Celebrity Pastors and the Conferences that Feature Them

You may have noticed the numerous warnings that Carl Trueman gave last year about celebrity pastors and the conferences that feature them (see here, here, here, here). The one that really got me was the anecdote he shared about a pastor who was kicked out of the VIP section at a recent mega-conference. Trueman’s remarks led to a spirited and generally helpful exchange with Thabiti Anyabwile. It was a real coup that Trueman agreed to appear at T4G last week to discuss the issue again. This time he did so with a panel of celebrity pastors before a gathering of 8,000 people. The panel featured Trueman and Anyabwile along with Matt Chandler, David Platt, C. J. Mahaney, and Lig Duncan. It was a fascinating conversation, and I hope that T4G will make the audio and video of the discussion available.

As I was preparing for my Sunday sermon on John 4:45-54, the issue came up on my radar screen again. While we often think about the spiritual perils of being a celebrity pastor, I wonder if we’ve thought enough about the dangers of following one. I came across a message from John Piper that addresses this very issue with particular insight. It is from his sermon on John 4:43-54 in which Jesus heals a royal official’s son. Piper contrasts the royal official’s authentic faith with the sign-seeking faith of the unbelievers in Galilee. In doing so, Piper says that the sign-seekers were really just people who wanted to benefit from being close to a celebrity. Thus Piper warns against…

The pride of attachment to someone special. A kind of vicarious sense of importance. The people could say that this great miracle-worker grew up in their town. This makes them want for him to do his miracles. So they “honor” him in that way. But why do they want him to do these miracles? Because the more he does, the more their attachment feeds their ego. They don’t see the glory of humble service. They don’t feel the need for his grace. They use him. His power and fame feeds their pride. And so they don’t honor him for who he is, even though they think they are.

This impulse is very much alive today and can infect us and keep us from knowing Christ the way he really is. We can be attached to a church, or a movement, or a music style, or a person, or a ministry in a way that starts to feed our ego. And it will seem justifiable because it’s Christian. And subtly we begin to want this Christian thing to thrive not for the glory of Christ, but because it feeds our ego. And when that happens, it becomes harder and harder to see Christ for who he really is—the one who saves by grace alone, and who calls us to lowliness and servanthood.

We should never underestimate our own conceits. It was probably this very thing that was behind the factionalism at Corinth that Paul confronted (1 Cor. 1:12). No doubt, it is still among us now, and we need to be vigilant over our own hearts.

You can read the rest of Piper’s sermon here, download it here, or listen below.



  • Gary Ware

    Is quoting a sermon from a celebrity pastor warning about the pitfalls of following celebrity pastors an intentional irony, or am I missing some sort of sub-text?
    It seems reminiscent of Carl Trueman posting article after article on the negative aspects of the culture, until he actually gets invited by a bunch of celebrity pastors to sit on a panel at their conference, talk about it some more, and then say what a wonderful conference it is.
    What encouraged me most about Trueman’s piece was his intention to attend the next T4G as an attendee.
    What would be a greater encouragement again would be the newly retired John Piper doing exactly the same.

  • Jared O

    Just so people know Denny’s not crazy, he was likely responding to a comment of mine that seems to have been deleted somehow where I appreciated his presence in the hallways etc. at T4G among us commoners.

    Also, I think some of the celebrity pastor stuff was overblown, specifically because it simply follows from the NT account that guys like Peter, James, Paul etc. were more influential and vocal in the early church. I’m sure Paul spoke to larger crowds and at more churches, nevertheless, he did not dwell on this, or brag about it, but rather always sought to honor God with his influence and forbid people from taking sides.

    I did wonder, though, why they had a roped off reserved section for the speakers. I didn’t think they did this in previous years.

  • Willem Bronkhorst

    I am so grateful for this thread and for the material by Trueman that it put me onto. I have begun to think that I am simply maverick in my criticisms of Evangelical conferences. I am a pastor of a Reformed Baptist Church. For some years now I have been grappling with the question: What is the Biblical basis, and therefore the Biblical mandate for these conferences and the kind of ministries exercised by the speakers who speak there? I have never heard a satisfactory answer. The most desperate effort towards an answer that I have heard was the suggestion that the Old Testament festivals provide that basis and mandate! This was a further indication to me as to precisely how squarely outside of the bounds of Biblical ministerial mandates this practice finds itself. It seems to me that most Evangelicals do not even consider it necessary that there be a Biblical basis for this type of conference and the kind of “ministries” exercised there. Surely if we insist strongly on the application of the Regulative Principle to our corporate worship, we must, in order to be consistent, do the same with regard to conferences?

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