I met a “celebrity” pastor at T4G yesterday.

I can confidently report that he was normal.

In fact, he was more normal than many “normal” pastors I’ve met. He was warm, friendly, engaged in our conversation, didn’t try to get away after the initial pleasantries, and wasn’t continually looking over my shoulder for someone more interesting or important to talk to. And I have to say that most of the well-known pastors and preachers I’ve met have been similar.

The problem is often with those who surround these men. In my experience, it’s often the gatekeepers, the hangers-on, the media, PR & marketing guys, the organizers, the administrators, the “friends,” etc., that create the impression of superiority, aloofness, arrogance, and disinterest in lesser mortals.

I’ve met a good number of them too, and though there are some happy exceptions, I’m afraid that they often give their masters and “friends” a bad name. When no one else is around, they might give you the time of day, but meet them in a crowd and you’re suddenly invisible. Or if you are talking to them in a crowd, you wonder if you have a parrot on your shoulder!

Past too much like the present
Before I was converted, I’m afraid that I was a regular sampler of Glasgow’s nightlife. I used to go to clubs that were attended by the top Scottish soccer players (the equivalent of your ARod, Tom Brady, etc). Because of their large “retinues” you wouldn’t normally get near to talk to them – unless you met in the restroom. I “bumped” into quite a few of them there over the years and usually found them friendly, decent, down-to-earth, etc. Just like the few “celebrity” pastors I’ve met.

But again, it was their retinue, the guys basking in reflected glory, the entourage, the guys that probably could hardly kick a ball, that by their attitudes and actions usually caused the public perception of these “stars” arrogance and superiority.

So, to the celebrity pastors, I would say, you may be the humblest, godliest, and most decent pastor in the world; but if you have bumptious, pretentious, person-respecting staff and (mis)representatives, don’t be surprised if people who don’t know you think that you are just like them. I would prescribe them a daily dose of James 2v1-4 and maybe some regular time at Calvary.

To the entourage, the “friends,” I would say, go pastor a church yourself for a few years (rather than by proxy), and you might then stop to talk to some “ordinary” pastors at the next T4G.

The Word of God reveals the human heart. So do large conferences.

  • http://www.graceandtruthcc.com Bob Schilling

    Thanks David, well said. I once, while in different circles than the Lord brought us into in the 25 years since – I once met Chuck Swindoll who in those circles was certainly a celebrity. Just as you said here, he looked me directly in the eye, gave me his full attention, was very warm and conveyed a genuine interest in those brief, few moments with what I had to say. I would certainly differ with Chuck Swindoll on a number of points perhaps today (perhaps less than some would think), but that engagement left a lasting impression on me. To this day I greatly respect him, he had modeled integrity and faithfulness in many spheres and when he’s criticized by some I am one I his first defenders. And not just based on a friendly handshake – but that personableness and “real-personness” are huge for even a “celebrity Pastor’s” lasting and genuine influence. Sounds like t4g has been a great conference – praise God for the myriad of servants He is raising up. Thanks for blog brother.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Amazing story, Bob.

  • http://gqlgeracaoquelamba.blogspot.com Victor Leonardo Barbosa

    Pastor David, your article is clear and expresses the reality which occurs many times in this kind of event. Last year I experimented something similar in a theological Conference (thanks God there was others with interact much more with the people) . Although many of the celebrity pastors are Godly men, they need show this not only in the pulpit, but with the people which listen they.

  • Pingback: David Murray on “Celebrity Pastors” : What's Best Next

  • Pingback: Meeting “Celebrity” Pastors | Alex Chediak

  • http://www.Armchair-Theology.net Dave Moser

    It always amazes me that the God of the universe would use me as his (mis)representative. I’m all-too-often a “bumptious, pretentious, person-respecting… (mis)representative.” Talk about generosity…

  • Pingback: Trevin’s Seven – Trevin Wax

  • Pingback: 5 to Live By: The Top 5 Christian Blog Posts of the Week | RPM Ministries

  • http://www.housewifetheologian.com Aimee Byrd

    This is one thing that really bugs me about the whole Christian conference atmosphere. If we are glorifying Christ in these venues, the speakers and celebrity pastors need to purposefully retreat from their entourage. One thing I noticed at a much smaller conference was that the speakers did not eat with us, they didn’t get their coffee from the same place we did…I think that sends a message. Thanks for addressing this topic.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      You’re right about the need to retreat from the entourage, and even at times to walk away from the organizer’s arrangements.

