Idolization of pastors has become an epidemic in church culture. More popular speakers like Steven Furtick and Joel Osteen have set the standard for the type of speaker many people find appealing.
But often, church members focus on the pastor rather than on becoming a part of the body of Christ. This danger is not limited to megachurch pastors. Whether they have a congregation of 50 or 500, how do pastors avoid the trap of popularity? Here are 10 ways to do so:
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1. Be accountable.
No one was meant to live in isolation. Even God exists within the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Yet, pastors are the least likely to have someone offer to hold them accountable due to the “holier-than-thou” perception that accompanies the pastoral role. Many church members will feel intimidated by this and resist meeting.
Pastors need people they can trust to confess their sins to; someone who can share their burden and offer encouragement.
2. Engage the enemy.
Every church needs to prioritize proclaiming the gospel and making disciples. When a pastor decides to institute change for the sake of doing these things, the gates of hell are rattled. Soon trials hit the church and the pastor becomes the main target.
Nothing keeps a pastor grounded like acknowledging spiritual warfare. There’s no time to have an inflated ego when he is busy advancing the Kingdom and equipping its members.
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3. Maintain humility.
Nothing is a greater antithesis of pride than humility. Although Jesus was God, He chose to come to earth and empty Himself of His power for our sake.
In the same way, our humility is a choice. Although pastors can often be placed on pedestals because of their wisdom and knowledge when it comes to Scripture, they should reject that false elevation, remain humble, and keep their hearts in the right place.
There is nothing wrong with accepting a compliment for a job well done, but a pastor must keep those compliments in the proper perspective, remembering that the words he speaks come from God.
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4. Draw boundaries.
A pastor’s life is lonely. When pastors meet regularly with congregation members both inside and outside the church, it is easy to become emotionally attached and develop a friendship. While this is okay, a pastor’s priority should be speaking truth and wisdom into the lives of his congregation.
If maintaining “friendliness” becomes the focus, they can damage their position as leader and shepherd.
5. Promote God, not yourself.
When pastors focus on their accomplishments rather than the church, the congregation is encouraged to follow them rather than God. Pastors need to be church leaders first and speakers or writers second. That way, people can become part of a church body as followers of Christ, not fans of a person who may be popular today but fade tomorrow.
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6. Avoid branding.
Unlike writing where authors are encouraged to brand themselves within a certain range of topics, pastors should be sure to address all topics.
For example, Joel Osteen is known for preaching sermons on hope and prosperity. Therefore, when a person wants to receive encouragement, they will google Joel Osteen and listen to his podcast, or buy a copy of his book. He has branded himself as a pastor who spreads hope and encourages people to ask for abundance from God.
But pastors must preach all sides of the gospel: not only encouragement and hope, but also repentance from sin and the importance of a clean heart before God. Pastors who focus on branding can quickly gather followers through social media and podcast subscribers, but lose sight of the task at hand—spreading the gospel.
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7. Don’t focus on numbers.
Churches that experience exponential growth can’t help but be catapulted into popularity, and by default, so is the pastor. When a church airs its services on YouTube or television channels, the number of views, likes, and shares communicates to others that that church is the one to attend. Although the pastor may attract attendees with a dynamic preaching style, the church does not need followers who are only there because of its popularity, and neither does the pastor.
Pastors will be held accountable for how they led the people God placed in their path. It will not matter if the pastor was cool or had a large congregation. It will only matter what they proclaimed in Jesus’ name. It is important for a pastor to not feel they are better than others simply because they have become the largest church in town.
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8. Minimize the bells and whistles.
It is one thing to try to reach younger generations for Christ. It is quite another to replace the solid word of God with fog machines, skinny jeans, and loud worship sessions. On the outside, a church can seem “cool,” but only the Holy Spirit brings people to the Father.
The problem with having a sanctuary full of colored lights and trendy looking pastors is that these things can become the focus. Soon the church gains people, not because they want Christ, but because they want to go to the place that is popular.
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9. Don’t excuse sin.
The church’s job is not to change hearts; only God can do that. But it is the pastor’s responsibility to teach the word of God in such a way that it will move people toward God and away from their sin. When pastors fail to do this, they often become more popular, because who wants to feel the conviction of sin? But allowing sin to continue without speaking out against it is an indication of an unhealthy church.
While it’s true that churches should welcome everyone, the pastor must do his part in letting people know what is right and wrong.
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10. Avoid the religious spirit.
The religious spirit, or an attitude characterized by tearing others down without building them up, is the enemy of any congregation. But pastors can easily become more critical than they realize. Soon, their trust of other leaders erodes, leaving them to rely only on themselves for wise counsel. And the enemy often pounces in isolation.
Pastors need to trust other leaders within the congregation and without to help them continue learning and growing. When a pastor feels he knows everything and cannot learn from any other leader, he is falling down an increasingly slippery slope.
Pastors can rid themselves of the religious spirit by doing regular heart checks. Like a physical exam, pastors need a spiritual retreat to get alone with God and ask Him to reveal if there is anything preventing them from being the leaders God intended them to be.
All Christians need to avoid the trap of using their spiritual position in the world to become a celebrity to the people around them. Pastors are no exception. But as leaders of their churches, they are more susceptible than anyone. When pastors focus on the real tasks of working for the Lord, not for themselves, they will avoid the trap of popularity and be the followers of Christ they are called to be.
Michelle S. Lazurek is a multi-genre, award-winning author, speaker, writing coach, pastor's wife, and mother. As a literary agent for Wordwise Media services, she is a sought after workshop presenter at popular writers' conferences like She Speaks and Greater Philly Christian Writers conference. Please visit her website at michellelazurek.com.
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