Here was my comment:
The missing link here is subtle but important. We see these men on stage in their immaculate suits and their soaring oratorical skills and want to be just like them (or worse expect our local pastor to be just like them). We are often encouraged to imitate or emulate men in the Bible but what is it about their lives we are supposed to emulate? How well they speak, how eloquently they preach, their skill in teaching? In a word, no. Paul in 2 Thess 3:7-10 speaks of the example he set but it was not an example of writing swell books and speaking at the best conferences. It was working a job, not being idle, being an example of work for the church. In Hebrews 13:7 we are told to “Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”. Sound words but how are we to do that for men we don’t know?I honestly believe that and that is a radical change for me as someone who used to attend several theology conferences a year and I would pick them based on the "quality" of the speakers. I am also expecting some grief over the comparison between going to a conference and Jersey Shore but so be it.
Honestly, how many men who attend Together for the Gospel or similar conferences have a clue what sort of life Al Mohler or Mark Dever leads? I am confident that their lives are praiseworthy but I don’t KNOW them so it is pretty hard to “imitate” a man I don’t know. What I know of Al Mohler I know from reading his books and blog, listening to his radio show back in the day and his podcasts and following his Tweets. That is hardly solid ground on which to imitate a man.
Christians follow “celebrity” pastors like John MacArthur, John Piper and even Kevin DeYoung because of their books and their talks. I used to live about ten minutes from the church Kevin pastors and I know lots of godly men in that area who live lives worthy of emulation. I also know that if you invited these men to speak at a conference, few people would show up because they lack name recognition and are perhaps not as polished in speaking as some of the “celebrity” pastors. I would say the average Christian man can learn a lot more from another faithful and more mature Christian man that he actually knows and can have access to who works a regular job and cares for his family than he could by devouring hours and hours of sermons and conference talks from even the very best “celebrity” pastor. Even the most pious Reformed American is in danger of getting caught up in the desire for entertainment and performance and for many of us listening to a well prepared and presented conference talk is every bit as entertaining as Jersey Shore is for someone else.
We would all do better to quit spending gobs of time and money buying yet another book by a “celebrity” pastor or attending yet another conference full of the big name speakers and instead spend more time building relationships with other “regular” men, men we can develop actual relationships with (and following someone on Twitter is not an actual relationship) and observe their lives as examples for our own. That is hard work and sometimes messy in contrast to a neat and tidy hour long conference talk but it is also infinitely richer.
Is there value in learning from men like Mohler and Piper? I certainly think so otherwise I wouldn’t read what they write and listen to what the say. I think what is crucial is that we recognize the inherent limitations in this long distance relationship. Just as I don’t personally know, as in never met or spent any actual time with, Alan Knox or Dave Black or Eric Carpenter, I still find reading what they write to be instructive. Of course given all of our rather limited audiences I also can have interaction online with these men, something that is not really feasible for a John MacArthur.
We need to cultivate relationships with other Christians where we are. Those are the relationships that will ultimately have real Kingdom impact on our lives as fathers and brothers and husbands (let’s be honest, this phenomena of celebrity in the church is largely a dude thing) are those relationships with men we know. The men who I know and who I interact with in real life are not famous authors and are not getting invited to speak at conferences in front of hundreds or thousands of people but they are real life influences that God has placed in my path and I am thankful for them. Sure they have quirks and foibles but those are the things you find out and eventually cherish about them, things that you never see in an hour long talk at a conference.