Friday, October 21, 2011

...challenging protestant popery and the cult of personality within the pastorate

Encore Presentation

I was speaking with a friend of mine recently who asked an intriguing question: "why is it that it seems that most famous pastors of mega-churches tend to reach a point very quickly where they embrace a "cult of personality" persona in regards to ministry?" Generalizations aside, there is some truth to that in that question. I think the answer is simple: we have made personalities of them and given them power, admiration, and authority that is not in keeping with servant-leadership or imitating Christ; and their lofty platforms, prove more times than not, very difficult for any man to handle. When sectarian loyalty abounds (1 Cor. 3), then believing ones own press release becomes a real danger. Even the best-intentioned subordinates on church staffs can succumb to this pressure when much of their time is spent trying to get close to "the senior pastor" and remain in his good graces for either reasons of influence, job security, or to gain advancement by riding on anothers coattails.

Whatever the reason, what is true in the secular business world known as "brown nosing" is sadly true within the Christian community as well. We don't like to admit it; we seldom talk about it; and very rarely challenge it. And in part, if one does, one might find oneself on the outs with some "leaders of influence" in local church or greater denominational circles.

That is why I am firmly against what I call "Protestant Popery"; and favor the biblical model of servant-leadership we see in the pastoral epistles. In saying that, I am blessed and very grateful to the Lord for my pastors at my home church who are a model for me of Christlike humility; who are submissive to the standard of God's Word as their final authority; who invest tirelessly in the daily lives of the people of the church; and who are content to be servants of Christ, instead of stars in evangelicalism. They have a low visibility, yet high impact for the kingdom of God. May their tribe increase!

Our Lord is not like what Tozer used to call "the glory boys of today." Paul said in 2 Cor. 10:1, "we are mindful of the humility and gentleness of Christ." What an example for pastors today. Our Lord, though King of kings and God in human flesh, humbled Himself as a bondservant (Phil. 2:5-11); washed His disciples feet (John 13:1-12); was a friend of sinners (Luke 7:31-50); embraced the cross despising the shame (Heb. 12:2); and even submitted to the injustices of evil men (Acts 2:19-23). Pastors of large influential media driven churches today need to follow Christ and His example of leadership. They need to come down to the people, take up the towel, water and washbasin, serve God’s people daily, be men of fervent prayer privately before ever ascending to the pulpit publicly. They need to be more than expositors--more than effective communicators and leaders; they need to be under-shepherds who smell like sheep and are invested in the lives of the people. They need to be on the radio less, writing fewer books, maintaining a low visibility on TV with making the news talk-show appearances a rarity, limiting personal appearances around the country, and in their churches more. They need to disciple their fellow elders, deacons and lay leaders every week. They need to be more than excellent orators; they need to servants (1 Cor. 4:1-2). Ministry in famous pulpits alone breeds not humility, servanthood and Christlikeness, but left imbalanced could result in increased power, unjustified authority, and fosters unbroken pride. What's the solution? Accountability. Who shepherds the shepherd each week beloved? Who does the pastor submit himself too for discipleship? Who is willing to challenge his words, evaluate his preaching, examine his life, and hold him responsible to his holy charge from heaven? (2 Tim. 4:1-5).

May I encourage you today to email this to as many pastors, youth group leaders, missionaries, elders and deacons as you can. It will convict them, and in turn, bless them. Pray for your pastors and leaders at your church. Love them, serve them, encourage them, exhort them, and walk with them (Heb. 13:7; 17). May the following words give you some good insight in beginning to answer those important questions above.

Grace and peace,

To God be the glory alone; and may God help the man who takes any for himself.

“When all men honor us, then we may very well he content; but when the finger of scorn is pointed at us, when our character is held in ill repute, and men hiss us by the wayside, it requires much gospel knowledge to be able to endure that with patience and with cheerfulness. When we are increasing, and growing in rank, and honor, and human esteem, it is easy work to be contented; but when we have to say with John the Baptist, “I must decrease,” or when we see some other servant advanced to our place and another man bearing the palm we had longed to hold, it is not easy to sit still, and without an envious feeling cry with Moses, “Would to God that all the Lord’s servants were prophets.”

To hear another man praised at your own expense, to find your own virtues made as a foil to set forth the superior excellence of some new rival —this, I say, is beyond human nature, to be able to bear it with joy and thankfulness, and to bless God. There must be something noble in the heart of the man who is able to lay all his honors down as willingly as he took them up, when he can as cheerfully submit himself to Christ to humble him, as to lift him up and seat him upon a throne. And yet, my brethren, we have not any one of us learned what the apostle knew, if we are not as ready to glorify Christ by shame, by ignominy and by reproach, as by honor and by esteem among men. We must be ready to give up everything for him. We must be willing to go downwards, in order that Christ’s name may ascend upwards, and be the better known and glorified among men.

“I know how to be abased,” says the apostle.” (Phil. 4:11)
(author unknown)


Bhedr said...

Good warning. Thanks for posting this. I am in a church of about 65 people with a tent making pastor that is an old country boy...but he is a good expositor and I find it unfortunate that he is a pearl in the middle of nowhere, but I thank God is is my pastor. Still this is a good post as it keeps us all alive to being careful not to pump anyones head up. Course we want to be an encouragement and lift him up...but yeah popery we gotta watch it on all ends. I guess you want to encourage though, kind of like your dedication of your album to Piper, but we all have to beware of this. How do you differentiate the two. Seems like a fine line doesn't it?

Your words are good though. We lift up the teacher too much and he is just a jar of clay.

littlegal_66 said...

".....why is it that it seems that all famous pastors of large churches tend to have an unbelievable ego about them?"

