So, I'm at the T4G conference and there is a panel on celebrity pastors. Apparantly, famous pastors with a lot of influence can be troublesome. After thinking about it for a long time (5 minutes, maybe), it seemed to me that the issue was a waste of time. But, now that a couple of weeks have passed, my few thoughts have spawned and grown into an outright opinion. Here it is: I am in favor of celebrity pastor as a rule (though not in favor of all pastors who are celebrities, of course). To be a celebrity pastor is to have the ear of lots of other pastors. All good movements have good leaders. As movements grow in size, so do the fame of their leaders. This is a normal process, nothing inherently wrong with it. In fact, there is something right with it: Leaders who influence many others for good give strength to all and strengthen the movement. The movement of the gospel in the world is a great movement. Bring on the celebrity pastors!
Now, as a way of countering objections, allow me to add further fuel to the fire.
1. There have always been celebrity pastors. Peter was one, Paul was one, etc. Paul's rebuke to not let them divide the church stands! But there was no rebuke against their ministries. Consider Appollos who is mentioned in the Bible because of his fame as a preacher. Priscilla and Aquilla did not say, "Hey, you are too famous. Stop getting so many people to listen to you." Rather, they said, "Here is a guy who gets people's attention. He's an effective preacher. Let's help him sure up his doctrine and get him back out there. No doubt he preached to many. He was well known enough to make the Bible.
2. The suggestion was made at the T4G pastor to perhaps bring a couple of unknown pastors up to speak at the next conference. This suggestion is at best silly, at worst fleshly. At best it is silly because if T4G puts a pastor up front and he delivers an effective message, they just created another celebrity pastor. That man will be tweeted, blogged about, facebooked, and have his sermons podcast before he can get to the airport to go home. It is fleshly at worst if in that suggestion is the idea that famous people needed to be brought down a notch by showing the value of the "little guy." This is pride in an upside down setting. As Lewis pointed out: if you want to know if you are proud, how do you feel if someone else gets the attention?
3. We live in an age of courage and cowardice. Courage because the information age is changing the world so fast it is hard to stand one's ground. We need leaders who cut through the noise and take stands that make sense. We live in a post-denominational conversation (or is it a trans-denominational conversation). T4G, and other such expressions of common faith, are screaming out that we must maintain the true gospel, regardless of anything happening in our old religious institutions. We have a unity that transcends even our most important distinctions. But we live in a time of cowards too. Everyone can be a critic and find a crowd to hide in. No one need stand alone in their lukewarmness or their sin. For this reason, we need voices from "our tribe" that rise above the din and help give courage to all of us who labor away in obscurity. Celebrity pastors fit the bill.
4. We must allow for more sophistication in our thinking than is implied with the idea that celebrity pastors are a bad thing. Yes, if you put Piper and Chandler and Platt in a conference, many will show. But that doesn't mean we won't examine the messages of those three men as we hear them, chew up the meat and spit out the bones. They are of our tribe, they are leaders, we respect them. But that doesn't mean discernment goes out the window. Sure, I call John Piper "pope John" --but it's all in good fun. (In fact, I still think he blew his exegesis of the beginning of Romans 8 several years ago --not that I will ever be in a context that I will be able to tell him that in a way that is helpful!).
5. What we are really saying is that in the modern age, especially, the ability to reach the masses is even more admired than ever. However, we follow Jesus and admire the men He raises up. Sure, celebrity pastors fall --but if my faith as a pastor falls because of that, I am a fool to get up an preach in my country church because I am simply a fool. God raises up famous pastors as He raised up Nebbuchednezzar --by His hand and for a purpose. The faithful ones will stand.
6. In the case of Piper, and even more so, Chandler, God has shown us how He afflicts the famous. We have seen them suffer in front of us. One day, perhaps soon, some of these celebrity pastors may even set the example and die for Jesus before a watching world. Then we will all be emboldened by their courage and thankful they were famous enough to be known.