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.

Equal Pay
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.

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

    In my opinion, the presbiteryan system of church is better than others, and it is in according with the testemony of the Scriptures. there are some problems,of course but in essence, the system has a faithfull and biblical democratic system and avoid some problems of the congretionalism. The lack of celebrities pastors is one of them.

    God bless you brother Murray! Keep on Keeping on!

  • Randy in Tulsa

    Good points about the Presbyterian form of government. However, the late D. James Kennedy and R.C. Sproul were pretty big in their day.

    Actually, I can’t think of a truly celebrity Methodist, Episcopal or Anglican pastor either. Post Falwell, is there a Baptist celebrity pastor? Perhaps Piper?

    Bottom line, haven’t most of them been of the charismatic variety? Pat Robertson and Oral Roberts certainly come to mind along with many patterned after them.

  • Drew

    I think there is a case to be made that the PCA’s Tullian Tchividjian most fits the celebrity pastor persona, and while he does not have as much media attention as Rick Warren or Mark Driscoll, he still enjoys a decent amount of notoriety.

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  • Michael

    Ferguson, Duncan, Tchividjian, Sproul, and Horton are all celebrity pastors. Just because they don’t look like Perry Noble or Rick Warren (or have followings as big) doesn’t mean it’s not the same thing. Your argument is like saying that Pavarotti couldn’t possibly be a celebrity because he sings in a tux and not in lingerie like Madonna and hasn’t sold as many records.

    • AJ

      I think you’re right Michael. Even if the following is not mainstream, I fear that we all have those names that readily roll of our tongues when we consider who makes up a great conference lineup. Even that dear Scottish gentleman David Murray is becoming quite a name ;)!

  • Ben Thorp

    I’d be inclined to agree with the other commentators – I don’t think that the Presbyterian form of church governance protects against “celebrity” pastors particularly. Equally, even within this form, I’ve seen abuse of power by the minister – equality only works when everyone believes in it, but seemingly the long-standing tradition of one-man ministry leads many to believe that the “minister” is the one in charge, whatever the “rules” say. At least, that’s been my impression within the Church of Scotland.

    (FWIW, the pay grade in the Church of Scotland sounds considerably higher too. I suspect that things are very different in the CofS to your denomination though ;) )

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  • Sharon Whitley

    I have to differ with this statement: “No church is allowed to stand alone but is accountable to other local churches.” You apparently have never heard of Independent Presbyterian in Savannah, GA. The congregation is not part of any denomination… not PCA, not ARP, not OPC, not any, and it’s been that way since its founding in the 19th century. The pastors are PCA, but not the congregation. I realize that’s an odd situation, but I had to correct your incorrect blanket statement. Incidentally, IPC in Savannah is not the only independent Presbyterian church in existence.