Do You Follow a Celebrity Pastor?

20130111-145456.jpgIn most cases, when you hear the phrase “celebrity pastor,” you tend to think of individuals like Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Steven Furtick or Ed Young, Jr. In each one of these cases, if you are one who believes that preachers should actually preach the Word of God, you probably get a very bad taste in your mouth. You immediately want to scream, “False teachers! Away with them!!” And quite honestly, that’s how I feel too. But there is another kind of celebrity preacher, one that many of us don’t realize is a celebrity. But yet, they are celebrities because folks like you and me have made them into celebrities. Yes, that’s right, I said we made them that way. Those of us who appreciate sound, biblical preaching, who detest the seeker friendly, rockstar image of those “other” pastors, we have celebrities of our own. And that can be a problem.

Many of us greatly appreciate the preaching of godly men like R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, James White, David Platt and Voddie Baucham. We are blessed to hear these men rightly exposit the Word of God. We love how they take great time and care to preach the Word in context so that God is magnified and we rightly understand our need for His forgiveness through Jesus Christ. So much do we appreciate their godly work that we listen to countless sermons online (or on our iPods), we read the books they have written, we share copious quotes from them via Facebook and Twitter. We even will go to conferences, sometimes at great expense to our finances and time, so that we can hear them magnificently handle the Word of God. And, without even realizing it, we have created them in our minds as the “ideal” preacher, the kind that these rockstar pastors should really model themselves after. In other words, they have become a celebrity in our mind.

This is not to say that good godly preachers like these should not be esteemed. It is a rare treasure these days, it seems, to find a pastor who is willing to be in the public view that will unashamedly stand on the Word of God. We should give them due respect for their duty and devotion to Jesus Christ, for their unflinching stance for the preaching of the true gospel. What I am talking about is that we actually may create an unhealthy, or at least unbalanced, image of these men when compared to the local church. Think through this with me for a moment, how many times have you shared or tweeted quotes from your pastor? You know, the man who has faithfully preached in the same pulpit for five, ten, or even twenty years. Do you follow him on Facebook or Twitter? Do you wish he would at least get with the times to get on Facebook or Twitter like the other guys do? Have you ever stopped and told your pastor about the great sermon that R. C. Sproul preached, or recommended that he read the latest book by David Platt? Have you spent an inordinate amount of time talking to people in your congregation about the conference you just came back from where John MacArthur was the keynote speaker, or complained that you couldn’t go to it at all?

Imagine yourself in the place of your pastor. He’s not famous. Maybe he only has a congregation of a couple hundred people, maybe it’s only fifty. He spends all week preparing a sermon meant for you and those you attend church with. He loses several hours of sleep each week when he is called out to the hospital to minister to a dying parishioner, to counsel a loved one who is severely depressed, to comfort family who lost a child in an accident. He’s never written a book, he doesn’t have a podcast, his budget barely even allows for a computer to keep records on, much less the high tech equipment and talent to set up a nice website. Yet, each week, he dutifully climbs up to that podium and faithfully preaches the word of God to a body of believers. He is just as important as the big names mentioned above, yet he’ll never see the notoriety they do.

Now see yourself through his eyes. You love your pastor dearly and you listen and grow form his devotion to the Word each week. Yet, during the rest of the week, you are downloading sermons from Sproul, MacArthur or Platt. You pour over their books and study notes. When you have a theological question, you pull out their study bibles. You go to their conferences and you come back far more excited than you ever do at the home bible study he heads up. All of this creates an enormous amount of pressure for your pastor. He cannot hope to ever hold the position these godly men do, yet he somehow has to keep the attention of his congregation so he can keep preaching the Word to them. Does he then sacrifice his time to minister to his flock so he can begin writing that book? Should he mimic their teaching styles, or preach the things they preach about? What about those conferences? He could never host one himself, so should he join with other churches to put one on? If so, how selective should he be about who to partner with? You see the dilemma he is faced with? In the eyes of the local pastor, his congregation is enamored with the “big time” preachers. There is a lot of pressure to measure up.

