“I am not a Christian anymore!” “I don’t identify with anything that is remotely related to the ideas of Christianity!” If reading these words doesn’t shock you, you’ve either been in the ministry for a long time; or you are a perennial social media user. Because it seems like every other week a prominent Christian influencer sacrifices themselves publicly, at the altar of apostasy, moral failure, doctrinal deviation, or a tainted legacy.
Why is our faith shaken and threatened by the fall of a Christian influencer?
Because of this, most of their followers, ordinary Christians, are left confused, hurt, and tempted to leave the faith altogether. To some of us, this might seem a bit over the top. We would ask: “Why is your faith shaken and threatened by the fall of a Christian influencer?” This is an important question, exposing a deeper problem in the Church.
Have Christian Influencers Replaced Pastors?
Let’s establish some context first. At the fall of a Christian influencer, not all of us react from the same place.
Recently, when popular American Christian influencer Joseph Solomon renounced his faith on social media, the announcement was met by a host of mixed reactions. Some were genuinely sad. Others formed angry online mobs. Many were devastated. But most of us wondered what it might mean, particularly for those who learned from Joseph about God, the Bible, and the Christian faith. Maybe you thought to yourself: “Well, here is an influential and talented artist, a gifted speaker and teacher of God’s word. He had it all together. If he can lose his faith, stating it so publicly, then what is real? Was he faking his passion for God? Does his fall mean that the Bible cannot be trusted?”
Many of us have deemed pastors obsolete while making our Christian influencers absolute.
As a follower, how did you get here, where your eternal security is shuddering because of the fall of a Christian influencer? Let me ask the question another way. When did you cross the line from fan to congregant; from online follower to disciple; from casual observer to active member of the online community? Well, you might have blurred some lines, perhaps even unconsciously. I want to help you clarify at least one blurred line in this article: biblical leadership. For in recent times many of us have deemed pastors obsolete while making our Christian influencers absolute.
The Difference Between Pastors and Online Personalities
In Ephesians 4:1-6, Paul urges you to walk in a manner worthy of your gospel calling, submitting to Christ who is the head of the Church, in the unity of the Spirit with other believers. In Ephesians 4:11 he says that God’s ordained means to bring this to fruition will be his appointed “apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers”. These leaders “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).
To replace your pastor with a Christian influencer is to blur a clear line drawn by God.
Contrast the above with the world of Christian influencers. Anyone can set themselves up as an authority online because they are gifted or good-looking, blessed with editing skills, and can post more than five times a day. Influencers tend to have a lot of shiny content, catchy soundbites that create an experience. This is part of the allure that pulls you in, to become a follower—a disciple. Of course, it would be unfair and dishonest of me to say that this is what every single Christian influencer embodies. In fact, in upcoming articles, I want to explore the good work some Christian influencers continue to do. So I’m not bashing social media personalities.
But to replace your God-given pastor with an influencer is to unwisely blur a clear line drawn by God. This will ultimately undermine your faith.
The God-Given Role of Pastors
God has called, trained, and tasked your pastor, as an instrument in his hands to shape and conform you into the image of Jesus. This cannot primarily happen online. For God has woven your sanctification into the muddiness of real life. He works through difficult interactions in the family of sinners (local church), saved by grace. Thus your pastor plays a significant role in loving, caring, training, teaching, rebuking, and correcting this family. These are some of the criteria for Christian leadership that God provides (see 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1; 1 Peter 5). God gives us clarity on who a Christian leader is supposed to be. These characteristics are not just developed within a community but are tested, verified, and used for the benefit of that same community.
God has woven your sanctification into the muddiness of real life. This cannot primarily happen online.
But look at Ephesians 4:14. Paul gives us a warning about what happens when we neglect God’s appointed leaders and set up make-shift pastors. You will be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes”. Don’t do yourself a dangerous disservice. Don’t neglect the wonderful gift from God in your pastor, settling for the inferior alternative of a Christian influencer.
True Christian Leadership is Accountable; Influencers aren’t
If your confusion, hurt or devastation over Joseph Solomon’s (or another Christian influencer’s) renouncement of the faith is causing you to not fully trust the validity of your own salvation, then you have given your life to a YouTube channel and not to Jesus. True, your faith should also not be based on your real life pastor. It’s must be based on Jesus, and Jesus alone. Because, let’s be honest, your pastor can fall as well. But there is a difference.
If any kind of character or doctrinal issue arises concerning your pastor, accountability structures exist on the ground. Sadly, these don’t always work out. But we look to them with the hope of dealing with the respective issues in a godly manner. Your pastor can be rebuked, corrected, or even removed from leadership to protect the gospel, while also caring for him, his family, and the flock. In this case, you would have other church leaders, and the church community itself, to walk you through this devastating experience.
No accountability structures exist to verify a Christian influencer’s qualifications or character.
However, with Christian influencers the waters are muddy. No real accountability structures exist to verify their qualifications, church involvement, or character. So, never blur the line by submitting to them. They don’t have God-given authority over you. Nor will they ever be able to care for you in meaningful ways. Christian, you need a pastor, not a Christian influencer.