Megachurch Pastors: Heroes, Villains or Something Else?

Rick WarrenImagine you’re watching a movie or TV show and one of the characters is a megachurch pastor. Are they likely to be a hero or a villain?

Yeah, I know. It’s obvious, right?

Megachurch pastors are a step beneath used car salesmen and ambulance-chasing lawyers in the eyes of many people in our culture. According to Hollywood, they’re all money-hungry, style-over-substance manipulators.

Yes, I’m aware that Hollywood’s view of the world is not reality. But this caricature is not pulled out of thin air. They’re reflecting something back to us. And I think it’s something we need to pay attention to.

No, there’s nothing wrong with a church growing to megachurch size. And we certainly shouldn’t be taking our cues about our fellow pastors from Hollywood movies.

But we need to approach our own culture much more like missionaries approach a foreign culture. Learn their language, their thought-patterns and their belief-systems. Only then do we have half a chance of reaching them in a way they’ll understand.

This culture perceives megachurches as ego-driven and corrupt. Where do they get this idea? 


Is Hollywood Leading Or Following Us?

Here’s an idea how negative the culture is against megachurches. While looking for a photo to use with this post, it was almost impossible to find a picture of a megachurch or a megachurch pastor that wasn’t attached to an extremely negative, even hateful post.

Even worse, it didn’t matter whether the post was on a secular or Christian website. Their attitudes and much of the language was the same – not just negative and critical, but often hurtful, angry, sarcastic and mean.

No wonder Hollywood thinks megachurches are evil! That’s what they’re reading on our own ministry-based blogs and Facebook pages!

By the way, I chose the photo of Rick Warren from an Easter service at Angel Stadium because it was one of the few I cold find that wasn’t attached to a hurtful article. It was from a secular newspaper. And, in case you’re wondering, I’ve never met Rick, but I know a lot of people who know him well. He’s one of the good guys.

Meanwhile, on the other side, we have a church growth culture that idealizes megachurches almost to the point of idolatry.

So who are these megachurch pastors? Villains who have corrupted the Gospel? Or heroes of the faith?

How about this. Maybe megachurch pastors are just like the rest of us. A bunch of faithful, but faulty servants, with a few manipulators and charlatans who have infiltrated their ranks and made the rest of them look bad.

Here are 5 principles that help me avoid either extreme in my attitude towards megachurches and their leaders.


1. Refuse to Participate in the Demonization of Megachurches

Hollywood has it wrong about megachurches. The size of a church has nothing to do with its health or positive impact. Sure, there are unhealthy megachurches run by egotistical pastors. But there are plenty of Small Churches run by egotistical pastors, too. They’re just not as well-known.

Jesus said “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I think the reverse is also true. Putting down another Christian doesn’t enhance the gospel. It makes it even harder for people to see the love of Jesus in me.

No, megachurches and their pastors are not above criticism. We need to express legitimate concerns about our obsession with growth and the dangers of it. I’ve been know to call out faults and wrong attitudes when I see them in many posts on this site. Including faults I see in many Small Churches, too. But I’ve never demonized a pastor or church.

Demonization is not legitimate criticism. Count me out.


2. Stop Idealizing Megachurches

Megachurches aren’t better, just bigger.

Yet, as I mentioned earlier, some church leaders have idealized megachurches to the point of idolatry. That doesn’t help anyone. And it only adds to the cultural perception of megachurches being ego-driven.

Pastoring a megachurch has its own burdens. We see their successes. But every one of their faults (whether real or imagined) is also blown up for the world to see. As are their sorrows and tragedies.

As I wrote in The Grasshopper Myth, “Pastoring a healthy megachurch is a special and rare gift. I have learned to be grateful that I have not been burdened with it.”


3. Don’t Idealize Small Churches Either

I love Small Churches. But they aren’t better than megachurches.

If you worship and serve Jesus better in a Small Church, great! If you worship and serve Jesus better in a megachurch, that’s great, too.

Or maybe you prefer a house church, a simple church, or a café-style-venti-dark-roast-hold-the-whip church.

Just be in a church. A good, healthy, outward-focused church where you can worship Jesus, love others, learn, grow and minister.


4. Pray for Megachurches and Pastors that Have Blessed You

Most megachurch pastors are like most Small Church pastors. They love Jesus and his church and are doing a very hard job under extremely challenging conditions. If we’re not going to pray for each other, who will?

To quote myself from The Grasshopper Myth again, “Megachurch pastors are often the church’s only face to much of the world. As fellow pastors we need to stand alongside them in our prayers. … I have such a high admiration for megachurch pastors who are able to maintain their composure and humility to keep healthy megachurches growing and going for decades.”


5. Pray Even More for the Ones You Disagree With

But what about the megachurch pastors we disagree with? The ones we think are teaching false doctrine?

Pray even more for them!

Imagine how different the body of Christ would look if we determined not to criticize anyone until after we had sincerely prayed for them. What if we pledged that for every minute we spent criticizing them, we’d spend a minute praying for them. Either our criticism would go way down, or our prayer life would skyrocket! That’s a win-win.

If they are false teachers, our prayers will have more power to change them than our angry Facebook rants and blogs ever will.

If they aren’t wrong, but we’re wrong about them (it’s happened to me, I admit it) our sincere prayers will expose that error in our own hearts.

Either way, it’s never a mistake to pray for them.


So what do you think? Have you harbored any wrong feelings or actions towards fellow ministers?

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(Rick Warren photo from Orange County Register • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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5 thoughts on “Megachurch Pastors: Heroes, Villains or Something Else?”

  1. Would Jesus have been considered a Mega Church Pastor?
    Would 1st Church of Jerusalem be considered a Mega Church?
    Just like human bodies – the body of Christ comes in many shapes, sizes, and abilities.
    Let’s love the church – Jesus did!

  2. How true! I’ve never understood why Christian people feel the need to run down our brothers and sisters. Don’t make them out to be more than they are but don’t run them down either.
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

  3. A lot of megachurch pastors are hardworking guys who’ve been faithful over many decades in the same place. A long patience in the same direction as I think Eugene Peterson once said.

    And many of them are frankly surprised to find themselves megapastors. A confluence of events, orchestrated by the Head of the church, found these pastors in the right place at the right time with the right skills and experience.

    Are there a few bums out there? Sure. You can find them in churches from micro to massive.

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