Mega-Pastors and Professional Wrestlers

In recent weeks, the evangelical cyber-world has been full of news about two pastors for all of the wrong reasons.   Like two passive-aggressive juveniles who wrestlecan’t seem to play nice on the playground, these men have managed to “fight” one another without ever meeting face to face.   Most of the interactions have been communicated indirectly through a blog, a sermon, or any number of twitter posts.   Both men are smart.  Both men are strong leaders.  Both men lead big churches.  Both men have influential ministries.  Both men have large groups of loyal followers.   Their statements are always influential and their decisions are never accidental.   Their most recent conflict began with a open-handed cyber-slap to the face and ended with what can only be described as an invitation to a theological thunder dome cage-match.

As I have watched all of this unfold, I was reminded how much I used to love 1980’s professional wrestling.  Growing up, I became a huge fan of men like Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Mr. Perfect, and Jake the Snake Roberts to name a few.  Admittedly, it took me a year or two to understand what exactly “Professional Wrestling” was.   It certainly was unlike any “sport” I’d ever seen like football or Soccer.  There didn’t appear to be any unbreakable rules in the ring, anything but threats in the interviews, or any real hope for the quiet wrestlers without costumes or fireworks.

I am reminiscing about 80’s professional wrestling because some of today’s mega-pastors remind me of these “athletes”.  In an effort not to offend the two of you that read this blog, I will not use any names of any pastors.  If someone comes to mind, it’s not my fault.  Instead, I will simply describe the qualities of good old-fashioned Professional Wrestling (PW) and let the analogy lead you where it will.

Pro-wrestling is all about being louder than the other guy.

PW is all about being louder than the other guy.  PW is one of the greatest one-upmanship games ever invented.  The goal of PW is not to win in the ring as much as it is to win in the interview!  I remember more than one interview with  color commentator Mean Gene Okerlund. While these interviews would typically start off with questions being asked, they usually ended with the “athlete” wrestling the microphone away from Gene and yelling colorful challenges to his opponent.   The wrestler would say the most off the wall things you could imagine.  It didn’t matter whether he would really do what he said, only that what he said was more memorable than what the next guy said.  Eventually words aren’t enough.  If an opponent is louder, or getting more publicity at their event, then the best way to draw the attention back to yourself is to interrupt their championship match with a metal chair.  Guess what everyone will be talking about on Monday.?

Pro-wrestling is all about having the most shocking signature move.

PW is also about having the most shocking signature move you can imagine.  The signature move was the special move that each wrestler had.  One of the most famous as the DDT by Jake the Snake Roberts.  In this move, Jake would put his opponent in a reverse headlock, slam his face to the ground, and knock him out cold.  Then, he would proceed to put his pet Boa Constrictor on the body of the unconscious man.  Awesome.  PW became identified with their signature moves i the same way that you see Pastors getting identified with theirs.   Some pastors swear, some tell jokes, others have bands that play AC/DC songs, and still others are known for their flaming criticisms.  There are all kinds of signature moves some good (texas-foot stomp), some bad (flying flip off top turnbuckle), some effective (figure four), some just silly (butt-choke).   Then there are those signature moves so “effectively destructive” they have necessitated acts of repentance–something that usually lasts until the next “match” when the move comes out again.

Pro-wrestling is about the image of the wrestler.

PW is about the image battle.  Professional Wrestlers epitomize narcissism.  The battle in the ring pales in value to the battle of image.  PW not only have signature moves, they have signature styles.  These men do not stumble into a particular style; grown men will go to great lengths to create and perpetuate this image.  This is because a “good image” leads to good merchandising.  There is much money and influence to be won with a good image.  They will sell their name to create action figures, T-shirts, even lunch pails.  You may hear talk about wrestling, but all you see are images of the wrestler.   PW is very man-centered.  Consider what happens when a pastor becomes this way–talking about himself more than Jesus or the church He died for.  You know the pastor has followed the same path of merchandising when the pastors name becomes the icon for the church (e.g. audio channels, website addresses, even special Study Bibles) In other words, with success, pastors can easily become confused as to exactly what “name” they are supposed to be promoting.

Pro-wresting is about the fans and the followers.

At its core, PW is a huge popularity contest.  PW fans don’t follow the sport, they follow the man.  Professional wrestlers are not interested in making more professional wrestlers, they are interested in making more fans.  A professional wrestler does not care if someone  takes up the sport as much as they hope to see them follow them in their sport.  In truth, adding more wrestlers runs the risk of robbing them of their power and influence.  Fans of wrestlers look and sound like the wrestlers.  They will dress like them, talk like them, even wrestle like them.   There are fans, groupies, and similar kinds of followers for everything in this world.  Not even pastors can stop people from becoming fans of their work, but they can make decisions to encourage or discourage teams and “camps” of followers.  Pastors are not supposed to make fans; they are supposed to make disciples Jesus.   Making disciples of Jesus is how you avoid making fans, and if pastors hear people quoting more words from their sermons than they do from Scripture, they are failing in this regard.

Pro-wrestling is about fake wrestling.

PW is not real.  I realize this may go without saying, but I am going to say it anyway.  Though professional wrestlers call themselves wrestlers, sound like wrestlers, and even look like wrestlers–they are not real wrestlers, their actors.  If you put any of these guys into the octagon with Antonio Silva or Cain Velasquez, they will be slaughtered.  Sadly, not everyone knows the difference between “real” wrestling and professional wrestling.  If you put them side by side, you’d see that real wrestling is much less dramatic, loud, or colorful.  But it is much more effective.   Just because someone has the title pastor does not mean that everything they do is “real ministry”.   Like professional wrestlers, some pastors would rather be actors; it is much more fun and rewarding, and much less hard and bloody.  Unfortunately, these drama-king pastors are the ones who get the headlines.  It is unlikely that you have ever heard of Aleksandr Karelin–the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time. But I bet you’ve heard of Hulk Hogan.

Pastors, we have a lot to learn from Professional Wrestlers.

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Author: Sam Ford

Sam Ford is a preacher, planter, and pastor from the Pacific Northwest. He is currently pastoring Restoration Road Church in Snohomish, WA.