Having grown up in a traditional Baptist church, I still remember my Sunday school teacher telling me that as believers, we have been called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in carrying out the Great Commission to change the world. As I sat in that class wearing my Nike shoes and eating the snack of the hour, it never occurred to me what type of shoes my youth pastor was wearing.
To be honest, it wasn’t until last year that I thought to look at what type of shoes my pastor was wearing. That’s when I came across an anonymous blog where the author — who later would be revealed as Ben Kirby — decided to post photos of the shoes celebrity pastors were wearing. Kirby, who lives outside Dallas, admits now that when he shared the images with his audience of 400 people, it never crossed his mind what he would be unleashing in American pop culture.
Kirby tells that story in his new book, PreachersNSneakers. The whole thing started as a joke one Sunday morning in March 2019. Kirby overslept, missed church, and decided he would check out Elevation Church, led by Pastor Steven Furtick, when according to Kirby, he noticed worship leader Mack Brock wearing Yeezy Sneakers (valued at $1,000).
From that one observation, Kirby would find himself during the days and months afterward setting off a firestorm amongst evangelical believers around the country as he continued to post such images with notes on retail prices.
In a recent interview, Kirby was clear that what would become a movement just fell into his lap. He also learned that becoming a known public figure himself would create other challenges.
“Many people were encouraging, but people can be mean,” he said, admitting that at first he didn’t handle it well at all, and the push back from some of the celebrity pastors was hard for him to take in.
“When pastors who seemingly believe the same thing you believe are saying that what you’re doing is wrong, or what you’re doing is divisive, it can be hard to absorb,” he said.
In time, Kirby knew he needed to write a book addressing the controversial issue. He believed this demanded a deeper dive into the topic of celebrity pastors and what we should expect of the people who are leading us on Sunday mornings.
Kirby grew up in a traditional church in rural Ruston, La., and was mentored by a great youth pastor known as John O. Church who for him was inspiring, important and a big part of his formation as an individual.
“Just having an anonymous existence is exhausting to keep up, not to mention keeping your friends from spilling information can be hard too.”
“Ruston, I think, was a big part of why I even noticed some of these things in the first place; because we had intimate relationships with our pastors and the people we went to church with,” he said. “I was homeschooled, so that was the extent of all my relationships. My whole formation was built around being in church and going to church, and I don’t have trauma or hurt from the church. I would gladly go back to my childhood church.”
His childhood church seems to be the foundation of why he noticed the expensive shoes celebrity pastors wore as they preached.
“I’m grateful for the upbringing of my parents, raising me to have a foundation of things that were based on the Bible instead of just like whatever was hip at the time,” he said. “We would gladly do the non-hip or culturally [un]popular thing.”
Now it’s the non-hip thing that seems to be drawing everyone from atheists to believers to Kirby, whose Instagram following has grown from 400 to thousands. Today, he knows he is doing the right thing, and he enjoys hearing from his audience.
When asked about why he decided to not remain anonymous, the former Marine said, “Just having an anonymous existence is exhausting to keep up, not to mention keeping your friends from spilling information can be hard too.”
As an average, middle-class person, everything about Kirby seems to be the opposite of the people he writes about. But in reality he’s friends with some of the people he wrote about: “Mack Brock, worship leader from Elevation Church, and I are good friends, and Judah Smith, who I have spoken with, is an incredibly genuine person.”
Now that the book is published, what’s next? It’s clear that for this new MBA grad, father of a newborn whose wife and parents are proud of him, there is an element of unknown about what the future holds. Yet he seems content with knowing that God has something in store for him outside of talking about sneakers.
“I shouldn’t be writing on this type of stuff. I’m a nobody: so clearly God is up to something and allowing this in my life and I want to follow that,” he said.
Maina Mwaura is a freelance writer and communications consultant who lives in the metro Atlanta area. A native of Orlando, Fla., he earned a bachelor of science degree in communications from Liberty University and a master of divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
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