Pastor: You Were Not Made for Fame

We live in a culture that is defined by fame. A culture that is saturated by fame. A culture that sees their worth based not on their financial security or social standing like previous generations had. Our cultural moment sees the acquisition of fame as the greatest good, we measure our value by followers, fans, and likes. If you ask most kids what they want to be when they get older they say usually say a YouTuber. That is not what kids said when I was young. When I was a kid most kids wanted to be the president, a businessman, a policeman or a teacher.

The lie that our culture has given into is that if I have fame I will be enough. Our culture has placed fame above power and money because those things in our information, social media-driven culture flow toward fame. Sadly this desire for fame is not absent in the church. We measure the success of our work as a pastor by weekend attendance and event participation.

What is more tragic is the people who are supposed to be a prophetic voice to the perils of culture have themselves turned the vice of fame into a virtue. Celebrity preachers wearing streetwear worth thousands, hanging with A-list stars proclaiming that they want to “Make Jesus Famous.” As the years have passed we have seen the reality is that those same celebrity preachers became more famous and Jesus became more distant. Because a heart that pursues fame as its greatest good can not pursue Christ. The way of Jesus is antithetical to fame. Jesus would regularly say hard things that were not popular because his kingdom is an upsidedown kingdom. Yet so often the temptation and the advice given to pastors is to avoid controversy. Don’t say things that will alienate anyone.

We have given ourselves and bought into the marketing lie that more is better than fame is the goal. The chasing of fame comes at the expense of our soul. You can not desire fame as your pursuit without fame taking its toll.

Contemporary pastors are tempted to measure their success, not to mention fulfillment, precisely by how well-liked they are.

M. Craig Barnes

The temptation to be liked and loved and famous is ever-present in the heart of a pastor. The temptation to be efficient with people is ever-present

Eugene Peterson commenting on the pastoral vocation said this:

The pastoral vocation in America is embarrassingly banal. It is banal because it is pursued under the canons of job efficiency and career management. It is banal because it is reduced to the dimensions of a job description. It is banal because it is an idol a call from God exchanged for an offer by the devil for work that can be measured and manipulated at the convenience of the worker. Holiness is not banal. Holiness is blazing.

Pastors commonly give lip service to the vocabulary of a holy vocation, but in our working lives, we more commonly pursue careers. Our actual work takes shape under the pressure of the marketplace, not the truth of theology or the wisdom of spirituality. I would like to see as much attention given to the holiness of our vocations as to the piety of our lives.

Basically, all I am doing is trying to get it straight, get straight what it means to be a pastor, and then develop a spirituality adequate to the work. The so-called spirituality that was handed to me by those who put me to the task of pastoral work was not adequate. I do not find the emaciated, exhausted spirituality of institutional careerism adequate. I do not find the veneered, cosmetic spirituality of personal charisma adequate. I require something biblically spiritual – rooted and cultivated in creation and covenant, leisurely in Christ, soaked in Spirit.

The toll that fame has taken on celebrity pastors and leaders over the past five years is staggering. We were not built for fame. None of us were. Jib Fowles, author of Star Struck: Celebrity Performers and the American Public (Smithsonian Institute Press), found that the average age of death for celebrities overall, was 58, compared to an average of 72 years for other Americans. His findings also revealed that celebrities are almost four times more likely to kill themselves than the average American.

Should a Christian seek to become famous? The short answer is no. Should pastors seek fame? No. The Christian life has no shortage of opportunities to seek fame at the expense of cross-centered living.

Our job as Christian leaders is not to make Jesus Famous it is to live lives of humility and lives submitted to God. It is to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Fame is not a goal to be obtained for the Christian pastor it is cancer to be eradicated.

About twelve years ago I started speaking at conferences more often. It was nice because people would come up to you and thank you for what you shared and tell you that you were amazing. The lure of disembodied ministry to the church is real. At a breakout, someone came up to me and asked how do you stay humble?

