In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, Paul wrote, "We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work."
Paul believed the elders of each local congregation deserved respect and honor because of their work, and he encouraged the believers in Thessalonica to show respect and honor to their elders. Today, I am afraid these simple instructions are often ignored. I am afraid many solid gospel-centered, church-loving, people-serving local pastors and Christian leaders are not receiving the honor and respect they deserve from those whom they serve. Why? I believe the answer (in part) is the ability to easily access great preaching and teaching online. Church members can listen to well-known pastors and Christian leaders online and be "discipled" digitally.
The Danger of Digital Discipleship
One of the benefits of technology is the ability to follow pastors, churches, and ministries from a distance. We have instant access to sermons, podcasts, blogs, and articles from people we have never met personally but greatly respect. This is truly a blessing. But what happens when our love and appreciation for these articulate and well-known Christian leaders causes us to undervalue the pastors and spiritual leaders God has placed in our lives? Due to the excellent preaching and teaching and writing of these respected Christian leaders, church members and staff members and young men called to ministry can become so enamored with these leaders that they fail to appreciate their elders.
Has this happened to you? Maybe you attend a church with a younger pastor who does not have a ton of experience. He is still learning how to preach (aren't we all, pastors?). Compared to Piper or MacArthur or Chandler, he appears to fall short (don't we all?). So his love for Jesus, his love for his church, and his desire to point people to Christ through the preaching of the Word go unappreciated.
Maybe you attend a church with an older pastor. He has never attended T4G. He doesn't follow Tim Challies blog. He has never read John Piper's Desiring God. He doesn't visit the Gospel Coalition website each morning. He doesn't listen to Matt Chandler's podcast every week. (I mean, what could he possibly know?!?) He has loved the church and preached the gospel for years; he just doesn't keep up with the latest evangelical celebrities. So, we question his relevance and minimize his faithfulness, and he goes unappreciated.
Maybe you attend a church with an established pastor. He has faithfully served the church and preached the gospel for years, but he has not seen explosive numerical growth. He has honed his preaching skills through the years, but he still can't preach as passionately or articulately as David Platt. He is solid, but he is not exceptional (compared to other celebrity pastors). So, he is viewed as average or mediocre, and he goes unappreciated.
This, I am afraid, is the danger of celebrity pastors and digital discipleship. We see a Christian leader's strengths from a distance and appreciate their ministry, but we are not close enough to see flaws. Conversely, we are so close to our elders and leaders that we see their flaws and fail to appreciate their strengths and their heart for us. Our exposure to great preachers and leaders inadvertently leads to us to fail to appreciate those in our own church who are over us and admonish us.
Honoring Your Elders
How can we resist the temptation to undervalue those leaders God has placed in our lives due to our idealized view of certain evangelical celebrities? How do we appreciate well-known Christian speakers and writers while still honoring our elders and church leaders? Here are a few practical suggestions:
1. Value the Message, Not the Messenger. Don't become enamored with the messenger. Become fixated on the beauty of the message of the gospel. The gospel is of ultimate concern, not the one delivering the gospel. Preachers are just stewards of the mystery of the gospel; they are just heralds delivering a message for the king. So, don't get caught up celebrating the man delivering the message…get caught up glorying in the cross of Christ!
2. Stop the Comparisons. Quit comparing your pastor and spiritual leaders to well-known preachers and evangelical celebrities and just appreciate their faithfulness to the gospel and your church. They may not preach like Piper or Platt or Chandler, but if they are faithfully proclaiming the gospel and loving their congregation, recognize their commitment to the gospel and the local church, and honor them.
3. Focus on Their Strengths. Stop focusing on the exceptional areas of celebrity pastors and recognize the strengths of your pastor or church leaders. While your pastor may not have the same skills or abilities as your favorite Christian leader, they undoubtedly have areas in which they excel. Pay attention to those areas, and thank God for a pastor who possesses those specific traits and skills.
4. Pray for Their Weaknesses. Every pastor has an area (or areas!) in which they struggle. They have deficiencies and weaknesses. Rather than complain about those weaknesses or look down on them for their deficiencies, pray for them. Pray for God to grow them and turn their weaknesses into strengths.
5. Appreciate the "Small" Stuff. Pastors do a lot of things that go unnoticed. The daily prayers offered for the congregation…the leadership provided to other staff members or church leaders…the evangelism and outreach efforts in the community…the counseling sessions for broken marriages and hurting families…the hospital visits…the funerals…the weddings…the sermons prepared…the events attended. You get the idea. Pastors do a lot. Thank God for a pastor who loves people and is with people. Appreciate those "small" things that don't take place behind the pulpit.
Bottom line: honor and respect those leaders that God has placed in your church and in your life. Paul doesn't say to recognize those who preach great sermons or write excellent blogs or oversee successful ministries. He said to "respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you…" Those who work in your church deserve respect. Those who lead you deserve respect. Those who admonish you deserve respect. So, Christian, stop fawning over "celebrity pastor" and respect your elders.