A preacher’s guide to idols: popularity

The third of the twelve idols examined by Derek Tidball in his Preacher: keep yourself from idols is the idol of popularity. Everyone likes to be liked, he says: something, which in some senses is a perfectly legitimate quest. In fact he suggests that there is ‘a right sense in which preachers should be not only respected, but loved and even popular.’ This runs somewhat against the prayer sometimes prayed, ‘Lord, thank you for sending Mr A to be our preacher this morning, now blot him out so that we might see Jesus only’ – a prayer which Kidner suggests may not be quite as biblical as some think!

Popularity starts to cause problems when it is pursued (idolatrously) for its own sake. Problems follow:

  • it feeds our egos and detracts from the glory of God
  • it generates pride and removes our dependence on God
  • it determines our message
  • it governs our preparation
  • it makes us exaggerate
  • it becomes our security
  • it creates a dependency and reduces our freedom in Christ
  • it becomes our goal and we stop serving God.

To court popularity is to worship an idol instead of the true and living God.

Tidball turns to the writings of John Chrysostom (Bishop of Constantinople from 398) for some helpful ideas on handling popularity.

  1. We should not repudiate it if we receive it (if we are seeking to please God)
  2. We should never seek it
  3. We should never be fooled by it (some poor preaching can receive great praise)
  4. We should cultivate a healthy independence from people’s opinions
  5. We should realise that people often praise us on a faulty basis (sermon tasters)
  6. We should never let it distract us from preaching the truth
  7. We should understand that crowds are fickle.

To these seven, Tidball adds (via Paul) that we need to keep our eye on the one to whom we are accountable.

Popularity is a typical idol: it does not relieve burdens, but becomes a burden; it is a god that is bound to fail and disappoint; it is not worthy of devotion.

Question for preachers: what signs of this idol do you spot in your own ministry?

And for listeners – do you see your role primarily to encourage or to keep your preacher humble?!

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