The term celebrity pastor may be a misnomer, but it is going about evangelicalism, being ascribed to men such as Mark Dever, C. J. Mahaney, Ligon Duncan, John Piper, Matt Chandler, and John MacArthur to name a few. Lest you think this post doesn’t pertain to you unless you know these men, please read on. The way I want to define a celebrity pastor is pretty broad and it is likely that you have at least one on your list.
Last week there was a conference held in Louisville, Kentucky called Together for the Gospel (T4G). T4G features big-name pastors and scholars (like those mentioned above) from evangelical churches and seminaries across the country. It is presumed they are the ones that draw the crowds to this conference, despite other reasons to the contrary. This year, there was a panel discussion (I cannot find the audio at the moment) (UPDATE 4/24: audio) that dealt with the specific topic of celebrity pastors. The gist of the discussion was that the label is unfortunate, but a logical byproduct of our society. It can’t be fought, and we should strive to think biblically about influences.
The concept and discussion has been going around the blogosphere for at least a few years and, I’m sure, around church history as long as the church has been alive (see, for example, 1 Cor 1:10-17 and this post). From my perspective, there exists two temptations regarding this area: (1) Young pastors face the temptation to envy these men with big ministries and large influence. Envy can cause all sorts of problems in local ministry. (2) Local church believers face the temptation to give more weight to (follow) their celebrity pastors than to their real pastors. That is, talking more about the preaching one hears on the internet than their own pastor is a symptom of a problem. For this post, let me offer some suggestions for young pastors (I’m preaching to myself first) and for those who follow celebrity pastors. But first, here is a definition of a celebrity pastor.
What Is a Celebrity Pastor?
What is a celebrity pastor? Though the word celebrity has quite a broad meaning—a definition might be simply “one who is famous or well-known”—it has become in our culture synonymous with hollywood stars and top athletes, making the word celebrity, when used in a ministry context, seem a bit pejorative. (What pastor wants to be identified in the same category as Lindsay Lohan?) But celebrity may accurately describe a pastor when taken as broadly as the definition is. The men mentioned above have large ministries, travel to conferences throughout the year, write books and write blogs. They are influential in evangelicalism—they are well-known.
Who wouldn’t want to be well-known? That’s where I have found myself in the past. I have wanted to be a well-known pastor who has influence wider than his local church. I wanted to be a celebrity pastor. I want to have a say, even lead, in institutions, movements, and associations. When I was sinning, I would look at these men and despair at the small, seemingly stagnate, ministry I had. But that is not the right attitude to take in ministry.
Admonitions to My Colleagues
As I mentioned above, young pastors may be tempted to envy celebrity pastors because of their success. I know I have been tempted, and even sinned, in such a way as to desire the types of ministries these men lead. What is especially sinful about envying these men is that I wanted to do it without all the work they put in and am not satisfied with the ministry God gave me. Here are three admonitions I try to think about when tempted to envy celebrity pastors:
- Focus my efforts on my local church. That is my primary responsibility. One blogger observes that celebrity is a function of talent, hard work, and opportunity. Envy would claim that all three are my responsibility and I can take the credit when things go my way. On the contrary, each are a function of God’s working in his servants. Talent? God makes men what they are. Hark work? God gives the provision, the diligence, and the wherewithal to work hard. Opportunity? God leads men in their way.
- Strive for faithfulness not popularity. God is sovereign over the elements of celebrity, knowing this, pastors should strive to be faithful with the task that God has given them in their local church. But God may see in his providence to grant some pastors influence wider than his own local church.
- If you find yourself having influence wider than your local church, let it humble you. Humility, which all of the men I mentioned above seem to exude, is an essential element of the Christian life. The more influential one becomes in the Christian life the more important humility becomes. Maybe important is not the best word. Perhaps as the Christian becomes more influential humility becomes harder.
Admonitions to Other Believers
While I hesitate to use the word laymen, I want to draw a distinction between pastors and, well, not pastors. Laymen, as I stated above, may be tempted to follow their celebrity pastors more than they follow their real pastors.
- Beware how much you follow pastors who are not your pastors. Your pastor is your shepherd. He will be the one to give account for your soul. The guy you listen to on the radio or podcast? He will only give an account for the accuracy of his teaching.
- Consider helping your pastor become a celebrity. This one is a little provocative, but consider helping your pastor become more influential by making sure he has time and tools to study. Make him more influential by asking him questions, the answers to which you have been getting from your celebrity pastor.
- Limit your intake of extra-local church teaching. I’m sure most will disagree with me on this one. That’s fine. But let me encourage you to limit the amount of teaching you get, via podcast or radio, from outside your local church. You will do well to serve the body by focusing on what’s going on in your local church.
Well-known pastors exist. It’s okay to pay attention to what they are teaching, their ministry philosophy. I may even become one if the Lord wills. But I must be aware of my own temptations and guard against them. For me, it’s focusing on the task the Lord gives me (when the Lord leads to a new ministry) and remaining faithful in that.