Pastoral Popularity

Popularity Contest

Rick Warren TD JakesRob BellJoel Osteen

There are several reasons pastors who want to leave pastoral ministry are unable to do so. The first, talked about yesterday, is that pastoral ministry provides their salary. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if salary is the only thing keeping you in pastoral ministry, you might want to look toward transitioning into another job.

A second reason that many pastors stay in pastoral ministry is that they enjoy the popularity it provides.

The Popular Pastor

Like it or not, many churches are in an “American Idol” competition for who has the best pastor. Ideally, churches often look for the pastor who is the best-looking, best-dressed, and best-educated.  They want someone who is a great speaker, is outgoing, friendly, and good with people. If possible, it would also be good for the pastor to be a well-known author, conference speaker, and radio or TV teacher.

Churches who get all this in a pastor, often become known, not by the name of their church, or what they do in the community, or how well they reflect Jesus Christ, but by the name of the pastor. For example, when I lived in Dallas, there were several famous churches in town, and though I often heard people speak about the church, I cannot remember anyone ever referring to the church by its name. Instead, people spoke of “Chuck Swindoll’s Church” or “the Church of T. D. Jakes.”

If you live in a city that has such a Christian Superstar, and you have friends come visit, where do they want to go to church on Sunday? If you asked them, it probably wouldn’t be to your church. Since they are only in town for the weekend, they probably want to go see the great pastor, the world-renowned author, the television evangelist. They want to go see the show.

It is partly for this reason that when I lived in Dallas, I never once went to any of the churches of the big-name popular pastors. I even stayed away from most of the mega-churches. I did not go hear Chuck Swindoll or Tony Evans. I never visited First Baptist Dallas or Fellowship Church. Even though I love many of these speakers, and think these churches are doing some good things, I decided to boycott the whole business.  I did not want to get swept up into the cult of the personality.

The Personality Cult

Yet this cult of the personality is what many pastors are striving for. They want to be well-known. They want to have a million followers on Twitter. They desire the radio spot and the television primetime interview. They want to write a book, and have it instantly become a best-seller, no matter what it says.

While I am all for spreading the message of the Gospel using all available methods of modern technology, I am just not sure that the requirements of such methods mesh well with the requirements for pastoral ministry.

It seems that when one looks at the biblical model for a spiritual leader, the character traits that rise to the top are humility, service, and compassion, not good hair, self-advancement, and a career mindset. Again, I understand that most pastors are quite humble, service-oriented, and compassionate leaders.

But I also know from Scripture and experience that being a full-time, paid pastor comes with certain expectations about what you will look like, and how your career will advance. Your church must get bigger. You should develop an online following through a blog and website. Get a book published. Broadcast your sermons on the internet. If these things aren’t happening, people begin to wonder if you are a good pastor.

Bringing Idols Down to Earth

Though resigning as pastor will not automatically remove all these goals and desires, it does help divorce these dreams from the pastoral position. There is nothing wrong with getting a website, publishing books, or teaching on the radio, unless you think that these things will prove you are a good pastor.

By resigning as pastor, the temptation to leverage your position to increase your popularity and fame disappears, because the position is not there to leverage.

The first pitfall to pastoral ministry is the lure of money. The second is the lure of popularity. Tomorrow we will look at the lure of power, and then begin to discuss why and how a pastor can begin to transition away from “professional pastoral ministry.”‘


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