The Risky Business of being a Rock Star Pastor

The Risky Business of being a Rock Star Pastor July 15, 2011

I’ve written in many places about the life-long friendship I enjoyed with the pastor of my youth. Pastor Smitty was dear to me in that way that pastors can be to heart-sick children. He really was a good Shepherd. Kind and gentle. Slow to speak — those who knew him and Miz Betty best would say it’s because he didn’t stand a chance to do otherwise in her presence. Miz Betty was an actress from Texas. She liked her time in the limelight. But she was beautiful and had that sort of soprano voice that could peel the varnish skin back on the ceiling rafters.

Truth be told, I’ve been blessed with a bevy of good-hearted pastors. I can’t say enough about how their goodness shaped me, how their wisdom guided me, how their lives inspired me.

I feel their absence most everyday, often wondering — when the times comes, who will I call to fill that gap?

My father-in-law has been that man to many such people. I wrote about him in Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide? Only in that book, I call him The Missionary because for many years that’s what he was. He and my mother-in-law and their two young children, went into Ecuador on the heels of the Jim Elliott slaying. My husband grew up alongside Steve Saint.  My in-laws youngest boy, known to my children as Uncle Mark, was born in the field. (Not literally, Ashley and Shelby. It’s a manner of speaking among missionaries. Not like when Shelby was born in the hallway, so Ashley assumed she was born in the kitchen. Family story.)

Anyway, like I was saying, my in-laws have been the kind of Shepherds to hundreds that Pastor Smitty and Miz Betty were to me.

I have no idea what kind of pastors you’ve had. I hope you’ve had some really wonderful ones. Somebody you could call when that moment came and you needed a gentle soul at your side, to pray with you, to speak wisdom into your life, or have the wisdom to know not to speak at all.


Paul Young, whom many of you know as the author of The Shack, sent me a note. His son’s best friend was killed in a tragic accident recently. I don’t think Paul would mind me telling you that Adam was like an “adopted” son to him. Any of you who have raised children understand exactly what Paul means by that.  At the boy’s memorial service, Paul prayed this prayer that he wrote:

Oh Adam,

how silently you slipped away…and

none of us were ready.

Our universe

was torn in two…but

just enough

to let you through,

again a tree became a door

and there you go…headlong…into the waiting arms of Jesus,

and instantly

you knew

what love is all about,

why children dance,

where songs are born,

and who it is who mends the brokenhearted,

while we…

with shattered tears remain,

our feet now stilled

our songs just scattered in the wind

but as we tell the memory of your life and love

we understand better what a friend is,

and soft but sure

the seeds of hope


to bloom…again.

Oh Father, love our brother, son,

in your embrace as in our own

And Spirit, please wipe away his tears

for death has died so now he truly lives

And Jesus, tell him how he’s missed,

what we would trade for one last kiss,

or hug,

or note,

or text,

or grin…

Yet even now,

amidst the ashes of our grief,

the seeds of hope


to bloom…again.

Wm Paul Young



Don’t we all long for someone to speak into our lives, and over our graves, with the sort of love and devotion that Paul had for Adam?

I know I do.

That’s why I was stirred by Mark Galli’s troubling article The Most Risky Profession in Christianity Today.

You must read the article. It’s one of the best analysis of the hazards of ministry in today’s culture, in which everybody demands to have a Rock Star pastor.

Answer me this, c’mon be truthful — Do you pray for your pastor and his/her family ?

And if you are a pastor or in some ministry capacity, what do you think of Galli’s analysis that “Most pastors have become heads of personality cults. Churches become identified more with the pastor—this is Such-and-Such’s church—than with anything larger. When that pastor leaves, or is forced to leave, it’s devastating. It feels a like a divorce, or a death in the family, so symbiotic is today’s relationship between pastor and people.”

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  • First, that video was ….yeah, anyway…

    Secondly, your kid was born in the hallway?

    Now, the real thing: I pulled away from mainstream churches for many years in my 20s, was part of a home church, where we were constantly berating mainstream churches. We’d make fun of things that are in such churches (“Jesus never had to have bulletins printed up”–that kinda thing), and certainly had a problem with all the churches we saw which seemed to be centered around a pastor.

    When I rejoined a mainstream church in 1995, I found life. I found that bulletins were not a bad thing. I found a group of pastors who were the real deal and didn’t care at all about making it about them. I’ve been part of this church for 16 years now, and our pastor has never had his name on the sign, the bulletin, or anything. He begrudingly agreed to have it on the website, but had to be talked into it. He told me once “My goal is to make Jesus famous. We already have enough famous pastors”.

    I am blessed to have such a pastor, coaching me through life.

    • Park

      That video happens to be a wonderful representation of lives that have been changed. If there is any criticism of this I think it is due to an unwitting racism that we all suffer from. It’s interesting how quick we are to criticize (hmmmm…..true, you really didn’t, did you?) that which is out of our zone. There exists tremendous depth in this type of ministry that reaches people who come “incredible Christians” couldn’t even have a conversation with due to an unfamiliarity and lack of comfort level with a culture other than theirs. P.S. I’m glad you found life.Don’t forget, Jesus is in even those we don’t necessarily understand or relate to.

