My wife teaches high school English, 9th grade to be exact. Yes she willfully chooses to teach Freshman. Why? I have no earthly idea, but she does and she is quite wonderful at educating them. That might have something to do with how she gets along with me so well, but I am not going to go there! As a high school teacher, she knows what is cool and in these days. I have little clue as to these things at times. I have officially become the old dad who is growing more out of touch with the younger generations by the day. Well recently she told me that it is now cool to be not cool. We were watching something on TV and I had made a statement about some character or something being a dork and she informed me that now cool is completely different than when I was growing up.
In my last few years as a youth and college minister I witnessed an ever growing angst and rising counter-culturalism. I guess in the half decade since those days this trend has just continued and grown exponentially. I no longer care that greatly about being cool as per societal standards. Now I do want to be able to relate to the culture where I serve but I am not going to chase fads and trends all day long. I wear clothes that my wife likes, and listen to music that I like regardless of what anyone outside of my family cares. What concerns me about this ever growing angst though is that this trend now has a considerable foothold within present day Evangelicalism.
In some tribes this counter-cultural angst manifests itself by deconstructing everything from the past. Not believing anything that is not brand new and groundbreaking. Disbelieving most of the Bible and not trusting the history of scholarship in regards to the Bible and theology. This is where the extreme liberals (although strangely they still call themselves Evangelicals) such as Rob Bell & Brian McLaren reside. The biggest fallacy of this group is that what they are doing is not new. This has been done in almost every generation since Christ, so they are just repeating the history they seem to despise.
In some other tribes this comes out as a rejection of their parents’ style of church. It is not a complete repudiation of everything from the past; rather they are just rejecting the large attractional model of church that dominated their childhood and youth. This includes people like Matthew Paul Turner, Shane Clairborne, Don Miller, and Dan Kimball. Much like the previous group they fail to see how they are just also repeating history.
This angst also is manifesting within my tribe, the so called Young Restless & Reformed tribe (I for one abhor that label and much prefer Gospel-centric). In this midst, the counter-culturalism is coming out as a rejection of any type of size or following. To be faithful you can only be small and unknown is the prevailing thought for these rebellious souls. They blog and tweet and rail against churches being too big (what is big though?) and against any known pastor or speaker being featured at conferences. They have a distrust of all churches beyond a certain size. This concerns me greatly. I wonder what is going on at the heart level of these guys that make them feel this way all the time.
Sometimes I wonder if it is nothing more than pure jealousy that causes these feelings and that now that there is a groundswell against big churches and celebrity or famous pastors, they can jump on board and let their unchecked heart issues run rampant. I know this probably does not describe all of the ones in this group, but I cannot help but wonder if it describes more than a few.
Is being a big church always bad? No. Can it be a bad thing? Yes. Can it be a good thing? Yes. I want to explore this a bit. What are the reasons people do not like big churches? I have heard that it is because they are just about numbers, or that it is easy to get lost in them. Those are legitimate concerns. A concern for pastors of growing congregations is that they would grow bigger and smaller at the same time. This is done by increasing both the air war (grow bigger) and the ground war (grow smaller through community groups) simultaneously. Does anyone know how to do this perfectly? No. If they did they would be a fairly wealthy super star in the world of Evangelicalism. But no one will ever figure this out, because the answer is different for each church and for each context. This is also a process that is different in different seasons and life cycles of the church.
Now what about the grievance that big churches just care about numbers? Sadly some do. But not all big churches are number centered. Many grow because they care about people and know that each number represents someone the Gospel could change. As we seek to follow Matthew 28:18-20, shouldn’t we be seeking to change as many with the Gospel as possible. Will everyone in large churches be changed by the Gospel and become a believer? No, but that is true for any size church. It was even true for the 12 disciples. Jesus spent 3 years with Judas who eventually was the traitor. So we cannot let the fact that not everyone will become a true believer prevent us from growing in size and Gospel impact, because that fact is true of an y size church.
So what about this fretfulness about pastors having a sense of celebrity? I can understand this to a degree. We have had some pretty poor examples of well-known pastors in our day, but then again every generation since Christ could say that. Well since public failure of known pastors is not a new issue, the cause of the worry must be something else. I have heard it said that it is a sin to be famous. Well was Jesus well known? Yes. Did Jesus sin? No. There you go. Ok. Ok. Ok. It is not a sin to be well known, but a sin to seek to be famous. Hmmm. I can agree with that. It is sinful to be seeking our own glory instead of the glory of God. But does that necessarily describe every so called “celebrity” pastor? NO! I doubt it even describes the majority of them. I would venture to say that it only describes a very very few of them (usually they are the ones that wind up with the extreme public moral failures).
Most well-known pastors are men seeking to be faithful to the Gospel. Should we fault these men for doing this well and being known? I say no. We instead should celebrate them and seek to learn from them. This does not mean we immortalize them and fail to remember they are just men and are depraved and fallible apart from God. We, instead, remember this truth as we seek to model their faithfulness and grow in Christ ourselves. Another oft forgotten fact about these Celebrity pastors is that most of them did not seek their fame. Rather it was thrust upon them because of their faithfulness.
So what do we do with this? Do we continue to be against any level of fame? I say no, because all of us in the ministry have some measure of celebrity however miniscule or large. We all have people watching and following us. We all have those that are just waiting for us to fail and those that would be in the category of fanboys. Some just have more of those than others. So maybe we need a reminder of the definition of celebrity and for those casting stones to remember that even they themselves have some degree of celebrity.
I also think we need to be able to use this issue to go deep and apply the Gospel to our own hearts. And this can be done on both sides. Those that tend towards fanboy status need to examine why that is and to look at why men are their functional savior and let the Gospel speak to that area. Those on the other end of the spectrum need to let the Gospel speak to the issues causing that mistrust and fear. So today I urge you to press into the Gospel and let it speak to the underlying issues that cause you to bend one way or the other.