The first real “conference” I went to was The Gospel Coalition 2009, a little over a year after becoming a Christian. In the previous year I read a lot of books, listened to a lot of sermons and lost some friends…so the authors, speakers and “famous” pastors became my friends. These people took seats of prestige next to indie rockers, New York Mets players and actors in my book. So when I got to attend a conference where all of these rockstars would be speaking, I acted like a geek, by geeking out. When I got there, I was astonished by how accessible these “rockstar pastors” were… it is like they are real people or something! So what did I do? Got my picture taken… a lot. Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, Joshua Harris, even Erwin Lutzer (…I know right?…) you name it, I shook their hands, asked the dude standing next to me to take pictures and said the awkward standard “thank you so much for your ministry, pastor (insert name here). You’ve really helped me understand (insert some goofy thing young reformed guys say)!”. I came with ny mentor/friend/pastor Jon Bricker, and as I was giddily showing him my pictures, he cracked a semi-joke that stuck with me, in the best of ways. he said
“Nick, You are what is wrong with American Evangelicalism”
He said it half jokingly, and I didn’t take any offense to it, but I didn’t really understand it. I was pretty naive to “Christian fanboy-ism” at the time. I just thought it was awesome that I was brushing shoulders with theological giants whose books I read and quotes I quote. And to be sure, it is! I learned a lot at TGC ’09.
So I put this little “Bricker-ism” in the back of my head, assuming that it would probably have some significance at some point in my life. And I went on with my life, spending a lot of private time with these authors and pastors who I was now positive were real people because I had my picture with them. But I also spent a lot of time with a lot of Godly men and women at Charis, my home church in Bloomington-Normal. Being a plugged in member of Charis, the church began to discern my call to church planting/ministry (as we still are today) and I began to shadow the elders a bit more. This included going to more conferences like The Gospel Coalition, and each time I went to these events, I began to see a trend: people WORSHIPPING the keynote speaker. After a while, I began to understand Jon’s words from a few years back. What is wrong with American Evangelicalism is that
Most Evangelicals are being pastored vicariously
So many people hop conference to conference listening to big name speaker after big name speaker. I was inspired to write this after doing a little people-watching at TGC 2011, reading a chapter in Joe Thorn’s book ‘Note To Self’ and reading a recent post on The Resurgence. I have recently began to realize a big, BIG problem with the ‘young, restless, and reformed’ crowd…
The is a lot of consumerism going on.
Consuming sermons, books, and services like coffee. It is keeping the average young, single, Christian dude from plugging into the local church. Mark Driscoll sees these problems with that culture in his recent post|
1. A Pseudo Elder Board
They have a pseudo elder board that they self-select from their favorite preachers and authors. This allows them to not submit to a local team of actual spiritual leaders who know them, but rather just defend themselves by appealing to their heroes, who would be embarrassed to see how they were being used by conference Christians.
They start comparing the preaching, music, and overall experience of their favorite conference to their local church Sunday experience. This makes it impossible for the average pastor and church to ever measure up. It’s a bit like the guy who is so enamored with the Victoria’s Secret catalogue that his wife starts to look less and less attractive, as if it were a problem with her appearance instead of his obsession.”
(Taken from “The Crisis of Conference Christians” by Mark Driscoll)
This is what is wrong with American Evangelicalism: it is individualistic, tribal, consumeristic and reminiscent of 14-year-old screaming Beatles fans in 1963.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still love the work and personality of those “famous” pastors and theologians, but above that, I love Jesus and I love my non-famous local church family more. There really is a reason that on my widgets on the left side of this blog that the “order of links” in my “community” section goes: small group, local church, network, coalition. Because that is the order of my allegiance, period. I love the people in my church more than I love the network we belong to. And I subsequently love and appreciate my network more than I do the Coalition of somewhat similar reformed believers I participate in. In Joe Thorn’s book “Note To Self”, Thorn reminds us why we don’t “follow Paul or follow Apollos”|
“Neither the world nor the church needs any more fan boys (and you can be a bit of a fan boy). What people need is humble worshiping theologians who are more passionate for God and gospel than they are for personalities…
Let me be clear. Point to those who follow Christ well, but only encourage others to see Christ more clearly. Link up with lie-minded men and women who are serious about God, gospel, and mission, but fight the temptation to let the group be your passion rather than its reason for existence.
Don’t be a fan boy. Be known as one who loves Jesus, the church and the world. be a person who knows the truth and makes it known, and who is willing not only to join with others for the cause of Christ and his kingdom, but is also willing to challenge that group with things get out of line” (p.123-124)
That is it. The gospel shouldn’t lead us to swoon over anyone other that Jesus, even those that preach Jesus well. And I have fan boy tendencies in my heart, but the key is to fight those tendencies with the truths of the gospel in the context of the local church. So fan boys, do yourself (and everyone else… you guys can get annoying) a favor and join a church, start serving, stop leeching and make much of Jesus and a bit less of those who write/talk/preach about Him. Use resources to lead you to Jesus, to repent and rejoice in Him, take these resources and things learned into the local church and use them to serve and advance the church. That is much less selfish, and more satisfying.