Now please understand, I am not saying that Christians should only ever listen to just the teachings of their local pastor. We can benefit greatly from the godly teachings of pastors, great and small. It is certainly worth our time to read and learn from many great learned scholars, for it will help in our growth and understanding of scripture. We have the liberty to even attend the conferences where these men preach, and can be greatly edified by it. But there must be a proper balance. God put us in a certain place, at a certain local church, for a reason. Scripture teaches us that all Christians are bestowed gifts by the Holy Spirit for the edification of the body of Christ. And where you are planted is where you are to employ those gifts! If you spend most of your time following the “big guys” then your local body is being starved of the gifts you were given for their benefit. When you take time and money to attend that big conference while your local church struggles with its annual budget, you may well be misappropriating the finances God gave you for that body’s benefit. When you share the podcasts and videos of the other pastors, folks may flock to their godly teaching and benefit from it. However, if you took your internet savvy, could you not create a site for your church? You could then share those weekly sermons so that other may benefit from the teaching you have grown under.

The point of this article is not to decry our love for great and godly preachers, but to draw our attention back to our local churches. Let us spend maybe less time, effort and money building up the big names, for God will maintain their ministries with or without us. But let us take just a bit more time, a bit more care and certainly more effort to build up our local congregations. As we build up and edify the local body, we can send out more laborers for the harvest into our local communities. And as more laborers go out, the gospel reaches more people and the local church grows. The more the church grows, the more great and godly preachers can go out into the world and accomplish the work that we are expecting the big name preachers to do. Let us be about the business of supporting our local churches brethren and let the “celebrity” preachers be an added benefit to where we are already being blessed

Sermon of the week: “Whatever Happened to Christian Unity?” by Phil Johnson.

Your sermon of the week is Whatever Happened to Christian Unity? by Phil Johnson. This is a fantastic message on what Jesus really prayed for when He prayed for the unity of Believers. Not only does Phil Johnson do a fantastic job of explaining what true Christian unity is, he also does an equally good job explaining what it isn’t!

This sermon should be required listening to all those who feel the urge to leave the “can’t we all get along” or “we’re all God’s children,” or “quit tearing each other apart” comments on DefCon. The Scriptures are very clear about what true unity is, and it’s not what most people (including professing Christians) are proposing today.

Phil Johnson also examines in this message the unbiblical push for unity between Evangelicals and Catholics. I highly recommend this sermon to the readers of DefCon, especially those who see very little difference between Christianity and Roman Catholicism.

Christianity: It’s all about music?

In light of all the discussion surrounding music, I thought this piece by Columnist Ben Ratliff of the New York Times on High Desert Church in Victorville, California is apropos. If I didn’t know any better after reading his whole article, I’d think Christianity is all about music.

I’ve quoted fifteen points from this article (and numbered them for your convenience if you wish to comment on particular ones). I think you’ll find them rather interesting!

1).Mike Day, singer and guitarist, gathered his rock band around him. Dressed in a faded black T-shirt, jeans and skateboard sneakers, he bent his shaved head. “God,” he said, “I hope these songs we sing will be much more than music. I know it’s so difficult at times when we’re thinking about chords and lyrics and when to hit the right effect patch, but would you just help that to become second nature, so that we can truly worship you from our hearts?” A few minutes later the band broke into three songs of slightly funky, distorted rock with heaving choruses . . .

2).There has been enormous growth in the evangelical Protestant movement in America over the last 25 years, and bands . . . now provide one of the major ways that Americans hear live music. [Of] the house bands that play every weekend in High Desert Church there are a dozen or so [who] scavenge some of their musical style from the radio and television. They reflect popular taste, though with lyrics about the power of God, not teenage turmoil.

