The story came out not too long ago, but news has spread that Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, has resigned due to “moral failure.” He claims, in the article, that his wife had been involved in adultery, which led him to be involved in an “inappropriate” relationship himself. His wife seems to have a different story that has not yet been officially released.
Frankly, the root of the problem is simple, and yet so many of us seem to miss it. Paul talked about celebrity culture in the first century, where some disciples would claim Apollos, others Paul, and still others Peter. It’s not different in today’s world of: “My favorite preacher is ____,” “No, I like ____ because he preaches in such and such a way,” “Man, _____ is such a godly man. I want to be just like him…” And so on and so forth. Paul rebukes the Corinthians and says, “What then is Tullian Tchividjian? What is John PIper? Slaves through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each… So neither are any of them anything…” (my paraphrase). These pastors, week in and week out, through members of their church coming up to them right after their performances (oops I meant sermons), through social media comments, emails, messages, texts, what have you, hear the praises of men and actually buy into the fact that they are literally God’s gift to humanity. Maybe some celebrity pastors don’t think this way, but it’d be awfully hard not to believe what you hear over and over and over again. As a sinner, if I heard millions of people praise me and my “gifts in ministry” over the course of years and decades, I couldn’t help but drink my own Kool-Aid as well. (So please, don’t praise me.)
The root of the problem is systemic in nature: the system of mega-churches and the cult of personality that so-called Christians are attracted to. I quote a recent blogger who put it well: “… the cult of personality is everywhere. It’s their [pastors’] sinful inclination to be worshipped and our sickening sinful inclination to worship anyone other than God” (source). Mark Driscoll (ironically) used to use the term “functional Savior,” and little did he know that he himself was a functional Savior for many of his followers. Want proof? He had many supporters even after all of his dirty laundry aired. The man can do no wrong!
“The mega-church pastor becomes like the liver of an alcoholic body. The anxiety, pressure, and stress generated by the mega-church is not shared by the typical member but is focused primarily upon the pastor. This pressure molds the pastor into something more akin to a CEO of a large corporation than a wise rabbi. Even pastors who attempt to stay healthy will end up flaming-out and suffering because the systemic issue cannot be mitigated by sound personal practices” (source). Are you telling me that NO ONE else in your 15,000-member congregation can preach and teach the word effectively, so that it is necessary for you to be videoed in on five different campuses? Shouldn’t we as believers train and mobilize others to do the work of ministry?
I am in no position to judge Tullian, or any other fallen celebrity pastor, on a personal level. But I am in a position to evaluate (or “judge”) where the evangelical church is headed, and it is not in a good direction. If I may make a suggestion to my fellow evangelicals: stop idolizing celebrity pastors, stop quoting them as if they were inspired Scripture, stop depending on them for spiritual maturity, and let’s support those local church pastors who actually do the daily grind of real ministry. Rather than get excited because you got a selfie with Mark Dever (nothing against him or any others!), why not encourage your own pastor by being more fully engaged in the work of ministry?
Right now, I serve on staff at a local church that has an average attendance of about 100-120, which here in Canada is an average-sized church. I serve alongside a pastor who is not only the pastor of preaching and teaching, but does the work of an executive pastor, counseling pastor, outreach pastor, missions pastor, and oversees all of the ministries (and for a small church, we have lots of ministries!) within the church, among other duties. He also volunteers for the community BBQs we host, and is a husband and father of four young kids. I don’t say all of this to create another celebrity pastor–far from it. He is far from a celebrity in this community, but I can say he is a brother and friend with whom I love doing ministry. I think I’m going to spend more of my time and energy serving alongside pastors like this, than give my admiration for a celebrity pastor who, because of the system they and others have created, may or may not experience moral failure for themselves and their families. My relationship with God will not be affected by any of this nonsense that the Apostle Paul would scoff at today.