  • http://Kylepierpont@gmail.com Kyle Pierpont

    You met Josh Harris didn’t you!

  • Pingback: Flotsam and Jetsam (4/13) | Everyday Theology

  • Michael Neises

    While this point of view is a valid observation and a good reminder to those who serve the “celebrities”, as I read it I was disappointed that you painted with a very big and broad brush, and didn’t acknowledge the many fine servants who do their jobs faithfully with excellence and grace.

    • David Schaffer

      I feel as if he did a great job with this. The point of the blog is to say that there are some “celebrity” pastors that are in fact not caught up in their status. To list names would be a disservice to these men and bring extra undue attention to them. It is not about how this “celebrity” pastor acted it is about how God works through him. David is asking us to not jump to conclusions about these men, just because of those that surround them.
      As a servant of God we should not wish to be acknowledged by men for faithfully serving, as we all fail repeatedly. We should not hoist one man above others as none of us are perfect. As a servant of God we should look to doing as God called on us and know that though man does not acknowledge us we are serving the will of God.
      I guess I would say I am thankful he “ith a very big and broad brush.” If I am wrong with what I thought you were thinking please let me know, I am sorry if I am. David if I misunderstood your points please also let me know.

      • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

        Right on, David.

  • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

    Dr Tim Trumper gave me permission to post his Facebook comments on this post here:

    “I loved your closing statement and believe an increasing number could resonate with it: “The Word of God reveals the human heart. So do large conferences.” Wouldn’t we all go some way to resolving the carnality of the “celebrity” pastor, by: a) discarding the notion; b) supporting those ministries which fight against the notion of the “celebrity” pastor; c) resisting the temptation to try and enter the ranks of the “celebrity” pastors, or to feel our ministries are not worth much until we do; d) attending conferences on the basis of those which serve the present needs of the local ministry or deal with a theme rarely treated, rather than because of the line-up of “celebrity pastors”; e) attending the conferences which qualify under “d” because the speakers listed have done the most work on the subject at hand. Presently the man-centeredness of things is drying the soul. We would see Jesus!”

  • Shelley

    Hmmmmm…… Celebrity pastors. Interesting term.
    Methinks if we were doing our job of glorying GOD
    instead of man then where would we be??!!!
    Perhaps not so concerned with who and what
    Jesus had MANY followers and Im betting it’s safe
    to say that some acted like jerks! Including the
    “12″! Best we keep our eyes focused on HIM!

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Shelley: I’m not using the term “celebrity pastor” in an approving way. It’s a term that’s come to be associated with pastors that have become well-known public figures through their ministries. Most have not sought this.

  • Scott Carson

    I also was a T4G and have attended many scores of these conferences over the years. Personally, I find even the term “celebrity” pastor rather humorous. A “celebrity” to whom? There were less than 10,000 people at T4G. Most small towns are bigger than that. In the grand scheme of things, even Mark Driscoll and Rick Warren pastor small churches compared the amount of fans that the local professional sports teams have in their areas.

    Even in Louisville, I would surmise that if any of the “celebrities” had gone to the local McDonald’s for lunch, with perhaps the exception of Al Mohler who is from the area, no one would recognize them. The only ones who might have known them would be those who were attending the Conference.

    Part of the problem is the arrogance and lack of life skills of some of the “fans.” Every now and then, I’ve been at a conference and just wanted to thank the “celebrity” for the mark that they have had on my life. Sometimes I have had to wait long, long periods of time while some fan dominated their time, often with an issue or concern that they would be better served with a private conversation. In this day of technology, if you have a serious concern and know that you are going to be at the same venue, why not send an email the week before, explaining your situation and ask for a private meeting or consult?

