A quick search of “Sermons” on Youtube will generate video images of Billy Graham, T.D. Jakes, John Piper, Craig Groeschel, Dr. Charles Stanley, and Matt Chandler. If you want to have some fun, search funniest or worst sermons. A quick search on google for “sermons” will result in 146,000,000 results in .51 seconds. Yikes! The variety and excess of sermons available to us are astounding. It is possible for us to live our lives and do nothing but watch sermon videos from home in our pajamas, but I don’t recommend it.
In this post, I want to give a shout-out to the local pastors of local churches that are set in local communities. These men labor each week in the study and prayer closet to bring biblical and relevant messages for their churches. In my denomination, the SBC, most are laboring for less than 100 people a week. They know and love deeply those that hear them each week. It is a portrait of intimacy, of hands-on under-shepherding, and intentional Christ-like love for the sheep they have been entrusted.
I am convinced that it is impossible to submit to spiritual leadership in the church if you are not regularly sitting under the preaching and pastoring of a local pastor. It would seem that it is not compatible with maintaining the relationship described in the New Testament of a Pastor and church member apart from active in-person local church participation. The best-case scenario for this dynamic of a pastor to members, pending Covid-19 restrictions and recommendations, is regular in-person fellowship and worship at a local church. There will be a time coming that we will return to an in-person new normal of church attendance.
With that said, I believe there are at least three practical reasons for giving priority to regularly listening to your local church pastor.
First, I believe intimacy cannot exist when you listen to an online preacher as your primary preacher and spiritual leader. A local pastor is familiar with your name and the place you live, work, and play. Often, he knows your family’s needs well. Pastors can craft messages from the Word of God with a sensitive awareness of their congregants’ needs. In other words, he is preparing and delivering sermons with you and other church members on his heart. It should be a comfort that your name enters his soul as he prepares, delivers, and reflects on the sermon.
Furthermore, it is helpful that he knows your cultural and sub-cultural context. Any good pastor should exegete the church’s culture and community to deliver the Word in a relevant and accessible way. I must be clear; he should not alter the Word’s truth to minister to his people. There is no replacement for biblically sound preparation and delivery of the Word. Instead, he considers the needs of his people concerning their cultural context. In this way, he demonstrates a high degree of cultural intelligence. A good pastor knows the demographics of his congregation and community. He understands the local history of the town or city in which he dwells. He knows the struggles they have faced and are facing in their worlds. For example, in a small town, a factory closing can cause significant economic hardship that a good preacher/pastor will be aware of as he crafts his messages and ministers to his people. Jesus and Paul were both masters of adapting the message to their audience for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus adapted a conversation about water to eternal life in John 4. Paul adapted the art and religion of Athens to share the message of Jesus on the Areopagus in Acts 17.
Second, when a church member slips away from a local church pastor’s regular preaching and shepherding, they lose spiritual accountability. I am not only referring to helping hurting sheep when they go wayward. There is also a component of accountability that includes comforting believers in the local church when they go through loss and hardship. An online preacher may be sound and smooth in delivery, but he cannot be there for you when family relationships are strained or when sickness and death show up at your doorstep. It is not his fault; that is not his purpose. Many Pastors who have large platforms are merely trying to share the Gospel as an encouragement to the church at large. However, I still smirk when I ask a person which church they attend or who is their Pastor, and they tell me of a distant church and a well-known pastor that lives thousands of miles away who does not know them. We need accountability, and one of the best ways to get that is to sit under the regular preaching and spiritual leadership of local church pastors who know us and have access to us.
Third, the Christian journey is about growing forward in Christ together. However, sometimes get stuck and confused along the path. Other times, we are broken and need counsel and healing. The beauty of a local church pastor is their accessibility to church members. When a pastor preaches and attenders listen, hopefully taking notes, they can ask him questions about the message. Most pastors are accessible to their congregations in varying degrees. Jesus demonstrated an amazing capacity for availability to his disciples in his earthly ministry. He was willing, even along the way, to stop, listen, answer questions, give comfort, and provide spiritual guidance.
Now, circling back, personal counsel and accessibility is not a feature in the online Pastor’s relationship with the viewer. I know there will be those who buck against this idea and say that pastoring can take place through screens. Again, I am only saying that it is best for pastoring to embody a certain level of accessibility toward those they lead.
In this post, I have suggested that regularly listening to a local church pastor in person is prioritized by believers in Christ. In the coming months, many will be faced with deciding whether or not to return to in-person worship. As a Pastor, I understand the current Covid-19 reservations. However, there will be a time when that reservation is not legitimate anymore. You will need to exchange online worship and preaching for in-person worship and fellowship again. I can tell you that it is much more comfortable and convenient to stay home in P.J.’s and sip hot chocolate or watch the service on our schedule so we can do side-projects or travel Sunday morning.
I want to encourage you to get back into the church and under the preaching of a local church pastor and fellowship with other believers. Scripturally, it is incompatible to intentionally and regularly isolate oneself from the gathering of the faith community and fulfill God’s purposes. Consider the dynamic of Pastors and believers in Christ as a part of the flock of God. How can this relationship flourish if there is no real interaction with each other? Also, consider the scriptural call to gather to build up one another and help each other stay sober to the coming judgment of God. Heb. 10:23-25 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
In closing, I ask you, How can we hold fast hope, stir up one another to love and good works, encourage one another, and hold each other accountable to God’s future activities if we are not gathered with the saints regularly. I hope when the time is right, you will carefully and prayerfully consider these words.