Where are the Presbyterian Celebrity Pastors?

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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“Black folk don’t go to therapy”

We’ve really struggled to find Black, Hispanic, and Asian subjects for our DVD project, Christians get depressed too. I’ve talked to a couple of African American friends and I’m beginning to understand why. Knowing that Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile has a background in Psychology, I reached out to ask for his views, and he’s agreed to be interviewed for the DVD on this subject. I’m so looking forward to hearing his insights and hoping that his interview will help promote understanding and compassion towards many secret sufferers in the African American community.

In God’s providence, just yesterday I came across an article in my pre-interview preparation called Black with postpartum depression: My therapist had never treated a black woman. Lebo, a black South African mother movingly describes her battle with Postpartum depression and Postpartum OCD. And a great part of the battle for her was the lack of understanding and help from her own community.

I tried looking for more black women who had gone through this. I found three on Twitter. Three … that’s it.  I talked to anyone who cared to listen, and many made me feel insecure, like I was the only black woman to ever go through this.  I was told to smile, pray more, suck it up and enjoy my baby.  Why are you on meds? Don’t you know you’ll be dependant for life?  My very close cousin was scared of me, she told me I was going crazy.  See I love how the black community is the same all over the world … like Addye said:

  1. We don’t do therapy, at all.
  2. Any mental illness means you are losing your marbles, hence we keep it a secret.
  3. Women are meant to be hard as a rock; we are somehow supernatural beings.
  4. If anything goes wrong in your life, it’s because God is punishing you for something and you are just not worthy of Him.

I made a choice to reach out. I owed it to myself to get better, to my kids, to my family.  The white community in South Africa welcomed me with open arms. They all knew someone who’d gone through postpartum depression.  My therapist had never ever treated a black woman.  Our support group had, well, no women of colour.  But I made it my mission to find more of us, and what better way to do that than sharing my experiences. I wrote to all baby magazines, and started a blog. And one day, when I least expected it, my pastor at church called me to the side and told me that she went through PPD.  Two of my distant friends had gone through it, but kept it a secret.  I also received two emails from strangers who had gone through this.

You can read the rest here (warning: couple of misuses of “Hell”), and Too blessed to be stressed is another heart-rending testimony in the Warrior Moms of Color series. I’d thoroughly recommend this Black folk don’t go to therapy video as well:

Have you got any insights you can offer on this subject? Anyone else I should be speaking to? We’d really like to maximize the helpfulness of this film to as many different groups and communities as possible.


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