Update (3-23-2021) The creator behind the popular PreachersNSneakers Instagram account has finally revealed his true identity after nearly two years of staying anonymous.
In a The Washington Post interview Benjamin G. Kirby explained how the Instagram account @PreachersNSneakers got it’s start. With a friend’s encouragement Kirby started the account to expose and question church leaders who wear [assuming they purchase and aren’t getting them for free] outrageously priced sneakers.
His first post on his 400 follower personal Instagram page Kirby called out Elevation Church’s Steven Furtick after spotting him wearing an $800 pair of Yezzy’s designed by musician Kayne West asking, “Hey Elevation Worship, how much you paying your musicians that they can afford $800 kicks? Let me get on the payroll!”
Today Kirby has over 240k followers on his PreachersNSneakers Instagram account, and has now expanded to exposing the expensive clothing preachers are wearing.
Kirby told The Washington Post that, “At the beginning, it was easy for me to make jokes about it. Some of the outfits are absurd, so it’s easy to laugh at some of the designer pieces. The price tags are outlandish.” But as the Instagram account grew in followers he said, “I began asking, how much is too much? Is it okay to get rich off of preaching about Jesus? Is it okay to be making twice as much as the median income of your congregation?”
With a degree in marketing management and an MBA, Kirby decided to release his true identity because he has a book coming out that will launch at the end of April titled PreachersNSneakers: Authenticity in an Age of For-Profit Faith and (Wannabe) Celebrities that includes a foreword by famous “
Community’ actor Joel McHale.
He grew up in a Ruston, LA Christian household, was homeschooled, and was brought up in what he describes as a “comfortable but modest lifestyle.” Kirby’s father is a family-practice doctor so they gave generously to the church they attended, and Kirby remembers his pastor at the time owning a Harley Davidson cruiser which confused him because it cost more than his parents’ yearly tithes alone. He said that’s when he realized the “somewhat fuzzy line” between ministry and business existed.
The newly announced soon-to-be father said his desire for the site isn’t for Christians to abandon fashion or their celebrity friendship, but hopes PreachersNSneakers will bring more “transparency and accountability.”
By Megan Briggs
“Christians don’t know what to do with social media.” That’s just one of the lessons the man behind the infamous PreachersNSneakers Instagram account has learned in the five months that have transpired since the account’s debut.
“People have lost their collective minds over this account because nobody knows what to do with it,” the account’s creator told churchleaders.com.
The account, which features mash-ups of well-known ministry leaders (preachers) wearing expensive clothing and accessories (sneakers) with the price of said clothing and accessories, has caused quite the stir in the evangelical world.
While PreachersNSneakers started as a joke (and its creator still crafts humorous captions to accompany the images he posts), it has grown to over 192,000 followers. For someone who calls himself an evangelical Christian, this is one believer who has figured out how to use social media.
Who Is Behind the PreachersNSneakers Account?
Honoring his request to stay anonymous, Fashionista.com dubbed the PreachersNSneakers creator “Tyler Jones” when they interviewed him earlier this year, and the pseudonym has stuck. When churchleaders.com reached out to ask him a few questions, Jones explained when he started PreachersNSneakers he wasn’t very familiar with many of the preachers whose pictures now grace the account, with the exception of Carl Lentz, Erwin McManus, and T.D. Jakes.
Otherwise, he wasn’t following the so-called celebrity pastor culture. He was watching a worship video featuring Mack Brock when he noticed the singer was wearing some pretty expensive shoes. The flashy style of the musicians and the obviously expensive sound system utilized in the worship service represented a far cry from Jones’ own church-upbringing.
As a kid, Jones and his family attended non-denominational churches, which “might as well have been Baptist.” After growing up in the deep south in a very small town, Jones says he’s just now realizing “how close-minded a culture like that is.”
