Preacher Idolatry

Many of you will know that John Piper, pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church, recently went on an eight month sabbatical.  In his place, the elders of the church named Kenny Stokes as the interim pastor for preaching.  Out of the gate, I have to say I’m happy with the decision.  That may sound odd because I’m not a member of Bethlehem. But, what I’m happy about is that during his first sermon, Stokes addresses an issue that needs to be addressed: preacher idolatry.

In some ways, it would have been easy for Stokes to avoid this issue.  But he didn’t.   Piper’s absence provided the perfect opportunity to address the undue allegiance many Christians give to prominent preachers, and Stokes took the opportunity to speak to the issue with grace, humility, and truth.

Corporately as a church, perhaps one of the aims God has for us in this text is to redirect our hopes from Pastor John as God’s servant (lower case “s”)— faithfully directing us to God week in and week out through his preaching—and direct us to Christ himself, the Servant with a capital “S.”

I am throwing no stones here. I’m as disappointed as you are that I won’t hear pastor John preach for the next eight months. I’ve been here before. I remember back in the 1980’s after about 6 years being here at Bethlehem under John’s preaching, I graduated from Bethel Seminary and I was called as a 30 year-old to become an associate pastor in a church in Iowa.

It took me a year before I could hear the Word of God preached from the pastor there. The problem was not that he was not true to the Word of God, he was. At root, I believe the problem was idolatrous: I had “John Piper” shaped ear. I could only hear the “word of John” bringing me the Word of God. Mercifully, God broke me and showed me this and opened my ears to hear the preaching of others. The lesson was, “Look for me here, in the Bible, by the power of the Spirit. Listen for me in the Bible and I will meet you. I’ll feed you. I’ll be your all in all.”

Pastor John is 63 years old and away for 8 months. Perhaps one of God’s aims in this text this weekend to cause each of us to desperately open the Word and look to Jesus with ourselves? Perhaps one of Gods aims is corporately is to give us a “new ear” opened to hear from “ordinary pastors”[2] and preachers and teachers like me and the staff—and the thousands of other ‘ordinary’ pastors around the globe.

In Isaiah 42:1, to correct the vanity of trusting in idols, God shifts our attention by saying, “Behold, my servant…my chosen [one]…Behold! Look to my chosen one, look to the one in whom I delight, look to Christ.” So, my aim in the remainder of this message is to align with God’s aim and point you to behold Christ, to see Christ as he is in this text. And to that end I will point out five things in this text that I believe God wants us to see and behold about Christ for the advancement of our faith.

This should have at least four effects on us.  First, for the pastors reading, if you’re an ordinary pastor like me, then take heart: God can speak through you as much as he can men like John Piper. Get in the study, open the book, seek God’s face, then preach as if souls depended on it because they do.

Second, again for us pastors, don’t try to be something you’re not.  Don’t try to be a John Piper, or a MacArthur, or Keller, or Rodgers, or Dever, or whoever you love to listen to.  Be yourself.  Pursue sanctification and be the preacher God has equipped you to be at the church he’s called you to.

Finally, for the pastors, don’t idolize any preacher–save Christ himself–by hearing him as an infallible authority on the Word. Every pastor will be wrong on some things.  Be encouraged by their ministry, but listen with discernment and study the Word for yourself. God has always given the church unusually gifted preachers, but they are still men in the end.  We honor their ministry, but worship only Christ.

Then, for the lay people reading this, listen to your pastor.  Men like Piper are preaching with their congregation in mind. Your pastor is preaching with you in mind.  If he is a good pastor, then he wrestling with the text each week, with  you in mind.  He is before the throne of grace with you in mind.  He is giving himself–heart and soul–with you in mind.  Don’t wish for another pastor, pray for and love the one God gave you.  And let yourself be challenged, taught, and encouraged by him.

By God’s grace, let’s flee the sin of preacher idolatry.


  1. Hey, Pastor John!

    Thanks for this post. I must admit that I have been guilty of this very thing. Several years ago, when our beloved pastor was taken to be with the Lord, I struggled just like Pastor Stokes struggled.

    This is a good reminder to me not to walk around that mountain again. You are no “ordinary pastor,” Pastor John. We are blessed by God to have you. Thanks for the reminder to trace the grace we have in you back to Christ.

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