Referring to the terms "celebrity pastors" and "rock star pastors," Thabiti writes in no uncertain terms, "I hate the terms. I really do." At the end of this same post Thabiti promises that he plans to offer a series of posts explaining why he hates both phrases. I expect that I will agree with everything Thabiti will say in these upcoming posts, as I typically agree with my good brother.
But while we await Thabiti's hate speech, let me offer one thought that's been bouncing around my head for some time about the term "celebrity pastor":
I'm grateful that evangelicals have celebrity pastors.
Or let me put it like this: I'm grateful that it is pastors that evangelicals celebrate.
Maybe I'm just calling the glass half full, or finding the silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud. But think with me for a second about the office of pastor. Unlike any other office or position that I can think of off the top of my bald head, the office of pastor requires a man to excel in two areas: doctrine and life.
We celebrate authors for how they write, academics for their brains, athletes for their athleticism, presidents for their ability to govern.
But the pastor is placed before a congregation because he is supposed to represent the ideal Christian: he thinks the right things and he lives a life that is "above reproach." I once heard D. A. Carson describe the lists of elder qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 like this: they don't require a man to exemplify extraordinary virtues, but to exemplify ordinary virtues extraordinarily well.
All that to say, it seems to me there's something Christian and biblical about the fact that evangelicals are putting pastors "on the conference stage," so to speak.
Yes, the very idea of a "celebrity pastor" extends a pastor's influence beyond the congregation. Yes, that can prove to be dangerous for both the man and everyone else. Yes, people beyond his congregation will have a harder time seeing his life than his own church can. Yes, we promote our share of academics and authors and maybe even athletes, too. No, I'm not trying to promote celebrity culture. Yes, I'm smothering helpful academic distinctions between celebrities and heroes and public figures. Yes, there are a number of other problems which Thabiti and others have helpfully enumerated.
Still, speaking as a non-pastor, the silver lining in this cloud, for me, is the fact that it should be pastors who hold pride of place in an evangelical's celebrity panorama. I mean, who else! Paul, who was something of a Christian celebrity, told his readers to imitate him as he imitated Christ. And that's what these so-called celebrity pastors have the opportunity to do.
So let's pray for them, friends, that God would preserve their life and doctrine, and use their influence for great good. And pray especially for the ones you're worried about.
Oh, and one more thing. There's some FINE PRINT if you're thinking about being a celebrity pastor. Listen to how Paul said he commended his own celebrity status:
as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. (2 Cor. 6:4-8)
Goodness. Not sure I want to sign up for all that. Pray that our evanglical celebrities would have the faith and courage to commend themselves, not like a Hollywood celebrity, but like the apostle Paul, who of course was only following in the footsteps of the true celebrity, Jesus. And let's pray for ourselves, that we would follow their Christ-like examples.
Update: after writing this, I discovered that Thabiti posted his first follow up!