The paradox of a celebrity pastor

Courtesy of Hedieh Mirahmadi
Courtesy of Hedieh Mirahmadi

I originally came to Christ in one of the darkest times of my life. I left Islam once I removed my head cover and was told I would spend an eternity in hellfire, hanging from my hair. After more than twenty years, I could no longer worship a God that was that cruel and unpredictable. I resolved to a life without a relationship with God, but it was not long before my personal and professional life was in utter chaos. I turned to prayer for help. I no longer knew or had a personal relationship with the God I was seeking, but I knew He would help me.

During that time, I came across a tweet from a woman I did not even know who posted a clip from her celebrity pastor. She said his sermons had healed her of her emotional trauma, and that piqued my curiosity. I wanted to know how a Christian pastor could provide that kind of inspiration, so I watched the video. To put it plainly, I was hooked. The pastor's message was about the healing and redemptive power of accepting Christ as Lord and Savior. That He alone can restore what was broken and would give you the ability to overcome whatever obstacles you have in life. It was like listening to a Christian Tony Robbins seminar, filling me with hope, motivation, and the desire to learn more about the Jesus of the Bible.

At this point, I only had one Christian friend and never set foot in a church for worship. My only exposure to the power of Christ was on YouTube.  After binge-watching this pastor for more than a month, I started to pray for God to reveal Himself. I was so confused by the notion that Jesus was God because, as a Muslim, we are told believing in the Trinity would violate God's oneness. In one of those prayers, head bowed on the floor as I did in the traditional form of Muslim worship, I heard the audible voice of Christ say, "Hedieh, it's Me". At that moment, my life changed forever. The Lord Jesus Christ had answered my prayer, and it was not long before I was baptized and became a Christ-follower.

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I traveled to North Carolina to be baptized at the megachurch of that pastor, and a group of extraordinary believers surrounded me. They supported me through the emotional upheaval of telling family and friends I was now a Christ follower and instructed me on the importance of prayer and reading the Scripture. They helped me understand how to hear God's voice and live a life that reflects God's holiness. Eventually, I realized that what my church friends were teaching me was not in the pastor's messages. Instead, they encouraged me to draw closer to God's word and live the life that the disciples described for a believer through the Gospel.  Our pastor was charismatic and led me to explore what Christ had to offer, but eventually, I needed more.

The pastor never spoke of repentance and turning away from sin. He did not warn us about false teachers and the level of deception that would occur before Christ's return. He almost entirely ignored the Book of Revelation, and each sermon only covered one or two verses of the Bible. It was not until I started to attend Calvary Chapel Chino Hills that I realized how little I learned about the Bible from my previous church. Had the Lord not led me to seek out true teachings of the Bible, I would have stayed in the megachurch that was the "cool place to be" but left me without the relationship to Christ I needed to withstand the storms of life.

All of this is to say that as a Muslim convert, the crisis of many megachurch is beyond the hypocrisy of celebrity pastors who preach what they do not emulate.  More troublesome for people like me is that many celebrity pastors fail to teach the whole counsel of the Gospel; the obsession with social media fame, personal popularity, and wealth accumulation leads to an intentional omission of the hard truths of Christ's message. Repenting and turning from sin, not conforming to the patterns of this world, and facing persecution for our beliefs is a constant theme in the Bible. Without these truths to guide our behavior, a church body ends up more like a self-help group or a social club than a place of discipleship.

I am eternally grateful that the Lord led me to find a Bible-based pastor so I can grow in the knowledge of righteousness.  However, I cannot dismiss that I was drawn to Christ and fed the milk through a celebrity pastor. As Paul explains in Hebrews:

You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.[1]

I witnessed hundreds of new believers come through my previous church, and though I do not know how many of them became true believers, I remember the parable of the wheat and the tares[2].  The Lord teaches that it is not for us as servants to uproot what the enemy sows because we may lose the good in the process.  

As a community of believers, we must do everything in our power to prevent corruption in the Church, and using the standards of corporate America rather than Christ will only lead to further moral decay.[3] We are also commanded to guard against false teachers and those that come as wolves in sheep's clothing to mislead the flock[4]. Finally, our attendance at church should be focused on drawing near to God, not idolizing a preacher and his hip sense of style.[5] All this being true, we cannot dismiss how God uses some of these institutions to draw in people like me. Maybe I would have eventually found my way to Christ through another means, but the wisdom of the parable gives me pause.

He says, "Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest, I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn."[6]

[1] Hebrews 5: 12-14
[2] Matthew 13:24-30
[4] Matthew 7:15
[6] Matthew 13:30

Hedieh Mirahmadi was a devout Muslim for two decades working in the field of national security before she experienced the redemptive power of Jesus Christ and has a new passion for sharing the Gospel.  She dedicates herself full-time to Resurrect Ministry, an online resource that harnesses the power of the Internet to make salvation through Christ available to people of all nations, and her daily podcast

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