He was just a young man when he started preaching, and newspapers soon called him the marvel of our age. Over the course of his life, he preached more than 18,000 times. His sermons were dramatic: he cried, he danced, he even screamed to make his points. The largest churches could not hold the crowds that came to hear him, so he began preaching outside. In what was probably the largest gathering of Americans to that point, he once preached to more than 23,000 people on the Boston Common. I’m referring, of course, to George Whitefield, America’s first celebrity preacher.
The church has always struggled with celebrity. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul had to deal with exactly this problem. Already that early in the church’s life, certain names had become authoritative: Paul, Apollo, and Cephas (or Peter). Parties formed around them, and divisions in the church claimed them as their leaders. To put it in modern terms, people today would buy their books, go to their conferences, and quote them on Twitter and Facebook.
But is that how Christian ministry is supposed to look? When Paul describes the work of a pastor, he seems almost dismissive: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed as the Lord assigned to each” (1 Cor. 3:5).
It seems as if Paul is saying that pastors should be interchangeable, like doctors. You probably have a family doctor, but how many times do you actually see that doctor? More often than not, we see the nurse practitioner, the physician’s assistant, or maybe even another associate in the same office. Do we complain? Of course not—any medical professional will do!
That’s the way Paul frames his question about the ministry: “What then is Apollos? What then is Paul?” You and I would ask, “Who is Apollos? Who is Paul?” We would be focused on their personalities, but Paul says it’s not who they are; it’s what they are. He’s not focused on their personalities but on their office. Whoever they are, they must be faithful to their work. They must actually do what God commanded them to do as servants of the Lord.
When you look for signs of faithful Christian ministry, you’re really looking for boring pastors. Is your pastor willing to give up the book tour, the speaking gig, and the limelight? Does he realize, as Paul says in Philippians 2, that you are his joy and his crown? That the church is his reward? Only that pastor is safe to be a shepherd to you and your family. Only that kind of pastor can be the hands and feet of Jesus to the world.
May God be gracious to his church and give us all boring pastors, who will “always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill [their] ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5).
Eric Landry is executive editor of Modern Reformation.