The Problem With Christian Hero Worship

In Blogs by Jesse King10 Comments


My daughter is a curious little toddler. She likes to explore anything and everything she can get her hands on. She’s eager to learn about everything she sees—from people to animals to toys and food. It’s sweet to watch her take an interest in so many things.

But sometimes, her curiosity makes her miss what she’s meant to see. Sometimes when she opens a present and finds an exciting new toy inside, she gets fixated on the box rather than the present inside it. Other times she might ignore a whole room full of toys meant specifically for her because she’d rather play with the spatula in the dishwasher or the junk mail on the kitchen table. We can easily recognize how her focus is misplaced, but we often find ourselves in her position in God’s eyes. 

Praising a favorite Christian singer or famous pastor instead of the Lord is like choosing to love the box more than the toy inside.

I cringe when I see people glorifying Christian leaders. That might sound harsh, but it’s what I do. Praising a favorite Christian singer or famous pastor instead of the Lord is like choosing to love the box more than the toy inside. But more significantly, I cringe when I see those leaders accept that praise for themselves. The purpose of a ministry leader’s mission is not to earn applause. These people should be using their platform to worship the Lord and draw others to Him as well. 

Sometimes I feel like this is a modern problem that may go away on its own eventually. But it’s not. This happened more than 3,000 years ago too. 

Israel’s Misplaced Praise

Ancient Israel had its share of outstanding leaders, heroes of our own faith today. Men like Moses and Joshua blazed the trail to prosperity in the Promised Land. But that success was short-lived. After Joshua’s death, “the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals” (Judges 2:11). So “the Lord raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them” (v. 16). Men and women like Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samuel defended the Israelites against their enemies. These leaders carried out God’s will to protect His people despite their disobedience, yet they only saw the judges as a stopgap leading up to their desire for a king to rule over them.

After begging and whining to Samuel, whom God had given to Israel as its judge, the Israelites got their wish—but they broke God’s heart in the process. “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7), God told Samuel. So He gave them Saul, known as a handsome man and the tallest of all the Israelites (9:2). This is the kind of leader the people asked for, one who would make them “like all the nations,” as they demanded “that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (8:20). 

Of course, God didn’t want Israel to be like all the nations. His people were meant to be separate, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). But Israel was happy! It got the king it wanted. But from the beginning, there were warning signs in Saul’s behavior. He ran from responsibility (1 Samuel 10:22). He blatantly disobeyed the Lord (13:13; 15:24). He made foolish declarations (14:24). Yet the people didn’t seek the Lord; they looked to this man for help and guidance.

No matter who you put on the throne, no one but God deserves our praise, and no one is worth our unwavering trust but God.

Despite his position of great privilege, Saul failed, and his sin was exposed. God took His Spirit from him (16:14). But it’s not just the ones whose downfall we can see coming that we should be wary of. Even wise, righteous kings like David and Solomon sinned greatly (2 Samuel 12:13; 1 Kings 11:11); yet they were known as godly men. 

I don’t mean to strip them of their status as faithful kings; I simply mean to show the danger of worshiping sinful humans. No matter who you put on the throne, no one but God deserves our praise, and no one is worth our unwavering trust but God. 

Punishment for Pride

God showed time and time again the danger of men taking pride in themselves and accepting acclaim. When Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar arrogantly praised himself for his city’s splendor, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” God drove him to insanity, causing him to become like a beast of the earth with hair like eagles’ feathers and nails like birds’ claws until he realized “that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses” (Daniel 4:29–33). Nebuchadnezzar eventually learned his lesson, finding that “those who walk in pride He is able to put down,” even powerful kings like himself (v. 37).

When the evil King Herod Agrippa was credited with speaking in “the voice of a god and not of a man” and failed to give God the glory, an angel of the Lord immediately struck him and he died (Acts 12:21–23). Herod didn’t realize he was merely a pawn compared to the King of kings, and his life was entirely in God’s hands. He should have studied the book of Proverbs to realize that “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

A Perspective on Purpose

How many ministry leaders have we seen fall from grace because of scandalous sin? Too many to count. From entertainers to pastors to Christian authors and apologists, no one is immune to temptation of every kind. Quotable evangelists so often are exposed for misconduct, destroy their reputation, and leave their biggest supporters feeling confused, betrayed, and spiritually disoriented. Yet time and time again, they end up taking the adoration we should be reserving for God.

