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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Why I'm Grateful for the Idea of "Celebrity Pastors"

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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!

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Chuck, I agree with you entirely. The super-apostles is a great analogy for why we should be very leery. I guess my point is, notice who the fakes were imitating: a "pastor" (if I can call Paul that), because it's the pastor who evangelicals should honor.

But your point about gaining celebrity according to standards foreign to the Bible is exactly right. Well put.

It's not the celebrity pastor that bothers me, it's the cultivation of the celebrity status that is the problem. Like, say, a website in your name, dedicated to you and your own ministry.

You cannot cultivate humility and self-commendation at the same time. The one example we have of Paul bragging about his accomplishments and celebrating himself in some way, he calls himself a "fool."

Great post! I'm grateful that these "celebrity pastors" are pastors as well.

But I'm just wondering...do you think these men are celebrities because of their role as pastors? Or do you think it's their preaching that brings about all of the attention/fame. I understand that preaching is part of pastoring the flock, but would it be more descriptive to talk about "celebrity preachers" instead of "celebrity pastors"? I wonder if the source of the fame is the communication skills and giftings of these men instead of their overall shepherding of their local congregation. What do you think?

Josh, I think you're sort of onto something. Most of these men are known for their preaching, not their pastoring (to distinguish the two for a second). Still, they wouldn't be well known for their preaching if their personal lives were in shambles (hopefully). Thanks!

My thought was very similar when I first read this: people aren't necessarily celebrating celebrity pastors but celebrity preachers (or maybe just speakers). IOW, it's not really they way they shepherd their flock that people celebrate, but they way they communicate to large groups, which is only a small segment of being a pastor. Further, these men are typically not the best example of pastoring since most pastors will not have such large congregations. Piper basically said that very thing not too long ago: "I'm not a good model for an urban pastor." So as great as it would be if people were celebrating pastors, I don't think they really are. Thus, the problem of "celebrity pastors"

Ben, my point is still, it's the pastors that people are holding up, not full-time circuit speakers. And we do this, I dare say, because we've imbibed (by God's grace) a biblical worldview that consciously or unconsciously recognizes that a pastor, by definition, is a man whose life and doctrine are trustworthy, and the therefore he should be listened to. So when I'm listening to Pastor X at Conference Y, I'm doing so knowing that he is a man who a Christian congregation has recognized as faithful. I don't make that same assumption when listening to an academic or a writer. When I listen to an academic, I assume the person is there because he or she is smart. I don't assume his/her life backs it up. But when you listen to the pastor, the assumption is automatic (that is, unless you have been given specific reasons for thinking otherwise). And the only point I'm trying to make in the article is that, it makes sense for these reasons that we would hold pastors up as examples. Now, does this make the whole enterprise an opportunity for abuse? Absolutely. That's why the apostles got so upset about false teachers, and why there's an appropriate hubub over "celebrity pastors." I hope that's helpful or clarifying.

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Nice post. It does appear to be a bigger issue in the US than it does in the UK currently. Historically, evangelicals have always tended to 'celebrate' great men of faith. Martyn Lloyd Jones is an example here along with Spurgeon. I think my concern is some of what I saw at the TGC in Chicago this year which made me more than a little uneasy. Pastors with minders (although I understand the need behind some of that), people queuing up for autographs and photo shots. Also, it does concern me that some are 'famous' more for their ability to shock than for their ability to gently shepherd the sheep.

On the other hand, some men are a great example and use their 'fame' for the benefit of the kingdom at large and to encourage young men and women in the faith. My big concern, especially in church planting circles, is that more and more young men want to build a name for themselves or be like a certain pastor rather than for truly biblical and Christ centred motivation.

I think the answer is to pray harder for these men that they would stay grounded and be surrounded by honest people not afraid to challenge, rebuke and encourage them as they face the temptations that being popular brings. I imagine it is as much a curse as a gift.

Well said.

Jonathan,

First time responding. Been reading for a while. Much like you I was a bit taken back by the post a couple of weeks ago about hating the celebrity Pastor. After examining why I felt offended and uneasy (no I am not a celebrity) I realized it boiled down to 2 things.

