Tag Archives: Pride

The Cross-Shaped Purpose of Life

We are born to die. Not that death is the reason why we were born, but it is an inescapable part of our future. Our lives move along a deathward trajectory that none of us, even the most vigorous, can avoid. Therefore, it’s important to understand life’s purpose.

An important voice on the subject of purpose is Jonathan Edwards. On July 8, 1723, Edwards penned his 52nd resolution along this line, asserting: “I frequently hear elderly people express how they would live, if they were to do life over again: [I am] Resolved, that I will live in faithfulness without regret, supposing I live to an old age.”

God’s call is too important to waste time, and, if we’re concerned with the advance of Christ’s kingdom, we want every ounce of energy to serve its progress. Toward this end, the following video, which we recently filmed in downtown Bologna, Italy, examines the cruciform pattern to which God actively conforms our lives.

Meaning and Purpose: Its Cruciform Shape from Chris Castaldo on Vimeo.

The Awesome Church

Pastors often say Monday is the hardest day of the week. They feel tired and spent, sometimes beating themselves up over Sunday. However, if you examined the Facebook and Twitter statuses of some church leaders on Monday morning, you would get the opposite impression. Status updates regularly proclaim that the previous Sunday’s service was “awesome,” “special,” and “amazing.” The music was “off the charts,” and the preacher “killed it . . . as usual.”

Not that we expect anything else. In the days leading up to Sunday we read many promises over social media about how Sunday is going to be “awesome,” “the best Sunday ever,” “not to be missed.”

Pulling the lens back even more, e-newsletters and annual reports of various churches confirm the awesomeness of their ministries and the huge influence God is giving them. There is a never a down week, month, year. Everything the church does is clearly blessed and a sign that God is with them.

Maybe all of what’s being said is true. Perhaps many churches out there are indeed on the cusp of confirming the postmillennial view and will soon usher in the kingdom of God. Or perhaps many churches (myself included) have fallen prey to a culture that encourages us to constantly promote and market ourselves in grandiose ways.

Props to Jesus

In Matthew 23:5 Jesus talks about the temptation to do things in such a way to attract attention. This is an especially strong temptation today, given the boom of outlets for people to see and know about what we are doing. We are eager to let people know all we have done. Even more, we want to be sure we come across as successful, doing uniquely great things.

Of course, many of us church leaders are quick to say that all we’ve done is all for “God’s glory” and that “the Lord gets the credit.” However, if we’re honest, we sometimes apply a light glaze of “props to Jesus” over what is in effect boasting about ourselves.

Promoting our churches is necessary if we want to grow and reach more people. But is there a way to bring less attention to ourselves and more glory to God? What if we deliberately don’t tell people everything? What if we let some things happen without seeking a way to get credit? What would it look like to celebrate God’s work through simple, direct, and honest thanksgiving? What if we gave annual reports that told not just all the good things from the past year but were honest also about the challenges, disappointments, even failures?

This approach certainly swims against the stream of an increasingly self-referential, self-promoting culture. But I think it has the ring of Christ to it. For we follow a Jesus who “had no form or majesty that we should look at him.” His humble service has accomplished the kind of glorious salvation and redemption that needs no flashy status updates but only our regular, faithful, ordinary witness.

Don’t Worry, No One Will Remember You

New media enabled by the internet draws out our latest desires for self-promotion and self-importance. We create our online persona by gathering followers, liking photos, tweeting and retweeting, and pinning what we think the world needs to know about us. In a recent article, psychiatrist Keith Ablow warned that we are raising a generation of deluded narcissists. He argues, “We must beware of the toxic psychological impact of media and technology on children, adolescents, and young adults, particularly as it regards turning them into faux celebrities—the equivalent of lead actors in their own fictionalized life stories.”

Christians are fighting this temptation through blog posts and books encouraging obscurity and self-forgetfulness. We know that the pursuit of greatness and glory is empty, meaningless, and will not bring peace.

The good news is we don’t have to fight too hard to be forgotten, because we will be. Each one of us is but a breath away from death and complete disregard. We won’t be remembered, because there are billions of people in the same boat. Few will even make the history books. The same goes for our children. Entire generations will not be remembered.

Why is this good news? Because as we fight pride and embrace obscurity, we can then shift our focus on going hard for Christ.

