Celebrity pastors face their own version of Batman’s dilemma: die a hero or preach long enough to be turned into a communications consultant. Or worse. While many of the innovative voices in turn-of-the-century evangelicalism have moved to a second career in self-help, coaching, and business strategy, others have fallen to scandal. Most recently Bill Hybels departed his enormous, and enormously influential, Willow Creek Community Church under a growing cloud of sexual misconduct allegations. Other prominent pastors have ended their careers amid accusations of misdeeds ranging from hiding sexual abuse to “a history of building… identity through ministry and media platforms.”
Behind both the scandal-plagued downfall and the exciting transition to new opportunities lie the same disappointed hopes of American Christianity. The megachurch movement arose, in part, as a response to secularization. Powered by charismatic, innovative leadership and up-to-the-minute styles of worship and organization, megachurches flourished all over the country even as smaller, more traditional congregations struggled. Their leaders dispensed insights, and their techniques became models for use by pastors and churches far outside the evangelical world. They had figured out how to outsmart the trend of religious decline. But long-term trends are both wily and patient. And as the megachurch movement faces its own moment of decline, the very models of leadership that were celebrated in its period of stunning growth are proving to be a fatal weaknesses.
“Leadership” may be the defining occult art of our secular age, the key to every executive hiring process and political-column diagnosis of public dysfunction. Combining skill, knowledge, and charisma, “leadership” can make brute reality give way if found and wielded properly. We may not be waiting for a god to save