Another Solution to Celebrity Pastors — Modesty

I’m betting (if I were a gambling man) that celebrity pastors are a bigger problem for God’s people than transgender bathrooms. At least, Denny Burk Jared Wilson concedes that famous ministers are a problem, though he writes at the website that would not have a following if not for — wait for it — celebrity pastors. Here’s how celebrity happens:

. . . we participate in the highest elevation of a pastor’s platform as we can manage and then load him up with all the expectation we can muster. The result, naturally, is that he is top-heavy and prone to toppling.

BurkWilson adds that “pastoral smallness and obscurity” have their own problems, but “the most prominent dangerous temptations in pastoral bigness are these idolatries — worship of the celebrity pastor by his fans and himself.”

The possible fix for the celebrity pastor include:

1. Transition your “video venue” satellite campuses to church plants or at the very least install live preaching.

2. No more book deals for gifted preachers who are not gifted writers.

3. Discerning the credibility of our experts.

4. Actual parity among elders.

What about recognizing that celebrity pastor is an oxymoron?

1. Celebrity pastors are not really celebrities. Bruce Springsteen and Scarlett Johansson are celebrities. D. A. Carson and John Piper are not. And if Protestants long for pastors with celebrity appeal, they may show a greater degree of worldliness than they should. What it says about an organization — Gospel Coalition — that thrives on celebrity is something that the celebrity pastors and professors may want to consider the next time their schedules permit them to meet.

2. Pastors are not celebrities. First, they are undershepherds. They serve their lord and master, and are mere stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1) — sort of like butlers. Unlike celebrities who avoid rubbing shoulders with the people and who hire servants to do work beneath them, pastors need to live and move and have their livelihood among smelly sheep (at least they’re not goats).

Second, real pastors serve a local congregation. That means real pastors have much more the fame footprint of a local television news show anchor than they do a Hollywood, NBA, or network star. Who outside eastern Michigan knows the NBC anchor for the 5:00 news show? I don’t. In other words, the genuine audience for a pastor is the local congregation, the one who called him. Fame outside the congregation is an indication that something is wrong.

What if the pastor writes books? Depends on whether the books are good, pretty good, or great. Great books won’t be so until they stand the test of time. Will Tim Keller’s books still be in print in fifty years? That’s one test of greatness. Simply having someone with fame write a book is no indication of merit. The bookshelves are full of promotional materials designed to feed off and enhance celebrity.

3. Celebrities can’t pastor. This may go without saying since celebrity is something that increases fame but decreases access. A pastor has to be available to his people almost 24/7. But imagine a celebrity pastor like Tim Keller paying a family visit. If he does, great. Chances are, with celebrity come handlers, schedules, and limitations to access. A celebrity is remote, a pastor is accessible.

What about recognizing that celebrity is unbecoming sanctification (where are the obedience boys now that we need them?)?

This is where the New Calvinists may want to take a little instruction from the original Calvinist (and notice the connections between 2k and piety that is modest in its affects and aspirations). Here is John Calvin’s commentary on the sons of Zebedee’s exchange with Christ about greatness (celebrity?) in the savior’s kingdom:

Their ignorance was worthy of blame on two accounts; first, because their ambition led them to desire more than was proper; and, secondly, because, instead of the heavenly kingdom of Christ, they had formed the idea of a phantom in the air. As to the first of those reasons, whoever is not satisfied with the free adoption of God, and desires to raise himself, such a person wanders beyond his limits, and, by unseasonably pressing himself forward beyond what was proper for him to do, is ungrateful to God. Now to estimate the spiritual kingdom of Christ according to the feeling of our flesh is highly perverse. And, indeed, the greater the delight which the mind of man takes in idle speculations, the more carefully ought we to guard against them; as we see that the books of the sophists are stuffed with useless notions of this sort.

Can you drink the cup which I shall drink? To correct their ambition, and to withdraw them from this wicked desire, he holds out to them the cross, and all the annoyances which the children of God must endure. As if he had said, “Does your present warfare allow you so much leisure, that you are now making arrangements for a triumphal procession?” For if they had been earnestly employed in the duties of their calling, they would never have given way to this wicked imagination. In these words, therefore, those who are desirous to obtain the prize before the proper time are enjoined by Christ to employ themselves in attending to the duties of piety. And certainly this is an excellent bridle for restraining ambition; for, so long as we are pilgrims in this world, our condition is such as ought to banish vain luxuries. We are surrounded by a thousand dangers. Sometimes the enemy assails us by ambush, and that in a variety of ways; and sometimes he attacks us by open violence. Is he not worse than stupid who, amidst so many deaths, entertains himself at his ease by drawing pictures of a triumph?

Our Lord enjoins his followers, indeed, to feel assured of victory, and to sing a triumphal song in the midst of death; for otherwise they would not have courage to fight valiantly. But it is one thing to advance manfully to the battle, in reliance on the reward which God has promised to them, and to labor with their whole might for this object; and it is another thing to forget the contest, to turn aside from the enemy, to lose sight of dangers, and to rush forward to triumph, for which they ought to wait till the proper time.

The advance of the kingdom of grace does not come from great awakenings or grand gestures or bestsellers or big conferences. It comes through Gideon’s small band, an obscure Palestinian kingdom, a suffering savior, and apostles who died as martyrs. It is time more than ever for New Calvinists to get over George Whitefield.


