Rockstar Pastor: How Dr. Koessler Tried to Warn Me

I graduated from Moody Bible Institute in 2001. One of my favorite professors there was Dr. John Koessler. He chairs the Pastoral Studies department and was instrumental in my understanding and application of the Scriptures to pastoral ministry. We called him “Dr. Bitter”. The reason for our nickname had to do with his opening lectures in our Pastoral Studies classes. He would rant for a few minutes each semester about the realities of pastoral ministry in an effort to attack the idea of becoming a Rockstar Pastor.

“Don’t think you’re going to make a lot of money…you won’t.”

“Don’t think you’re going to be Piper…you won’t be.”

“Don’t think you’re a great preacher…I’ve heard you…you’re not.”

These comments might sound harsh, which is why we called him “Dr. Bitter”, but they were meant to be a prophetic smack in the face to all the bright-eyed wannabes in the class who actually thought they would become the next Piper, or MacArthur, or whoever. I remember one story in particular that perfectly illustrated Dr. Koessler’s care for us. A student mentioned his pastor caring for a family in an amazing way. The father had cancer and was in the hospital. The mother was overwhelmed by the need to be with her husband and having to care for her small children at the same time. One day was particularly difficult and this pastor went to their home, helped the kids get ready for school, made their lunches and took them to school. I will never forget Dr. Koessler’s response: “See! That’s the kind of pastor I want you to be. That’s the kind of shepherd I want you to be. If that’s not the kind of ministry you are ready for, then you need to drop this class and change your major right now.” I sat there, stunned and overwhelmed by the commitment that this kind of ministry would require, and I knew that was what I wanted to become. Still, there was a lingering voice in my head that said I could be a rockstar too. That Dr. Koessler had never heard me preach and if he did, he would be so overwhelmed, he would take back all his bitter comments. I was willing to commit to the life of making lunches for little kids as long as it came with lights, and clapping and book deals and conference invitations. Pride. Pure and simple. Pride. I will spend a lot more time on the heart issue of pride later, but I want to admit at this point that I was sinning in that classroom the whole time. Thinking I was the exception to the rule and that I had more to offer than the other men around me was sinful, wicked pride cheaply coated with platitudes about my calling and giftedness. Pride.

I encountered this at the seminary level as well. I bumped into a friend just out of Systematic Theology and he remarked, “You are never going to believe what I just heard in class.” He went on to describe his meeting a classmate and upon asking him what he wanted to do when he graduated from seminary, the man replied, “I want to be published. I want to be the next Piper.” He said that out loud. That statement reveals a rockstar desire that is stronger than any desire to honor God and help people. The question can come to us then, is all this the fault of Christian academia? Are theological seminaries and Bible colleges training people to think in this way, or to aim at rockstar status upon graduation?

It’s Not the Seminary’s Fault

The seminary and Bible college are not to blame for this mentality. Pride comes from the heart, not from the classroom.  James 1 is extremely clear:

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:14-15 ESV)

Quite the contrary, I think part of the role of the seminary and Bible college is to point out the reality of ministry by the demand of rigorous study and application in an effort to train those who are called to serve and to discourage those who think they were called to be served. The reason for the rockstar desire is the desire to be served by being applauded, loved, appreciated, thought highly of, in the end…worshipped. We want to serve people, but we can’t bear the thought that there might not be anything in it for us. Bible college and seminary are meant to beat that out of a future pastor, but sometimes he just doesn’t listen. He hears Dr. Koessler and he thinks he is the exception to the rule. The fault lies in the heart of the man, not in the institution.

Reality is Soul-Crushing if You’re Not Prepared

Let me say it now, if you haven’t been listening, future pastor: You’re not going to be a rockstar. You’re not going to be Piper. You’re not going to speak at huge conferences and have little nerdy groupies standing at the bottom of the stage asking you to sign their Bible (which is creepy, yes?). God didn’t call you to be a rockstar. God called you to be a shepherd. Sheep don’t need a superstar. They need a shepherd who loves them and brings them the Word of God with faithfulness and passion. God loves that kind of shepherd. God is violently against the pride of our hearts that would seek fame above flock.

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. (Ezekiel 34:2-10 ESV)

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:1-5 ESV)

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