Cults of Celebrity

Warren Cole Smith | WORLD News Service | Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cults of Celebrity

Doug Phillips is not the only Christian ministry leader who has hurt his organization and the cause of Christ over the past year. In recent weeks the World News Group’s website,, has had the sad task of running stories on Bill Gothard leaving his ministry following charges of sexual misconduct, Seattle’s Mark Driscoll buffeted by charges of plagiarism and possible misuse of ministry resources, and Charlotte’s Steven Furtick building a mansion and using crowd dynamics to increase baptism statistics.


While these stories and WORLD’s reports on leadership problems at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities are all different, they are “not a new phenomenon,” according to church historian Mark Noll, who notes that “the burden of celebrity is greater than ever before. The publicity machine operates with more energy.” Noll’s advice: “Wise leaders will build structures around them to prevent or diminish temptation.”


Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, said he often sees scandals occur when organizations lack “sound board governance” and a “focus on the basics.” Scandal-prone organizations also have a concentration of power at the top of the organization and a lack of transparency. If ministry leaders are secretive and attempt to squash criticism, that’s a bad sign: WORLD’s website has also examined the nondisclosure agreements that some megachurches now require staff members to sign.


When scandals erupt, Noll said, our reaction “should not be to gloat or point to the problems of others. This is not an evangelical problem or a Catholic problem or a Pentecostal problem. It’s a human problem.”