25 thoughts on “Another Solution to Celebrity Pastors — Modesty

  1. Are celebrity pastors critical of celebrity pastors like the pope pontificating on humility? if humility would seem to entail recusing oneself from the very office of pope, then celebrity pastors critical of celebrity pastors seems like wiping a dirty hand with a filthy rag. I think you missed a spot.


  2. or diversity.

    Also who organized this? “Hey let’s have a basketball photo shoot and tell everyone to go business casual except the black guy. We’re just trying to not be colorblind.”


  3. D.G. Hart says: I’m betting (if I were a gambling man) that celebrity pastors are a bigger problem for God’s people than transgender bathrooms.

    For somone who writes a post ‘don’t take the bait’ you sure like to bait DG… taking the bait…

    1) both are temptations – to His people( which is the important thing) -how is for us to discern and guard against

    2) God is the author of celebrity(who else would be) just not self promotion. Incredibly, He’s all about sharing His glory, just not giving it to another

    But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’At that time my reason returned to me. And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride. Dan 4:34-37


  4. The article cannot be by Brother Burk as it fails to assign the problem of celebrity pastors to the decline of Western Civilization. You have to be cautious here as Brother Burk is quick to claim defamation. I’m not sure the Old Life Legal Defense Fund is ready to take on a celebrity blogger’s lawsuit.
    Check your source, but I’m fairly certain it was written by one Jared Wilson.


  5. If we are honest here, we would be saying that there should be no more celebrity pastors rather than saying there should be no celebrity pastors. For with how we regard people like the Westminster Devines and Calvin, it is obvious that we do believe in celebrity pastors. They are celebrities of our own making.


  6. Curt,

    There’s a difference between esteeming great men and women of the past and what Darryl is talking about.


  7. D.G.,
    So that would separate Jesus from his shepherds. Remember that some of the rules that apply to us don’t apply to God because of the Creator-Creature distinction.


  8. Robert,
    Again Robert, they are celebrities of our own making. And with their celebrity status comes authoritarianism. And with that authoritarianism, we have unnecessary divisions in the Church


  9. Curt,

    It’s a bit much to call Calvin and the Divines celebrities, and that’s the point. Famous, sure. Esteemed, no doubt. Celebrities? Not so much.


  10. Another helpful post that gave much light. Thank you. I especially appreciated the end:

    “The advance of the kingdom of grace does not come from great awakenings or grand gestures or bestsellers or big conferences. It comes through Gideon’s small band, an obscure Palestinian kingdom, a suffering savior, and apostles who died as martyrs.”


  11. Didn’t Luther have something on this as regarded ‘left-handed power’? I like the setup, particularly because it rightly(I got a million of these and shows their unsuitability to this life, they need to just take it) diminishes lefties.


  12. Curt has a point–“Johnny C is my homeboy!” tee shirts, anyone? Plus what Hunter says about The Great Man Theory.

    But, Curt, does it help to remember that Calvin’s grave is unmarked? The man knew the trappings of religious celebrity and the potential for him to become one. Would that his fans understood it, especially his tacky ones.


  13. Presumably though a ‘Director of Content Strategy’ is in charge of raising the profile of the institution they are part of generally, and in that sense they aren’t exactly a disinterested observer when it comes to celebrity pastors …


  14. Zrim,
    I like Johnny Carson too but what does that have to do with the subject.

    As for Calvin’s burial site, one’s gravesite is insufficient data for whether Calvin used his celebrity status. More input is needed.


  15. Robert,
    It isn’t at all difficult to call Calvin and the Divines celebrities figures. After all, it is the audience that determines who is a celebrity and so whether Calvin and the Divines are celebrities depends on the audience one is working with.


  16. Curt, you’re sounding Caller-ish. But I think you’re underestimating the genius and import of an actual unmarked grave. Even non-celebrities don’t do that. Calvin gets 100,000 points but no worship.


  17. Zrim,
    One cannot reduce everything we know about Calvin to how he was burred. How he treated people, especially those with whom he disagreed and those whom he persecuted just as how he helped people says much about how he perceived himself as well as his position and status.. Quite simply, he was a celebrity preacher which implies nothing about the ttrustworthiness of his theology or anything else. Realize that my first note about celebrity preachers focused on the audience, not the performer.


  18. I’m sure the TFU folks will be delighted to learn they were influenced by presbys and baptists. What a crackpot…


  19. The gift of disillusionment:

    In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer warns of the damage caused by unrealistic expectations of life in the church. “Certainly, serious Christians who are put in a community for the first time will often bring with them a very definite image of what Christian communal life should be, and they will be anxious to realize it,” Bonhoeffer explains. “But God’s grace quickly frustrates all such dreams. A great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and if we are fortunate, with ourselves is bound to overwhelm us, as surely as God desires to lead us to an understanding of Christian community.”

    This gift of disillusionment is not an easy one to accept. We tend to be idealists when it comes to the church. We would rather hold on to our dreams. But instead of an ideal community, what we get is the church as it really is. Not our delicate airbrushed fantasy of those who always act in love and speak kindly to one another, but a loutish, clumsy-tongued, rabble with dirty feet. God allows this, not to make us cynical, but for our own good. Disillusionment with the church and even with ourselves is a gift. Bonhoeffer cautions, “Only that community which enters into the experience of this great disillusionment with all its unpleasant and evil appearances begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.”


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