor can have. But I also want to be able to ask the questions about like the system as a whole that can create real meaningful wealth via operating a church. It seems insane to me, and our churches look more and more just like for profit corporations. I mean, we talked about Dallas earlier, there’s multiple churches here that take in over 100 million in revenue a year. Just the size and scope of that is mind blowing.
JULIE ROYS 19:07
And there’s no controls. There’s no reporting.
BEN KIRBY 19:09
There’s no reporting.
JULIE ROYS 19:11
And this is something where we have taken the separation of church and state and wanting our independence. I get that we don’t want the state involved. I don’t think our founding fathers, when they were putting together this incredible experiment called America, I don’t think they were ever envisioning the church as being this, you know, as you say, 100 million dollar corporation with no controls whatsoever. None. It’s shocking.
BEN KIRBY 19:39
You know, you want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that everyone’s doing everything aboveboard. But I mean, how many experiences or news stories do we have to hear about people mismanaging funds, abusing people in church context for us to be like, Hey, wait a minute, maybe we shouldn’t accept how we do mega churches as the status quo because right now it’s sure does set people up to have a really big falls. Same with like creating celebrities out of these guys. It puts so much at risk that it’s, I almost feel gaslit at times where people along with me aren’t looking around being like, are we crazy for continuing to just do this the same way we’ve done for the past 20 or 30 years?
JULIE ROYS 20:18
It has to change
BEN KIRBY 20:18
It has to change. But again, like I’m not a self help guru. If you want that you can go by TD Jakes’ books or something. But I want to be the type of person that asks questions that everyone clearly is trying to avoid. Because there’s a few people that really benefit from this whole model. And there’s a lot of people that are searching for God or searching for help that in a lot of ways aren’t getting it in exchange for these guys profiting significantly. I just want Christians that want to further the actual gospel of Jesus to reevaluate and say what can we do to get back to what we know to be true? That Jesus died for us, that we are called to make disciples and get rid of all this extra stuff. Like the conferences, and the music licensing, and the multiple profit centers. I mean, it’s just a lot of stuff to care about that’s a distraction.
JULIE ROYS 21:10
Yeah, I know, we have recently been attending a church. It’s not our usual church, because I often forget to sign up in time because you have to sign up online now with COVID and everything, they only met so many people in. So we’ve been visiting this one church, and they have a traditional service with hymns. And I’m like, Oh, this is so great, because I get triggered now by seeing ccli licensing, because I know how the money goes, and I just can’t even like, it’s like, No, I just I just want to sing the hymns. Nobody’s making a killing off of this.
BEN KIRBY 21:37
Yeah, I had no idea about ccli stuff until I started researching for the book. And that’s, it’s crazy. I tried to dig and try to find some more statistics about it. And it’s pretty hush hush, because it’s none of it’s reported, but there are guys I mean, the Chris Tomlins of the world that are making bazillions off of ccli income. There again in a vacuum, I don’t think it’s good or bad, but it very easily can become turning church into a marketplace, which feels incorrect to me.
JULIE ROYS 22:05
Yeah. And, and I know some guys, that’s how they’re making a living. You know, that’s where it gets a little bit complicated. But I want to turn to because you kind of touched on this, and I want to make sure that we explore it a little bit, but is prosperity gospel. There are guys like I mentioned John MacArthur, not a prosperity gospel guy. But I would argue someone with his lifestyle doesn’t really In fact, he is doing better than a lot of prosperity gospel preachers are when it comes right down to lifestyle. I’m not sure there’s that big of a difference. When it comes down to theology, though, there is a big difference. And there is I think, well, for example, Victoria Osteen you quote her in your book, a tweet that she had when she says, when we live a life of giving, not only are we a blessing to others, but we are setting up blessings for our own lives. When you give, it will always come back to you. Which I would agree. I would say there’s always a blessing. It’s just not a financial blessing. Right?
