I’ve had enough painful experience of the weaknesses and abuses of Presbyterian Church government to know that it’s no panacea for the church’s ills – way too often it’s been the cause of them.
However, we seem to have been largely spared the celebrity pastor problem. Tim Keller is maybe the closest we’ve got. However, though fame has come to him, I don’t believe he’s gone looking for it (surely the defining characteristic of any celebrity). Others, like Sinclair Ferguson and Ligon Duncan have significant name recognition, but again who could ever argue that either of these two Christian gentlemen fit into the celebrity pastor mold? I mean they wear ties and blazers! Though popular and much-loved, they don’t have a whole entrepreneurial-industrial-business model built around them.
Plurality and Parity
Maybe, for all of Presbyterianism’s faults, there’s something in the system that limits this kind of phenomenon. It’s built of course on the whole idea of the plurality and parity of elders. No pastor operates as a lone ranger but is one of at least three elders; and no pastor is given more power or votes than his fellow elders.
On top of that is the plurality and parity of churches. No church is allowed to stand alone but is accountable to other local churches. And that’s not just true of the small churches, but of the big ones too. And all equally so. In Scottish Presbyterianism, the regular Presbytery meetings and the annual General Assembly are attended by an equal number of pastors (teaching elders) and elders (ruling elders), and all have the same rights – one vote each, ten minutes speaking time per issue/report, etc. It doesn’t matter if you represent the biggest or the smallest church – you are treated equally. It’s not the most ego-friendly of environments (except for the clerks!).
Even just the regular mixing with fellow pastors and elders from all sorts of different churches, wrestling through problems together, building consensus, praying together, debating Scripture, encouraging and admonishing one another, when working well, it all tends to puncture selfishness and self-importance.
Then, at least in some Presbyterian churches, there’s the “Equal Dividend Platform,” an old name for the idea that every pastor is paid the same, no matter how big or small their church. Admittedly, some of the larger churches pay their pastors more by way of expenses, but it usually makes a difference of only about a few thousand dollars. And by the way, the salary of a pastor in my Scottish church is about 65% of national average earnings, which, with a parsonage/manse, gave a total salary value of about 85% of national average earnings (making the grand sum of @$27,000 pa). Try building a brand with that!
In my denomination, even when pastors were asked to take on extra responsibilities, like committee clerkships or lectureships, they were not given any “bonus.” The argument was, “Everyone’s working flat out already; so why should lecturers or clerks get paid more than those doing evangelism, etc?”
Weaknesses and Strengths
As I said, I’m well aware of Presbyterianism’s shortcomings. Like all forms of Church government, it’s only as good as those who run it. Structures and systems are no substitute for the Spirit, but I do think that Presbyterianism has some helpful hindrances to ego-driven ministries.