If you haven’t heard already, another celebrity pastor bit the dust recently. Carl Lentz was the head of a collection of Hillsong churches on the east coast of the United States. His personal friend was Justin Bieber. Oprah interviewed him, and he got a cameo on Kourtney Kardashian’s Instagram feed.
Brian Houston – the founder of Hillsong – fired him because of “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures”, as well as “general narcissistic behavior, manipulating, mistreating people,” as well as “constant lying.” Mr. Lentz himself also admitted to being unfaithful to his wife.
But did I really need to say all that in explanation? The first sentence would have done well enough. Insert some other popular pastor fallen from grace, and it would almost read the same way.
“Pastor _________ gets big ego and thinks he owns the church Christ founded. He was seen stomping on people who disagree with him and spending incredible amounts of money on new suits and party trips to Iceland.”The Fuzzy Times
Don’t think I’m just bagging on non-Catholic pastors, though. Our parish went through its own reckoning with a priest who decided he knew better than the universal church and crossed boundaries with women. And will we ever forget McCarrick?
Anatomy of a Celebrity Pastor
Still, the story is always the same. The man is charismatic. They have that charm that pulls people in. In the parish or congregation, a cult of personality surrounds them. Sometimes the spell is so strong, parishioners defend the fallen leader even while accusations swirl around him.
They are good-looking, but more importantly, they make you feel good – really good – or challenged, or inspired, or a combination of those and more. Nothing wrong with that, but then they get caught up in their own hype.
Everyone calls them deeply spiritual, so they begin to believe they have a connection with God others do not.
Everyone calls them exceptional, so they begin to think they stand apart from the crowd.
Over the years, I’ve seen enough of these guys to become disillusioned with the “gifted leader.” The higher they fly, it seems, the harder they fall. Perhaps we should not knock old Father McKenzie, darning his socks and writing his sermons for his small congregation in the country.
When the bishop ousted our own celebrity pastor, he replaced him with an old Polish man who looked something like Santa Claus but with a closer shave.
The contrast was stark. Our new man is monotone. I doubt he had a single public speaking class in college or seminary. He reads from a paper every week and every now and then puts the “Lamb of God” before the “Our Father” or some other part of the Mass.
But the image I will always have of him is from one Thursday evening before Good Friday. It was the Mass celebrating the Last Supper. I remember him taking off his priestly vestment and hunching his broad shoulders over the feet of parishioners so that he could wash them. It is a task he has been doing for decades, both literally on Maundy Thursdays and metaphorically in countless other ways.
Again, there is nothing wrong with being charming. A little sugar on top of the veggies isn’t so bad. But if I have to choose between the young, vibrant pastor, drawing people not to Christ, but really to himself, and the old priest, forgetting the lines of the Gloria and showing up late because he overslept, though it’s strange to say, I think I’ll take the old priest.
Sometimes the young man speaks with eloquence because he is lost in his egoism. The old priest forgets his lines because he has been ministering so long with no scandal. His speech is slow because he has spent his entire life, year in and year out, listening to the confessions of sobbing moms and little boys chewing gum, preaching when he doesn’t know what to say, bearing the criticisms of parishioners who think they know better than mother church, and being utterly boring in his faithfulness.
Keep your skinny-jeaned, George Clooney knock-off pastor. I prefer my old, boring priest.
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