In most cases, when you hear the phrase “celebrity pastor,” you tend to think of individuals like Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Steven Furtick or Ed Young, Jr. In each one of these cases, if you are one who believes that preachers should actually preach the Word of God, you probably get a very bad taste in your mouth. You immediately want to scream, “False teachers! Away with them!!” And quite honestly, that’s how I feel too. But there is another kind of celebrity preacher, one that many of us don’t realize is a celebrity. But yet, they are celebrities because folks like you and me have made them into celebrities. Yes, that’s right, I said we made them that way. Those of us who appreciate sound, biblical preaching, who detest the seeker friendly, rockstar image of those “other” pastors, we have celebrities of our own. And that can be a problem.
Many of us greatly appreciate the preaching of godly men like R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, James White, David Platt and Voddie Baucham. We are blessed to hear these men rightly exposit the Word of God. We love how they take great time and care to preach the Word in context so that God is magnified and we rightly understand our need for His forgiveness through Jesus Christ. So much do we appreciate their godly work that we listen to countless sermons online (or on our iPods), we read the books they have written, we share copious quotes from them via Facebook and Twitter. We even will go to conferences, sometimes at great expense to our finances and time, so that we can hear them magnificently handle the Word of God. And, without even realizing it, we have created them in our minds as the “ideal” preacher, the kind that these rockstar pastors should really model themselves after. In other words, they have become a celebrity in our mind.
This is not to say that good godly preachers like these should not be esteemed. It is a rare treasure these days, it seems, to find a pastor who is willing to be in the public view that will unashamedly stand on the Word of God. We should give them due respect for their duty and devotion to Jesus Christ, for their unflinching stance for the preaching of the true gospel. What I am talking about is that we actually may create an unhealthy, or at least unbalanced, image of these men when compared to the local church. Think through this with me for a moment, how many times have you shared or tweeted quotes from your pastor? You know, the man who has faithfully preached in the same pulpit for five, ten, or even twenty years. Do you follow him on Facebook or Twitter? Do you wish he would at least get with the times to get on Facebook or Twitter like the other guys do? Have you ever stopped and told your pastor about the great sermon that R. C. Sproul preached, or recommended that he read the latest book by David Platt? Have you spent an inordinate amount of time talking to people in your congregation about the conference you just came back from where John MacArthur was the keynote speaker, or complained that you couldn’t go to it at all?
Imagine yourself in the place of your pastor. He’s not famous. Maybe he only has a congregation of a couple hundred people, maybe it’s only fifty. He spends all week preparing a sermon meant for you and those you attend church with. He loses several hours of sleep each week when he is called out to the hospital to minister to a dying parishioner, to counsel a loved one who is severely depressed, to comfort family who lost a child in an accident. He’s never written a book, he doesn’t have a podcast, his budget barely even allows for a computer to keep records on, much less the high tech equipment and talent to set up a nice website. Yet, each week, he dutifully climbs up to that podium and faithfully preaches the word of God to a body of believers. He is just as important as the big names mentioned above, yet he’ll never see the notoriety they do.
Now see yourself through his eyes. You love your pastor dearly and you listen and grow form his devotion to the Word each week. Yet, during the rest of the week, you are downloading sermons from Sproul, MacArthur or Platt. You pour over their books and study notes. When you have a theological question, you pull out their study bibles. You go to their conferences and you come back far more excited than you ever do at the home bible study he heads up. All of this creates an enormous amount of pressure for your pastor. He cannot hope to ever hold the position these godly men do, yet he somehow has to keep the attention of his congregation so he can keep preaching the Word to them. Does he then sacrifice his time to minister to his flock so he can begin writing that book? Should he mimic their teaching styles, or preach the things they preach about? What about those conferences? He could never host one himself, so should he join with other churches to put one on? If so, how selective should he be about who to partner with? You see the dilemma he is faced with? In the eyes of the local pastor, his congregation is enamored with the “big time” preachers. There is a lot of pressure to measure up.
Now please understand, I am not saying that Christians should only ever listen to just the teachings of their local pastor. We can benefit greatly from the godly teachings of pastors, great and small. It is certainly worth our time to read and learn from many great learned scholars, for it will help in our growth and understanding of scripture. We have the liberty to even attend the conferences where these men preach, and can be greatly edified by it. But there must be a proper balance. God put us in a certain place, at a certain local church, for a reason. Scripture teaches us that all Christians are bestowed gifts by the Holy Spirit for the edification of the body of Christ. And where you are planted is where you are to employ those gifts! If you spend most of your time following the “big guys” then your local body is being starved of the gifts you were given for their benefit. When you take time and money to attend that big conference while your local church struggles with its annual budget, you may well be misappropriating the finances God gave you for that body’s benefit. When you share the podcasts and videos of the other pastors, folks may flock to their godly teaching and benefit from it. However, if you took your internet savvy, could you not create a site for your church? You could then share those weekly sermons so that other may benefit from the teaching you have grown under.