BEN KIRBY 23:02
Right. You got to define blessing a little bit. Yeah, we know the type of blessing they’re talking about. I mean, it’s very clear. The prosperity thing is the one thing that I’ve cared about before all this Preachers in Sneakers stuff. Like a lot of this conversation developed organically, based on how passionate so many different people were about this. And I realized that there are a lot deeper issues here. The prosperity gospel thing is something that very clearly, to me seems like an evil misrepresentation of what Jesus came to do. And it is manipulating and taking advantage of people in their weakest moments, and in turn, getting people extremely wealthy with no recourse. And that is one of the few issues that I do not care about hurting people’s feelings about, because it’s just vile to me, where it’s basically saying, hey, God does transact with you little human, just by, if you donate to me, specifically $100 seed, this one obscure Old Testament verse says, you’ll get a hundredfold return. Or you’ll have you know, silos full of grain, or whatever the proverb says. And the only people that are really benefiting that are the guys that are saying the message. Let’s say that transaction does exist like that. Logically, you would think that there will be churches, these specific churches filled with healthy and wealthy people. Yet there’s no data to support that any churches filled with a bunch of healthy and wealthy people. There’s a couple of wealthy people, but to say that God always wants you to be financially and healthily blessed. I just see no support for it, no real support for it.
JULIE ROYS 24:37
Well, and it seems to be confusing too. An economy that there was in the Old Testament under the old covenant and the New Testament where we’re told to embrace suffering. And we’re looking towards heavenly rewards. And there’s not that direct I mean, in the Old Testament it’s very clear. The Israelites, they obey God, everything goes well. they disobeyed God, everything goes poorly.
BEN KIRBY 24:57
JULIE ROYS 24:59
And you sit there and you read it and you’re like, How stupid can you be? Just obey God. But it’s different in the New Testament and we’re told to embrace suffering and we know that we will embrace suffering. Jesus said, if we don’t deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him, we’re not worthy of Him. So how that can be put together, that God wants you rich, and will always prosper you. And when that’s not what we see, we see all the disciples, for example, except for one I think, who didn’t die a natural death, who were tortured, you know, and, and killed and the early Christians were, they died, they were martyrs. So it’s just bizarre to me how this has grown up and become popular, not just in America, but we’re exporting it all around the world, which makes it even more grotesque when you think of this kind of preaching in Africa or underdeveloped countries where it’s just so sad. Let’s talk a minute about Christian celebrity too, which we touched on, you know, you just said a little bit about it. But I loved what you quoted Marshall McLuhan in your book, who said that the medium is the message. And today our medium if we take a look in these mega churches is a slick production with lights and a fog machine, a rock band, and then the celebrity preacher who gets up there and you know, in many cases is not anything more than a motivational speaker. So let’s, you know, what does that do to the Christian message, to have a medium like that?
BEN KIRBY 26:27
Yeah, yeah. You see stuff kind of like the most recent ones are with Carl Lentz and Ravi Zacharias, where you build these larger than life characters that seemingly can do no wrong. And even though deep down, we know that everyone is a flawed human, and it’s going to screw something up eventually, we prop people up as essentially celebrities, and we care more about their goings on, we care more about their social profiles, we care more about their preaching. They get a huge following, and then get in a position where there’s basically no oversight or accountability. I mean, you see a lot of these kind of modern Pentecostal churches, it’s led by one pastor a couple, and in turn, they become the brand, the celebrity, the reason people go to these churches. Well, what happens when that person cheats on their wife, or that person embezzles funds, or , ends up having years and years of abuse of the staff? Well, now your church literally erodes. And your ministry erodes to the people that put some type of trust or faith into what you were saying. So to me, it’s an indictment on all of us, really, it’s not just the guys or girls that are at the top living the life off of it. It’s common indictment on us Christians, because we created the demand for it. We said, this is the type of person we want. And in turn, it puts the legitimate gospel at least at risk of looking like a clown show or something because this stuff keeps happening. And then non believers can say, Well, why would I ever you guys are no different. I mean, the reality is, we are no different, but we have a different hope. But if you continue to put your church on such a large scale publicity strategy, then when you do something that screws it up, everybody knows about it, and in turn, it makes it so much worse for all of us.
JULIE ROYS 28:08
These pastors, I’m thinking of Hillsong right now who you know they’re like, they are dropping like flies and these pictures that they’re like earlier you know, when Carl Lentz when this call came out, and I have to admit I didn’t really follow Carl Lentz. I was like, wait, Carl Lentz who? You know,, and so then I began seeing the pictures that he had been posting, you know, of himself shirtless, in his pants have falling off. And I’m just like, Oh, my word?. Did nobody show any concern about this? And then we have this pastor Hillsong pastor just this week, who resigned because of these, you know, shirtless pictures, very revealing photo that he had on his Instagram story or whatever. I mean, it’s very clear from now I’ve done a bunch of interviews. And I’ve gotten to know that Hillsong culture, that everything, you know, cool, and hip, and celebrity was really what was put forward. And it gained a lot of followers. But the problem is, that’s what we want. We want cool. I mean, I remember being in youth ministry many, many moons ago with my husband. And I remember people saying to us, I would hear this all the time. We just have to show the kids that Christianity can be cool. And I would look at them. And I’d say Christianity’s never been cool. In fact, I think to me, that’s one of the most dangerous messages we can give them. Christianity is countercultural, and Jesus told us that people are going to hate us. So if you’re coming to this, because you think it’s cool, you’re in a lot of trouble, because you’re going to find out pretty soon, it’s not cool. And the world doesn’t like it. And if you’re going to be true to Christ, your life is not going to be easy, because people are going to hate you because of it. And we’ve lost that.