It’s good to focus our attention on killing sin because we know that the wages of sin is death. We want to fight sin and temptation through God’s Word and by the power of His Spirit. But when fighting pride, we might be tempted to withdraw from serving due to a fear of sinning or perhaps the fear of man. We focus on the pride by calling it out and naming it for what it is, but perhaps we do not think through the proper means to fight it.

If I remember that sin remains in me, I can walk out my faith without the fear of sinning. I already know I will sin. I know that I will have to fight the temptation to be prideful. I don’t take this lightly. But to fight sin by retreating (though at times it may be necessary) isn’t always the answer. At times we must push through and trust God’s Word when Jesus said, “It is finished.”

Run Hard, Serve Hard

You have ambitions, goals, and dreams for serving the Lord for the benefit of the body of Christ. But you aren’t stepping out because you don’t want to be proud. Maybe you have an article to write that might build the faith of others, but you don’t want to share it. This is where forgetfulness comes in handy. You will be forgotten, but God’s Word doesn’t return void. We can step out in faith and share it.

Addressing these matters of pride and service, Dave Harvey writes in his book Rescuing Ambition:

When God speaks, you have two options. You can flee in an attempt to protect yourself from the risk of obedience. Jonah tried that. But God loves us too much to approve our exit strategy. Jonah eventually understood that, but not before spending three nights in Hotel Humpback.

The second option is to move forward in faith, not dismissing the risk, but accepting it as part of the path. 

There are risks to running the race set before us. It’s not meant to be comfortable. When faced with this fear of sinning, find peace in God’s Word that you are forgiven and then run hard for Christ. Don’t allow fear to stifle your service. Fear of sinning twists the gospel by saying Jesus’ finished work on the cross was enough for our salvation but not enough for us to finish the race. That’s not what the Word of God says. Rather, “his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). With that comes great promises and power through the Spirit.

I don’t write as a critic outside the social media craze. I’m with you wondering about pride and ambition. But I find comfort in knowing that God can help us join Paul in saying “for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me” (Philippians 1:21-22). Our labor for the Lord may look drastically different, but our ambition can indeed be gospel-centered.

Again, we learn from Harvey:

The unstoppable gospel requires a fierce ambition to put it into play. Paul said, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Rom. 15:20). For Paul to get the gospel to new places and new people, he had to “make it [his] ambition.”

Having an ambition for the gospel pushes us to do things we never expected. It incites us to look beyond the borders of our comfort and convenience. The gospel stokes ambition by making audacious claims upon it.

We can boldly and ambitiously, without fear, proclaim Christ in this world. We need to. Now is not the time for Christians to retreat. Let’s proclaim boldly and with great faith knowing that God will get the glory. He will not be mocked.

5 More Signs You Glorify Self

Last week we looked at five ways the pursuit of self-glory shapes your ministry. Here are five more warning signs for you to consider in an effort to pursue wisdom and holiness. May God use these additional signs to expose your heart and to redirect your ministry.

Self-glory will also cause you to:

6. Care too little about what people think about you. 

If you think you’ve arrived, you are so self-assured that you simply don’t think others should evaluate your thoughts, ideas, actions, words, plans, goals, attitudes, or initiatives. You really don’t think you need help. You do alone what should be done in a group. And if you work with a group, you will tend to surround yourself with people who are all too impressed with you, all too excited to be included by you, and who will find it hard to say anything but “yes” to you. You have forgotten who you are and what your Savior says you daily need. You live in a place of both personal and also ministry danger.

7. Resist facing and admitting your sins, weaknesses, and failures. 

Why do any of us get upset or tense when we are being confronted? Why do any of us activate our inner lawyer and rise to our defense? Why do any of us turn the tables and remind the other person that we are not the only sinner in the room? Why do we argue about the facts or dispute the other person’s interpretation? We do all of these things because we are convinced that we are more righteous than the other person. Proud people don’t welcome loving warning, rebuke, confrontation, criticism, or accountability. And when they fail, they are very good at erecting plausible reasons for what they said or did given the stresses of the situation or relationship.

Are you quick to admit weakness? Are you ready to own your failures before God and others? Are you ready to face your weaknesses with humility? Remember, if the eyes or ears of a ministry partner ever see or hear your sin, weakness, or failure, it is never a hassle, never a ministry interruption, and it should never be viewed as an affront. It is always grace. God loves you, he has put you in this community of faith, and he will reveal your spiritual needs to those around you so they may be his tools of conviction, rescue, and transformation.

