Al Barth of Redeemer City to City has shared some thoughts on avoiding the problem of the celebrity pastor. It happens often when one man does the preaching in a church nearly exclusively. It is even something godly, humble men are prone to and evidently something Tim Keller is working to address at Redeemer. Barth sees three key concerns.
“1. Celebrity pastors/preachers de facto become unaccountable even if they voluntarily submit themselves to a group of brothers. In the worst cases they become uncontrollable. As long as the man is humble, and remains humble, it can work. But the temptations to lose humility are almost irresistible.
“2. A steady diet of one man’s preaching, one man’s perspectives on and means of approaching and applying the text, even if it is excellent, is unhealthy. Eating steak at every meal may sound good at first. But after just a few days of beef at every turn, you start to feel sick (that’s right vegans!).
“3. Reliance upon one preacher, even in the best cases, inevitably tends to promote the man rather than the message. Oddly, the Word itself can become less the focus than the one doing the exposition of the Word or the particular way the Word is exposited.”
Think about that for a minute. Is it happening where you are? I am at a healthy large church where we encounter some of these issues. The one I most notice as a new member of the church is number 2. When those we are in community with start to talk more about what our pastor said than what Jesus teaches I get worried. There is not intention behind the reality but it is something we deal with.
The concern only hinted at here is what happens when the celebrity dies or leaves the church? If you bring in a different personality hoping to continue the one-man-show, you will probably learn pretty quick that for many it was about the man not the mission. This then might lead you to pursue a “replacement” with the same characteristics revealing a reliance on style over preaching that opens the Word to your church. And often this pursuit will send you outside of your church body to bring in someone who is a good “fit” for your church rather than raising up men from within to preach the Word.
I preach most weeks to a small gathering of young adults and occasionally in other settings. I know how prideful I can be so I have purposed to share my teaching time with others (at least on a monthly basis.) I also do this because it is good to hear from others. This summer I am giving the teaching role completely to four men that I am attempting to intentionally disciple for leadership. It will be an opportunity for me to hear the Word preached by others and allow me to pour into and train these men. And it will ensure that any growth we have will not be about me but about our savior.
This is in no way lessening my influence or leadership but it is the discipleship that we are called to.
Barth closes out his piece with these thoughts. “In no way do I want to limit the ministry of the best and brightest men we have available for gospel ministry today. Please don’t hear me saying that. But I do think that in most “normal” churches and church plants, it is wise to have more than one regular preacher and deliberately to raise up cadres of preachers and teachers that can rightly handle the Word in all situations where it should be proclaimed.” Good word. Read the rest here.
Should the church be more careful about avoiding the celebrity model? Is there a generational shift coming that will change how we look at preaching in our churches? I think the answer is yes to both.