The last few years in the American evangelical landscape has been fraught with controversy and heavy critique. Well-known ministries and Pastors, even going back a few decades, are now no longer doing ministry. The one thing in common is that these were large ministries and celebrity Pastors.
In all this we’ve seen the rise of the ‘above-the-fray’ critics. Pastors and educated laypeople tweet and post, “See, megachurches are bad news. Pastors with celebrity fame isn’t what God intended. We know better. Why can’t the broader evangelical church know better?”
I’ve been this critic. I’ve got my biblical, ecclesiological, and practical arguments down pat. I tell people, “Just wait until (fill in the blank) has a moral failure and steps down from the ministry.” Of course, I add the caveat, “I hope the Lord restores him and makes his church flourish and be faithful.” I mean, I don’t want to come across like a total jerk.
I now pause my mouth when it comes to the critiquing of megachurches, large parachurch ministries, and celebrity Pastors. Why? Because I have slowed down my heart and realized what is lurking beneath my criticism.
Deep down, I want what these celebrity Pastors have.
I am not saying everyone in ministry who engages in this critique has the same problem I have (though I suspect it is widespread). I am just speaking about me.
When I slow down to look at my heart, I see anger. I see envy and covetousness. I see my failure to obey the ninth commandment as outlined in the Westminster Larger Catechism.
Q. 147. What are the duties required in the tenth commandment?
A. The duties required in the tenth commandment are, such a full contentment with our own condition, and such a charitable frame of the whole soul toward our neighbor, as that all our inward motions and affections touching him, tend unto, and further all that good which is his.
Q. 148. What are the sins forbidden in the tenth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the tenth commandment are, discontentment with our own estate; envying and grieving at the good of our neighbor, together with all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.
Whenever I quip, “I never want to be a megachurch Pastor. I never want my church to become a megachurch,” I think I mean it. But, I do want my church to have less problems, run more smoothly, and grow. I want an increase in my salary. Maybe my church isn’t 2000 people, but 300 would be nice so that we can plant another church and have a network of church plants in my city that I (so awesomely) pioneered.
And while I don’t want to be on the stage for TGC, T4G, or some other huge conference which only invites celebrity Pastors to speak, I would like to speak at my denomination’s conferences or preach at our General Synod. That’d be cool.
I want a D.Min so that I can be invited to teach 2-3 classes a year on things like church planting, gospel neighboring, counseling, etc. I teach Rhetoric at a classical Christian high school, and one reason I do so is that at least one time a week a group of people listen to me and actually seem to respect me and do what I tell them to do. (As compared, to say, preaching.)
No, I don’t want to produce endless amounts of books with Crossway, Zondervan, or IVP. But a cool Wipf and Stock or Brazos published book or two would be nice. I’d get interviewed on a few podcasts…and maybe I get a part-time gig with Relevant Magazine.
On the local level, I don’t want to gloat and self-promote our church doing pool baptisms (who knows how many of those folks have been baptized before or are mere plants in the crowd), but I want a steady stream of adult converts that I get to baptize. You know, 4-5 a month. You see, we have a tithing problem and I need to give potential donors a reason to write us a check.
I don’t want to have a megachurch or be a celebrity Pastor. I want to be one of those more regional gurus that young Pastors respect so that I have to say no to the abundance of e-mails and phone calls of those who want my advice. My time is precious in this possible world I’ve constructed.
And of course I don’t want to be making six figures and have a handful of other Pastors know what I secretly make. But I want to have a comfortable life. My family deserves a nice vacation or two every year. Maybe $65,000-80,000 a year is good.
With these dreams come anger, resentment…covetousness. I break God’s law and violate God’s holy character the 99% of the time I criticize a celebrity Pastor or megachurch.
Whenever I say, “I’m so glad we aren’t a big church, and I’m glad I am an ordinary, insignificant Pastor,” I am actually coveting a particular size and ethos for my church. I am desiring a certain level of fame and income for myself.
The gospel I need to preach to myself is that God is being good to me in not giving me these things. God is even being good in showing me my pharisaical self-righteous heart in critiquing other Pastors and their ministries (Phil 1:15-18).
I don’t plan to radically change my philosophy of ministry. That isn’t the problem. If the greatest need for my flock is my personal holiness, then I need to put to death this sin that is covetousness crawling around in me and to put on Jesus’ contentment.
I’m bad at this. Please pray that, by the Spirit, I get better at lowering my expectations and have a life worth imitating to my church and neighborhood.