8. Struggle with the blessings of others. 

Self-glory is always at the base of envy. You envy others’ blessings because you see them as less deserving than you. And because you see yourself as more deserving, it is hard for you not to be mad that they get what you deserve, and it is nearly impossible for you not to crave and covet what they wrongfully enjoy. In you envious self-glory, you are actually charging God with being unjust and unfair. In ways you may not be aware, you begin to be comfortable with doubting God’s wisdom, justice, and goodness. You don’t think he has been kind to you in the way you deserve. This begins to rob you of motivation to do what is right, because it doesn’t seem to make any difference. It is important to recognize that there is a short step between envy and bitterness. That’s why envious Asaph cries in Psalm 73:13, “All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” He’s saying, “I’ve obeyed, and this is what I get?” Then he writes, “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast before you.” What a word picture—a bitter beast!

I have met many bitter pastors; men convinced they have endured hardships they really didn’t deserve. I have met many bitter pastors, envious of others’ ministries, who have lost their motivation and joy. I have met many pastors who have come to doubt the goodness of God. And you don’t tend to run for help, in your time of need, to someone you have come to doubt.

9. Be more position oriented than submission oriented. 

Self-glory will always make you more oriented to place, power, and position than in submission to the will of the King. You see this in the lives of the disciples. Jesus hadn’t called them to himself to make their little kingdom purposes come true, but to welcome them as recipients and instruments of a better kingdom. Yet in their pride, they missed the whole point. They were all too oriented to the question of who would be greatest in the kingdom.

You can never fulfill your ambassadorial calling and want the power and position of a king. Position orientation will cause you to be political when you should be pastoral. It will cause you to require service when you should be willing to serve. It will cause you to demand of others what you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself. It will cause you to ask for privilege when you should be willing to give up your rights. It will cause you to think too much about how things will affect you, rather than thinking of how things will reflect on Christ. It will cause you to want to set the agenda, rather than finding joy in submitting to the agenda of Another. Self-glory turns those who have been chosen and called to be ambassasdors into self-appointed kings.

10. Control ministry rather than delegate ministry. 

When you are full of yourself, when you are too self-assured, you will tend to think you’re the most capable person in the circle of your ministry. You will find it hard to recognize and esteem the God-given gifts of others, and because you do, you will find it hard to make ministry a community process. Thinking of yourself more highly than you ought always leads to looking down on others.

Personal humility and neediness will cause you to seek out and esteem the gifts and contributions of others. Pastors who think they have arrived tend to see delegation as a waste of time. In their hearts they think, Why should I give to another what I could do better myself? Pastoral pride will crush shared ministry and the essential ministry of the body of Christ.

Personal Grief and Remorse

It is important for me to say that I have written these cautions with personal grief and remorse. In shocking self-glory I have fallen, at some time in my ministry, into all of these traps. I have dominated when I should have listened. I have controlled what I should have given to others. I have been defensive when I desperately needed rebuke. I have resisted help when I should have been crying out for it. I have been too full of my own opinions and too dismissive of the perspective of others.

I am saddened as I reflect on my many years of ministry, but I am not depressed. Because in all my weakness, the God of amazing grace has rescued and restored me again and again. He has progressively delivered me from me (a work that is ongoing). And in being torn between the kingdom of self and the kingdom of God, he has miraculously used me in the lives of many others. In love, he has worked to dent and deface my glory so that his glory would be my delight. He has plundered my kingdom so that his kingdom would be my joy. And he has crushed my crown under his feet so that I would quest to be an ambassador and not crave to be a king.

In this violent mercy there is hope for everyone. Your Lord is not just after the success of your ministry; he is working to dethrone you as well. Only when his throne is more important than yours will you find joy in the hard and humbling task of gospel ministry. And his grace will not relent until our hearts have been fully captured by his glory. That’s good news!

5 Signs You Glorify Self

It is important to recognize the harvest of self-glory in you and in your ministry. May God use this list to give you diagnostic wisdom. May he use it to expose your heart and to redirect your ministry.

Self-glory will cause you to:

1. Parade in public what should be kept in private.

The Pharisees live for us as a primary example. Because they saw their lives as glorious, they were quick to parade that glory before watching eyes. The more you think you’ve arrived and the less you see yourself as daily needing rescuing grace, the more you will tend to be self-referencing and self-congratulating. Because you are attentive to self-glory, you will work to get greater glory even when you aren’t aware that you’re doing it. You will tend to tell personal stories that make you the hero. You will find ways, in public settings, of talking about private acts of faith. Because you think you’re worthy of acclaim, you will seek the acclaim of others by finding ways to present yourself as “godly.”