1) I Grew up in church, majored in religion in college, went to seminary, etc. But looking back on my life, alot of my spiritual growth was large in part by the listening to the podcasts of guys like Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, and Andy Stanly. Men who some think are celebrity pastors. I am willing to bet that I am not the only one whose faith was strengthend by the teachings of these men.

If we really think back, I am sure that the 12 disciples had some celebrity status. I mean heck, these men were the closest friends and get to walk along side the Savior of the Universe, the King of Kings. People are going to notice you! They noticed Peter, enough for him to be recognized 3 times in a short time period.

2) I am on staff at a well known church with 2 well known Authors and Pastors. Men who have done incredible things for the kingdom. I am honored to serve under thier leadership and vision. Yes we have multiple campuses throughout our city, and the sermons are video streamed, but lives are being changed and neighbors are being reached for the Glory of God! I find it disheartning for people to talk so strongly about Pastors who are guiding the lost to the Throne of the Living God, when they probably have never met them.

Finally, I am not ignorant to know that There are Pastors who want nothing but Glory for themselves and I know that, I have meet a couple. But clumping all well known/popular/multisite/"celebrity" Pastors into one big fish bowl is not edifing the body. And its quite sad really!

Lets praise God for the ones who are doing it right and fervantly pray for those who are confused or misguided about the platform that lays before them!

Blessings,

Fritts

This is all very helpful. Like Mr. Colson, I was thinking of 1 Cor and Paul's plea that he and Apollos be viewed as servants of God. It does seem there was an unhealthy celebrity status being placed upon them. Certainly part of the problem lies in the heart of those who tend to idolize such prominent speakers, but there is a temptation in the public speaker to nurture that adoration and revel in it, as well. We're all prideful, aren't we?

One thing that's been helpful to me in the past is hearing Mark Dever say that he will purposefully avoid humor in the pulpit because of this very issue. It can distract the listener from God's word and create an almost magnetic attraction to himself.

May we all meditate on the adoration that Christ alone will receive for all eternity. He alone is worthy.

Men like Furtick, Noble and Jakes hardly can be described in the light of biblical eldership.

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, (Phil 1:18). And let us also consider how we may spur on just 'one heart at a time' (Heb 10: 24) .. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSgu_4ugBA4&feature=relmfu

Jonathon,

First time reader here. I think this is the most well-thought post I have seen on the subject. Celebrity pastors are not all bad, and to react harshly toward the idea of them may be just that--a reaction. But when the concept of "famous" pastors is really taken into consideration, it really isn't all that bad of an idea. I think, like the role of pastor in general, with much power or influence comes much responsibility. I don't think it wise to throw the baby out with the bathwater and say all famous pastors are bad (some can't help being famous, I presume).

Rather than condemn such fame, I think we ought to, like you said, pray for them. These men have been given a great responsibility and we ought to pray and encourage them as much as a we can. I can imagine that it is probably incredibly difficult for some pastors to deal with such notoriety, and as our brothers/sisters in Christ, let's pray for them, encourage them in the gospel, and not talk bad about their fame as it may not (and probably should not) have been attained intentionally.

Like Chuck said, I think Apollos is a good example of this.

Well said, sir. Thanks for the insight.

-Chris

Jonathan,

I heartily agree with your encouragement to pray for those pastors about whom you may have concerns. Certainly we should not have bad will toward them.

But I don't think your form of optimism really works in this case. It seems that you are using the similarity between 'celebrity' and it's cognate 'celebrate' to paper over the fact that the problem is idolatry. Said plainly, No, I don't think we should be thankful that Evangelicals tend to worship pastors rather than athletes,etc. There is no harmless idol--not even a pastor.

Kevin Regal

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I think your comment here says a lot:

"Yes, people beyond his congregation will have a harder time seeing his life than his own church can."

That is the greatest danger, as well as the tendency for fellow "celebrity" pastors to stand up for their celebrity friend when his church is reeling from his failures. Once a level of fame has been achieved, there are very few disqualifying sins he can commit, whereas the biblical standard is much higher. Sex? Out. Embezzlement? Out. Authoritarianism, spiritual abuse? Pass. Bad boy? Pass.

There is a world of difference between noting those "worthy of double honour" and elevating our pastors to celebrity status (within the goldfish bowl of Christian leadership - their probably always going to be unknown by the man in the street).

