Kevin DeYoung has just posted a manifestly helpful piece on the hot-potato topic of “celebrity pastors.” I commend it to you; it’s full of wisdom and good theological thinking.
Here’s a snatch:
Give glory to God for his gifts wherever you find them.This entails three things:
1) We must always remember—and not just give lip service to the fact—that God is the one who apportions gifts to teachers, pastors, and authors. The churches get edified. God gets the glory.
2) Some Christians are more gifted than others. That’s not just reality; that’s the way God designed things. It will be better to learn about John Calvin from some teachers than from others (one of the reasons speakers are advertised at conferences). Often those with the more pronounced gifts are those with more pronounced influence. And those with more influence are usually better known than those with little influence. So as long as God apportions gifts as he sees fit, we will not escape the fact that some men have more notoriety and are used more powerfully than others. If you had to teach a class on the Reformation you’d certainly spend the bulk of your time on the likes of Luther, Calvin, Know, and Zwingli. The human mind can only comprehend so much, so we tend to focus on the men who (to our imperfect eyes) seemed to be used uniquely by God in his plan.
Read the whole thing. There are seven theses.
We must hear the cautions about evangelical “celebrities.” Certainly we all are sinners, and a part of that sin can be seeking fame and power. If many of us are honest, there is surely a part of our hearts that craves renown. As with any other sin that tempts us, we need to remain vigilant about this tendency. We should invite accountability from local church members on this point, encourage feedback from our spouses in this area, and pray against our natural propensity for self-glorification. It would be ironic for Christians enthralled by a supreme Lord–and championing that God in front of hundreds or thousands of people–to focus attention on puny, insignificant vessels like us.
We must also remember, though, that as Kevin says, God raises up leaders. Those leaders will naturally draw followers; it’s supposed to work that way. Christians are call to “outdo one another in showing honor” according to the apostle Paul, a man of great prominence in the apostolic age (Romans 12:10). We certainly can pay slavish homage to evangelical leaders; that’s not good. But we shouldn’t forget that it is deeply biblical to go to great lengths to encourage and honor fellow believers. This will surely include our pastors, movement teachers and leaders, and writers.
We should remember that when we’re feeling grateful for John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, or John Piper, we’re not really, at the end of the day, grateful for them. We’re thankful to the God who drove their every effort. That’s what we’re truly excited about–a great God who uses fallen people to advance the gospel of his kingdom. We can very much voice appreciation for our leaders, but we do so knowing and even expressing that it is God who raises men up and takes them down. This is just what Daniel 2:21 says:
“He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings”
In other words, God controls who leads and who does not.
It is no bad thing, furthermore, to Christians to get together for mutual exhortation and great teaching. The local church, the keeper of the ordinances, has the primacy. It is the only institution Christ founded. But this does not mean that Christians cannot get together to hear from particularly skilled preachers and teachers. We can. We should. It’s a great thing for evangelicals to share fellowship with believers from other confessional traditions. All this will necessarily mean that some leaders receive a good deal of attention. But that does not need to be a bad thing; indeed, it was true of many biblical figures, it has been true of Christians throughout history, and it will continue to take place.
God uses leaders. God raises them up. God calls them to speak for him. People will naturally thrill to potent proclamation. Praise God for that. We must watch our hearts. But we should not shy away from leadership.
We should, however, shy away from green shirts like Kevin is wearing in his photo.
(Image: University Reformed Church)