I know most pastors reading this column will think they would never do this. But I am convinced there is a whole lot more “righteousness parading” in pastoral ministry than we would tend to think. It is one of the reasons I find pastors’ conferences, presbytery meetings, general assemblies, ministeriums, and church planting gatherings uncomfortable at times. Around the table after a session, these gatherings can degenerate into a pastoral ministry “spitting contest” where we are tempted to be less than honest about what’s really going on in our hearts and ministries. After celebrating the glory of the grace of the gospel there is way too much self-congratulatory glory taking by people who seem to need more acclaim than they deserve.

2. Be way too self-referencing.

We all know it, we’ve all seen it, we’ve all been uncomfortable with it, and we’ve all done it. Proud people tend to talk about themselves a lot. Proud people tend to like their opinions more than the opinions of others. Proud people think their stories are more interesting and engaging than others. Proud people think they know and understand more than others. Proud people think they’ve earned the right to be heard. Proud people, because they are basically proud of what they know and what they’ve done, talk a lot about both. Proud people don’t reference weakness. Proud people don’t talk about failure. Proud people don’t confess sin. So proud people are better at putting the spotlight on themselves than they are at shining the light of their stories and opinions on God’s glorious and utterly undeserved grace.

3. Talk when you should be quiet.

When you think you’ve arrived, you are quite proud of and confident in your opinions. You trust your opinions, so you are not as interested in the opinions of others as you should be. You will tend to want your thoughts, perspectives, and viewpoints to win the day in any given meeting or conversation. This means you will be way more comfortable than you should be with dominating a gathering with your talk. You will fail to see that in a multitude of counsel there is wisdom. You will fail to see the essential ministry of the body of Christ in your life. You will fail to recognize your bias and spiritual blindness. So you won’t come to meetings formal or informal with a personal sense of need for what others have to offer, and you will control the talk more than you should.

4. Be quiet when you should speak.

Self-glory can go the other way as well. Leaders who are too self-confident, who unwittingly attribute to themselves what could only have been accomplished by grace, often see meetings as a waste of time. Because they are proud, they are too independent, so meetings tend to be viewed as an irritating and unhelpful interruption of an already overburdened ministry schedule. Because of this they will either blow meetings off or tolerate the gathering, attempting to bring it to a close as quickly as possible. So they don’t throw their ideas out for consideration and evaluation because, frankly, they don’t think they need it. And when their ideas are on the table and being debated, they don’t jump into the fray, because they think that what they have opined or proposed simply doesn’t need to be defended. Self-glory will cause you to speak too much when you should listen and to feel no need to speak when you surely should.

5. Care too much about what people think about you.

When you have fallen into thinking that you’re something, you want people to recognize the something. Again, you see this in the Pharisees: personal assessments of self-glory always lead to glory-seeking behavior. People who think they have arrived can become all too aware of how others respond to them. Because you’re hyper-vigilant, watching the way the people in your ministry respond, you probably don’t even realize how you do things for self-acclaim.

Sadly, we often minister the gospel of Jesus Christ for the sake of our own glory, not for the glory of Christ or the redemption of the people under our care. I have done this. I have thought during the preparation for a sermon that a certain point, put a certain way, would win a detractor, and I have watched for certain people’s reactions as I have preached. In these moments, in the preaching and preparation of a sermon, I had forsaken my calling as the ambassador of the eternal glory of another for the purpose of my acquiring the temporary praise of men.

Next week we’ll look at five more signs the pursuit of self-glory shapes your ministry.

Pride in the Pulpit

When I hear an essentially law-driven sermon, asking the law to do what only the grace of Jesus Christ can accomplish, I am immediately concerned about the preacher. I wonder about his view of himself, because if you have any self-consciousness about your own weakness and sin, you find little hope and comfort for yourself and your hearers in that kind of sermon.

You see this dynamic in the Pharisees. Because they thought of themselves as righteous, perfect law-keepers, they had no problem laying unbearable burdens on others. Their misuse of the law had its roots not only in bad theology, but also in ugly human pride. They saw the law as keepable, because they thought they were keeping it. And they thought others should keep it as well as they did. They were the religious leaders of their day, but they were arrogant, insensitive, and judgmental. They were not part of what God was doing at the moment—no, they were in the way of it.

