Perhaps this has always been a tendency; but, there is a “rock star” phenomenon plaguing modern evangelicalism. I use the word “plaguing” because it is a problem with serious implications. To what am I referring? Certain authors, preachers, and musicians have become so popular that conferences and concerts featuring these personalities are drawing thousands of people. And, the driving force for these large gatherings may be becoming more the personalities and their fame than the actual message they are proclaiming. To use contemporary language, these Christian workers are developing “groupies” who will traverse great distances just to hear them. These people are being treated something like “rock stars” or “celebrities.”
At this point, I want to make an important distinction (at least it is important to me). I want to distinguish most contemporary Christian musicians from the preachers to whom I am referring. For the vast majority of contemporary Christian musicians with whom I am acquainted, their music is performed as entertainment and as a means of income. They charge for their performances (sometimes large sums of money). That does not mean that they are insincere or that one cannot be edified by listening to them. It does mean that their work should not be considered ministry neither should their performances be called “worship”. Both ministry and worship are free. If material support is given to those who minister or lead in worship, it is purely voluntary and is never a condition or prerequisite for being allowed to participate. Those who charge for admittance to their concerts are professional entertainers. Some may not like that designation; however, that is the way it is. We must be truthful.
My concern in this article is with preachers who proclaim the Word of God. The conferences where these preachers preach are often sponsored by churches. Yet the cost of the conferences may understandably be too much for the churches to pay on their own; thus, there may be a charge to attendees. That is fair and understandable. It is good, however, when arrangements are in place for those who wish to attend but simply cannot afford the cost. None should be eliminated due to cost. On the other hand, if any of these preachers charge set fees to speak anywhere, any time, that to my mind renders them professional public speakers and not ministers of the Gospel. Ministers of the Gospel are servants who proclaim the “Good News” without charge. True they must live and they should live of the Gospel. Which means that the churches who profit from their free service have a responsibility to honor them by supporting their material and physical livelihood. However, that is entirely different from charging a fee for preaching. I have been told by people who are in position to know, that some of the most “popular” preachers and authors receive nothing personally from their labors (especially their writing). The monies received from their books go directly to the churches they pastor, not to them. This is highly commendable.
The concern just now is not the issue of money. It is the issue of celebrity and the “cult-like” following that some preachers are being given. The most astonishing thing about this is that I am speaking now of “reformed” preachers. They are preaching sound doctrine and are giving clear and accurate (for the most part) expositions of God’s Word. We are not speaking about preachers of smooth doctrine who please people by their easy words. We are not talking, in other words, about false shepherds. Rather, these preachers are proclaiming the truths that have been hated for so long and banished from most churches, and still are. These men are preaching the Biblical Gospel and sound historic Calvinism and heart religion that demands self-denial and full-soul abandonment to Jesus Christ. We should be excited that such preachers are drawing thousands of hearers!! We should praise God and pray earnestly that their message will gain an ever-expanding hearing. However, we must not treat them as “celebrities” or “rock stars”!
1 Corinthians 4:7 7 For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
The truth, the gifts, and the success these preachers possess are all gifts from Christ. Christ alone must be celebrated and adored. I have the strongest confidence that these men would wholeheartedly agree with this! They have not and are not seeking to promote themselves. They, like every other Christian minister worthy of the name, yearn to be used for God’s glory in the fullest and widest way possible. What minister would turn down the opportunity to preach the whole counsel of God to thousands of people, especially if he is preaching primary truth which has been stifled for decades? The problem is not with the preachers themselves, that is my assumption. The problem is with the people who hear them. The problem is with those who wish to be identified with certain preachers, as though that identification gave credentials to their own piety. The problem is in those who are more devoted to their favorite preachers than to the doctrine those preachers are preaching. That is the problem. And, this problem threatens the good work that is being done. For one thing, God does not share His glory with anyone. If we are giving glory to a preacher that belongs only to Christ, we are placing those preachers in danger–danger of having the blessing of God withdrawn from their ministries. That would be a tremendous loss to the church. We are also posing temptations to the men themselves. However humble and convinced a man may be that he is utterly dependent upon Christ and is nothing apart from Christ’s blessing, if multitudes are fawning over him and treating his words as though they are practically inspired, the tempter will work to exalt that man’s pride and to lessen his trust in Christ. That is a serious threat to the most holy man of God. Therefore, the reasons for reassessing our attitudes toward God’s most popular servants are substantial.
It ought to be noted that this is not a new problem. In the Corinthian church of the first century divisions developed as members aligned themselves with their favorite apostle or preacher, whether Paul, Peter, or Apollos. During the ministry of George Whitefield in the Great Awakening, a phenomenal popularity came to surround Whitefield. That popularity scared Whitefield and drove him to much prayer lest he be ruined by it. And, it may have been partially due to that popularity that his days were cut short. Of course, that is pure conjecture on my part. Spurgeon also was made into a “star” by the evangelicals of his day.
Yet, it must be added that in each case the popularity also brought harsh criticism toward the men whom God was using. That is also happening today. Suspicion surrounds success in the Gospel ministry, especially on the part of preachers who have never known even a fraction of the success others are enjoying. But, that is another topic for another time. Suffice to say, that men are to be critiqued by what they say not by their popularity or lack of popularity.
I conclude this blog by referring you to an excellent article written by Keith Green, titled “So you wanna be a rock star.” The response of some to the name Keith Green will be immediately negative. It is my opinion that such negativity is unwarranted. Keith Green did not hold several of the doctrines that we have come to recognize as major strands of Biblical thought. Had he lived longer, perhaps he would have. Also, he was influenced by some views that we would think to be less than thoroughly defensible from the Bible. Nonetheless, that being admitted, God taught Keith Green a great deal about passion for the glory of Christ and for the salvation of the lost. God gave him a heart for the poor and perishing which we would all do well to imitate. Whatever your impressions about Keith Green’s music and ministry (and contemporary Christian musicians could learn a great deal from him about ministry), I urge you to read his article.
It can be found at this web address:Grace Reformed Baptist Church Mebane, North Carolina