My answer was this:

  1. Stay relationally grounded – I told them what keeps me grounded is sitting down with kids and their mom to help her tell them their father left them. What keeps me grounded is holding the hand of a dying member. What keeps me grounded is doing the wedding of kids I taught in pre-school. What keeps me grounded is standing with young parents as they say goodbye to their newborn baby who died way too early.

  2. Have Accountability in your life – Everyone needs someone who can tell you no. We all need family, we need old friends and people who can speak into your life. You need people in your life who know you and who are unimpressed by you. The people in my church don’t know I speak at conferences, write books or have a blog because at the end of the day those things aren’t that impressive. What they do care about is how am I modeling Jesus in my everyday life to them and their kids. Am I showing up when they need me most?

  3. Have a strong theology of the Cross – A God-centered theology displaces the sinful tendency we have to place ourselves at the center of the universe. Martin Luther famously contrasted the theology of the cross with the theology of glory.

    The theology of glory a theology of fame “is this idea that we are always improving, we’re getting better, and can get better. The more faith we have or the more work we put into our life, we will see the financial blessing, health, protection, and progress- it’s always about the progress of the Christian life. We’re moving up and onward, and the design of God is this very purpose: the more we put in by faith and obedience, the more we give to God, then the more God will bless us. The reason why it’s called a theology of glory is that it’s for our own glory- the more that we are doing, the more we’re advancing- it is pointing towards us.” – John Moffitt

    The theology of the Cross is the exact opposite of the theology of glory. “When we are called into faith with Christ, we are called to die with him. Paul says in Philippians 2 that not only have we been called to believe, we have been gifted or granted to believe, but also to suffer for his sake. As we enter into this relationship with God, there is not a guarantee of our health being protected or our wealth being protected. Rather we are told multiple times by Peter and Paul that we are going to suffer for the sake of the cross.”  – John Moffitt

My plea to my fellow pastors is to seek white-hot holiness over the banality of fame. Fame does not come easy and it does not come free. Fame like Shylock from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venise always demands its pound of flesh.

Top 10 Reads of 2021

This year I finished my master’s degree work at Knox Seminary. It was a five-year process, and I loved every bit of it. The one downside was that I was so busy reading books for my classes. All the required reading for those classes was phenomenal. I enjoyed them all. The downside was not the content of the books I was required to read but the fact that my personal want to read stack only grew and grew over five years. This year I set a new personal best in terms of books read but would add in terms of content the books I read this year were probably the best I have read. To narrow down my top 10 is no easy task. Here is my attempt 

10 – Caring for the Souls of Children – Amy Baker This is book is a must-own for anyone who works with kids or has kids of their own. I have never read a book that has, at its core, the practical tools to help kids in difficult circumstances matched with strong gospel application. 

 

9 – Reappearing Church – Mark Sayers – Mark Sayers is one of the few people out there who has a real grasp of the emergence of the intersection of secular culture and the gospel and how we can live faithful lives in exile. 

 

 

8 – The Princess Bride – William Goldman – As someone who would watch The Princess Bride rewind and watch again during the age of VCR’s. I have seen TPB more times than I can count. I have the entire movie memorized. Massive Princess Bride fan was expecting to love the film more than the book, and I liked them both. As a fan of the film, the book filled in some things that were left out of the movie, but the performances by the actors in The Princess Bride make it one of my favorite movies of all time. 

7 – Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen – I have become a huge Jane Austen fan. With some persuasion from Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, I have begun to read her corpus of work. Her understanding of Christian virtue placed in the context of story is as powerful as it is enjoyable. 

 

6 – Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton – My classics professor once said that reading a classical work for the first time only prepares you to read it for the first time the second time you read it. This was true with several classic pieces I have read and reread. Orthodoxy was no different. I found the second reading more enjoyable and thought-provoking than the first reading. I love this quote from Chesterton

“God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.”