    Then, there are some real nuts out there. Though I pastor a small church, I’ve had my well being threatened a few times because of someone disgruntled by what I said or did (typically not Christians). Multiply that many times over with a “celebrity.”

    Even shepherds can be sheep. Perhaps some ground rules at the beginning of a conference on how to meet with some of the “celebrities” would be in order. To explain that they want to interact with as many as they can. This could even be printed in the materials for the Conference.

    I think it would be helpful, particularly in the venue of T4G and now that they have added the meal plan, to have a “Celebrity” walk through to greet people. Joe Stowell is one of the most loved Christian leaders I have ever met. When I attended Pastor’s Conference, he would always interact with the attendees, often walking through the dining area when attendees were eating.

    Add to that, these men are friends. This is one of the few times for them to get together to fellowship and dialogue. Are we surprised that they enjoy and desire spending time together when they have the opportunity? I think that there is a balance here but let’s not make these men bigger than they are or the concern bigger than it is.

    Incidentally, I found this blog linked to Trevin Wax’s blog and in my mind Trevin is a “celebrity” blogger :). Yet, I was able to meet him and greet him at the Conference and thank him for the fine work that he is doing and how God often uses him to challenge my heart. Interestingly, he had no handlers and because he has that conversation thousands of times at Conferences, I’m sure that he never gave it a second thought.

    • http://Jtcochran.blogspot.com Joey Cochran

      I loved your comment, aptly spoken.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Yes, Trevin’s a great guy and a good model for many of the younger gifted men.

  • Pingback: When David met . . . « The Wanderer

  • Pingback: What I Read Online – 04/14/2012 (a.m.) | Emeth Aletheia

  • http://www.TheSmokeFilledRoom.com OFelixCulpa


    I really appreciate the gentleness of your critique–I know that kind of concern is tough to communicate well.

    The “fan” behavior you refer to is both common and wrong. We have all seen it in action; very unsettling. But I’m a little less inclined to let the “celebrities” off the hook for it. At the very least, they allow themselves to be used as idol figures. It is true that they could not prevent “fan” types from trying to do that, but, as leaders, they should make an effort to confront the problem. I have never heard a serious attempt from these reformed Evangelical celebrities to quell such problems. In fact one of the big celebrities at T4G this year (hopefully not the one you met) even wrote an article defending those attitudes.

    Even if the “fans” alone guilty for the behavior, the celebrities seem to be guilty of a serious lack of leadership in a very important matter.

    Thank you for your post.

    • http://vineandfig.blogspot.com Jim Swindle

      My own pastor is reformed and excellent, though not a celebrity. One Sunday in the morning and evening worship services we had a visiting couple who had driven far to hear him, after hearing him on a radio station in their state. In the evening, as an application of one of the points of his sermon text, our pastor mentioned the danger of appreciating the famous pastor far away, such as John MacArthur, and not appreciating the faithful but less-gifted pastor who’s nearby. I’m convinced that it was a loving warning to that dear couple. Our pastor cared more about their spiritual health than about his own fame. I thank God for such a pastor.

  • http://jtcochran.blogspot.com Joey Cochran

    David – I think this is a well said correction for the celebrity pastor.

    Yet, I think sometimes we all take pot-shots at the big live and in person guys when there are many more influencers who exhibit the same behavior. For instance, was there not also the celebrity blogger and celebrity writer circulating around T4G and BoB? Perhaps was there even the celebrity missionary serving in an exotic or sexy mission venue?

    I found more than one “friend” from seminary who had suddenly become too big-time to sit with an old, maybe perhaps forgotten friend. I even interacted with a fellow commoner who I tried with real effort to spend time with and share a meal but for whatever reason decided that his agenda for the bookstore and meeting other celebrity types took priority.

    Your rebuke needs to be directed to the common man who feeds the problem and not so much for the big guy.

    Perhaps if people fasted from elbowing their way to the platform at every intermission or break just so they could shake a hand, we might take a step in the right direction as a community.

    In my case, I intentionally did not go meet a celebrity pastor. It’s over-rated to go home and tell people, “I met Platt, Chandler, DeYoung, Duncan, Mohler, Dever, Thabiti (cause who pronounces his last name besides Dever and Mohler), and Piper.” But really that’s the goal in most peoples heart.

