Pastor Rich Wilkerson Jr. burst into the limelight as the hottest holy man around when he officiated the wedding between Kanye West and Kim Kardashian last year. Today, Wilkerson and his wife DawnCheré have a new book; Sandcastle Kings: Meeting Jesus in a Spiritually Bankrupt World (Thomas Nelson, Nov.); a new reality TV show on Oxygen, Rich in Faith; and a new church, VOUS Church, in downtown Miami.
With all the lights, cameras, fast cars, and pop stars, some critics complain that Wilkerson is all cover and no content. Despite the celebrity profile and media attention, the 31-year-old pastor insists that his work is not all style, no substance. “The book, the show, the speaking, the preaching—it’s all growing out of my heart as a pastor of a local church where people can find a place to belong,” he told PW.
Yet, the people he feels called to work with are not your run-of-the-mill church folk. Where some ministry leaders might head to third-world countries, Wilkerson believes his mission is elsewhere.
Convinced that, “Wherever the church avoids, darkness tends to invade,” Wilkerson aims to step into places like clubs, reality TV, and the world of media to “advance the Gospel.” He said, “I was struck one day wondering why the clubs and bars are full, but churches...aren’t.”
Responding to critics, such as Laura Ortberg Turner who said Wilkerson is, “alienating people and suggesting that you have to be pretty damn cool to be a Christian,” and Kyle Swenson who critiques his “happy version of Christianity,” Wilkerson said, “Jesus is more than my pants, my shoes, and my hairstyle.”
For Wilkerson, this is not about “cool Christianity,” but “living and sharing our story, whether that’s among the homeless on the street or celebrity mansions.” He said, “Headlines and Instagram photos are not where the story is—the message of Jesus is not about what you’re wearing, it’s about what’s in your heart.”
While some readers may get caught up in his flashy friends or the fact that West designed the cover of Sandcastle Kings, Wilkerson said, “The cover is from Kanye, but the content is all Jesus—and that’s what is really compelling.”
The book takes readers through the stories of several characters in Luke 7 to try and show that the only answer to spiritual bankruptcy and hope of spiritual fulfillment in a world of tempting “sandcastles” of power, prestige, popularity, and personal success is Jesus. Using examples from his own life, ministry, and interactions with people—from pop stars to the urban poor—Wilkerson hopes the points will hit home and make Jesus the star.
What’s next for Wilkerson? He’s got another book with Thomas Nelson in the works and a church that is just getting started. It seems the celebrity pastor is not going away anytime soon, but said he has a long way to go. “I’m not done by any means,” said Wilkerson, “With responsibility comes pain and nerves, but all of this has been natural growth—everyone wants to arrive, but no one wants to take the journey.”