5 – Run with the Horses – Eugene Peterson – I am a huge Peterson fan. His style of writing is powerful, profound, and poetic. Run with the Horses is no different. I read this book devotionally as I read through the book of Jeremiah. This book came at a very timely season of life and ministry where I needed to hear the message of Jeremiah and apply it to my heart.

“The most important thing in Jeremiah’s life was God – not comfort, not applause, not security, but the living God. What he did fear was worship without astonishment, religion without commitment. He feared getting what he wanted and missing what God wanted.” 

4 – Under the Unpredictable Plant – Eugene Peterson – This is a book from Peterson’s 3 part book series for the vocation of pastoral ministry. In Under the Unpredictable Plant, Peterson tackles the vocational Holiness of the pastor and his congregation. Although this book was written thirty years ago, it has more relevance today than the day it was written. In this book, Peterson calls pastors to live lives set apart and holy and, in turn to call their people to do the same.

“It is interesting to listen to the comments that outsiders, particularly those from Third World countries, make on the religion they observe in North America. What they notice mostly is the greed, the silliness, the narcissism. They appreciate the size and prosperity of our churches, the energy, and the technology, but they wonder at the conspicuous absence of the cross, the phobic avoidance of suffering, the puzzling indifference to community and relationships of intimacy.” 

3 – Secular Creed – Rebecca Mclaughlin – In this short but powerful book Rebecca lovingly and biblically dissects the creedal mantras of our current secular moment. This book must get in the hands of our students in Middle School, High School, and College. Our kids are being inundated with the narrative that to be loving, we must proclaim Black Lives Matter, Love is Love, Women’s Rights are Human Rights, We are all Immigrants, and Diversity Makes Us Stronger. McLaughlin takes care to loving address these truths with care and truth. She tells her children that

“we, as Christians, we believe that black lives matter because they matter to Jesus. We don’t believe that love is love but that God is love and that he gives us glimpses of his love through different kinds of relationships. We believe women’s rights are human rights, because God made us – male and female – in his image; and for the same reason, we believe that babies in the womb have rights as well. We believe God has a special concern for single mothers, orphans, and immigrants, because Scripture tells us so again and again. And we believe that diversity does indeed make us stronger, because Jesus calls people from every tribe and tongue and nation to worship him as one body together.”

All I can say to that is amen and amen. 

2 – The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self – Carl Trueman – Trueman does a masterful job weaving history, philosophy, and theology together to paint a brilliant picture for us of how we have come to the secular age. Dr. Trueman explains how we have arrived at this moment by way of the sexual revolution. He explains that we have come to be a society that is captivated, motivated, and completely devoted to the idea of expressive individualism. His cultural analysis is dead on. He believes that his book introduces the discussions we need to have in our culture today. I would argue he lays out a template for dissecting and engaging our modern mess. He states in the conclusion of his introduction,

“My aim is to explain how and why a certain notion of the self has come to dominate the culture of the West, why this self finds its most obvious manifestation in the transformation of sexual mores, and what the wider implications of this transformation are and may well be in the future. Understanding the times is a precondition of responding appropriately to the times. And understanding the times requires a knowledge of the history that has led up to the present.”

1 – The Pastor as Minor Poet – Craig Barnes – This was the best book I have ever read on pastoral ministry. It was by far the best book I read this year. Barnes’ work is a brilliant reminder that pastors, we must define our lives and work by what the gospel calls us to do. If we don’t clearly define what it means to be a pastor, we will invariably allow others to do this for us. Unfortunately, the present job description of the pastor is formed more by the cultural elements of pragmatism and leadership ideas than by the biblical framework of faithfulness set out for us in Scripture. Barnes says, “contemporary pastors are tempted to measure their success, not to mention fulfillment, precisely by how well-liked they are. That is because even the clergy function in a society that defines individuals and certainly leaders by their ability to fulfill expectations.” Every pastor and their spouse should read Pastor as Minor Poet. For the church to be the church pastors, must understand what it means to be a pastor.