      • Karen Spears Zacharias

        Park: I”m totally befuddled by your comment about unwitting racism.

        • Park

          Hi Karen, What I mean by “unwitting racism” is that we all suffer from a presumed sense of what is “normal” in a cultural sense. This means that most of us (whatever side of the fence we are on) bring our preconceived ideas of the appropriateness of certain actions or behaviors to what we see. I am assuming that the above video was placed here as an example of what you believe is what we should watch out for? If I am wrong please forgive me. I have seen and been involved in various hip hop ministries that have reached hundreds of kids and have seen lives radically changed toward the end of service and unconditional love for others. My observation is not meant to be hostile or unnecessarily critical but, to point out that if my assumption of the purpose of posting this video is what I think it is that it qualifies as “unwitting racism”. Again, I emphasize that since it is unwitting, it is not intentional, but very present.

  • Love the post. As I live in Seattle, in the shadow of a rock star pastor, and leading a large church of my own, I know the danger of personality. I also know that not all pastors who are the object of such adoration are seeking it out.

    As for me, after a week of administration, management, vision casting, study, and writing, I’d say the highlight of the week was my last meeting of week: I was privileged to pray with a couple about decisions they’re making as they wrestle with infertility. We swapped stories, I shared from the Bible, we laughed, we cried, we prayed. This is ministry – the best part. And I love it.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Love this story, Richard, as the mother of a daughter dealing with this same issue. Thank you for praying for that couple and for being the kind of pastor who can laugh, cry, & pray with others.

  • Arlis Mitchell

    Karen, thank you for expressing this “truth”. Ron was a Pastor for 15 years and we were on the mission field for 20 years. Pastors have such a vital role in shepherding those that the Lord sends to them. The Rock Star Pastor is so vulnerable to so many things the enemy can so easily send his way. Loving, shepherding, guiding, feeding the flock and remembering how vulnerable needy and dependent we are is so vital. The Spirit of God in us and through us that is what we rely on. The first Missionary book I read after becoming a christian was about the martyrs and Jim Elliot story. It had a tremendous influence in my thinking in realizing that “this is the NORMAL christian life, anything less is not the christian life as God intended it to be. As you know, we love Paul Youngs writing and are grateful for our connection to him through our son Scott who is in heaven. Sincerely, Arlis Mitchell. I hope this is not too long. You are appreciated!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Not at all. Never enough space for friends here. It’s interesting, this notion that our demand for an idol of any sort — in or out of the church — leads to an isolation and desolation on their behalf.

  • Karen:

    Tremendous post. Both you and Mark Galli have made excellent points.

    While Mr. Galli’s article may be troubling, it’s simply reality. The American culture has some to do with it, but hasn’t it always been this way? Long before 20th and 21st century media arrived, God’s leaders have been attacked by the temptation of pride. A leader without a strong ego is not effective. A leader with an inflated ego is a ticking time bomb. And don’t think Satan isn’t aware of how a fine a line that is to straddle.

    So, if you have to ask yourself whether or not you are praying enough for your pastor(s), then the answer is no.

    Jeff Wishard

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Yes, I suspect you are right about that.

  • One of the main errors the Christian church has committed in bringing contemporary culture in over the last twenty five years or so has been the creation of a “master race” of ministers, and the perpetuation of myth that they are above all the issues which plaque the common man, i.e.: the rest of the congregation. Sad to say that many pastors believe their own publicity, taking their popularity as license to behave and speak incorrigibly at times. However, this merely serves to remind us all they’re not any different from the rest of us. I love your compassionate stance Karen – it’s one I find hard to default to, often I come out swinging early before thinking – indeed, these men, and women, need our prayers and our support, just as much as our deference and our respect.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      What we experience shapes us and I’ve had some terrific pastors over the years. I’m grateful for each one who prayed for me, encouraged me and dared me to make better choices for my life. I didn’t always do as I should have, but they were always there loving me anyway. And teaching me. Their teaching influence made a huge difference. They didn’t tell me what to think… they taught me how to think.

  • When I was doing Clincal Pastoral Education training at the Portland VA Medical Center, we did the obligatory assessment of personality type as a tool to better understand ourselves and each other. The Chaplain Supervisor presented us the results of quite an interesting study done some years back by his Baptist denomination. Their study found that nearly two thirds of church professionals (pastors, deacons, youth pastors, etc.) had a personality typical of less than 20% of the congregation.

    It could say that the vast majority of church attenders expect pastors to be a certain type of person. It could say that we get what we expect, and we expect what we get. It could says that where he/she is coming from ain’t where we’re coming from. Or it could say that in a majority of cases, only certain types of people are even willing to subject themselves to professional ministry. Or maybe that’s the way it was 20 years ago, but it’s very different now.

    We love to knock the mainline denominations today, but we do owe them a great debt. A majority of hospitals and a huge number of colleges and universities were founded by them, even if many have now become private, for-profit institutions.

  • pepy

    Good one. Truly. WE are not the point. We are the pointers…to Jesus.