This is the first of a series of blog posts I’m calling Seven Plagues of the Evangelical American Church. These “plagues” are actually traits that I’ve identified and believe are causing more harm than good to churches in America. In each post I’m going to identify the plague, describe the plague, and then offer a prescription for better health. You may be thinking, “Plague? That’s kind of a serious word to use, isn’t it?” In fairness, yes, it is a serious word to use. However, the definition of a plague is, “a contagious bacterial disease characterized by fever and delirium.” I believe these problems fit that definition well.
These seven plagues are contagious. They seem to be spreading throughout certain pockets of American evangelicalism and, yes, they are causing spiritual fever and delirium. These plagues are infecting church leaders, members and seekers alike. So without any further ado, let’s take a look at the seven plagues, and then we’ll go in-depth this week and tackle the first.
What are the plagues?
- Pastor as Celebrity/Expert/King
- Narcigesis (making the focus of the text about the listener)
- Entertainment-Driven Experience
- Experience-Driven Worship
- Whatever it Takes (Sinful Obsession with Numbers)
- Give Give Give $$$
Now that (hopefully) your interest is up, let’s take a look at the first plague:
The Plague: Pastor = Celebrity Expert King
What am I talking about here? Well, let’s start at the beginning. What is a pastor? A pastor is simply a shepherd. He is responsible for shepherding the flock the God has entrusted him. A pastor is not a king. He is not a CEO. He is not a change-agent. He is none of these things. He is a shepherd. The Lord could have used in any number of descriptions to lay out an understanding of what a pastor is like and he chose shepherd. So, that’s what he is.
This does not mean that pastors will not be engaged in CEO-type roles as they shepherd the flock. Nor does this mean that pastors will not be agents of change. However, there does seem to be an unhealthy move towards pastors being some type of hybrid celebrity/king/expert. Let’s further break this down:
Pastor as Celebrity: Television and social media have helped to exacerbate this problem. Any pastor, church or ministry can pour in thousands of dollars to make sure their message and platform reaches homes across the world. This reality, along with social media accounts and pages, has elevated the pastoral role to possibly be seen as some type of celebrity. This is not a new problem, as it seems that Paul dealt with those he called “super apostles.” There were certain false teachers in the early church who gained a crowd in order to make their name great. It happens. Also, celebrities are often not accessible.
Prescription: Pastors are designed to be the most accessible people in the flock. Seeing themselves as a celebrity is counter-productive in this regard. However, because the desire for approval and applause is very real, there is typically an inner struggle residing inside almost every pastor which asks, “Am I doing this for my fame or Jesus’ fame?” Pastors are often unnamed shepherds who daily study, pray, and mingle in various ways with the flock. This type of calling does not often lead to applause and approval, nor celebrity status. Therefore, the challenge for every pastor is to hold themselves accountable (with friends who will tell them truth) and do a regular heart check to make sure this plague is not destroying their soul as they seek to make their name great. It should be all about Jesus: not just in words, but in action!
Pastor as Expert: In order to be a celebrity, one must be famous for something. Celebrity pastors are often famous for what comes out of their mouths. Preaching the gospel week after week can be tiresome and routine. It can also be warfare. The gospel is offensive and is a stumbling block. There are many times I’ve “felt” resistance as I’ve preached the Gospel. Therefore, there is temptation to talk about other things instead: life lessons, steps to getting better at something, etc. Also, pastors tend to copy what other “successful” (i.e. fast-growing church) pastors are doing. Therefore, pastors will preach on every subject imaginable (money, relationship, parenting, psychological disorders, etc.) in hopes to draw a crowd. Thus, pastors are now expected to be experts in various fields of life.
Prescription: Pastors need to understand that we are not the keeper of all the answers. We are not called to be specialists in every area of life. We are more like a general practitioner. We are simply called to preach the Gospel. What we need from pastors is to trust the whole counsel of God’s Word by preaching it. By taking this approach, the various topics of our day will be addressed from God’s perspective, and not merely from the pastor’s own experience or ideology. Instead of fancying themselves as “The Man with all the answers,” he should view himself as simply a messenger of God’s Word.
Pastor as King: Finally, because the pastor is often seen as the head of the church (whether the church bylaws have him set up that way or not) he can start to view himself as some sort of king. In many of the fast growing churches, especially, it seems the pastor is seen in this way. Churches can grow fast if the pastor and staff are “allowed” to lead how they want – they are given the reigns and their churches grow. But we know that growth is not a singular indication of spiritual health; nor is it even an indication of God’s work (Look at Mormonism). Pastor as king is not biblical and is certainly not healthy for anyone involved in the church.
Prescription: Don’t forget who you are called to be. You are called to be a shepherd. Look at your example: Jesus. Jesus did not seek the limelight. He taught and attracted a following. But he was also abandoned even as he laid his life down for his friends. Pastor, you too are called to lay your life down for your flock. It seems that too many pastors, however, would rather their flock lay their lives down for them. It would be good for us all to remember that there is only One King worth following.
Dr. Charlie Wallace is the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Moncks Corner (SC). You can follow him on Twitter at @drcwallace.