Evangelical Superstars and Why They Fall

Roger E. Olson

August 30, 2014 by Roger E. Olson

Some Thoughts about Evangelical Superstar Pastors and Evangelists and Why They Fall

In recent weeks and months another American evangelical superstar pastor (also author and popular speaker) has fallen off his pedestal—if not completely at least partially and with a loud noise. As always when this happens, his followers and fans are divided. Some support him almost unconditionally while some accuse him of spiritual abuse, abuse of power and various misdeeds. It has all gone viral. This time, fortunately, the national secular media are not paying attention. I assume that’s because there’s no sex scandal to feast on. (In my opinion America’s secular media exudes a rare combination of prurience and Puritanism.)

I’m not interested in delving into all the charges against the pastor (whom Christianity Today once described as “Pastor Provocateur”). I’m not close enough to the situation even to form an opinion other than to say a significant number of his former friends and colleagues in ministry (elders of his church) have departed and are going public with accusations and charges of misconduct (but not sexual). The situation is severe enough that the pastor in question is taking a leave of absence from the church and ministry he built up to mega-status.

Anyone who has been around in American evangelical life for fifty years (and probably less) can remember so many evangelical superstar pastors and evangelists who fell off their pedestals with a thunderous crash. Sometimes the thunder is only local (as in the case of a pastor I once worked with and knew very well); sometimes its echoes and shock waves spread out nationally and even internationally. But it always leaves behind disillusionment and confusion.

Our tendency is always to point our accusing fingers at the minister who fell. He (it’s almost always a he) let us down, betrayed us, humiliated us (for being his fans), besmirched the reputation of evangelicalism. That’s understandable.

However, my concern is that we evangelicals (and others) take a deeper look into the causes of this pattern. Why does this happen so often? Could we have met the enemy and discovered it’s us—as much as the persons who fell?

Here’s my diagnosis and prescription for this chronic evangelical problem.

I believe we tend to put too much trust in mere mortals once they attain a certain crucial level of evangelical ministry “stardom.” We want to believe there are men who rise above the temptations and sins the rest of us face and fall into. We want to believe in near, if not total, Christian perfection. So we gradually allow, even encourage, lack of accountability. “That person,” we think, “is so close to God he doesn’t need to be accountable to mere mortals like us.” Gradually these evangelical superheroes, with their inevitable feet of clay (that we try to ignore), fall—partly because they are mere mortals and power corrupts mere mortals and unaccountability is power. We set them up for failure.

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