Whole Lot of Pride

I am afraid there is a whole lot of pride in the modern pulpit. There is a whole lot of pride in the seminary classroom. There is a whole lot of pride in the church staff. It is one of the reasons for all the relational conflict in the church. It is why we are often better theological gatekeepers than tender and humble spokesmen for the gospel. It is why pastors often seem unapproachable. It is why we get angry in meetings or defensive when someone disagrees with us or points out a wrong.

We are too self-assured. We are too confident. We too quickly assess that we are okay. We too quickly make heroes out of ourselves and others. We too often take credit for what sovereign grace produced. We too often think we don’t need the help the normal believer needs. We are too quick to speak and too slow to listen. We too often take as personal affronts what is not personal. We quit being students too soon. We have too little time for meditative communion with Christ nailed into our schedules. We confidently assign to ourselves more ministry work than we can do. We live in more isolation than is spiritually healthy.

Not Yet Free

You are not yet free of sin and all its attendant dangers. You are capable of giving way to disastrous things. You are capable of losing your way. You are capable of ungodly attitudes and dark desires. You have not been completely delivered from pride, greed, lust, anger, and bitterness. Sometimes you minister with the attitude of a king, rather than one called to represent the King. You do not always love God above all else. You do not always love your neighbor as yourself. You are not always kind and compassionate. You are not always patient and forgiving. Sometimes you love your little kingdom of one more than you love God’s kingdom.

There are times when you love comfort and pleasure more than you love redemption. There are times when pride renders you unkind and unapproachable. There are times when you want your ministry to be about you. There are times when your’re irritated by the very people you’ve been called to pastor. You are not proud of all your thoughts. You would not want your congregation to hear all of your words. You do things in private moments that you would not want to be seen publicly.

These things are true of me as well. And they testify to the fact that we who are called to provide and lead ministry desperately need ministry ourselves. We who proclaim the message of grace deeply need grace ourselves. We have not arrived. We have not moved beyond a moment-by-moment need for grace. We are not yet out of danger. We are not yet free from temptation. The war for our hearts still rages. We still fail and fall.

But we have been blessed with the same grace we offer others. This grace humbles us as it exposes in us the very sin we are tempted to deny or minimize. Isn’t it good to know we rest not in our perfection, but Christ’s? We do not promote our reputation but his. The Savior uses people in process as tools of his process of grace in others, so we need not deny our neediness.


Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars

Rock stars are sexy. They stand on massive stages backed by incredible light shows while performing for people screaming out in worshipful adoration. They make great money, wear hip clothes, have rad tattoos, and get the best-looking women—all this for being able to write and perform music people enjoy.

This is the picture in many people’s minds when they set out to be worship leaders, as a result of the emotionally driven celebrity culture we have created and modeled for them in the Western church. When a leader is talented and charismatic, we tend to blur the line between admiration and worship, between imitating them as they imitate Christ and substituting them for Christ. With music, this is all the more dangerous because we are dealing with a naturally emotional medium.

But emotions are not bad in and of themselves. They are quite useful in engaging us holistically in worship. Consider how Jonathan Edwards, the great theologian and pastor, put it:

I don’t think ministers are to be blamed for raising the affections of their hearers too high, if that which they are affected with be only that which is worthy of affection, and their affections are not raised beyond the proportion to their importance, or worthiness of affection. I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.

It is the job of worship leaders to raise the affections of the people we lead to the highest possible height with the truth of the worthiness of God in our songs. And yet, while emotions are helpful handmaids of worship, the emotional and even sensual nature of music can make it difficult to know whether we are raising the affection of our hearers with the truth or simply the thrill of the song. We may go for the emotional jugular and completely fail to exalt the character, holiness, and majesty of God. The music becomes self-serving.

Prideful Platform

Perhaps the more common and deadly practice, however, is to use even the deepest truths of God to serve our own prideful pursuit of platform and prominence. Because we are in a culture that makes “Idols” out of men and women who can sing, people naturally put talented worship leaders in the rock-star limelight. This is a very tempting place to be as a worship leader, as that sort of public appreciation can be intoxicating.

Some years ago, I was beyond frustrated while serving in a church where I felt I was running on a hamster wheel. Week after week, I would “lead worship,” but it never seemed to elicit the response I hoped for. The people stood bored, uninspired, and generally apathetic, hands in pockets and arms folded. I was rarely thanked or encouraged, and it seemed I was wasting my time.

