Prioritizing Celebrity Pastors Over Faithfulness in the Local Church

Prioritizing Celebrity Pastors Over Faithfulness in the Local Church The Garrett Ashley Mullet Show

A video was sent me by my neighbor two houses down this week from the YouTube channel for ‘Together for the Gospel.’ Published in 2016 of a panel discussion at one of their conferences, the video is titled ‘Celebrity Pastor: Indecent Exposure?’ and stars C.J. Mahaney, Carl Trueman, David Platt, Ligon Duncan, Matt Chandler, and Thabiti Anyabwile. The topic at the center of their dialogue was celebrity pastors in the contemporary American Church. 

The question was asked: Do we assign too much authority and power to pastors who shepherd large churches, or who otherwise possess a great deal of notoriety on the national stage?

To this I would answer in the affirmative. We do indeed give too much power and authority to these men. And we should stop that. Easy enough, case closed.

Yet for those who adore celebrity pastors, and who are unaccustomed to any warning about how we regard them, I suppose the reasons why some like myself and Carl Trueman would say this need to be laid out clearly. So also, we should take a look at what the supposed consequences of failing to recognize this have been, are, and will be.

And so, for one, as Trueman speaks to, we have the trouble of pastoral burnout. Many pastors lose heart because they are measuring their success against the likes of Mahoney, Platt, or Chandler. This leads to discouragement and despair due to unreasonable expectations, particularly if they only ever preside over a flock of 50-100 congregants. Do we shrug with indifference at this? We ought not to.

But ask many young ministers in training who has been the greatest influence in the sanctification and discipleship process in their own life, Trueman says, and the names of celebrity pastors are almost always their answer. Rarely will they say the names of the local pastors whose preaching and teaching they sat under before they began training for full-time vocational ministry. And this is telling, since it reveals something of an overawing and exaggerated importance assigned to celebrity pastors which is likely related to a general cultural preoccupation with celebrity outside the church.

In addition to the points Trueman makes, however, I want to add still more. For instance, what assumptions do we make about the faithfulness of a celebrity minister based on faulty metrics. Most notably, we can’t but recognize their ability to attract and retain crowds of followers, listeners, viewers, attendees, and members. But how much do we unreasonably infer about their track-record in their own home and local church body from the fact that they are up on that stage or screen?

Related to this, what dynamics come into play in their local churches and homes which, if our priorities are out of order with regards to celebrity pastors, potentially delay needed accountability in the case of sin and folly in the more private lives of those same celebrity pastors? How does an over-exaggerated sense of their importance in their own congregations affect whether or not they are challenged or corrected, or the manner in which they will be?

If any pastor is rushing off to serve their local church instead of loving and leading their wives and children well, we rightly say that is unhealthy. But so also, if celebrity pastors are preoccupied with the Christian conference speaking circuit, or a book promotion tour, and thereby neglect their local body, except to lend it a kind of star power by their association with it, does this not lead to a chilling effect where only the local church family is in a position to recognize and confront an indiscretion or discrepancy?

By this, I do not mean only that celebrity pastors must reckon with opportunity cost. That is, they cannot be everywhere all at once, attending sufficiently to all matters under their purview equally well at the same time. But what I mean more is to ask whether at a national level we presume overmuch that celebrity pastors are in good standing in their own churches and homes when at the same time a general disordering of priorities will cause the same to be reluctant to potentially jeopardize a national influence for the sake of concerns which will be called relatively trivial or unimportant.

If the conviction which I share with Trueman is correct, we may have our assessment of faithfulness exactly backwards in many cases. We assume that the one who is faithful with much is proven so by the size of the crowd which follows him. He must have been faithful with the little of his local church and his household. Yet what does God say? We must first look at his management of the home, then the local church. And only after this should we give his remarks and guidance a greater weight of influence in our considerations from a distance.

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