Well, you got me thinking, I'll give you that. Here's my take on it:
Is is possible that some of them may have fallen prey to societal tendency to equate success with a ridiculously high level of self-esteem? The role(s) of arrogance, egotism, and a self-esteem that's off-the-charts as a prerequisite to a measure of "success" is a long-held belief within our society, and, like many other ills, it seems to be rippling into many churches. (As you alluded to the secular; I agree, the secular is [still] leaching into Christianity in many areas).

Motivational speakers, seminars, and self-help/success books abound in our culture (and sadly, as we all know, are on the rise in our churches, even occupying space behind some pulpits); people (even some believers) are more than willing to shell out a small fortune to learn the techniques to increase their self-esteem, in order to bring a desired level of success (and as a result, happiness/contentment) to their lives. It brings to mind Romans 12:3 & Romans 12:16, (although I may be taking them out of context).

(Sorry so wordy; here's your blog back). :-)

Carla said...

Well... as you likely suspect already, I have some pretty strong thoughts on this topic but they'll likely get me into trouble.

With that said...

It's an odd thing, whereas on the one hand if someone's book, blog, radio show, etc. blesses you - you certainly feel compelled to thank them for their work in that area. So you've got a boatload of people thanking & giving attention to a messenger. That part is fine, and it's the right thing to do to thank someone when they've blessed you.

Here's the problem with messengers; we tend to lug around this body of flesh that is prone to prideful and egotistical adventures where the moment someone says "good job on that", the tendency to let that go to their heads, quite often overshadows the reality that without Him, we can do nothing. Real Christians know this (and will preach it & write about it), but there's still that pesky flesh problem to deal with.

If you've read Mahaney's Humility, True Greatness book, you'll know that he deals with this and is pretty honest about how difficult it can be to strike a proper balance there.

I had more (lots) to say about this, but this comment was long enough. :o)

Drewski said...

Sadly, I think this is so true. Many "pastors" are no longer shepherds but CEO's

Even here in Australia there seems to be a seemingly blind obsession with aligning oneself with a "successful & relevant" church - with all the programmes, big name guest speakers & outward appearances of success - & the "celebrity pastor" that is in charge.

I've found it to be a lonely, and sometimes discouraging, road when you bring up in conversation with well intentioned Christian friends the dangers of the man-centeredness of the Emerging Church Movements & the Purpose Driven Movements, for example, only to be labelled as a legalist or culturally irrelevant.

Thanks Steve for the encouragement your posts provide to press closer into the true Word of God, to discern truth from error (Titus 1:9) & to allow more of Him & less of me. Humility.

donsands said...


Keep on brother.

We sometimes don't recognize how our Lord is using our firm stance for a Christ-centered gospel, and Church. He does work in the hearts of His saints, and He may be doing just that, even though it may not show fruit for some time to come.

Our Father in heaven is pleased when His children are faithful to honoring His Son's name above every other name. And when we are more concerned about His glory than all else.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the post! Good words of exhortation!

Anonymous said...

thanks for this post steve. in recent weeks i have determined that God is calling me to fulltime ministry. there's a lull right now, between further schooling and an actual role in my local church, but i believe God is using this period to prepare me for ministry. and it's blog entries like this that help immensely with giving me proper perspective. may the Lord bless you for your words and may all pastors, established and in training, be mindful of the servant-leadership we are called to and be wary of the uber-cool rock star celebrity many of us are prone to desiring.

eric opsahl said...

For the sake of the discussion I would agree in a “loose” sense. In general, I agree with the general point you are making. That said, this is a discussion so I’ll question a few ideas WITHOUT intending to DISMISS your excellent post.

“I think the answer is simple: we have made personalities of them and given them power, admiration, and authority that is not in keeping with servant-leadership or imitating Christ; and their lofty platforms, prove more times than not, very difficult for any man to handle.”

Though we should be very cautious, I can’t think of a biblical reason why it’s wrong or “not in keeping” to make some personalities, to admire them and give them authority in the area of teaching.

With regard to personalities, there is no way around it. Some men will rise to the top on a national level because of their God given ability to communicate the truths of God. For instance MacArthur, Piper, White.

We will also naturally admire them; I think we can biblically do so. We should be able to look up to elders (both ours and others) as examples of a Godly life.

While we don’t give them authority, we do recognize that God has given them authority to teach us. So we simply acknowledge that authority.

So listen, I AM NOT critical of the message of the post, simply asking another view.

Julius Mickel said...

Good post,
How sad it is, that there are so many that test the 'blessing' of God by the 'numbers' of a ministry (such a Western mindset).
Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes a distinction between a good preacher and good preaching, a good preacher being the very life of the preacher. Many large ministry pastors function more like itinerant ministers, which works against the purpose of biblical eldership. An elder is to minister by example, to feed the flock (not just through sermons) but by 'knowing the state' of his flock by personal interaction.
The church will benefit better from a holy and touchable minister with what may be 'called' AVERAGE ability who can SEE and ADDRESS your progress or decline (over time) in godliness, and who can pray for his people by name--- I'll take that anyday over the rest.

Another factor which people don't like to own up to, is the tendency to not listen to a prophet (pastor) from your own town (church), so although a mega-church pastor may say the same thing your local-church pastor does, you have the comfort of picking and choosing what you'll take because this guy doesn't know you anyways, but to go to your own pastor and commend him for a sermon might lead him to ask you something personal which you never intended to address (but really need).

Darrin said...

Brother Steve,

Thank you for what you rightly call a topic not often addressed. Very important considerations. The church needs to beware our natural bent toward flattery and humanism.

The quote at the end is very encouraging to me. May God grant me such an attitude.

Even if a repost, it's great to see you posting again! I hope to get to it soon as well.

Sola gratia!