The point of this article is not to decry our love for great and godly preachers, but to draw our attention back to our local churches. Let us spend maybe less time, effort and money building up the big names, for God will maintain their ministries with or without us. But let us take just a bit more time, a bit more care and certainly more effort to build up our local congregations. As we build up and edify the local body, we can send out more laborers for the harvest into our local communities. And as more laborers go out, the gospel reaches more people and the local church grows. The more the church grows, the more great and godly preachers can go out into the world and accomplish the work that we are expecting the big name preachers to do. Let us be about the business of supporting our local churches brethren and let the “celebrity” preachers be an added benefit to where we are already being blessed
Interesting read. I believe and can agree on some points, but you can also be limited by technology without the funds. I think it’s getting more economically feasible to create podcasts and websites, but do you then run the risk of being compared to the “rockstar” pastors? I love Voddie Baucham (The Ever Loving Truth study for our men’s group was really powerful). I also love and gain wisdom from some (not all) of the “rockstars” you mentioned. However, we are called to make disciples of all nations, taking God’s word and the gospel to the ends of the earth. It’s a command. I believe we could all do a better job of that right where God’s called us to be (ie. work, school, etc) if we’d spend less time on the web and more time telling our neighbors about Jesus. It’s called the web because it catches things. Are we entangled in it or are we being salt to the earth?
This should bring some focus to the lack of personal discipleship in the Evangelical Church in the USA?
Can anyone get away from this and disregard the obvious implications? No I think not!
Acts 20:32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.
34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me.
35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
My prayer is now a cry ” Oh Lord oh Lord, pour out Your Holy Presence sending with power the Holy Spirit to revive us!”
I recommend what the Church in the USA is experiencing is similar to what was written foretold in Leviticus 26?
This whole chapter seems quite apropos seeing what we seem to be doing by the emphasis on these superstar preachers is the same?
Here is a taste of what God’s after nevertheless:
Lev. 26:40 “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me,
41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity,
42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.
Good truth and reminder of the local truth. Thanks!
I shrink back from celebrity “pastors” because most of them are not pastors at all. I will not have a study Bible with a man’s name on it or only notes from one man in it. One of my elders is a man who could be – and is for some people – a celebrity pastor, but Voddie Baucham, though a sinful man, is a humble man who also shrinks back from celebrity status. He rightly draws a line between his role as a speaker at events and his role as a pastor/preacher in a local church. He warns people to not move to Houston, knowing they will not solve their problems by joining our church. We have three elders and Voddie is merely one of those three. He tries to defer to the others in meetings but he does not shrink back from making known what he believes the Truth to be.
We need to pray for men whom we know are faithful yet famous – that they would covet the approval of God more than the sales of their books.
In my opinion, simple as it may be, Chris is not knocking either the role of the sound celebrity pastors nor our following of their work. He is merely asking us who spend much time reading their publictaions and following their sermons – as I’m afriad I do – to curtail just a little the time we spend in this thereby allowing us to more time to devote to the building up of our local church.
One half hour spent in self edifictaion (however good, right and proper that might be) is one half hour less spent in obeying the commandment to go out and make disciples. And what better way to do this then bring them into a local church where there a structures that would assist us in this Royal Service?.
We need to remember that while this can be seen as a commandment directed at the church it must also be seen as a commandment directed to ourselves personally.
“He is just as important as the big names mentioned above, yet he’ll never see the notoriety they do.”
Sadly, the man made position of senior pastor does this very thing to the lowly “laity” even in smaller churches. Using religious titles and continually dominating the weekly meeting instead of letting it be built of as Gods word prescribes produces this same effect. The clergy laity system is a travesty both in a large or a small churches.
It is time to complete the reformation and get back to the New Testament church pattern. 1700’s New England is not far enough back, not even the reformers Geneva, we need to get all the way back to the apostle. Specifically their instructions on elders ruling among the sheep (not over them), on each member being encouraged to participate at the weekly meeting (under the oversight of the elders of course) and the Lords teaching that we are all brethren. I can assure you in that context the local elders will have no problem with the younger saints quoting from Godly sources and will encourage it. If their egos object it is most likely a sign of pride that needs repenting of and is unbecoming of any saint let alone an elder.
In Christ -Jim
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Thanks, Chris. Excellent article. I’ve been blessed with people who don’t negatively compare me to celebrity preachers. But there are people who live nearby who attend conferences and follow celebrity preachers who never darken the door of a church. If they are believers, it would strengthen our church and help them if they would join with us.
Maybe I should start preaching in a Mickey Mouse shirt so I can become a celebrity, too. 🙂
I personally think the conference / celebrity preacher thing has been a factor in the decline of churches in Britain. Keswick thrived while churches died.
