Over 10 years ago, John Piper wrote Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. The book contained a series of short chapters written by Piper and designed to remind his fellow pastors of the biblical call to be a shepherd to God’s people. I would like to suggest the addition of a chapter to Piper’s previous work titled “Brothers, We Are Not Rock Stars.”
As much as we might like to deny it, we—other pastors and Christians—love a success. We want to be a success and we want to be surrounded by successful people. When we find someone who can draw a crowd, can motivate them and move them with his speaking, and can build an organization, we give them wide latitude in other areas. We are willing to call it “edgy” when a guy cusses in the pulpit, as long as he is reaching thousands and agrees with us theologically. But now we are discovering the problem is not solely theological in nature. No, it is deeper than the ability to check the “orthodox” box next to your theology. It is a problem of the human heart. It is a problem that Paul addressed to young Timothy when he told him flee the temptation of money and material possessions (1 Tim 6:9-11). It is a problem of a Christian subculture that loves a rock star.
I have a few suggestions as to how we can mitigate the rock-star phenomenon among us.
1. Serve in a small, traditional church before you plant a church.
I served in two small, rural churches that were run by just a few families. Nothing will kill a rock-star mindset like Mrs. Charlene reminding you that “pastors come and go, but the church stays the same.” Most of the rock stars in our midst planted the churches they now serve in. While I am not opposed to church planting, it gives a young pastor a false idea of ministry. I planted a church too. And I recall a mindset of the church being “mine” edging in on me; after all, I planted it, I built it, and no one would be here if they didn’t like me and my preaching. And I was only in a church of 180. Imagine 10 or 100 times that many.
My heart breaks when I hear the old saying “it is easier to give birth than to raise the dead.” Of course it is. And it’s more fun too. The problem is, there are lessons that one only learns during the hard labor of working with folks who do not see you as the answer to all their problems. There is a leadership incubator in a small, rural church that cannot—under any circumstances—be replicated by a church planting boot camp. Indeed, I would argue that if you cannot effectively lead in a small, rural church, you ought not plant a church. The leadership lessons are that critical. Spend five years or so in a small, traditional church before you decide to plant that megachurch, multisite, world-changing church in a major city. Your ministry will be better for it.
2. Find an older pastor to mentor you.
John Walden, Noel Taylor, James Baldwin. These are names that will be remembered by only a handful of family and friends. But these three men were instrumental in my life. They were all local church pastors who took me under their wing and shared ministry insights with me that were not taught in a classroom. They were not rock stars.
I remember one leadership decision that did not go as I intended. As I shared the story with Dr. Baldwin, he asked me who I thought was to blame. I immediately launched into accusations about the chairman of deacons, the family who “ran” the church, and the unwillingness of stubborn people to follow good leadership. He listened politely and then said, “Well, you got it all wrong, son. The problem is you.” He then painted a picture of how to lead people, not just tell them what I wanted them to do. The lesson made a significant impression on me.
When young, hip, cool pastor types experience success, the only people they seem to listen to are other young, hip, cool pastor types. That is a prescription for disaster. I would suggest that every young pastor—no matter how hip or cool—find an experienced, small church pastor who can share wisdom with him. Who can teach him how to navigate difficult leadership decisions and how to guard his heart from the temptations that come with great success.
3. Remember you are only a steward.
When I was getting a little full of myself about planting a church in a town of 3,000 people that were 78 percent churched—and it growing from 23 to nearly 180 in five years—I needed a reality check. What brought me back to reality—other than God’s grace—was a visit to one of those country churches I had previously pastored. It was there God reminded me that I was but a steward in His kingdom. He reminded me that the church I helped to plant had better be bigger than me, or it would not last. He reminded me to hold any church I serve with an open hand, because the church is designed for his glory, not mine.
Brothers, we are not rock stars. We are servants of the King, who demonstrate our love for Him by the way we love the people entrusted to our care. These things have helped me. What has helped you to beat back the rock-star mentality?