The Church Is Greater Than The Pastor

Our Worship (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies) Although he lived and ministered in Holland almost 100 years ago, Abraham Kuyper could already see the celebrity pastor syndrome growing in the United States.  There are quite a few layers of wisdom in the following quote.  I especially like Kuyper’s dig at democratic/populist religious gatherings, his emphasis on church history, and his note that pastors are temporary servants of the church.  This is why, in Reformed church history, ministers were not typically called “founding pastors.”  A historic Reformed/Presbyterian view of the church (ecclesiology) and her pastors prevented the celebrity pastor mindset that is widespread today.   Here’s the quote.

“…All liturgy is predicated on the foundational notion that the church has authority over the minister and not the minister over the church.  [One who is simply] a speaker, an orator, a convener rents a room and directs his speech, his oration, or his meeting in whatever way he deems appropriate and expects his audience to acquiesce.  After all, whoever does not like it can stay away or leave.”

“But that is not the situation in the [historical] Reformed churches, nor, one might add, in most of the other assemblies of Christ’s church.”

“Only in America and in some of our own small independent churches is there such a free-reigning spirit.  It is quite common in America, especially in the larger cities, for a minister to start his own church, attract whoever will come, and maintain his church from the contributions that come in.  Such a church is thus literally an independent business run by the minister, without any confessional forms and without connections to other churches.  It is nothing other than a circle gathering around a talented speaker….”

“But in a genuine church it is quite different, that is, in the gathering of believers originating in a historical past that goes all the way back to Pentecost in Jerusalem.  Such a church is rooted in a past of eighteen centuries, in which a temporary minister serves for only a set number of years to accomplish his holy service, and then that same service continues under the ministry of his successor.  That means that it is not the minister who created the church, but that the church existed long before him.”

Abraham Kuyper, Our Worship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 6-7.

shane lems

7 thoughts on “The Church Is Greater Than The Pastor”

  1. I loved this! But, I have two counter-considerations:

    1. This doesn’t account for the fallen human tendency to seek the popular, to belong to “big” “in” “latest” thing. Thus, great speakers have to consciously work at NOT being a populist preacher who gathers a temporarily bloated crowd, and leaves behind a grand, empty building. I’m not sure anyone ever does that. Did even Spurgeon accomplish that? Where is his church today?

    2. If I were to share this great excerpt of ecclesiastical sanity with any of today’s celebrity pastors, they would be likely to dismiss it with an off-hand, “So, why haven’t I heard of this experts’ church?”

    Both of these leave me hoping for a solution that I don’t yet see in our churches.


    1. “So, why haven’t I heard of this experts’ church?”

      That would be very telling if a so-called celebrity pastor responded this way. Besides displaying an incredible historical ignorance (Kuyper ain’t some nobody), the whole frame of the question betrays the central assumption: that popularity is the key measure of success rather than faithfulness.

      Let us confess with John the Baptist – “I am not the Christ” and “He must increase, I must decrease”.


    2. Good notes, Lon. You’re right – good preachers perhaps have to work at not gaining a following. I’ve mentioned it here before: this may mean not writing any more books/blogs, moving to a different and smaller church, and not speaking at all sorts of conferences. Stay off the radar, in other words, and simply serve one church and it’s parishioners.

      Also, concerning Spurgeon, I wonder if things would have been different if his church would have been a Reformed church with Presbyterian polity. Not sure, just wondering out loud.



  2. Beautiful quote- I have always had such a fondness for the historic creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the the Christian Faith that unite us with our brothers and sisters of ages past. We don’t carry a new message, we steward a very old one- in jars of clay. It feels wonderful to be a part of something much larger than the immediate moment we are living in. Praise God for his ages-old Bride, and thank you for this wonderful quote!


  3. And it’s not just the celebrity “pastors” who have succeeded by creating their own brand, but the boys in Acts 29 and the PCA who strive to be big (and lucrative). It’s a theology of glory. Now they even speak of being “entrepreneurial pastors” – what a shocker that was the first time I heard it – which is even more professional and powerful than “founding pastor.” If we held to the pastoral qualifications (graces), these men would not have been ordained.


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