BEN KIRBY 29:49
I get why it happened because millennials plus, a lot of us have rejected our parents and grandparents faith traditions. And so of course we were seeking something more hip or entertaining or comfortable or more our style. But in turn that turns it into a self help motivation type deal. And if you never asked people like in order to attract young people that have already said, Ah! screw church, like I’m done with whatever my parents or grandparents were doing. To attract them, you have to appear cooler or have elements that your parents or grandparents churches didn’t have. And so it’s just a different form of the attractional model. And when you get people in, but never call them to anything that’s challenging or repentance or anything that actually defines the life of a Christian, then it just ends up being wishy washy, and you’re there for entertainment, you’re there to hang out with people and to be beautiful with each other. It waters everything down. And it’s a dangerous game to play, I think. Now, granted, like I’m not a theologian, I’ve gotten no seminary training or anything. I call this how I see it. I see it as I would love for Christianity to be cool. But every attempt at it has ended up having some type of negative byproduct or it’s confused the actual gospel and caused people to think they are going to heaven or believe a thing that when in fact, they don’t have any basis for that thing that they believe. So like, I would love for us not to be called to a life of suffering, and be guaranteed riches and comfort and everything. I think that’s probably some form of that is coming in heaven. But to live your reward on earth is your only reward. And so that’s not a game I’m trying to play.
JULIE ROYS 31:28
Well, and I think we have to remember that whenever we attract people with, we attract them to. And so if we’re attracting them with the show. I remember being at this church, and I was on the worship team. They literally made us color coordinate and which totally chafed against me. I was like, What the heck? I’ve got to wear like black and red today or what I mean, I was just like, this is so hokey. I couldn’t stand it. And then honestly, the final straw for me was when we literally as leaders in the church, we were told we had to attend what to me was literally a dog and pony show. It was like they were doing a carnival after church, and we’re inviting everybody to it. It had nothing to Jesus, it was just carnival. And again, you know, harkening back to when we were youth ministers, we used to say, Hey, you know what, we’re not going to Six Flags Great America, you know what, we’re not going to try to entertain you better than the world because they’re better at it than we are. But if you want a relationship with Jesus, you want to like get together and pray and study the Word. If you want to grow and you really want to know God, then come here. That’s what we did. We do that better than the world. But if you want entertainment, go there. You even talk about the slick productions. You know, at what point does it go from being about a slick production and just go over into vanity, and appealing to our vanity?
BEN KIRBY 32:48
It’s hard to say specifically when it does. But if you look at modern churches at a macro level, it does seem like we spend a whole lot of time and money on making a two hour service on Sunday, that reaches a few thousand people when we have the resources to affect so much more. Just if you drill down the dollar signs that go into most mega churches, the guitars, the sound system, the air conditioning, the building the coffee shop all that every single week. That’s really expensive. And my question is like, Hey, is there a way to do it better or can we realign our priorities where it’s saying, hey, what if we funneled 90% of all this operating budget into missions, community outreach and evangelism instead of the majority of it going to Sunday service? Like I’ve never run a church, I know there’s probably plenty of nuance into running a church that makes it to where maybe some of these things make more sense, but I love comfort, I love air conditioning, I would I love you know, there’s some element of you want to be able to perform, so it’s not distracting. And so it leads people in a way that isn’t awkward or hokey. But there’s an element of living in your gifts and doing things excellent. As a collective, it seems like we care a whole lot about putting on a really slick, entertaining church service versus effecting change in the actual world.
JULIE ROYS 34:09
Well, let’s get to where this gets personal. Really, at the end of the your book, you start talking about, okay, what does this mean, for us? How can we evaluate if we’re handling our money, right? our lifestyle? Because, I mean, obviously, if we’re going to be critical of the guy on stage, or of the church and say, there’s something wrong, you know, what are we doing differently in our own life? And how can we evaluate that? So talk about that. I mean, what can we do to make sure that we’re really in tune with what God wants us to be and to do and to live as Christians in this culture that obviously is just rampant with materialism?