    Instead I prayed about and planned to make a few real connections. I made three of those connections because they were the ones who were accessible, one connection with another high-school pastor (which corresponds to my role at my Church), one with someone I hope to continue to partner in short-term missions and one was with an up and coming blogger that I appreciate. Granted, the blogger was held captive because he manned the Ligonier booth, but whatever. Nathan was a kind fellow. I successfully made each of those connections and that was a pleasure.

    Yet, there were a number of lessers that were awkwardly inaccessible, likely because they had their other “friends” (influencer) they wanted to chill with.

    I think a better challenge is to exhort people to consider how they might divide their time with people. Next time I go to T4G and BoB, I will plan to divide my time by spending a 1/3 reaching down, a 1/3 reaching across, and a 1/3 reaching up. I didn’t think intentionally about this, but by and far I found myself reaching down and across the most. I suppose this is how it works when you live in anonymity.

    By the way, I really appreciate the two e-books you offered. I’m not sure if that was you who was distributing the cards as we picked up Chick-fil-a at BoB, but whoever the gentlemen was he expressed sincerity and generosity, which was greatly appreciated.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Great points, Joey. I’ve experienced the same painful rejections too. Nathan at Ligonier is a fine role model for bloggers. I wanted to be at BoB but messed up my flights. It was Steve Renkema of Reformation Heritage Books who stood in for me.

  • http://thebreadline.wordpress.com David Bissett

    Pretty good article. (I had similar thoughts after meeting *you* at TGC-Chicago a year or two ago — just joking, as you had no handlers that I could see!). This celebrity situation (which, sadly, is very real) is primarily caused by the individual “FANS” (which, as Iain Murray reminds us, is short for ‘fanatic’). Thanks again for Head/Heart/Hand.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Thanks David. I pray that the Lord will keep all of us humble and FANS only of HIM.

  • Jonathan wood

    This is so true – and it is the main reason I have stopped going to a number of conferences here in the UK. Thank you for pointing this out to others – especially the bit about looking over the shoulder for someone more interesting to talk to! Reformed men are the worst culprits.

  • Kristen

    Interesting how we the people become fanatic, even envious of God’s giftings to pastors and their relationship to Him through His Word. Anxiety can even be evoked if only through conversation with whom, some of their gifting would inspire us to deeper study.
    Too, “celebrity bloggers” can create a disconnect to “laypeople” with impersonability seeing them selves as celebrities while others go out of their way and make the effort to speak the truth in love not forsaking fellowship.

  • http://42lifeinbetween.wordpress.com Matthew Rushing

    I really appreciate this reminder. Listening to these men on podcast, you can get the feeling that they are “super Christians” and yet like the apostle Paul or Peter, they are ordinary men who are doing their best to live through Christ and for him.

  • Michial

    Im still trying to imagine Paul’s response to VIP sections, hordes of admirers asking for bibles and books to be signed, and pastors who rather than plant churches with a local teaching elder/ shepherd, think they can do it better by duplicating their own celebrity gifted ness on multiple plasmas to satellite multi site campuses. Oh for a Peter or Paul. Where are they?

  • Truth

    I really have issue with the whole ‘celebrity’ label but particularly when it is tagged to a Christian. I have met well known preachers, been part of the hospitality team/ worship team etc and have seen some very extreme behaviour. This label distracts from the truth of the gospel and I believe that preachers who encourage this behaviour are wrong. I remember being part of a worship team when Rev Jackie McCullough was preaching at a convention, she called a woman forward and after ministering to her the woman (who was wearing a very short skirt) went and laid prostrate on the floor, as this was in full view of a few thousand people I took the nearest thing to cover the woman which was Rev McCullough’s cape, she was fine about it but a woman on the team with me started carrying on as if I had blasphemed. I told her very politely Jackie McCullough doesn’t have a problem with it, she is a regular woman. this mentality of putting preachers on pedestals is totally wrong. Yes have respect for the preacher, treat them well but don’t treat them as if they are God… that is idolatry and it is a spirit that is in operation in the church