I'm afraid I'm with Thabiti on this, we need to remember the words of Jesus in Luke 17.10, we are only ever obedient servants, nothing more, and if we weren't so eager to take the glory for ourselves God would give us a lot more fruit.

Martyn,
Thanks for posting. I'm with Thabiti too. I'm only talking about a silver lining, but I agree the cloud is dark.

Thank you very much for the article

I realize that I am late into this discussion and this comment will likely not be read by anybody besides you Jonathan, but I just felt compelled to say my two cents.

My question is "Who considers these pastors celebrities?" If it were, as you imply, that the average church member followed the teachings of a certain pastor rather than the music career of, say, Lady Gaga, then I would, perhaps, share your enthusiasm. But that is simply not the case. I have discovered on more than one occasion that the average lay person, whether in my congregation or another, do not know who Mark Dever is, or who Thabiti is, nor do they know who Perry Noble or Ed Young are. And they simply don't care. Those in my congregation are well studied and smart when it comes to doctrine (they have replied "Oh, Mark Dever is the guy who wrote the book on church polity on our book table..."), but, to them, the idea of the "celebrity pastor" seems ridiculous.

So, if my experience is fairly representative of the average church, then who is it that sees these pastors as celebrities?

The answer is not difficult to figure out: other pastors.

And that is why I am disheartened by this whole phenomenon.

I know all too well the temptations and struggles with envy and jealousy that can arise in a pastor's heart and the fact that this has become the conversation of late is proof that others struggle with it too.

I feel confident that the criticisms of this new celebrity culture are not simply complaints for complaining sake, but are truly cries of help.

Pastors who simply long for good resources are finding that the headshots, the slick videos, etc. are luring them into a sin which they want no part of and are finding it difficult to resist.

I know the problem is a problem of the heart and the ultimate solution must be within the heart of the pastor who is struggling. But do the ministries not bear some of the responsibility too now that it is becoming more known that they are, indeed, the cause of many brothers' stumbling?

I am weary of the subject. Weary of the inward battle that I find myself engaged in. And, as a result, I am finding myself avoiding the websites and the conferences altogether (except the Banner of Truth Pastor's Conference which is the least celebrity/culture driven gathering that I have been too- so refreshing!)

In then end, I may be missing out on some helpful material but, honestly, the less I know about what is going on with James MacDonald, the healthier I feel.

I realize this is a month or so late but I specifically just googled this topic, funny enough.

I was raised Baptist most of my life. To be more specific, we were a Spanish church. Very old-school doctrine. We didn't ever hear about famous pastors. We knew there were some that most believers consider "celebrities" but we never cared much about them enough to even mention their names. I realize now that maybe that's not such a good thing. If you don't hear about these pastors and what God has done through them (I dislike when people credit the pastor and NOT God...) it's hard to have faith for those things to be possible at all thus making your view of God very simple and small. As Baptists though, we liked simple and were afraid that there was more to God than our comfort zones and protective bubbles could handle.

On the other hand...

I have been attending a non-denom church for 2 years now and I've learned a great deal more. But I still don't care much about the celebrities. For me it's the annoyance of hearing everyone praise these people instead of God that keeps me from getting too deep into their stories. I don't want to end up treating a Benny Hinn (idk if he's alive or if that's how you spell his name, sorry) meeting like the greatest thing I can receive from God when it shouldn't HAVE to take such events and such highly-esteemed people to get me to find new revelations.

To be honest, the new thing in Christianity I've seen are these "Revelations" that supposedly blow everyone's minds. After hearing many "revelations", I've just found that they are truths of God that I already knew, but were tied into a coincidence or story in the bible I've never read. That to me really doesn't excite me any more than I already am about God's truths.

Just my 2 cents though.

I realize now that maybe that's not such a good thing. If you don't hear about these pastors and what God has done through them (I dislike when people credit the pastor and NOT God...) it's hard to have faith for those things to be possible at all thus making your view of God very simple and small.

it's hard to have faith for those things to be possible at all thus making your view of God very simple and small. As Baptists though, we liked simple and were afraid that there was more to God than our comfort zones and protective bubbles could handle.

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