“It isn’t necessary for poets to have experienced in their own lives every tragedy that their parishioners will encounter. Of course. But it is very necessary for poets to know exactly what it feels like to have the world cave in, and then to be startled by the discovery of a resurrected life based solely on the work of Christ.
This means that parish poets have to pay attention to their own lives. They must go after their own life experiences and plunge into them in search of sacred meaning rather than run from the pain or numb themselves with busy distractions. How else can they awaken parishioners to the mystery at work within their own lives?” 

The Rest 

  1. Family Shepherds – Voddie Baucham
  2. Ten Words to Live By – Jen Wilkin
  3. True Community – Jerry Bridges 
  4. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald 
  5. Is Christmas Unbelievable – Rebecca Maclaughlin
  6. Confronting Christianity – Rebecca Maclaughlin
  7. Lead – Paul David Tripp
  8. Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott
  9. The Answer – Randy Pope
  10. The Prodigal God – Timothy Keller
  11. The EOS Life – Gino Wickam
  12. Faith for Exiles – David Kinnaman & Mark Matlock
  13. The Bad Beginning – Lemony Snicket
  14. The Reptile Room – Lemony Snicket
  15. The Wide Window – Lemony Snicket
  16. The Miserable Mill – Lemony Snicket
  17. The Austere Academy – Lemony Snicket
  18. The Ersatz Elevator – Lemony Snicket
  19. The Vile Village – Lemony Snicket
  20. The Hostile Hospital – Lemony Snicket
  21. The Carnivorous Carnival – Lemony Snicket
  22. The Slippery Slope – Lemony Snicket
  23. The Grim Grotto – Lemony Snicket
  24. The Penultimate Peril – Lemony Snicket
  25. The End – Lemony Snicket
  26. How to be a Great Boss – Gino Wickman
  27. Pastor – William Willimon
  28. Rocket Fuel – Gino Wickman
  29. Traction – Gino Wickman
  30. Men and Women in the Church – Kevin DeYoung
  31. Resilient Ministry – Bob Burns
  32. The Making of Biblical Womanhood – Beth Allison Barr
  33. Holiness by Grace – Brian Chapell
  34. Christianity and Liberalism – J Gresham Machen
  35. The Princess and the Goblin – George McDonald
  36. Term Limits – Vince Flynn 
  37. Garden City – John Mark Comer 
  38. Fault Lines – Voddie Bauchman
  39. Embodied – Preston Sprinkle 
  40. Freedom – Sebastian Junger
  41. Revival God’s way – Leonard Ravenhill 
  42. The Bomber Mafia – Malcolm Gladwell
  43. The Roots of Endurance – John Piper
  44. Out of the Depths – John Newton
  45. The Horse and His Boy – C.S. Lewis
  46. Gospel Eldership – Robert Thune
  47. Like Father Like Son – Pete Alwinson
  48. A Readers Guide Through the Wardrobe – Leland Ryken
  49. No Man Left Behind – Patrick Morley
  50. A Burning in my Bones – Winn Collier
  51. InSourcing – Randy Pope
  52. Life Together – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  53. Conversion and Discipleship – Bill Hull
  54. Gospel-Centered Discipleship – Jonathan Dodson
  55. The Abolition of Man – C.S. Lewis
  56. Volunteers that Stick – Jim Wideman
  57. The Masterplan of Discipleship – Robert Coleman
  58. Family Discipleship – Matt Chandler
  59. 10 Books Every Conservative – Benjamin Wilker
  60. The Princess Bride – William Goldman
  61. Taming of the Shrew – William Shakespeares
  62. The Magician’s Nephew – C.S. Lewis
  63. Slaughterhouse-Five – Kirt Vonnegut
  64. The Hallelujah Banquet – Eugene Peterson
  65. The Inferno – Dante Alighieri
  66. A Children’s Bible – Lydia Millet
  67. Return of the Prodigal Son – Henri Nouwen
  68. The Brothers K – David James Dunkin
  69. The Clouds – Aristophanes
  70. Engaging Critical Theory and Social Justice Theory – Dr. Neil Shenvi