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.