In recent years there have been many public discussions and articles about the growing trend of a “celebrity” pastor. Along with the public dialog on the topic there have been a regrettable number of case studies to show us the spiritual danger inherent in such a pursuit. Careful analysts of the topic will remind us that being famous is not a sin and certainly there are many godly famous pastors. It is not the acquisition of popularity that is the problem but rather the prideful aspiration of it.
My concern is that while many pastors may be bothered by the conversation and the narrative on this topic they are not adequately affected by it. Here are some scribbles from the back of a napkin for my own heart and some of my friends in ministry. Brothers, we need to be affected by the danger and deception of our own hearts (Jer. 17.9) if we are going to ensure a long, faithful ministry in Christ’s church.
Feel the Pull of the Current
When you stand in the water at the beach you feel the persistent pull of the current. Regardless of how long you stand in that water the current will, with varying intensity, pull you. To deny or minimize it will result in potential bodily harm. Such is the case with pride. It is dangerous and persistent. You can ignore it all you want but that won’t do you any good. In fact, like an immature child or uninformed adult at the beach, ignoring pride is a fool’s errand. So before you categorically dismiss pride in the ministry, please remember that you are standing in the water. And, as sure as there is a current in the sea there is pride in you. You want approval and honor just like anyone else. Admit it and get to work on it.
Watch the Head-Fakes
This is where things get tricky. And truly, we should expect nothing less when we are talking about a deceptive heart. Have you ever seen a basketball player do a head-fake and then the opponent explode up like he had a rocket-launcher on his back? It is a thing of beauty. A good head-fake will get the opponent off the ground and clear your path to the hoop. But the offensive player has to sell it; head-fakes have to look real. There are two head-fakes that I think guys too often bite on.
– The ostensibly noble aim of your ministry. Most people get into pastoral ministry for the right reasons. We are governed by a desire to see God glorified and people come to know an follow Jesus. However, over time this priority can become more of a tag-line rather than a governing priority. In other words, some may say that they are about God’s glory and people’s souls, however, they are actually about themselves. Over time, little by little, they have shifted toward a ministry about themselves rather than God. How does this happen? It is by biting on the head-fake that everything that we do is actually for God and could not possibly be for us. It is thinking that every shot is actually going to be a shot. Weakened by pride we can’t keep our feet on the ground. We assume that because it is for ministry than it isn’t pride.
– The feeling that you deserve something. Ministry is hard. We know this and we feel this. So when some good things come we can assume that it is a raven feeding faithful Elijah. But watch out. Ministry is hard but it is not actually about us. The more time thinking about how things impact us means the less time thinking about God’s glory and other’s good. A sure way to be tempted for pride is to think that you faithful labor entitles you to some type of promotion in the eyes of others.
Hear the Siren
This is the time of year here in Omaha when the tornado sirens go off. Sometimes they are a reminder and other times they are a warning. Not being from this area they serve the same purpose whether a warning or an exercise: they get my attention. The Bible gives warnings about sin. And we should hasten to add that included in sin is the prideful pursuit of fame by a minister. God portrays sin as a crouching animal behind the door (Gen. 4:7). Sin is not to be trifled with. Like a vicious animal predator it is not to be taken lightly. We can’t domesticate, coddle, practice, or love sin. We must mortify it. Do you see how deceptive this is? “This will be good for me and the kingdom.” No. It will be bad for you and the church. If a pastor thinks it is harmless to pursue his own fame he should hear the warning siren. That cat that you are petting is not a kitten brother, it is a raging lion! And it will devour you. Hear the siren and slay sin by savoring Christ.
Double-down on what you know
I don’t think that anything I have written here will be new for anyone, I don’t intend it to be. I do hope it is a reminder though of what you know.
Think about this: much of what guys will do in their pursuit of being a celebrity pastor will guarantee that they will not have a long-term impact in ministry. We know this…right? The things that sustain a ministry long-term are the things that nobody sees. It is the time in the Word, in prayer, in meditation, in old books, wrestling through difficult things, in meetings with those who are hurting, in community with those who can hold you accountable. These are things that the rest of the world can’t see.
I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a number of guys that most readers of this blog would look up to. When I get to talk with them I often like to ask them about their devotional life. Mark this: I have never had a meeting with a guy in his 60’s or 70’s who is still making an impact that does not talk about the importance of his prayer life and Bible reading. I don’t understand how anyone can miss this. C’mon, we all listen to and read John Piper, the guy is a walking Bible who seems to talk about prayer and Bible reading all the time. You want to be like John Piper? It would seem that being like Piper is more about getting some ink stains on your forehead from reading your Bible rather than a hundred “re-tweets” on your pithy observations.
The Bottom Line
So here is the bottom-line: for the Christian and the Christian pastor, the way down is the way up. Like our Master himself, any exaltation from God will come through humility and service (Phil 2.3-12). Remember John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”” (John 3:30) This is not he must increase and I must increase but rather he must increase and I must decrease. We can’t have it both ways because God won’t have it both ways. He is too jealous for his glory to allow us to steal it for ourselves.
[image via Shutterstock]