Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Confessions of a (Former?) Reformed Celebrity Fanboy

Some of these thoughts have been gestating for awhile, but ever since I read "A Not-Famous Pastor's Take on Evangelical Hollywood," I have felt somewhat affirmed that I ought to share my more recent struggles. I write this without a bit of cynicism or sarcasm. This just comes from a place of honest struggle.

While I don't wish to dramatize every little decision in my life, one of the greatest struggles I have dealt with is simply coming to terms with the possibility that I may be called to be a pastor. I have touched on this frequently here and there in the last few months on the blogs. The truth is, it is very hard not to compare yourself to the celebrities of the preaching world. I know that this is not something that these godly pastors would want to have happen because of their ministries, but it is a reality for myself and for many others, I am sure.

The truth is, we are living in a day and age when I have at my finger tips every single sermon that John Piper has preached since starting preaching back in the 80s. I can listen to thousands of sermons from the heavyweights. And if you're just listening to listen, there is nothing but healthy and good eating to be done. But what if you're like me, and you want to be a great pastor and show Christ to your people someday? Well, that's when the celebrity pastor thing becomes a little bit trickier. Yes, the responsibility lies with me to be a grown up and have realistic expectations of life in the ministry and not get too excited about Paul or Apollos. But what if I'm not getting sectarian because of Paul or Apollos? What if I'm just paralyzed at the thought that each Sunday when I'm preaching to these people, many of them will be going home and listening to far more substantial, robust, careful preaching than I could ever hope to deliver from my pulpit?

Perhaps the fact that I have 30 years' worth of sermons from Piper, MacArthur, and Ferguson on my iPod cheapens the preaching, just like it cheapens Led Zeppelin's discography to know that you could download the whole thing in 15 minutes from the internet.

Sermons were meant to be studied, poured over, and prayed over. I can get them at the touch of a button. At one point while I was in college, I listened to 8 hours of preaching a night at my overnight job at Target. While I was fed, I never really appreciated the blood, sweat, and tears that must have gone into each and every sermon. The digging, the reading, the praying, the linguistics involved, the people in the pastor's mind as he was working the sermon out... it all gets lost because it's just raw consumption with no interaction, no personal touch.

Morrissey (the former lead singer of the band The Smiths) was being interviewed once, and they asked him what music he's been listening to. He said (and I'm paraphrasing because I can't find the quote), "I just keep listening and listening. I'm like an obese person who eats even when they don't enjoy it. I just consume so much that it all sounds the same to me after awhile." What if we're becoming like that today with regard to preaching. "Preaching? Oh yeah, I can get that whenever I want. Yeah, Piper's pretty good. My pastor doesn't sound anything like him, but at least I can hear him whenever I want."

I think that the celebrity culture that exists in the Reformed world today is introducing a subtle cheapening of preaching. After all, if I can get it and hear it this easily, and it's always so GOOD, how can my pastor's Sunday sermon NOT seem cold, dry, and lifeless in comparison?

I have two great and godly pastors - Pastor George Granberry and Pastor Rick Franks. Pastor Rick has taken me under his wing, as it were and spent a great deal of time with me mentoring, discipling me, and just spending much needed time encouraging me to grow in the Lord and to develop the traits that a good pastor needs to. And you know, as much time as I spend listening to Piper and Keller, one thing I know is that it wasn't John Piper who called me after my daughter had to be admitted overnight to the hospital. And it wasn't John MacArthur who got in touch with me to see how my foot was doing after I sprained it on the job. It was these men. Men who minister to me week in and week out.

I do not envy my pastors. Just like I don't envy the wife of a man who won't cancel his subscription to Maxim magazine. I know the comparison is horrible, but how can the pastor or the wife ever compare to what the man is getting the rest of the week? The airbrushed falsity of the magazine is similar to the airbrushed picture of the life of the much better pastor across the street who comes to you without any baggage, without making any demands of you, without asking anything of you. He delivers the Word, packaged up perfectly to the 'T' and then he goes, once the audio file is finished. Meanwhile, your pastor comes down from the pulpit, perhaps he's a big socially awkward, and maybe he trips when he's coming down from the pulpit. At the church potluck, you hang out with him but have trouble making small talk. It's these flaws, these imperfections that give the preaching of the Word it's power - because it comes from earthen vessels who are unable, under the gaze of their congregations, to present the illusion of perfection or meet any unrealistically high standard.

So as I said, I don't envy my pastors. As long as I keep giving into the Reformed celebrity culture, they are always going to play second fiddle to Keller, Piper, and Ferguson. Who could stand in comparison to such luminaries? Maybe church members like me were really meant to be fed by their pastor and not subsidized the rest of the week by the "big boys." Maybe the internet has presented unprecedented opportunities that I shouldn't be taking advantage of. I don't know... I'm still trying to work through these things. But if I don't verbalize the problems I am seeing right now, will I ever be able to be honest with myself about the strengths and weaknesses of the way in which I was discipled by the radio and iPod for most of my life before finally finding a Reformed church to call home? I really don't know.

[Edit: Let me also suggest that Carl Trueman's post at Reformation 21 is certainly relevant to what I have to say here.]

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