At the same time, I would travel to lead worship for conferences and concerts where my band would be paid well, fed well, put up in nice hotels, and constantly thanked and praised for our great work. When we led worship, people raised their hands and voices and sang loudly. Afterward, we would sign autographs, sell CDs and T-shirts, and take pictures with our “biggest fans.” I wanted more.

One day, in the middle of an argument with my wife over the whole thing, I shouted, “All I’m ever going to be is a local church worship leader!” As soon as I heard the words leave my mouth, the Holy Spirit began his work of conviction in me. He brought Ephesians 5:26-27 to mind to remind me that the church is the bride Christ gave himself up for, rather than a stepping stone for my own fame and glory. John 10 reminded me that the church are his sheep and they need a shepherd, not a rock star.

I was undone.

And then, because of his kindness, God used the wrecking ball of Psalm 46:10 to tear down the walls of strife I was experiencing from working toward the exaltation of the wrong name. Finally Ephesians 1 comforted me as an adopted son of God, who was purchased by the blood of Christ and blessed beyond comprehension.

Until that moment, I hadn’t realized that I had been searching for worth in things that could not give it, for satisfaction in broken wells. I was subconsciously using people to find validation, trying to create a better identity than the one I had been given in Christ. When people didn’t cooperate with my plans, I became frustrated with them, rather than humbly serving them as their pastor.

Okay Without Affirmation

I know many worship pastors are in the same boat. Many of us serve sacrificially, week after week, and are rarely noticed or applauded. We seek acceptance from the people we lead and serve, but instead we find grumbling and complaining rather than the affirmation our souls so eagerly desire.

This is not to say the grumbling and complaining or lack of encouragement is okay. This is to say that we are okay without affirmation.

We will never be more noticed, loved, cherished, accepted, validated, encouraged, and satisfied than we are in Christ. We will never have a greater identity than the one he has purchased for us on the cross. We are created in the image of God, bought with his blood, redeemed for his glory, adopted into his family, given an eternal inheritance, a new family, and the Holy Spirit to dwell in us!

We don’t need people to raise their hands and sing loudly in corporate worship. We don’t need to have them come to us after and tell us how great worship was. We don’t need to grow our platform, have a well-read blog, go on tour, lead worship at the biggest conferences, or have the top-selling Christian album on iTunes. We don’t have to be rock stars. We have Jesus. And Jesus is more than enough.

Celebrity Pastors: Top of the Heap or Overexposed?

In the talk about “celebrity pastors,” some have attached the phrase to both shallow, attention-seeking televangelists and also stalwart preachers and scholars with international audiences. It’s a sort of polemic, a subtle insult to the pastors in question. Some suggest that the two words are mutually exclusive: a good pastor won’t be a celebrity, and a celebrity won’t be a good pastor.

But celebrity comes for a variety of reasons. It’s worth differentiating between the kinds of celebrities generally, and between celebrity pastors in particular. You can see most celebrities in one of two categories:

  • The top of the heap
  • The overexposed

Top of the Heap

Recently, a new show premiered on CBS called “Once Upon a Time,” starring (among others) Josh Dallas. Though I never knew Josh well, we attended the same schools from fourth grade through high school. We knew many of the same friends and had classes together. Seeing a familiar face on primetime TV is odd, but in Josh’s case, it’s not the least bit surprising.

Josh was always a star. I can still remember his friends’ rabid campaigning when he ran for class president . . . in the sixth grade. Even then he had a persuasive and attractive presence. In high school, he was the star of our theater program. Believe it or not, the small town of New Albany, Indiana, has a fantastic theater program that regularly competes and performs at international festivals. Beginning as a sophomore, Josh won the handsome male lead in every show. There was never any controversy over this selection. Not only did he always look the part, he also performed better than anyone else. He was a classic triple-threat: singing, dancing, and acting. He commanded the stage and set the pace for other actors with his exemplary work ethic.

No one was surprised when he earned a full scholarship to one of England’s elite acting academies, nor when we heard he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. Likewise, his role in the major motion picture Thor came as no surprise, and now his role as Prince Charming seems perfectly appropriate.

Josh, and many celebrities like him, got where they are for three reasons: talent, hard work, and opportunity. It takes all three to succeed, and it’s a mistake to think that success in show business (or in any business) is made of anything less than all three. I know many talented artists and musicians who don’t work hard, and their skill develops slowly, or stagnates. No musician or actor (or preacher) simply explodes into the limelight based purely on talent. It takes hard work and skill development to take someone from talented to truly excellent. Similarly, I’ve seen many who work hard gain all kinds of opportunities, but these expose a lack of talent, and they don’t advance beyond a certain level.

