Reflections on T4G 2012, Part 2

This post is part of a series.  Check out the rest of my reflections on Together for the Gospel 2012 here.

A second highlight from my time at Together for the Gospel 2012 was the panel focusing on the rise of the “Celebrity Pastor.”  The panel was in response to a blog conversation between Carl Trueman and Thabiti Anyabwile.  See Carl’s posts here and here.  See Thabiti’s response here.  The panel consisted of Mark Dever, Carl Trueman, Thabiti Anyabwile, David Platt, and Matt Chandler.  The general discussion was good, but a couple of observations that Carl Trueman mentioned especially caught my attention.  The more I’ve thought about these trends, the more impact Dr. Trueman’s thoughts have had on me.  Here are the two observations Dr. Trueman presented (remember, the context is the idea of “celebrity pastors”).

The first observation Dr. Trueman noted was the decline of the local church pastor’s influence in the life of his congregation.  Dr. Trueman said that he often asks his students about the most influential pastor in their lives.  He said that he rarely has a student respond by reporting that the most influential pastor in his life is the pastor of his local congregation.  I think this is largely due to the second observation Dr. Trueman pointed out.

The second observation Dr. Trueman noted was the separation of the preaching and pastoral ministries.  Today’s technology allows sermons of great preachers to be widely distributed via podcast, vimeo, etc.  While this is a good thing (it’s good for quality teaching of God’s word to be accessible), it presents a couple of problems.

First, a preacher is preaching in a specific context.  The rise of technology has a tendency to fog this context.  For example, if a preacher knows his sermon is going to be widely distributed, will he feel the freedom to preach to his congregation in their specific context?  Or will he make the sermon more accessible to people removed from that context?  From the listener’s perspective, when I’m listening to a preacher preaching hundreds of miles away, I’m removed from the context.  I benefit less than the congregation a pastor is speaking to.

Second, the separation of preaching and pastoral ministries inappropriately elevates the preaching ministry above the pastoral ministry.  I’m absolutely an advocate of a strong emphasis on preaching ministry.  But I also advocate an emphasis on strong pastoral ministry.  Additionally, a strong pastoral ministry only increases the strength of the preaching ministry of a local church.  I think both the preacher/pastor and his congregation lose when pastoral ministry suffers.

Why do I care about all of this?  Most of all, I desire for God’s people to develop a deeper love for Jesus.  Surely this will happen best when ministers in the local church are shepherding their congregation well.  I think Dr. Trueman’s observations are important for local church leaders to take note of and respond accordingly.  Another way in which Dr. Trueman’s observations have been affecting me is by giving me a greater appreciation for the “ordinary pastor:” the pastor who labors faithfully for years but sees less numerical fruit than today’s celebrity pastors.  The pastor who doesn’t have vimeo videos with thousands of views but loves his congregation deeply.  The pastor who doesn’t have a podcast with thousands of downloads but teaches Scripture faithfully.  While celebrity pastors are great, and I rejoice that people are hearing the gospel through them, the Church (universal) needs ordinary pastors as well.

All of this talk reminds me of Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor.  Today’s pastors would do well to read and learn from the wisdom of Baxter so that pastors may most effectively take up the charge of “demolishing the kingdom of darkness” (Baxter).