BEN KIRBY 34:47
Sure. The whole point of the book for me and what I want people to get out of it is hopefully a push to live in a way that is more real about your current situation, both online in person, and then also how we represent Jesus to the outside world. Because a lot of this stuff makes Jesus out to be something that he was not. This kind of pseudo cool, you know, wants to make you rich and also kind of comfortable. And he’ll also get you that job promotion, while also saving you for all eternity. But God’s churches are comprised of humans. It’s all humans. And so we are all part of this, if you believe in God, and you believe in Jesus. And so some of the tangible things are, at least audit how you’re presenting yourself to the people around you and to the outside world. So much of this started on social media. All of us are obsessed with social media, or a lot of us are obsessed with social media. I think it’s well documented that social media causes anxiety and depression in other people. Yet, we’ll still post whatever we want to post about our vacations, nice new purchase, or a nice meal that we’re at. And I want people to start considering the heart behind why they post what they post. At least give it a second to think. Like if you’re on vacation, does it serve people more to show them that you’re on this amazing vacation? Or does it serve them more to say, hey, let me enjoy the moment now and not show the world everything so that they can compare their life to mine and maybe even hate themselves more because of it. I think that’s something that everybody can do. That’s something that I’ve had to do consistently. Because I want people to think I’m cool. I’ve wanted people to think that I’ve got some like unique lifestyle, and especially having a buddy in the NBA. Like he’s given us so many great experiences that I wanted to basically flex on other people and say, Look how cool my NBA aligned lifestyle is. So that’s one thing. Is to consider what you post and the heart behind why you post. And then also, you know, we expect a lot out of pastors and preachers, especially online. It’s very easy to comment and say, you know, so and so should have sold those shoes and given to the poor. And if that’s the case, I think there’s a way to comment on public figures about public things that they’ve chosen to put out in the world. But also I want people to examine for themselves, how they’re saving and spending and giving their money, because we are not off the hook to do whatever we want with whatever we want. As believers, you know, we’re also called to sacrifice some things. I’m sure the status still is that most people that go to church don’t give anything.
JULIE ROYS 37:06
I think 2% is like the average.
BEN KIRBY 37:08
Yeah, yes. Right. So I’m sure that’s pretty consistent. And I want to call people to reevaluate their budgets and reevaluate who they give money to, and how much they give to the point like, Hey, can we push to give a little more sacrificially to where it hurts? Like the 10% thing is a tired pharasitical 10%. After that, I can do whatever I want. I think Jesus calls us to more than that. To basically to be more sacrificial in that. So it’s very heady to go from sneakers to sacrificial giving. But the two things that I want for people is to evaluate their hearts behind how they present themselves to be real. Like if your life is hard, and you’re going through it, and you can’t make ends meet, I want people to be real about that. Not put on some mask or fake persona online or around the people that they know. And then also too if they want others to be about it, I want them to be about it as well. And this is an indictment on me too. Like I could always give more, I can always reach out to people more and die to myself a little more, instead of elevating my own brand or building myself up. And so that’s what I want for people from the book.
JULIE ROYS 38:11
Last question for you. But you’re actually I mean, kind of ironically, and people have said the same thing to me. It’s like, okay, you’re taking aim at these celebrity preachers? Are you becoming a celebrity investigative journalist? I don’t even know if such a thing is that even a thing?
BEN KIRBY 38:26
There’s a lot of perks to that.
JULIE ROYS 38:27
There’s so many!
BEN KIRBY 38:28
Lot of red carpets rolled out for you?
JULIE ROYS 38:30
Yeah, and I’m making so much money. If you want to see, go to my donate page. I’ve got a complete rundown of everything, what I take what we spend money on, and I think that’s just hugely important. Well, you know, what? Ever since I started taking people’s money, it feels different to me. And so I feel like they deserve to know exactly what’s happening. Because this is the thing, I think you have to be transparent. And every time I spend a donor’s dollar, I think to myself, how would I feel if this is publicized? If this is published to everybody? And that’s like a check for me. It’s like, oh, I’m not sure they’d understand me spending that. Okay. I’m just not gonna do it. So I mean.
BEN KIRBY 39:10
That’s wisdom. I don’t think that’s fear, either. I think there’s a there’s a distinction between the two, like, you don’t want to live in fear of other people’s opinions. But also, I think there’s wisdom in that. Living off the donations of others is a different calling than living off of money that you’ve made in exchange for a service or a product, I think.
