Undeniably, we live in the era of celebrity preachers. To the extent that human beings LOVE to put other human beings on a pedestal, this has always been the case. The Church has celebrated it’s great preachers and teachers throughout it’s history. Sometimes rightfully. Sometimes over-much.
Yet celebrity-ism in the world of preacher-ville appears higher now than ever. It is likely that our culture is to blame. Mass media and the rise of the Internet hasten the rise of many such celebrity preachers, making their presence ubiquitous. It can be distracting.
I confess that I often find myself distracted by the ever-presence CPs. I worry if anyone’s listening to me, if I should be more like the CPs, if one day I’ll be a CP, along with a thousand other anxieties, some noble, some ignoble.
There are at least two really bad things that come from this for the “average” preacher working away in relative (beautiful) obscurity in the trenches of pastoral ministry:
The first is, I have come to realize that it is precisely when I yield my soul with the anxiety that comes from paying too much attention to CPs that my own ministry of preaching loses it’s savor and it’s joy. I start imagining that ought to be more like so-and-so, ought to conduct my ministry more like Pastor Awesome out there, ought to construct my messages and tell my stories more like that really cool preacher I saw on YouTube, etc etc. In so doing I heap (weird and unnecessary) pressure on myself, and lose the joy of just being Andrew … the Andrew that God made … that God chose … and that God loves, just as he is, and has called into his purposes not in spite of, but precisely because of all of my unique weirdnesses. Therefore, I am reminded that I need to repent of letting myself get distracted by all the CPs out there and just BE … the me that God created and chose for just this moment and for just this congregation.
The second is, I have come to see that a culture of CP-ism confuses the messenger with the message. When the NT talks about the job of the preacher, it uses a bunch of words that essentially describe the basic job of the teacher/preacher as pointing BEYOND himself to something else. The preacher/teacher is a herald, an ambassador, a representative of something far greater than himself … so that THE MOMENT THE MESSAGE BEGINS TO BE ECLIPSED BY THE MESSENGER, THE MESSENGER HAS CONTRADICTED HIS ENTIRE REASON FOR BEING. I know this is basic, but it seems to me that it is not taken altogether seriously in the world of CP-ism. CPs have their own websites and ministries and put on conferences to teach other people how to be CPs one day and on and on and on … but the POINT is not being a CP … the point of the preacher is that in the moment of his preaching, he would open up for his listeners a window so that, peering through it, they might see the kingdom. (Which is to say, not the preacher). The window is not the point. What lies beyond the window is.
There is a famous piece of art in which describes the scene John describes in John chapter 3. In it, John the Baptist is answering questions about the rise of the ministry of Jesus; a rise that is eclipsing his own ministry. And of course the famous line from John 3 is, “He must become greater; I must become less.”
But of course there are no words in art; only images. And the image depicted in the painting is of the scraggly, bedraggled John the Baptist pointing his long (ugly) boney finger at Christ. John the Baptist understands that it does not matter that he is a homeless bedraggled country preacher with a nasty looking crooked boney finger. It only matters that he has pointed decisively and compellingly to the Word made flesh. If and when he has done that, he has succeeded.
Today, as I get ready to preach, I remember exactly that. I am not to be the thing-looked-at. I am a window. A signpost. And if and when I point beyond myself to the Christ, my job is done.
Point to Christ today, preachers, and lose yourself in the joy of so doing.