I was very interested to read, and very helped by, John Piper’s article on Hero Worship v. Holy Emulation. It got me thinking about a number of related, if not coherently organized, thoughts about the possibilities and pitfalls of evangelical celebrity culture.

1. We ought to give thanks for the men and women in our lives who have taught us the Scriptures and helped us see more of God. I’ve often thought when at a big-time conference, “I am incredibly blessed to sit under this teaching.” Not only are these men gifted communicators and intellectually and theologically sharp, they are also, by God’s grace, mature, godly men. We are privileged to have men like John Piper, R.C. Sproul, D.A. Carson, Jerry Bridges, J.I. Packer, John MacArthur (I could go on with the names of other men, and women too) who have been examples to the church in word and deed for more than a generation.

2. I doubt church celebrities are new. The internet has sped up communication and flattened our world in tremendous ways, but are we really to think Chrysostom wasn’t a big deal in his day or Whitefield wasn’t in his? And do we really think this just happens in North American evangelicalism? I’m sure there are lots of “big men” in Africa with big followings too. There will always be famous people in the church (even if they are only famous in our circles) and we’ll never escape the dangers of hero worship and self-exaltation.

3. God works through great men and women. There’s no way of knowing whom God uses more–the famous author or the homebound prayer warrior. So I’m not making a case that the well known people are the most important. But if we look at church history God has always done great things through great leaders, great minds, and great preachers–Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards, and on and on. Moreover, it’s not wrong that we would feel a deep personal affection for those who have taught us so much about the gospel. For example, I know dozens and dozens of men and women who would drive through the night just to shake Piper’s hand and say thank you. Does this mean they are celebrity stalkers or that they are “of Piper”? Well, perhaps in some cases. But most of the folks I know simply want to convey their deep gratitude for the work God has done in their lives through one of his servants.

4. We should pray for “evangelical superstars.” The higher they rise, the harder they fall. So let’s ask God to give them wisdom in discerning priorities, grace to overcome their sins, courage in the face of opposition, and humility in the face of affirmation. Let’s pray that the older generation of leaders finishes well, without rancor or bitterness, without compromise, without distraction from what matters most.

5. Learning from a great teacher does not eliminate the need to think for ourselves. We need to make sure we are really convinced of the things we espouse, that we don’t simply believe what the men and women we respect believe. Don’t make the “celebrities” into a new magisterium. Respect their wisdom and experience, but always go back to the Scriptures. And don’t expect them to settle all your issues, because they haven’t faced all your issues. And besides, the men we look up to don’t always agree with each other on how to tackle certain issues.

6. Remember that famous people are still people. We all have clay feet. If our “superstars” have an ounce of humility, they will be the first to say, “I’m not everything you may imagine me to be.” I remember doing the panel discussion at Next with Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, Sinclair Ferguson, Justin Taylor, and Joshua Harris. The whole time I was up there I was thinking, “Don’t be overimpressed with us. At least not with me! A year ago I wouldn’t have imagined being up here. And now that I am, I can tell you I’m not a whole holier than I was a year ago! A year ago none of you would have thought to talk to me, now a bunch of you will wait in line to talk to me. I wasn’t really a loser a year ago, and I’m not all that special right now!” No matter how holy or fruitful our heroes may be, they will always be more like us than they are like God.

7. While it’s true that God blesses godly, gifted, humble servants of Christ with fruitfulness in ministry, always keep in mind that becoming a ministry “success” is a weird deal. I have thought about this often in the past year or so. Just because I wrote a book doesn’t mean I’m a better writer or thinker than all the people who haven’t. A couple people at Moody really liked Why We’re Not Emergent, while a whole bunch of other publishers didn’t. If those two people at Moody (thanks Dave and Tracey) weren’t sold on the book, most of you wouldn’t be reading this blog right now. There are a lot of bad books that get published, and good books that don’t. Some bestsellers are terrible and some tremendous books never make a blip. I guess what I’m saying is that even if we could measure success (and we know we can’t), there would still be no way to figure out why some get it and some don’t. Am I worse pastor than every pastor with more than 400 people on a Sunday and better than every pastor who has fewer than 400? God works in mysterious ways, the causes of “success” are impossible to determine, and influence is hard to quantify.

8. Don’t let others’ passion be a substitute for your own. Sometimes we preach or teach more than we really feel. We admire the intensity of others and make it our own. But it never really is our own. Or if it is, we haven’t figured out how to make it true to our personality.

9. Even with the proliferation of blogs, twitter, and iPods, the people in your life still need real live people in their lives. The most important pastor is the one in your local church. The most important teacher is the one raising your kids. The most important mentor is the one who meets with you for coffee every week.

10. This is my final thought, and maybe sums up all the others: don’t like someone just because others do, and don’t dislike someone just because others like him. Both are dangers in a celebrity culture. Some people wait on the corner just looking for bandwagons they can hop on. Others–the too cool for school crowd–have a dire fear of being a part of something popular. These folks decide to dislike an author or pastor or speaker or band or movie just because all their friends rave about them. I understand the reaction, but you don’t have to be a groupie to be edified. Don’t like Calvinism or Piper or Driscoll or whatever because it’s cool. And don’t be the cynical I-hate-labels, why-are-Christians-such-lemmings person either. Give thanks for godliness where you see it, the gospel where you hear it, and good examples when you can find them.