Pastors or Personalities?
In a self-obsessed culture, pastors have exchanged "death to self" for self-promotion.

I think I was in college when I first saw that title of a magazine that brazenly called itself SELF, and it was so bold it could have been called SELF! Nurtured in a theology that drew its juices from the Bible and influenced by the likes of Augustine and Luther and Calvin, I was taken back by anyone or any magazine that would advertise itself with the word "self." The self, so I was taught, was to die daily (Luke 9:23) or be put to death (Romans 6). In fact, my pastors often spoke of the "mortification" of the flesh (and self).

Nurture, then, put me on my heels when I saw a magazine called SELF and when that sentiment made its nest in Whitney Houston's famous song "The Greatest Love of All." Its clinching words tell us that "learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all." Well, yes, I say to myself, we do need to have a proper love of our self ? but how can our "greatest" love be one directed at ourselves? The Me Generation has created what Jean Twenge is now calling Generation Me. Others call it iGen. This value is everywhere; it's the air GenMe breathes; and it has made potent inroads into the church.

Recently I saw a church's website where instead of finding "Pastors" or "Staff" it listed "Personalities." A click-through revealed the "personalities" of these personalities, or at least the "personalities" these people wanted others to see. I don't recall all the details, but I read things about what they ate for breakfast and what they'd do if they weren't doing their church jobs. It went on and on, but I had had enough so I clicked the red X at the top and went to my favorite chair and just wondered awhile.

I wondered about the way I was nurtured that led me to be offended and shocked by any pastor permitting himself to be displayed this way on the church's website. My upbringing had taught me certain things about a pastor:

First, it is a sacred calling to be yanked from sin into the place of not only receiving grace but dispensing it. The primary task of the pastor is to "spread gospel." How? As a shepherd of people and as a preacher of the gospel. To be sure, the pastor learns to spread gospel to herself or himself too. The website could easily have reflected this. It didn't.

Second, it is a noble calling to be a leader of God's people in this world. The previous generations created an image of pastors that focused on distance, separation, and holiness, and it sometimes overdid the nobility of that image. This generation has undone that image and, in the process, has become enamored with "authenticity" and "I'm just like you in every way." I doubt the apostle Paul had the latter notion in mind when he sent off his instructions for elders in the Pastoral letters. Leaders lead because they've got something to say and show to others.

February 05, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 26 comments


March 03, 2009  5:14pm

Well, yes – but should a church have a website at all ? I mean, most of what a church dispenses is not found on its website – yet, it needs a website just like it needs an entry in the Yellow Pages. Let's not be too hung-up on "style". I'd agree that the Pastors are setting the tone in the church (including a tone of dependence on God and sanctification etc), but I don't think the web pages do that in any lasting way...

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John Chiarello

February 19, 2009  6:35am

good article Scot, i think the present challenge to the singular position of 'the pastor' [as a modern office] has mcuh truth to it. many of the pitfalls you mentioned are a result of the unscriptural development of this offcie.

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February 18, 2009  11:02pm

Todd- I was really excited by your post above, seemingly ending the conversation, but as with all such disagreements, if it were that simple our forebearers would have figured it out by now. In fact, the word "pastor" does not only appear once, but 17 times in the New Testament. The Greek word in Eph. 4:11 being poimen which is translated the other 16 times as "shepherds". Of course, your mileage may vary based on translation I'm sure, but that one thought–that the word only appears once–falls down under closer scrutiny. That said, I love that Prophet and Evangelist are listed before Pastor and Teacher. Food for thought (and who's ranking these anyway?!?!!).

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Mick Martin

February 18, 2009  7:29pm

Thanks Scot. A big 'Amen' to your comment that we need more Eugene Petersons. One of the most inspiring messages I've ever heard was his General Session at the 2007 NPC when he opened by asking the question, "What are pastors good for?" His answer to that question was probably the best exposé of the pastoral role I've ever heard. As a pastor myself, it gave me a whole new perspective on what it is that I'm meant to be doing. I highly recommend this to anyone who hasn't heard it. (It is available for free download via iTunes at the Zondervan Podcast.)