When those elements come together, the result is success, and for people whose work gathers crowds, the result is celebrity. This is true in politics, art, and in some ways, religion. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that crowd-gathering or celebrity is the intended goal. Many artists work hard at their craft because they love it. The same can be said for pastors who pour countless hours into developing their preaching and communication skills, who study the scriptures and people around them intensely, seeking to make a connection between the gospel and the world we inhabit. Their goal is to be good shepherds, to pastor and lead well, to see the mission of God move forward. Some of these pastors will gather crowds. They become celebrities. In these cases, celebrity status is a byproduct of other, more important goals.


There is another kind of celebrity. Where someone like Josh spent much of his life developing his acting skills, others pursue an end goal that has very little to do with refining a skill or loving the arts. These celebrities fill our gossip magazines. They are famous for being famous. And their patron saint is Kim Kardashian.

Kardashian followed the trail to celebrity blazed by her friend Paris Hilton. It didn’t take long for a career to materialize out of nothing. Keeping Up with the Kardashians is one of cable-television’s hottest reality series, and her fame has led to a string of guest appearances on other shows and movies and endorsements for everything from cosmetics to cookie diets. Her wedding was big news in September. So was her divorce a few weeks later.

What’s the difference between Kardashian and Dallas? The answer, I hope, is obvious by now. Where celebrity is the byproduct of talent, hard work, and opportunity for Dallas, it is Kardashian’s goal. In the first case, all the hard work goes to refining the art of acting, music, or politicking. At the other extreme, all the effort goes towards gathering the crowd, getting recognition, and finding new outlets for exposure.

Foolish Ends

There’s plenty of middle ground between these poles of celebrity. Pastors, too, are sinner-saints. Pastors whose work results in celebrity must wrestle with strong pressure to feed the ego and conform to the world of shameless self-promotion.

Notoriety and celebrity are not in themselves an evil thing (Jesus and Paul, for instance, were celebrities), but they’re foolish ends. So how should pastors (and other Christians) think about celebrity? Here are a few principles:

  1. Celebrity should be a secondary goal. Becoming a celebrity isn’t a sin, but living life for the acclaim and praise of others is. Instead, we should focus on doing our work (whatever that may be) with excellence and integrity. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). Should that result in “celebrity” status, so be it, and God have mercy.
  2. Be self-aware and say no to opportunities you’re not ready for. I’m amazed sometimes at how easy it is to be invited to speak on panels and teach workshops at conferences. I know that I was doing so before I was ready. I often meet young, dynamic leaders who are only a few months into planting their churches or working in ministry, and they’re already serving on panels, advisory boards, and speaking at conferences regularly, flying away every few weeks. These men lack the self-awareness to see the absurdity of their situation and the distraction it creates for the primary task of caring for their flock. Opportunities that “widen your audience” or “create exposure” should be taken seriously, reluctantly, and with affirmation from wise counsel.
  3. Count the cost. Traveling the celebrity pastor’s conference circuit (and even to attend it) comes at a price. It means less energy devoted to your local congregation, and less energy given to your family. Be honest about whether or not your family or church is ready to pay that price in order to make you available to travel and speak. Side note: I’m thankful that many churches like Redeemer, Bethlehem, and The Village Church empower their pastors to use their gifts in this way. Such churches can do this because they have a size culture where it makes sense. Many churches couldn’t afford to empower their pastors in this way.
  4. Focus on the main thing. Paul’s admonitions to Timothy to guard his life and doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16) and Peter’s admonition to guard the flock of Jesus’ church (1 Pet. 5:2) make for good mission statements. Focus on growing in grace and leading your congregations to do likewise. It’s a high but unglamorous calling. Contrasted with the conference world, it’s downright grim. Instead of thousands of adoring fans hanging on your every word, this world is full of conflict, church discipline cases, deadbeat husbands, and slow-to-learn leaders. But it’s profoundly important work to care for the people Jesus died for.

Something to Say

Dallas Willard often recounts how, as a young man, he struggled with wanting to gain a larger audience for his ministry. He recalls how, in prayer, he had a sense that the Lord was telling him, “Instead of focusing on gathering a crowd, focus on having something to say. If you have something to say, the crowd will take care of itself.”