If you find yourself exalting the preachers of the Word rather than the Word Himself, redirect it to Him immediately.

This is not to denounce our brothers and sisters faithfully serving the Lord publicly. We should be thankful for their work in helping point many to God and the truth of His Word. But we should leave behind any fascination we might have with them apart from God. 

If you find yourself exalting the preachers of the Word rather than the Word Himself (John 1:1), redirect it to Him immediately. Too many times we see passionate faith in Christian leaders turn to devastating disappointment. It’s time we let them do their job of leading us to a greater knowledge of our Lord without coming at the expense of worshiping Him exclusively. Let’s learn from Israel’s shortcoming of trusting in men rather than God to make sure we live in a way that pleases Him.

About the Author
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Jesse King

Jesse is the managing editor of Israel My Glory magazine and a staff writer for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry.

Comments 10

  1. What an incredibly applicable message. May the body of Christ- myself included- learn it. Humility and the fear of the Lord is the key. I have served the Lord for a few decades and I have have fallen into this snare and seen many, many others fall into it.

  2. I’m absolutely with your Bible perspective of not making “leaders” in any Christian ministry an idol. The first commandment in the law is what we need to strive for. What leaders preach and how they (and we) live is supposed to be all for the glory of God. Praise God for His Word and Holy Spirit or we would not able to do anything to please Him and for His great mercy.

    I do think boxes and other non-dangerous implements show a spirit of creativity unless the gift is creative like Lincoln Logs/Legos/paints/baby dolls, etc. Too many toys (or kinds of toys that make idols of “superheroes” or toy cars/houses) make children greedy and focus on human endeavors and don’t allow children to create. Setting one’s affection on things above is wisdom from Scripture.

  3. While I agree with the basic thrust of the post – biblically, we need to also give honor to whom honor is due. As 1 Thessalonians 1:12-13 state, we should also “esteem them very highly” – referring to “those who diligently labor among you.” I’m sure you agree…but I think there is a tendency to label some Christians as “hero” worshippers when in fact they are simply appreciating and loving certain individuals because of their ministry.

  4. So true in these last days. Sad singers of music in many churches use words and melodies that are not pleasing to the Lord.

  5. Excellent article & so very glad you have a link to print it =) ! Agree with Daniel W.’s point as well. Paul S. – Absolutely true (1 Thessalonians 1:12 &13) ! However; I have personally experienced what Jesse has written about, having been a former active member of 2 churches (of the same denomination) and now currently a member of another Body of Fellowship that is a Non-Denominational church. I will say that the Pastor(s) of all of these churches are very humble, servant-leaders ! Thankfully, none have fallen prey to the praise & appreciation of their congregants, with one having gone on to Glory last year, and all would be the first to tell you to make Jesus their only Hero. I transferred my membership to another church of the same denomination when I became married. It was about an hour away from my previous church, in the same state but different county. A sister in Christ from the former church hadn’t seen me in some time. When we met up again; she questioned me ” Are you still going to church ? ” Seriously ??? I hadn’t dropped off the face of the earth or renounced my faith or fellowship with other believers when I got married + my husband’s a Christian !! I was truly dumbfounded, especially since some of my own family members still attended that church. The exact same thing happened at the next church b/c these types of “Christian Hero Worshippers” in this region often ask if you’re going to ______ so & so’s (Pastor’s surname’s) church, like if you aren’t, then you’re not in the flow of the Spirit. It doesn’t only occur with the “famous ” or well known singers, preachers/teachers etc. heard & seen on radio, tv , online, media – wherever… it’s in your local congregations as well !!! Even in my current fellowship =( there’s this glorying in the move of His Spirit back in the 70’s along w/glorying of the Pastor(s) of those churches where these revivals broke out & people looking for the “old days”. I’m a Senior, remember those days and was part of them however ; I’m not looking backwards. I’m eagerly anticipating Joel 2:28-32 =). My response whenever I’m asked what church do I go to is this…. ” I am the church, part of the Body of Christ wherever I am, b/c His church isn’t a building. ” YES; we DO need fellowship one with another as we see His day approaching, just as His Word says – but no church building, no denomination, gathering together of believers in a home fellowship or elsewhere has or is ” IT ” !!! My well worn Nelson Study Bible, NKJV has an In Depth Article on Pg. 1914 Titled ” The Message, Not the Messenger ” saying basically what Jesse said – namely that Christian speakers, singers, leaders – whomever, in whatever position they hold – are merely vessels.

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