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Steve Martin

February 18, 2009  10:41am

Pastors! Good called shepherds for His flock on earth. Keeping the sheep safe from the world, themselves, and the wiles of the devil. It is a great responsibility and an awesome calling. God bless all His pastors on earth!

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February 15, 2009  5:01pm

I've served in the pastorate, but have been employed in a secular job for the past 16 years. While I have found that many of my colleagues in the the pastorate genuinely have been and still are men of compassion and humility, I think that pastors who go into this kind of self promotion are following a trend in the secular business world. Unfortunately I've seen little difference in the lives of pastors who follow this approach than those of business leaders who go on the path of self glorification – unbearable boastfulness, cowardly backstabbing and abusive egomania. The path that leads to 'empty suits' in corporate offices will lead to 'empty suits' in pulpits. I think that the need is for them to follow the path of the Lord they profess to serve, and take up the yoke of the One who is meek and lowly in heart.

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February 14, 2009  5:46am

valid point, i think, but ironic. valid: i offer another example, from preaching. the biblical text now plays such a marginal role in sermons – and the personality of the preacher such a primary role – that i often hear people respond 'so-and-so is a great preacher.' i rarely hear, 'now i understand what God is saying in that text, and how i should respond' or 'so-and-so is a great God.' ironic: is there any movement more self-promoting than the emergent 'everything must change, and we know what and how' (unless, perhaps origins: 'we know even better than those yesterdays-news emergent groupies'). or any practice more self-promoting than blogging daily / weekly pearls of wisdom so that not just my friends, but the whole world can be blessed by my insight? (meaning no offense) humility is not a characteristic american virtue, and appears genuinely counterproductive in influencing others. recent Time mag article, Competence: Is Your Boss Faking It? reports a study indicating that people who are dominant and speak often and confidently are assumed to be the most competent (even though they may not actually be). in some parts of the world, though, self-depreciation is valued, and american self-assertion comes over as obnoxious. still, it works here. rather reminiscent of 1 Cor 1-4, with the exception that the text provides no indication that Apollos engaged in self-promotion, only that the Corinthians did so on his behalf.

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Clay Knick

February 11, 2009  10:50am

We will be anything: CEO, therapist, counselor, manager, other than the word "pastor." And the churches we serve will let us. Sad, but true. Good post, Scot.

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February 10, 2009  5:33pm

Scot, first off - great post. On the money and deeply insightful. But, yeah there was a "but" coming, it isn't realistic. I have been pondering the nature of being a pastor during my current transition. I am not sure we want pastors in the church at this point, even among the emergent congregations. When I look at the profiles of churches seeking senior leadership, those larger than 150 are looking for a visionary leader who can cast a compelling vision of their future as they penetrate their community for the kingdom. These leaders need to be adept at handling the staff, bring savvy marketing skills with a riveting public speaking presence. We are looking for those who could be on the cover of SELF. We think this is what will work. I say we because it creeps into all tribes. Pastors are just not that successful. They are faithful, but they do not help the church real "the next level", whatever that may be. Oh we may wistfully dream of the pastor we remember or hope we might have come to our church, but then it comes to pulling the trigger, we will for this season choose the personality.

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Yohanna Yusuph Garba

February 09, 2009  9:38am

Scot, you have hit the nail on the right spot. Being a minister in Africa, I have seen alot of SELF playing its role in the lives of many ministers. The quest to be known is so rampant in our society that you can hardly see Christ been advertised, but the minister presenting himself as the Man of God. Many Pastors have drawn members to themselves instead of to Jesus Christ our Master. You see this played when a minister is coming to an area, people want to touch his clothes or a handshake for blessings. You are right by saying commitment to reverence both God and His work is important to the life of the Pastor. This can only come only when there is a daily self denial. Presenting Christ to the fullest to the congregation will mean the pastor risk becoming insignificant before his audience. I pray that ministers will uplift Christ and see themselves as servants in the vineyard of the Master.

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