Many Christians find spiritual nourishment from prominent podcast preachers — not least of all would include you, Pastor John. So how would you encourage these same Christians to also appreciate the role of the pastor (or pastors) God has placed over them in their local churches?
We ought to appreciate our local pastors, the ones we see every week and whose word we sit under week in and week out. We ought to see them as indispensable because God does not say in Scripture that he has given to the church podcasters. He says, “I have given shepherds and teachers” — pastors and teachers. Ephesians 4:11: “He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.”
And he gave them responsibility for particular flocks. That is what it says in 1 Peter 5:2–3: “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.” So a pastor is not responsible for a flock across the world or down the street.
This is the picture that God has ordained: for flocks to exist and shepherds to exist. The shepherds have accountability for a particular flock. The flock has a responsibility to submit to a particular shepherd who are being examples to the flock. So there is a structure that no podcasting pastor can replace. This is something no podcaster can do, including me.
Shepherds Who Know You
The shepherds are given, then, an astonishing burden in Acts 20:28: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock [that is, to their flock], in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
“Value your pastor as the one who opens the word for you in your situation week in and week out.”
That is just massive. What an incredible burden. Take heed to all the flock. This is your flock. You are their shepherd. Watch over them. Care for them. And the counterpoint would be true, that all those sheep should know that this is his responsibility. They should submit to that. They should want that. They should feel wonderfully gifted by being in a church where this is believed.
And then he tells us, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls” (Hebrews 13:17). And then he says, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13).
In other words, God has designed normal Christianity — vibrant, healthy, durable, culture-shaping, mission-advancing, justice-elevating, Christ-exalting Christianity — to be a web of relationships in local churches led by faithful shepherds who care for the souls of their sheep. No online preacher can take the place on the ground of these shepherds.
And I would add here just two more things that come to mind.
What we should want from our pastor in his preaching is not mainly rhetorical or oratorical skill, but faithful explanation of God’s word and application to our lives, especially the life we are living together right here in this church and making an impact on our community.
So value your pastor as the one who opens the word for you in your situation, in your community, in your web of relationships week in and week out.
And the last thing, perhaps, would be the huge importance of corporate worship as a whole in the life of a believer. Gathering with God’s people every week — gathering, not just putting on your headphones and listening to a worship song — to exalt Christ together, hearing other people saying great things about Jesus that you love and that you cherish, is the way God means for us to thrive in relation to him.
And my understanding of preaching is that essential to that corporate exultation, exultation in God, is expository exultation. In other words, preaching is not an isolated moment of instruction like, “Oh, now we just switched to class. Now we just became a school on Sunday morning.”
“Gathering with God’s people every week is the way God means for us to thrive in relation to him.”
No, no, no. This is a worship service. We are going vertical from beginning to end here, and we are connecting with God, and at this point we are leaning on this pastor to embed in this worship service an exultation over the word of God to draw us in and let us hear God speak and watch him, the pastor, exult in proper responses to the word of God that he is explaining in the message.
Podcasters cannot do this. They can’t be built in to the corporate worship experience where preaching comes into its own as an encounter with the living God.
I love podcasting. I think it has a place of appreciation and growth and learning along with all other kinds of things we do in the Christian life, but nothing can replace the church gathered and the community of a believers under the leadership and care and love of shepherds who minister the word to them and care for their souls.