T4G Panel: Celebrity Pastors
Thabiti Anyabwile, Carl Trueman, C.J. Mahaney, David Platt, Matt Chandler, moderated by Ligon Duncan
Carl: We tend to invest special insight and knowledge because someone is a celebrity.
When I ask students who are the most influential pastors in their life, it’s concerning that they rarely mention their local pastors.
When I ask who they want to be like, they mention people who are in situations where they will never be. Praise God there are big churches, and that God has gifted men in this way. But it’s a problem when it becomes an aspirational model for most students. I wonder if this has an impact on the high burnout rate.
It’s not necessarily a problem of the pastors himself—but of their reception. We need to be careful not to promote ourselves. Luther, the first celebrity pastor, in 1522 explained that the Word of God did it all. We should do all we can to minimize itself.
The aspirational model can be associated with the worldly model of success, rather than the faithful model of success. Paul’s plan was to find ordinary guys who are qualified and able to teach and preach. It’s not rocket science.
Thabiti: I agree with Carl’s concerns. What I was reacting to—let’s begin with where Carl ends. We need to find faithful pastors, but there is also a place for the appropriate expression of gratefulness. Sometimes the critique can catch too many people in the nets. Let’s distinguish between (1) celebrity as being famous for being famous, and (2) those are attract people through their faithfulness and giftedness. There can be notoriety that isn’t about self-promotion and self-adulation and fame-seeking.
Ligon: Certain types of media and platforms can project significance. Lig is mortified when people meet him and think he is someone of significance just because they see him preach on regional television. The medium can convey something.
Thabiti: In our day media access is pretty easy. To become a celebrity one must have a celebrity-conferring public.
Ligon: When T4G wanted to put Piper in front of folks in 2006, it’s not because he’s a celebrity but because he had spoken the word into our souls, and God gave him a wide influence. We exulted in that. But we didn’t intend to say to brothers pastoring a 65-member church that he’s a nobody. We wanted to serve that guy in that context. And that would be John’s heart. That motivation is important for us to clarify.
Carl: You can have all the best intentions, but we also have to be aware of reception.
CJ: This conference exists to dissuade that thinking but to encourage and honor ordinary pastors.
Ligon: We thank God for you, David Platt and Matt Chandler. David, I know you have to protect your heart when speaking to 55,000 people on the atonement.
David: This conversation is dangerous for me. It brings to the fore a poison to my soul. I really believe, I think, I want Christ to become greater and me to become less. The temptation is to think, I want Christ to become greater and me to become greater. Pride has always been a problem for me. More attention means more temptation. It involves an intentional fight and battle. At the end of the Day, I want it to be about Christ’s glory.
Matt: On top of that, there’s the cultural beast—fighting something that won’t die. If anyone says there’s not a part of you that doesn’t enjoy that, I’d call them a liar to their face. I don’t fear that this week I’m going to say “I’m Matt Chandler,” but it’s people getting in your ear saying over the years “How much do you get paid?” “Why don’t you have people do this?” It’s important that guys know me before I was “Matt Chandler.” And there’s no celebrity pastor in our home.
CJ: There are temptations toward those who are known, and among those who are not home. There’s probably a Corinthian temptation in every church. A pastor has to study his own soul.
For those struggling because of their lower numerical growth: cultivate an appreciation for me who are pastoring churches larger than you. It’s important to celebrate grace in other people.
Carl: I recognize that conferences cost money and that you can’t fill a stadium with just a couple of other OPC pastors! But would it be impossible to have, out of 9 speakers, 2 that no one has ever heard of?
It’s been great to rub shoulders with other believers from other denominations. (I believe in denominations because I like being around people who actually believe something.) My wife asked me, “Are you looking forward to going?” “Yes, because it will give me something to write about.” But I have to concede that I’ve rather enjoyed myself!