The Cult of Celebrity Pastors vs. the Call to Faithfulness

We have all seen celebrity pastors. If we are honest, most of us have even envied them. The pastor who gets to preach sermons and that’s it; a cush job we say. Oh, to be able to have the time to sit and write one book and have it published and yet these celebrities crank out hit after hit. Conferences are held with them as headliners while we are fortunate if we have more than a few people say, “Good sermon, pastor!”

Perhaps, like me, you went to a Bible college where you were told that faithfulness is God’s expectation of you. “May all who come behind us find us faithful,” we sung along with Steve Green. Yet, actions speak louder than words and those who speak in chapel, at commencement, or just an article in the college magazine are all award winners, considered the best of the missionaries or among the greatest of pastors by the sheer numbers game. And we are left wondering, did I miss something? Is it faithfulness or is results to which we are called? Like me, perhaps you know of a pastor who has served decades in one church through its ups and downs and yet your alma mater shows no interest in him while giving lip service, it would seem, to the call to be faithful, for that’s all that God expects.

I know it sounds like I’m complaining and maybe I am. Perhaps you are ready to move on to another blog . . . but could you bear with me for a minute? Why do we judge each other so harshly? No, seriously. Why do events that get all of our attention have celebrity pastors or Christian leaders? Can’t we learn from one another? Or is it results not faithfulness that God has called us unto?

Believe me, I don’t knock results. I love them, actually. To see people respond in a big way is great. However, that is not the experience of most of us. Crowds aren’t crashing the gates to come hear me preach. And that’s okay.

Let me share my experiences with celebrity pastors vs. the call to faithfulness. I have been to big events and they are quite the show and the speakers, well, they inspire and sure can preach and teach. However, if you ask my preference, I prefer the more humble settings. I’ll give you two examples.

One example is what is called the ministerium. This is where pastors get together to pray for and encourage one another, usually over food. I have two that I had spent quite a bit of time in. One was larger than the other. To be honest, the large one, and I was a catalyst for it to begin and continue, was bad for me. A smaller one consisting of just four local men getting together was far better. The larger one had a bigger venue and support. The smaller, we just rotated among our churches. Often, I left the bigger one more discouraged than when I entered. However, the group of four pastors were men who genuinely cared for one another, showed no desire to put on appearances and really ministered to one another.

I have been to big stadium events with celebrity Christians. Don’t get me wrong, I learn there and I am fed the Word in such gatherings. However, I would much rather go to the pastors’ events at Cairn University, at Baptist Bible Seminary (now Summit University) or at The Friends of Israel than any huge event. At big events, I’m just a number, one of many who come and go anonymously. Yet at these smaller gatherings, I feel like I matter and I am ministered to much better than the big ones.

If you feel like me, I would encourage you to do something. Stop perpetuating the celebrity culture. Listen to the celebs on the radio or online but go to smaller events. The parking is easier, the travel less involved and the speaker may even have a moment to talk to you and everyone else in the room who may wish to talk, for that matter.

Read the celebrity pastors’ books, the ones that are good that is. Yet resist the urge to have them signed. We are to set no idols before us and book signings just seem too close to that for me. If you disagree, that is fine, God hasn’t spoken definitively on us seeking signatures of men and women of the faith that we admire.

Just a little anecdote here that fits. In the bigger ministerium, we were going to have a much loved former professor, author, conference speaker and humble man of God come speak on a given date. A couple of large church ministers who seem to have no time for the ministerium otherwise signed up their staff to come. However, when illness prevented him from coming, we still met but those men didn’t show. To me, that is a sad commentary on our priorities.

So, tell me, is it faithfulness or results that God expects? Perhaps Scripture may help.

Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. 1 Cor. 4:2 (NKJV)

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. 1 Cor. 3:5-7 (NKJV)

Note that faithfulness is required and we work (and the context suggests cooperative work), yet God is in charge of the results.

However, we are not to hide behind a veil of faithfulness but seek to be fruitful, as God permits us to be.

Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.  
1 Cor. 3:8-15 (NKJV)

In conclusion, I would like to say that there is nothing wrong with having big name pastors and Christian leaders that we admire. In fact, we are to seek to grow in Christ by learning from the Word, not only in personal Bible study but also by hearing the Word preached. If a famous pastor ministers to you in this way, don’t stop, continue to listen and grow thereby. And if he writes things that are helpful to your personal life and/or ministry, then by all means continue reading his books.

My concern is that we raise on a pedestal certain ones and look down on each other as not worthy of our time and attention. If you have the choice to go to a small event, go and be blessed AND be a blessing. After all, it’s not all about us, is it? Besides, the parking is a lot easier and usually free.

In the interest of full disclosure, this blog post was partly inspired by Aaron Armstrong’s Why Aren’t Unknown Pastors Headlining Christian Conferences?

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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