This example gets at the heart of the distinction between two kinds of celebrities. The work and effort that goes into successful ministry (study, prayer, and digging into the life of our communities in evangelism and disciple-making) may result in gathering a crowd, or even a national audience, but that shouldn’t be the primary goal. Likewise, we shouldn’t blur the lines between the kinds of celebrity pastors who are focused on the main thing and the ones who are focused on shameless self-promotion. The gap is wide.

May the Lord give us more who are celebrities for the right reasons—their focus, character, and hard work—and fewer pastoral Kardashians.

A Prayer About Loving to be First

Thank you Scotty Smith for this much needed prayer today (from today’s entry at Scotty’s blog “Heavenward“).


I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. 3 John 9-10

Dear Lord Jesus, to have one’s name recorded in the Bible is one thing. But to be chronicled there as someone who loved to be first isn’t a very attractive proposition at all. I have no clue what was going on in Diotrephes’ life that made him disrespectful of the apostle John and so divisive in the community. But his story certainly invites me to look at mine.

Jesus, please free me from the ways I, too, love to be first.

In my marriage—when being right and winning the argument is more important than listening and understanding my spouse… when I angle for the biggest cookie or control of the TV remote… when my obsession to be on time outweighs my commitment to kindness and patience.

In my friendships—when my delight in being remembered and appreciated is more pronounced than my record of staying in touch and serving my friends.

In my vocation—when the people with whom I work experience me as someone more preoccupied with my reputation and success than knowing and caring for each member of the whole team.

In the general population—when I navigate through life with little eye contact and a short memory for names of neighbors… when I push my shopping-cart around like I’m driving in the Daytona 500—racing up and down the aisles, grabbing items and speeding-up to get to the shortest check-out line first.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. You’ve never loved to be first. In fact, you didn’t consider equality with God something to be held onto selfishly. Rather, you emptied yourself by becoming man and servant extraordinaire. You served me by fulfilling all the demands of God’s law as my substitute and you exhausted God’s judgment against me as you died in my place on the cross. Now, you ever live to serve me, as my advocate, intercessor and bridegroom.

I am convicted and humbled, afresh, by your unselfishness and servanthood. Restore my first love for you, that my love for being first will decrease and die a thousand deaths. So very Amen, I pray, in your merciful and matchless name.

The Pastor’s Worst Enemy

The pastor’s worst enemy is pride, and it is a special danger for young pastors (1 Tim. 3:6).

The Particular Causes of Pride

  • Public gifts. As your gifts are exercised in public (unlike those with more private and unseen gifts and ministries), they are more likely to be recognized, admired, and praised.
  • Official status. As many of God’s people respect and honor the “office” of pastor (sometimes regardless of who fills it), you may be inclined to think it is you they respect and honor.
  • Man-centeredness. When people are blessed under your ministry, they will often attribute it to you rather than to God.
  • Worldly ideas of leadership. You see yourself as “in charge of all these people,” rather than their servant.
  • Inexperience. The Church is quite unique in how it places untested and inexperienced young men into positions of the highest responsibility without going through the “humbling school of hard knocks.” Having never been led, they sometimes do not know how to lead.
  • Misunderstanding of call to the ministry. Paul did not see the pastoral ministry as a prize he had earned. For Paul, it was as much a grace, an unearned gift, as salvation (Eph. 3:8).

The Pastoral Consequences of Pride

If you fall into pride there will be serious consequences in your ministry.

  • You will start depending on your gifts rather than on God.
  • You will become impatient with your less gifted brethren in the ministry or eldership.
  • You will become thoughtlessly insensitive to the traditions and customs of the past.
  • You will resist personal criticism and mature counsel.
  • You will become discouraged and discontented because “I deserve better than this crowd!”
  • You will regard yourself as above the small/dirty jobs in the congregation.
  • You will stop learning because you know more than everyone else anyway.
  • You may fall into the “condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim.3:6).

The Personal Cure of Pride

Let these two phrases be the double heartbeat of our ministries.

1. I am a sinner

  • Remember what I was (think on the sins you’ve been delivered from)
  • Remember what I could be now (if God had not stopped you)
  • Remember what I still am (research your own heart )
  • Remember what I could yet be (if God removed His restraining grace)

2. I am a servant

  • A servant of God (not independent but dependent on God for commission, authority, blessing)
  • A servant of God’s people (not their lord or sovereign)
  • A servant of sinners (do not look down on the unsaved but get down on your knees for them)
  • A servant of servants (don’t compete with other pastors but serve them)
  • A servant of the Servant (who said, “I am among you as one who serves,” and, “the servant is not greater than his Master.”)