Why We Can’t Stop Talking about ‘Hipster’ Pastors

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Hillsong’s celebrity pastors remind us how style can be both a status symbol and liability in ministry.

The episode and transcript will be available on Wednesday.

At the beginning of this month, Hillsong NYC pastor Carl Lentz was fired. A day after the news went public, he posted a picture of his family on Instagram admitting he was unfaithful in his marriage. Both before and after the news, Lentz made headlines across Christian and secular media for his popularity and successful ministry—as well as the “hipster” pastor look he popularized.

When Lentz co-founded Hillsong NYC with Joel Houston in 2010, the church drew lines around the block and caught the eye of A-list celebrities, none more famous than Justin Bieber. Lentz, who became famous for his wire-rimmed glasses, plunging V-necks, and designer sneakers, himself became subject of a number of profiles. As Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote in a GQ feature:

“The music! The lights! The crowds!” begins an incredulous woman narrating a CNN segment on Hillsong NYC . “It looks like a rock concert.” The chyron reads “Hipster preacher smashes stereotypes.” They call Pastor Carl a hipster. Carl says he doesn’t know what that means, and he wears a motorcycle jacket when he says this.

Pastor Joel is unwilling to acknowledge that there’s something going on here. Yes, he tells me, sure, he likes clothes. But that’s the end of it. I should ask Pastor Carl about the clothes, he tells me. What Pastor Carl does, he says—that’s intentional, and then he laughs.

This week on Quick to Listen, we wanted to discuss the attention around a new generation of fashion-forward pastors. What does it reveal about ministry? But what does our fascination with this aesthetic reveal more broadly about the American and Western church? …

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