As far as where he personally stands on whether a preacher should wear $3,000 shoes when he or she is preaching, Jones admits especially when he first started posting his iconic mashups of preachers wearing expensive apparel and the list price of said apparel, he often thought: “I’m giving my own money [to the church] and I can’t afford these shoes; how are these dudes affording these shoes?”
Now, however, Jones can appreciate more of the nuances of the debate. He admits he is not a theologian nor is he a disgruntled church member with an agenda or axe to grind. Rather Jones is just an “average” person who is facilitating a discussion about hefty topics such as church transparency and personal accountability—all through an Instagram account he thinks of as “an opportunity to make people laugh.”
The Conversation That’s Happening
From the onset, PreachersNSneakers posts have garnered all kinds of comments. Some of the discussion has been good and civil with followers contemplating their own convictions and doing their best not to judge someone else they don’t know. But as can be expected on social media, hateful comments do fly. Jones hides the nastiest ones. Still, “even though it’s messy, it has brought up really good discussion and thought points on both sides, which I never thought would happen,” he says.
On the PreachersNSneakers podcast, Jones interviews ministry and other Christian leaders who are in the spotlight to varying degrees to ask their take on the account. He’s done a good job offering a gamut of perspectives. The preaching pastor of City Church in Fort Worth, Texas, Will Bostian, told Jones he would confront T.D. Jakes about his “false teaching” before he would bring up his expensive clothing. On the other hand, Justus Murimi, a pastor turned motivational speaker, would be more inclined to thank Jakes in the form of a gift for his teaching, which Murimi says got him through a difficult time in his life.
The fact of the matter is the debate is complicated. John Gray (who has been featured on the account) essentially argues he wears the clothes he does to make the people he’s trying to reach feel comfortable. Jones finds this particular argument a little “thin.”
“Can we really not reach Millennials without dressing like Millennials?” he asks. “If we truly believe that God’s the creator of the universe and he put us in a position to reach a certain type of people, it’s kind of a thin argument to say that the Gucci belt is playing that big of a part.”
Still, Jones is committed to hearing out both sides of the argument. He says, “It’s so frustrating to hear both sides of an issue talk in an echo chamber with each other and not at least empathize with another side of an argument.” He reasons, “people have completely different life experiences. At least try to understand where another person is coming from.”
Jones, for his part, has tried to put himself in these preachers’ shoes (pun intended). He’s had “close to ten” of the people featured on the account reach out to him, either direct messaging him on Instagram, emailing, or even calling and texting him. Some “were really pissed” about their images being on the account. Others “understood but also disagreed with what I was doing and the method.” A couple of worship leaders—Brock and Bethel’s Sean Feucht—think it’s “hilarious” what Jones is doing and don’t have a problem with being on the account.
At one point, Jones reached out to Judah Smith (often featured on the account, along with his wife, Chelsea) and Andy Stanley to ask them to be on his podcast. Jones had a very gracious response to their declining, noting they are really big names in the church world and undoubtedly very busy.
Only one church has taken legal action. Jones says “a massive church in Oklahoma City” sent him a cease and desist warning, although he thinks it had more to do with him using images from the church than it did with potentially making the church look bad. He doesn’t fear any other legal action, noting the images he uses are ones that are being posted on social media, often by the preachers themselves. Still, Jones feels the burden of the discussion he is creating, which he describes as “incredibly judgmental” at times, especially in the beginning. What people think about what preachers should or should not wear is more of a disagreement of opinions rather than more divisive topics such as “abortion, immigration, racial reconciliation,” he reasons. He has since come to the conclusion that his posts are not causing a “literal division in the church.”
The Good That Is Coming From PreachersNSneakers
Jones says the discussion surrounding the posts have caused people to evaluate their own use of social media—both what they are posting and how they are reacting to other people’s posts.
“It really benefits everyone to stop and think about why they’re reacting in such a way—for or against,” Jones says. Why do these images “piss us off so much?” Jones wonders.
