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.