Gloriously Ordinary

In the latest issue of Touchstone an article by Michael Horton levels a critical eye on the contemporary fad for churches to have extraordinary pastors. As an extraordinarily ordinary pastor I feel that pressure regularly. Many of the conferences marketed to pastors today are led by sparkling, muscular, dressed-to-the-nines mega-church pastors. The gist of these conferences is: “Come learn how to be an awesomely awesome leader! Learn how to grow your church so that it will be awesome!” Invariably, the only ones to take the stage at such events look like Abercrombie models and have thousands in their congregation.

Don’t misunderstand. I am in favor of churches growing. I don’t have anything against a pastor being good looking. I also don’t have anything against being in good shape and having nice teeth. What I have a problem with is the selling of an idea of pastoral ministry that departs from what God has commanded of the shepherds of His flock.

Horton writes:
“Never mind Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to submit to elders and pastors as official ambassadors of Christ. These days, even in more confessional denominations, it seems that instead of being the Lord’s servant, ambassador, and minister of reconciliation, a pastor is supposed to be the community’s quarterback, class president, or the one voted ‘most likely to succeed.

“It used to be that the pastor had an office and worked in his study, but today the pastor has a job and works in his office. Whereas Peter organized the diaconal office so that the apostles could devote themselves to the Word and to prayer, ideal ministers seem increasingly to be managers, therapists, entertainers, and entrepreneurial businesspeople…

“Perhaps, like the immature and sectarian Corinthians (1 Cor. 3:5-9), we celebrate the extraordinary minister more than the ordinary ministry of the gospel.”

We are seeing the rise of a fairly new phenomena: the super wealthy pastor/entrepreneur. Now, it used to be that only the prosperity preachers were in that category (Copeland, Roberts, Dollar). But now conservative evangelical pastors are rising to super-stardom. They are becoming kings of media mini-empires. Their bad to mediocre books sell well. I received a mass mailer yesterday from a rising star in the evangelical church. He pastors a meta-church in Houston (not Osteen). His is a typical pastor-driven, super cool, rock concert, awesomely awesome church/mall (Did I string together enough sarcastic rants in that description?). Their latest building project tops 30 million dollars. And guess what? He and his wife have written a book. The readers are challenged to take the 30 day journey through the book (less strenuous than 40 days) and improve their lives. In fact the advertisement guarantees that the authors will transform my life in 30 days. Believe me when I tell you that I am not jealous. I am fearful however. I am fearful that he (and others like him) is becoming the standard. “If I can have a church that big, a book deal, expensive clothes, and speaking invitations THEN I will have arrived.” What is lost in all the professional lusting is the ordinary and often unnoticed work of shepherding God’s people.

The greatest problem I have with many of these rising young stars is their lack of commitment to faithful biblical proclamation which, along with prayer is the hallmark of a faithful minister. But the ordinary means that God has given his under-shepherds has been abandoned for the trappings of extraordinary success. The call to be awesomely awesome has trumped the call to be men of the Word. In the end this will do great damage to the body of Christ. The biblical call for the churches pastor’s and elders to be shepherds is openly mocked by many of today’s super-pastors like Andy Stanley.

Horton writes,
“When churches abandon the ordinary ministry for extraordinary ‘excitements sufficient to induce conversion’ (Finney’s phrase), eventually the innovations become traditions and the insatiable craving for ever-new experiences of spontaneous expressivism, like a drug addiction, leads eventually to the spiritual equivalent of a heart attack…

“There are no easy answers to finding the right balance between caring for the flock already gathered and seeking those who are far off. However, the New Testament does, I believe, lead us to a crucial conclusion: namely, that the same ministry that leads us and our children to Christ, in an ever-deepening communion with him and his body, also reaches strangers, which most of us (as Gentiles) were ourselves. The church in its ever-widening and ever expanding circumference is always a creation of the Word” (emphasis mine).

If you are a pastor I would encourage you to read Don Carson’s new book Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor.