Imagine you walk into a church and sit down in your pew and the most beautiful, well polished, flawless pastor stands at the pulpit. The pastor’s suit is perfectly pressed, his (or her) teeth sparkle, words flow from your pastor’s mouth like lines well rehearsed from a script. The paparazzi are barely being held at bay by the deacons who are doing over time as bouncers. You reach down and clasp your Bible saying a little prayer to God of thanksgiving that your tithe has finally reached the level where you get season floor tickets and that you are no longer condemned to the overflow area with all those screaming babies, and newbies. Is this your idea of the ideal church?
There is nothing more worldly then idolatry.
You might not think that is the ideal church but it just might actually be for many. We in the church, in general, and in specific in Adventism, have grown to love the idea of celebrities representing us. To have your own “celeb” has become the in-vogue status symbol that proves your church, denomination, or faith has broken through the proverbial “glass ceiling” into the “mainstream” and celebrated faiths of the world. If your church could just convert the next Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansson just imagine the way the world would look at you? Having Brad Pitt as the new pastor of your local church has to boost attendance right? While there may be a sudden increase in attendance, would it, in the end, yield better spirituality?
Famous people won’t help you break the glass ceiling.
Why have we become star struck in Adventism over big-name evangelists, politicians, and TV stars? We hear a lot of sermons on worldliness and the need to avoid it, but the second one of us is in the limelight, the rest of us raise our hands and proclaim how proud we are to be with that guy (or girl)! Now, I am not against Adventists being famous. I do not at all think it is a bad thing. After all, public recognition is a form of pre-evangelism. Yet what I am opposed to is esteeming the opinions of “celeb Adventists” higher than we ought, or letting their views shape our theology, simply because they are well-known and popular.
At a meeting with a group of rural pastors I once had a real conversation that went like this:
Me: So Pastor, what church do you serve?
Pastor: I am the associate at Holy Harmony Hills Seventh-day Adventist church.
Me: Wow, I did not know they were big enough to be multi-staffed!
Pastor: They are not. I am the only paid staff but I am still just the associate. Doug Batchelor is the unofficial senior pastor of my church. Who is yours?
I got the point; did you? Now, the problem is not Doug Batchelor any more than it is Mark Finley, Shawn Boonstra, Elizabeth Talbot, or Dwight Nelson. The problem is putting your trust in a celebrity, who does not know you, your church, or your congregational needs, over your local pastor’s insights. Have you ever noticed how some fellow church members just trust whatever they see or hear on 3ABN or Hope Channel? After all, if someone notable and famous on our TV stations says it, it has to be true, right?
The book of Acts calls on us to be like the Bereans:
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.
Fame has a price. If your church willing to pay it?
The problem with the Celeb Pastor is not only can they not identify with your local issues and personal experience, but you also can’t easily ask them clarifying questions. Understand your local pastor is a scholar in his own right. The basic required educational expectation for the local church pastor is a master’s degree, and many go on to get Ph.D.’s or professional doctorates. While your study must be your own, in that you must be able to look at the Scriptures and see for yourself what it says, it still holds true that your pastor is the very best person to aid you in doing that. Your local pastor is likely trained in both Hebrew and Greek, expository hermeneutics, and systematic and historical theology. He or she likely reads widely, studies more than you’d imagine and belongs to several professional development groups, and some may even write for them academically. My point is, the Adventist system in the NAD is set up with the ideal of the local Pastor giving away his education for free to you. That (free education) is your tithe dollars hard at work!
There is a reason an old adage is old; it survives the test of time and came out a winner. In that spirit, I’ll remind us that “not all the glitters is gold,” and that “the bigger they are, the harder they fall. ” It is much too easy to go from using someone’s fame for your own popularity to needing someone’s fame for your own self-worth. People who’s eyes glaze over at the idea of fame and fortune being a virtue tend to also be people who have their own identity grounded in shallow soil. Learn a lesson from Aaron, what starts out as nice shiny gold often ends up as a Golden Calf that brings down the law on the camp. It is all fine and dandy when people are flocking to you because some big name from your church was on Oprah or some News network but what good will that do you when under the pressure of the flashing bulbs of the press they start saying stupid or dangerous things? If you hitched your wagon to someone else’s rocket then expect to be a mandatory guest when they decide to go on an unexpected trip to a place called gravity.
A list of common problems (but not found in all celebs)
Lastly, let us consider who the Celeb Pastor was intended to reach. When we understand that, then we might see how we have veered from the original model. It is fair to say our very first Adventist Celeb Pastor was H.M.S. Richards, Sr. Now, we need to realize Voice of Prophecy was ground-breaking and likely the very first nationally broadcasted religious show of all time. But in saying that, we must point out that it was an evangelistic outreach show. It was never intended to be the main study diet of the local church member in the pew. From the beginning, we have been extremely successful in the religious/prophecy broadcasting market. While overall that is a good thing, what is not good is that we have accepted it as our standard. We now have whole radio stations, TV networks, and YouTube channels that, tragically, many Adventist church members have slipped into watching and listening to instead of doing their own study, or even learning how to study—much less share with others—from the local pastor.
Three questions every church member should honestly stop and ask themselves:
If I had to teach our beliefs to someone, could I from the Bible? Or would I be more likely to give a Celeb Pastor DVD or Web link?
Do I study the Bible deeply for myself for deep theological understanding? If not, would my local pastor be willing to teach me how?
Who is my real pastor? In other words, in whom do I put more stock: the local men and women in my church pulpit, or someone who lives thousands of miles away and with whom my only contact is watching their sermons on TV and following their status updates on Facebook and Twitter?
The bigger they are the harder they fall.
Celeb Pastors have their place. They do well with the non-churched by engaging them with public outreach and media evangelism. But among members in the local church, the focus should not be on the name and fame of the pastor, but rather on his teaching you how to mature in faith. A maturing faith is not something that can happen between people thousands of miles apart, devoid of relational connection, but rather is a more intimate and personal experience that is most often derived out of shared struggles, transitions, and experiences.
You may be thinking, “But you don’t know my pastor! He (or she) is dull and boring. He doesn’t teach on the topics that interest me. She’s not a dynamic preacher. That may be, but if you constantly compare them to the unrealistic expectations of your favorite Celeb Pastor then they never will be. Invest in your local pastor, view him or her as called by God in this hour, build trust and relationship, understand that the NAD is requiring more and more education of all pastors and your local pastor is as much a scholar, if not more so, than your favorite Celeb Pastor.
I’ll give the Apostle Paul the last word:
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
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