A Word to Famous Pastors
January 25, 2015
The church is both blessed and cursed by its well-known pastors. Some like T.D. Jakes and Joyce Meyer and Brian McLaren have distorted the gospel and done great damage to the church. Others however have blessed the church by contending faithfully for the truth and advancing the gospel of Jesus. Some famous pastors have had an important ministry of equipping other pastors well. It is to this group of faithful men that I write these words.
1. I am thankful for you.
I have been on the receiving end of great blessings from well-known preachers and pastors. I continue to benefit from the books and teaching of men whose names we all know. May God bless you and protect you. May He guard you from the entrapments of celebrity and the temptations of wealth and ego.
2. What you do, write, and preach reverberates through the rest of our churches.
Americans are preoccupied with celebrity. That fascination has translated into the church. We have even seen the sad pitfalls of modern celebrity damage the witness of Reformed(ish) Christianity.
Famous pastor, your actions and words (written and preached) have ripple effects which reach into the churches whose pastors do not carry your clout. It’s not because they are less gifted or less faithful. It’s because the famous man’s words carry more weight, even in our churches. So when you mess up and preach things that fail to square with God’s Word or you appear alongside false teachers it leaves the rest of us to deal with it in our own churches. These are people we love and pray for and visit in the hospital. You don’t know them. You’ll never meet them. But they listen to your teaching and read your books. Because they never see your own faults they tend to place you on a pedestal. And lest you quickly dismiss that reality as their problem, remember that you are called to a higher responsibility than a famous athlete.
3. Your level of accountability corresponds to the level of your influence.
You have been given a public platform. You occupy the stage of various conferences. You help lead national and perhaps international ministries. People listen to you when you speak and write. Those men who pastor 100 souls will be responsible for much. Some of you serve churches of multiplied thousands. You will give an account for those men and women. But there’s more. Because of your influence you will give account for the many who have downloaded your sermons and purchased your books. Are you ready to answer for the influence you have in the lives of men and women you will never meet? Are you ready to answer for the men and women in my church who read your books and listen to your sermons?
4. Please exercise great discernment in accepting speaking engagements and partnerships.
As much as some would like us to forget, we still remember the Elephant Room debacle where two Gospel Coalition board members extended the hand of fellowship to a notorious false teacher. Famous pastor, your actions matter way beyond the walls of your own church.
For instance if you are well known for being a complementarian and have argued that egalitarianism represents a significant departure from the Bible then perhaps you shouldn’t preach at conference featuring a woman preacher. If you have famously condemned the errors of the prosperity preachers then maybe you shouldn’t celebrate the ministry of one who teaches such nonsense. If you have labored to advance the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture then maybe you ought to think twice before appearing with someone who claims continuing revelation.
I know some conferences pay really well. I’ve heard about the gift bags. Wow! That would be hard to turn down. I’d probably be tempted to get on a stage with Carl Lentz or Christine Caine for that kind of money. But I hope I wouldn’t do it.
When you choose to make such compromises then you confuse and lead astray the men and women I serve as pastor who read your books and listen to your sermons. Do you understand why this is a problem?
5. You are not above criticism.
We protestants do not have a pope or a magisterium. Your fame does not place you above the realm of criticism. In fact given the level of your accountability you ought to be especially willing to hear correction or respond to concerns from those outside your circle of fame.
Sadly, some famous pastors have behaved quite poorly in response to criticism. You must understand that because of your fame you are very difficult to reach. Some who may be perfectly willing to contact you personally are simply not able to do so. As a result, famous pastors tend to be criticized publically. Of course, in the case of error or sin this is entirely appropriate given the public nature of your ministry.
Be aware my famous friend that fame tends to have an insulating effect. That is, because you are famous you will tend to attract people who want something from you. These people tend to tell you the things you want to hear. They won’t challenge you. They won’t tell you to not speak at a particular conference or that a particular sermon missed the mark. They won’t tell you to publically repent for a public error. They won’t tell you to step away, at least for a time, from your public presence.
Please consider these things famous pastor. I wrote this because I am grateful for so many of you. I want you to run well. I want you to end well. You have been given much. Use your influence carefully and sparingly. Consider the influence you have in the churches served by other men.