What would you say to a pastor who uses his church on Sundays as a studio, essentially preaching past his people into a video camera or into a microphone with the main goal of producing online content? In other words, his church is a mechanism — a studio — for him to address an online audience.
Well, first I would try to encourage him that it is not wrong to have a wider ministry, but it is wrong to pretend that you have a flock that you shepherd when you don’t have a flock that you shepherd.
Warning to Shepherds
You have a studio, or you have a stepping stone, or you have an excuse. And if that is true, you shouldn’t presume to say you have a flock, because God has some really, really serious things to say about that kind of shepherd in Ezekiel 34:2–4. He says,
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.
“It is wrong to pretend that you have a flock that you shepherd when you don’t.”
Those have always been unbelievably serious words to me as a pastor. And I think Peter picks it up in 1 Peter 5:1–3 when he says, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder . . . shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly . . . being examples to the flock.” So, it seems to me that there is a profound inauthenticity about preaching past your people in front of you — past your flock. And that inauthenticity, I think, may get a crowd in the short run, but it will not be blessed by God in the wider church in the long run.
Faithfully Feed Your People
Instead, I think the mindset should be — this is what I would say to anybody who is being tempted this way — serve your people with your best energy. Serve your people with full affection. Serve your people with focused attention. Feed your flock with the food they need. Don’t give them generic messages for a generic audience. Let the extent of the ripple effect of serving your people be the impulse of others, not yourself. In other words, if God means for you to have a wider impact because of what you are saying to your sheep, let others draw that out. You just be so faithful. Love your people. Serve your people. Feed your people. Beware of the addicting dangers of being widely known. Don’t pursue that. Pursue truth. Pursue edification and worship. Pursue your flock and let the ripples take care of themselves.
You know, Spurgeon, his sermons were published in I don’t know how many dozens of newspapers around the world. Well, my best reading of Spurgeon is that he didn’t even know about some of those, and it wasn’t his business to try to make that happen. He wasn’t getting up on Sunday and saying, “Okay, I have got to preach in a way that more newspapers will pick this up.” That is just not the way he thought. He fed his flock in front of him and because that was so authentic and so helpful to that flock, others picked it up.