It doesn’t matter how many people a single man rules over – the problem exists in EVERY church large or small. It appears to be a problem in the area of Power and Control coming into relationship with vulnerability and co-dependancy. There are independant pastors of fifteen people who have been more power over those fifteen than the Pope has over fifteen thousand.
They are always talking about themselves and wagging their fingers at their congregations finding more and more ways you can be a better Christian. Even when they preach on ‘encouragement’ its because you haven’t been encouraging enough and they will never be satisfied with the level of encouragement they get. They put themselves on platforms and then demand to be treated with more generosity than you would give your own wife or husband and hate criticism. They castrate other men by Lording it over them in the most devious of ways and then wonder why their congregations are so weak.
“the problem exists in EVERY church large or small.”
Someday maybe I’ll be omniscient and be able to make blanket statements about every church. 🙂
One of the most troubling things I have seen in recent years (in regards to this subject) has been how pastors are treated at conferences. I once saw Paul Washer get mobbed by a large group of young men who were tripping over themselves like fawning puppies to merely shake his hand. It looked idolotrous,and to be brutally honest, nauseating. To his credit, Mr. Washer appeared to be extremely troubled by it, and made every effort to escape (which he successfully did). In my opinion he exhibited something I see very, very rarely in modern day pastors – humility. I thank God often for leading me to a church body led by a humble, mature and godly man. If you have a pastor such as this, pray for him!
When my wife miscarried… a nobody showed up at the hospital to pray with us.
When my Dad died… a nobody came and listened to my Mom for hours.
When my car ran out of gas… a nobody drove 35 minutes to bail me out.
When we moved to another house… a nobody helped us pack boxes.
When my kid hit his first Little League home run… a nobody high-fived me in the stands.
When I needed some biblical advice… a nobody patiently explained and explained and explained the Scriptures.
This nobody is my pastor. You don’t know him, he’s never written a book. You don’t know him, his messages have never been sold on the Internet. You don’t know him… but to me… he is somebody…. my brother in Christ. I don’t follow him — together, we follow Jesus.
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Mark Jay, thanks for sharing that. It is a very good reminder of the thousands of pastors who could fit into that category.
I always see things from weird angles, but Jude warns of of false teachers and doctrines of devils. The proof positive of God himself warning us to be watchful and to steer clear of these false teachers was in the beginning of the epistle, when Jude had to change his sermon in the middle of writing the epistle at the direction of the Holy Spirit. The angle I am shown is this: The mega-church and celebrity status of pastors has the enemy’s fingerprints all over it; because where would we expect to find the publishing and preaching of false doctrine, false Christs, and liars–in a small church with a nondescript shepherd? Probably not–huh? TIME AFTER TIME I see the trend: A teaser sermon that falls short of delivering on the “Big” revelation. In order to hear the big revelation from God, we have to order either (a) The latest book, (b) The latest DVD series, or (c) a set of CD’s. Hmmmmm sounds to me like the god of these charlatans “Is their belly.” I have heard well-meaning believers advise me on the godly merit of Joel Olsteen not taking a salary from his church, as though that were so admirable, and that one fact alone merit enough to acknowledge his benevolence, sincerity, and humility. But wait a minute. Step back. Aren’t these so-called teachers USING the word of God, and selling their interpretation of the things therein for monetary gain? Who could possibly need to take a salary when his book sales net him millions every month? They are rich, NOT BECAUSE OF THEIR FAITHFULNESS or great faith, or because they have been esteemed so highly in the sight of God. They quite simply have USED the gospel for monetary gain, whereas it’s sole purpose in being sent to the world was to save the world through Jesus Christ. It is the sheeples fault for failing to study and recognize counterfeit doctrines when they reach their ears. For my two cents, we may as well trot out Tony Robbins if all we want is motivational speech bereft of gospel truth and the inspiration of God himself. God help the church.
Question: where did this position of a pastor come from? I see the structure in the New Testament church as elder led house churches. I think the Reformation restored salvation by grace alone, and doctrine, but it kept the hierarchy system that goes back to Constantine. Please check out New Testament Reformation Fellowship at http://www.NTRF.org I believe we need a
second Reformation in church structure, to elder led house church model.
Ernie – there is nothing in the Scriptures tells us we must meet in a house or any other structure. There are no sacred spaces in the new covenant church. To insist on meeting in a house is just as much legalism as to insist we meet at 11AM on Sunday. Scripture does not instruct us on these matters because they are matters of convenience and practical pragmatic issues.
Hi Manfred: I wasn’t insisting on anything at all. I just asked a question. Why do we insist on insisting here? Boy, would I get in trouble if I asked this at a seminary?? At 76 years of age, I’d still ask this!