JULIE ROYS 39:26
Oh, it absolutely is. And I think we need to understand that distinction. I mean, spiritually, there’s always going to be an issue of how we handle our money, no matter how we got it. But especially, and I think, legally, if you have donors dollars, you have to take into account donor intent. And so that’s a big deal. But let me just pose that to you because you’re becoming I mean, now you’ve published the book and like you said, you you’ve been kind of on the circuit where you’re getting on some of these major media outlets and they’re starting to pay attention to you people know Ben Kirby’s name now where as they didn’t before, you know. How are you dealing with having a platform? And with I’m guessing you’re starting to get an income for this that you never really thought you would have? So how do you deal with it?
BEN KIRBY 40:09
I’m not overly eager for publicity. I think if you’ve followed my account for long. I mean, I was anonymous for two straight years and didn’t really take any credit personally for this for two years. And so people won’t believe this. But I really did not want this to be about me, because it would look real tacky if I kind of had this viral thing. And then say, yeah, this is me come to my conference, or come watch me speak. That would clearly look like a money grab or something. And I was very aware, and did not want to do that. And that seemed disingenuous to me. And I tried to do this as slow as possible, so that I could do this in as wiser way as possible. The book made it to where it felt like I couldn’t continue in the conversation effectively without being out in public, where people could see who I am, and people can see what I’m about. So that I could do things like this and have a podcast or go on TV or whatever and talk about it. I’m the type of person that likes attention. I like to make people laugh. It gives me a rush to speak on podcasts or in the media. And so that’s something that I’ve got to constantly fight against. I have a community of people that know me well enough, and are bold enough to tell me when I need to be in check and not make it about me and not elevate me. As far as the income goes, you know, we’ll see if this book sells at all. I mean, I’m not really making an income on the book yet. I mean, I’ll just say two years, I’ve struggled with the insecurities of making any money at all on it. Now, I think there’s a very specific nuance between an idiot on Instagram that posts pictures versus a leader of a six, seven, eight figure corporation with a whole staff, using his outsized influence for his own personal gain. But I get why people would point to that and say, like, Hey, why don’t you make money? And I’ll continue to say that I’ve never vilified or critiqued anyone for making money period. Like, I’ve got my MBA, like I, I see the value in making a profit, I see the value in commerce. But doing that via God’s Church seems different. I think I’ve made maybe what a manager at Chick Fil A makes over the life of this account, pre tax. So I’m definitely not rolling in it either. I would love to be maybe. I’m also okay with being asked that question. Because I don’t want to be the type of person that shies away from somebody that asked questions like that. Sure. Like, if you’re, it’s very easy to tell if someone’s being a jerk about it. I usually don’t have time for that. But if somebody genuinely is like, hey, it seems like you’re a hypocrite in much less words. I’m happy to engage with that, because I want people to wrestle with some of those things. Because if you think I’m a hypocrite, then I hope that you would ask questions of your faith leaders as well. And I’m not saying your faith leaders are a hypocrite. But if you think that a guy maybe saying or implying one thing, and making money off of it at the same time is an issue. I hope you would ask about that. Within your church as well.
JULIE ROYS 42:44
Well, and you’re not taking donations, you’re not a nonprofit.
BEN KIRBY 42:48
Right. Exactly. I have done the whole thing without asking for a single tithe.
JULIE ROYS 42:53
And I’m sure you’ve devoted many hours to what you’re doing.
BEN KIRBY 42:56
Yeah. My wife is still, you know, ready for me to move on to something else
JULIE ROYS 43:02
Sure. Well, Ben, I just really appreciate you taking the time and talking with me, and I appreciate what you’ve done. I mean, creative, but I do think it was Holy Spirit inspired for you to develop this platform. And I just trust and pray that you’ll be submitting it to God for His glory. And will continue to do what you’re doing. It’s fantastic. So thank you.
BEN KIRBY 43:25
For sure. Thank you, Julie. I mean, again, you’re a great follow on Twitter. And I’m very honored to talk with you finally, because you do very important work as well. So thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk.
JULIE ROYS 43:37
Well, thank you. And thanks so much for listening to the Roys report. A podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. Again, if you’d like to find me online, just go to JulieRoys.com. Also, please subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcasts or Google podcasts. 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 if you’d share the podcast on social media, we would appreciate that as well. Again, thanks so much for joining me today. Hope you have a great day and God bless.