A Not-Famous Pastor’s Take on the Evangelical Hollywood

I was reminded of the polarizing effect famous Christian leaders have on the masses at The Gospel Coalition National Conference last week. It seems to me that people can potentially fall into two extremes.

First there is the cynical camp. At best, the cynic derides everyone who attends conferences as wide-eyed fan-boys. At worst, he assumes that hubris got the Pipers of the world where they are today, treating them like moths who can’t resist the spotlight.

Then there is the infatuated camp. As he scrolls through his Twitter feed, the infatuated resembles a soccer mom poring over the latest edition of Us Weekly searching for nuggets from the personal lives of their favorite celebrity-slash-pastor (and not the other way around).

Neither of these responses honors Jesus.

The Evangelical Hollywood is not new

There has always been a pastoral Rat Pack. From Peter, James, and John to Peter, Apollos, and Paul; from Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli to Edwards, the Wesley’s, and Whitefield.

And now we have Keller, Carson, Piper, and Driscoll.

No, the Evangelical Hollywood is not new, but what is new is 24/7 access to it. Blogs, tweets, and decades of sermon archives are available at the click of a mouse. This, I think, is what has ratcheted up the evangelical celebrity scene to new proportions.

And –  just like back in Paul’s day – it isn’t sinful for gifted men to be famous and have large followings.

It is sinful when the infatuated wants to be like them, identified by them, and loyal to them, rather than wanting to be like Jesus, identified by Jesus, and loyal to Jesus. It is sinful for the cynic to use Jesus in order to identify himself over against the fan-boys, rather than actually reveling in Jesus himself (see 1 Corinthians 1:11-12).

Bad ways to respond to the Evangelical Hollywood

Like lots of things, conferences like The Gospel Coalition are good. But we can respond poorly. Here are four bad ways to react: three for the infatuated, and then one for the cynic. I have pastors particularly in mind.

1. Copying the form rather than the substance. If you think God will magically use you if you start dressing like Driscoll you are in for a disappointment. If you want to copy these guys, copy their prayer life. Copy their study habits. Put on your big-boy pants and tackle difficult issues with courage like theirs.

2. Wanting a big church like those guys. Keller pastored a small church for a long time before he planted in Manhattan. Driscoll started Mars Hill in his living room. Chandler tried not to get hired at the church he now pastors. They didn’t necessarily want to be pastors of big churches, God called them to those roles. Be faithful with the little things, and maybe God will call you to bigger things. But be content if not – because it’s statistically unlikely that God will.

3. Thinking that you can do what they do. These guys are lights-out-gifted in their abilities to communicate, lead, and think. Not just anyone can pastor large churches, manage large staffs, and write lots of books. If you look at their ministries and say to yourself, “I could do that,” you’re probably fooling yourself. Time for a reality check.

4. Throwing the baby out with the bath water. No, The Gospel Coalition isn’t perfect, nor are those who speak at the conferences. You don’t have to be happy with the press these guys get. But the thing you should take away is their message: the call to the functional centrality of the gospel in your life and ministry.

The famous pastors who are young (and old), restless, and Reformed are obsessed with the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

We can’t hear that message enough. Whether it comes from someone famous or not.


  1. Eric,

    Sobering reflections and a good word for us all. Thank you.

    • Thanks for your encouragement, Trevin. I’d like to include myself in your “us all.” I swing toward both extremes, and constantly need to refocus myself on my ministry, and not be caught up in coveting the ministry of others.

  2. What is different today is the conference “machine” that creates “celebrity” pastors mainly based on their ability to draw a crowd moreso than their Gospel centerness. There are FAR too many conferences today. Lest we forget, these men are supposed to be foremost local pastors of their local church. Their primary call is to their local body. But the conference circuit has these local pastors out of their churches for far too long.

    • Sam, there’s truth to what you are saying but then again I believe that is one thing that this article is trying to address, not going either extremes. True, there are conferences which have pastors based on their ability to draw a crowd or maybe all conferences for that matter (it doesn’t make sense if you have a conference having unknown preachers, I mean who would want to go to a conference not being sure what the preacher would be saying, or maybe it’s just me who thinks this way) but not all. Theses guys at The Gospel Coalition or T4G are surely as gospel centered as anyone can probably desire.
      Now with regards to their pastoring, these are pastors who have others on their staff to do what they aren’t able to do – whatever that which “defines” pastoring aside from the primary duty of preaching the word to the congregation. Just my thoughts.

  3. Great post. I would add that C.J. Mahaney’s message at last year’s Together for the Gospel (which I missed but ran into on the web the other day) is a great encouragement and corrective. His text was 2 Timothy 4:1-5 and he wove stories from D.A. Carson’s tribute to his father from AN ORDINARY PASTOR throughout.

    In end, all pastors, great and small, ordinary and extraordinary need to be faithful and dwell the land. Love God, Love His Word. Love His people and keep being faithful.

    • Marty, CJ’s preaching last year was and is truly encouraging for “ordinary” and as CJ would say “average” pastors like me who would most likely never pastor a mega church, publish a book, be invited to speak at the Coalition or T4G, and so on. May the Lord continue to use people like these to build up and encourage other pastors that they may faithfully and joyfully serve their church.

