I've never been mistaken for Brad Pitt. Not once. Neither has anybody ever stopped me on the street only to look disappointed, apologize and say, "I'm sorry, I thought you were Johnny Depp." It just never happens. There's a reason for this. Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp are remarkably handsome guys (says I in a totally heterosexual way). While we all know that, at least to some extent, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there is no doubt that, at least culturally, there is some standard of what makes a person beautiful or exceptionally handsome. Depp and Pitt fit the mold quite well. I, like most others, decidedly do not. Some concerned therapist may write me concerned that I do not have healthy body image or some other pyscho-mumbo-jumbo, but I'll assure him that I'm doing just fine, thank you. I know who I am and I know what I'm not. And I'm no Brad Pitt.
What is remarkable to me is that Aileen, who (thankfully) seems to have no irrational and deep-rooted crushes on movie stars, can still be perfectly content with me, with my not-so-chiseled-chin and my I-know-they're-under-there-somewhere-abs. This is, in my books, a good thing. Her love is blind in all the right ways and I'm the grateful beneficiary.
A couple of days ago I was driving around Los Angeles (in a hybrid car, mind you—how CA-cliché is that?) with a couple of friends (neither of whom look like Pitt or Depp) and we began to discuss celebrity culture within the church and the tough task of any but the absolute best preachers. I don't think we can rationally deny that there is some serious celebrity culture in the church today, and even (or perhaps especially) within this New Calvinism. Whether this has always been the case, I do not know. But I consider it undeniable that, for good and/or for ill, it is a powerful force today. And those who face the tough task of forever "competing" with the brilliance of these celebrity preachers are the ordinary pastors who serve at churches just like yours.
Christians today have access (via the Internet, of course) to vast libraries of the best sermons by the best preachers—the Pitts and Depps of the preaching world. Of course in place of square chins and rippling abs are amazing abilities to communicate lucidly, to illustrate lavishly, to speak passionately, to exposit brilliantly. These are men who, by any objective measure, stand head and shoulders above the crowd just as Depp and Pitt do above me. They are men who are extraordinarily gifted by God and who have been faithful to use their gifts for his glory. I certainly do not wish to speak ill of these men who are such a gift to the church.
But where my wife remains content with her husband, I see so many Christians who struggle to be content with their pastors. And why is this? Because all week long, these people are drinking from another cistern, to borrow a phrase from Proverbs (5:15). They are doing the equivalent of a wife who spends her week plastering her home with posters of movie stars and staring at them greedily. How can her husband hope to compete with those ridiculously good-looking guys? And many Christians today listen to their pastor on Sunday and then listen to fourteen sermons by fourteen pastors before the next Sunday comes around. And, more often than not, their own pastors' sermon pales in comparison. Little wonder that we see increased cases where small-time pastors find themselves simply copying the top dogs, plagiarizing the brilliance of other men. Haven't we almost driven them to this?
The fact is, God has put us in churches with less-than-perfect and often less-than-brilliant pastors. The fact that there are extraordinary preachers tells us that there must be vast numbers of perfectly ordinary pastors. This means that most of us have been blessed by God with a very ordinary kind of pastor, just as most of our wives have been blessed by very ordinary-looking husbands. These men, these ordinary pastors, are the ones to whom we owe our loyalty. They are the ones to whom Paul refers when he tells the church at Thessalonica "to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work." These are the men God has given to serve you and to labor as pastors before you. It is through these men that God means to specially bless you in that unique body called the local church.
I do not mean to say that we ought not listen to podcasts or that we have to pretend that the extraordinary pastors do not exist. We can listen to their sermons and enjoy their great giftedness in teaching the Word of God and in calling us to live in light of it. But through it all we must guard our hearts. You would not want your child to be parented by another mother and father, paying lip service to you but giving his heart to others. You would not want to see that look in your wife's eye, that disappointed, disgruntled look, after she has spent her day staring at posters of movie stars. And you need to guard your heart that you do not inadvertently turn it over to a pastor who is not your own, a pastor who in any measure you care to see, is superior to your own.
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About Tim Challies
Tim Challies, a self-employed web designer, is a pioneer in the Christian blogosphere, having one of the most widely read and recognized Christian blogs anywhere (www.challies.com). He is also editor of Discerning Reader (www.discerningreader.com), a site dedicated to offering thoughtful reviews of books that are of interest to Christians. He is author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, published by Crossway.
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