3).“When you start a church,” said Tom Mercer, 52, the senior pastor, “you don’t decide who you’re going to reach and then pick a music style. You pick a music style, and that determines who’s going to come.”

4).HighDesertChurch has a sprawling concrete campus that includes a lavish auditorium, a gym, classrooms and office space for its 70 employees.

5).A number of factors encouraged the church’s expansion . . . . in 1993 the church hired Jeff Crandall, the drummer for a Christian punk band called the Alter Boys, as its music director. Mr. Crandall, 46, spent more than a decade crossing the country in vans, playing in churches, nightclubs and high school gyms, fighting the battle for a more progressive and aggressive worship music. “I knew that the future, even in the early ‘80s, was with bands in churches,” he said. “I liked hymns as a kid, but I just didn’t see myself waving my arms and directing them. I’ve always been one of those guys who tries to figure his own way.”

6).What he did was to pack the church with rock ‘n’ roll. He organized a rotation of bands . . . playing to multiple services. And then he let them play, loudly.

7).High Desert Church holds three different large services over the weekend for three different age groups, with music tailored to each audience . . . Seven . . . the 18-to-30-year-old set . . . Harbor, the 30-to-55 group . . . and Classic, for people 55 and over.

8).The church also maintains even more bands for services at the junior high, high school and elementary levels. Each band carefully calibrates its sound toward the pop culture disposition of the target age group.

9).Young people and future generations are in fact the fixation of High Desert Church, which has already broken ground on building a children’s ministry complex called Pointe Discovery, a $20 million project financed entirely by worshiper donations. “If I ask God’s people to give me $20 million,” Mr. Mercer said during an interview in his corner office, “when I stand before God someday, I don’t want to hear him say, ‘Dude, you wasted a ton of my money.’ I want him to say, ‘You did a good job.’ My definition of a good job is that it will impact people until Christ comes back.”

10).Praise-rock is at the heart of that impact. The teenagers and young adults at High Desert . . . say they joined the church for the teaching and the community, and stayed because of the bands. But some are clearly more enthusiastic about the music itself. “I started out in Harbor, but I moved to Seven because I liked the music more,” said Tony Cherco, 32, a recent arrival to the church who would not have been out of place in the EastVillage: he wore a long beard and large rings in his earlobes. “Between Pastor Tom and the music of Seven, I was like, yes!”

11).To generalize, the music tailored to the Seven service is modern rock, with a modicum of wired aggressiveness. (In its sets before and after the pastor’s sermon, the band does play some adaptations of hymns, including a power-chord version of the doxology. It was arranged by the worship minister Matt Coulombe to approximate the droning, locomotive style of the secular New York rock band Secret Machines, one of his favorite groups).

12).The music of Harbor, meanwhile, resembles U2 from about 1985, while the Classic crowd gets a softer and more acoustic sound, like the West Coast folk-rock of the 1970s. For the children, in both their Sunday school classes and youth group events, the music is pop-punk. The idea is to keep their attention with high energy, then to slide gradually toward contemplation.

13).On a Saturday afternoon in October a group for the junior high contingent, called Power Surge, which included four guitarists and two bassists, played in the church gym, rehearsing a version of the Jason Wallis song “Hey God.” Fifteen girls performed choreographed hand motions to the music, which sounded like pious Ramones:

Hey, hey, hey, God I love you

Hey, hey, hey, God I need you

I know there’s not anything you can’t do

I know there’s nothing you won’t see me through

Hey God!

14).For the most part the groups at HighDesertChurch don’t write their own songs; they are high-functioning garage bands, playing cover versions. But they operate in a large, modern auditorium with top-quality sound, lights and video operated by young volunteers; there are smoke machines and overhead screens that announce the title of each song and its lyrics.

15).Bobby Stolp, 39, a drummer in several different bands here, agreed. “It’s all about the heart of worship,” he said. “God can enjoy a distorted guitar as well as a clean guitar. Especially when you’re playing it for him.”