  4. Great post and some helpful reminders. I also found this interview with Mark Knoll illuminating on the subject: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/04/03/the-long-view-of-evangelical-alliances-an-interview-with-mark-noll/.

    He warns of the dangers of larger-than-life personalities particularly associated with the Gospel Coalition. I also love the fact that the Gospel Coalition website posted it themselves, even shortly before their own conference. I think that is telling — in a good way — that the Gospel Coalition doesn’t want to breed fan-boys.

  5. So you believe that Paul and Peter had “celebrity” following? Was that before or after getting run out of major cities by mobs? Or prison? Or martyrdom?

    Luther and Calvin? Have you read a serious biography of them? Would any of our modern day “celebrity” pastors trade Luther or Whitefield for their BEST day?

    I would agree with the statement that “it isn’t sinful for gifted men to be famous…” but if you think that celebrity, status, hype, and spin are just sort of “neutral” things that have to be negotiated like many other challenges, think again.

    The definition of what constitutes a pastor – remember, the word means “shepherd” – has changed dramatically in the last fifty years and the guys we admire are unrecognizable to the historic, Reformed church. Our “pastors” know longer know their sheep. They know people, who know people, who know people, who know “their” sheep. My in-laws are members of a church in NE Ohio which is pastored by a very gifted (and apparently godly) man who just spoke at the Gospel Coalition. He isn’t a shepherd anymore and hasn’t been for a long time. 4000-5000 on Sunday morning. What’s a guy to do? My father-in-law is dying and I quite literally have to call the church to get someone from the pastoral staff – the guys who do this FOR A FREAKIN’ LIVING – to come and visit and pray. And do you know who they send to this dying 68 year-old saint? The Junior High School Youth “Pastor” – who still has acne himself and wouldn’t know what to say if you read it to him beforehand.

    Leaders? Yes. Evangelists? Perhaps. Conference speakers? You bet. But pastors? No way. When the Gospel Coalition invites a pastor of 100-150 member congregation to “keynote” on preaching, or pastoral care, or catechizing your children, or modeling good marriages for your flock, then (and only then) will the nonsense GC prints about “ordinary pastors” ring true.

    • I’m probably dumb but i don’t know how you define the responsibility of a pastor towards his congregation. Eph 4:11- 12 clearly states their primary responsibility is to EQUIP (preach and teach the word) the saints for the work of service. Whatever else he can do over and above that, consider it a bonus.
      What is he to do, stop people from coming to his church because there’s too many for him to KNOW individually and whether they are sick or what (I don’t mean pastors are not to care). James 5:14 says, he who is sick must call… pastors are not omniscient reason why those who have problems and need counsel or those who are sick and need prayers are the ones who are to CALL so that the pastors might know.
      So what if this pastor that they sent was young and had pimples, it’s irrelevant, what matters is he knows what the scriptures are saying. Our problem is we despise the celebrity status that these pastors get because we want to be the celebrity. I have a sneaking suspicion that if it was the “celebrity” pastor who went when you called, we wouldn’t be reading what you have written here. If you or whoever don’t want the “consequences” of having a famous pastor but would rather have a pastor who would be there at your beck and call ( I pity that pastor) then move to another church. Stop complaining and stop putting them down. it’s very unchristian, that is if you are one. Know this, pastors are God’s servants not yours.

  6. Eric,

    Great post and reminder to stay focused. It is incredible how covetousness, often disguised as “they don’t teach X sound doctrine,” eats people up. We are to get on with believing and living the Gospel, trusting that God is sovereign over all of life.


  7. Thanks for posting. I appreciate your thoughts.

  8. As the above said when a leader no longer knows the members of his flock pastoring in nearly impossible.

  9. Jeff Medders says:

    Thanks for this post brother. The break down of two camps was helpful.

    What we need to realize – is God does this to certain guys. He even makes them famous. And Paul recognizes this.

    2 Cor. 8:18 With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel.

    Whoever this guys is, Paul saw that he is famous because of his preaching of the gospel. This verse corrected my stupid thinking.

  10. “celebrity-slash-pastor (and not the other way around).”


    I wasn’t like every other kid, you know, who dreams about being a celebrity pastor. I was always more interested in what bark was made out of …

    • I’m glad someone caught that reference! Burly, you made my day.

      • No, that quote made my day. Actually, I was having a good day until I realized I couldn’t turn left. Apparently I’m not an ambi-turner. I’d like to continue talking about this conversation when I get back. [Okay, that’s enough …]

  11. Matt Beatty says:


    I’m not suggesting that members of churches sit and wait for their pastors to show-up; I’m suggesting that SHEEP need SHEPHERDS. Men to serve as the “cure of souls” – teaching publicly (yes!) but PRIVATELY, too. (Acts 20)

    The pastor in question has been asked – begged (no pun intended) – to consider planting a church… to no avail. They’re building a $30M ADDITION to their current facility with 100,000 sq. ft. of “educational space” that will, in all reality, lie dormant most of the week. Christian schools are starving, but they’re “divisive” and “holy huddles” according to him.

    This is American entrepreneurial polish, pure and simple. It’s all about size and money.


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