Jones says the account prompted an honest evaluation of what he posts to his personal account. Sometimes, Jones explains, we post things to make other people jealous. To cause other people to envy you is a sin and the post represents a stumbling block to the people who see it and fall for the trap. Jones says he has “so much less desire to post to my personal Instagram account” since PreachersNSneakers launched.
Another chord of conviction PreachersNSneakers has struck with people is how they are spending their own money. When debates ensue about the morality of spending money on the extravagant clothes preachers are wearing, followers often point to their own lack-of-frugality with money before they will “cast a stone” at the preacher in question. On a podcast episode, Jones brought up his own hesitation to spend the money he does to feed his two dogs when there are people around the world who are starving to death. The account causes us all to ask ourselves why we spend money on the things we do.
PreachersNSneakers and Church Transparency
The account has also brought the issue of church transparency to the forefront. Jones says the sentiment “tax the churches” often shows up in comments. While that thought had never occurred to him before he started posting these images, he can appreciate the point. Some churches, Jones says, could use greater financial accountability. Some of the big ones, he says, “are running these massive seven and eight-figured organizations without any kind of reporting or accountability and a lot of these churches don’t even have elders. They’re run by just one or two people—potentially the pastor and the pastor’s wife—at the very top. I wasn’t cognizant of that before this.”
But Jones isn’t advocating for revoking churches’ tax exempt status. He realizes most small churches wouldn’t be able to pay the taxes, although he wonders if some of the bigger operations could stand to be audited. He says he wouldn’t be surprised if a change in how churches are held to account happens in the next five years or so.
Jones says he’s also received direct messages from “execs at churches” who have told him something along the lines of “ ‘I just came out of a meeting where we discussed this very thing you’re bringing up, and I think it’s incredibly important because we’ve been needing to talk about this for a long time.’ ”
The bottom line that many people bring up in relation to the preachers featured on PreachersNSneakers is that people are uncomfortable giving money to a church (no matter its size or the demographics of its membership) whose pastor spends money on incredibly expensive apparel. Some, like John Gray, have argued they make money from book deals and other, “private” ventures, and they don’t use their pastor’s salary to buy such items. That argument doesn’t land well with Jaron Myers, a Christian comedian and guest on Jones’ podcast. He argues there is something nefarious afoot when pastors with hundreds of thousands of followers on social media swap favors with other pastors to promote one another’s books. One could argue it’s equally nefarious when a pastor uses the pulpit position to reach thousands for the same purposes. Unfortunately, being at a conference where the speaker uses two of the twenty minutes he or she has been given to promote a book is a scenario all too familiar to most of us.
PreachersNSneakers and Unlikely Heroes
Even after all of the personal conviction that has come from PreachersNSneakers, Jones still wanted to “make some good out of this account.” In June, Jones interviewed Erica Greve on his podcast. Greve founded the nonprofit Unlikely Heroes, which works with people who have been pushed into human trafficking and prostitution. Jones decided to try raising funds through the Instagram account to benefit Unlikely Heroes.
He decided to make T-shirts featuring the account’s logo and a pithy saying about Preachers. Why he didn’t just do a traditional crowdfunded campaign like GoFundMe speaks to Jones’ social media savvy. People who follow the “flavor of the week social media accounts want merch,” he explained. Jones says he even saw pictures of pastors preaching Sunday services in the T-shirts after it was over. When he surveyed those who contributed to the fundraiser, the results revealed that the majority of people who donated were fans of the account itself more so than they were on board with the mission of Unlikely Heroes. Still, Jones is not deterred. “At least we were able to raise money for causes that were universally thought of as good or beneficial,” he said. The fundraiser yielded nearly $15,000 for the nonprofit. He is hoping to organize another fundraiser in the future, perhaps for another cause.
Despite his hesitation to say so, Jones does believe the discussion engendered by the account has been positive, and that God “is working through this, in some ways.” Or, to borrow one of his fashion puns, the Lord does work in mysterious colorways.