Recently my friend Trevin Wax shared his concerns about people treating their podcasts as their pastors. There is great reason to be concerned about this. He explains:
But just because we cannot and should not point fingers at each other regarding the problem of celebrity does not mean that we shouldn’t carefully consider the ramifications of pastoral influence being mediated through technology instead of the local church. I offer these thoughts not as a point of criticism but as one of concern. And I’m open to suggestions as to how to lift up local church pastors and celebrate their influence and mentoring.
John Piper was right to remind us that we are not pastored by “professionals.” Perhaps it’s time we remembered that we are not pastored by podcasts either.
In reading his concerns, I kept coming back to the question of why? Why are people turning to podcasts and perhaps too frequently looking to them as their source of biblical nourishment. Where Trevin suggests that this might be, in part, because of a “drought caused by the fatherlessness of our society” along with “the heavy rain of pastoral resources available through technological advance,” I have to wonder if, perhaps, there are at least two other reasons:
1. An inability of church members to submit to the leaders placed over them. The reasons for this are twofold: First, we lack a proper understanding of that there is even such a thing as objective truth. This is fundamentally a worldview issue—if truth is relative, then I am the arbiter of truth, so I’m ultimately my own authority. At best, everyone else has an opinion, but it’s not something I need to listen to. The current generation’s attitudes toward leadership is fruit of decades of mistrust and skepticism. We expect politicians to lie to us. We assume our bosses are going to throw us under the bus in order to save their own skin. And we have wrongly projected that onto our church leaders. The drought Trevin refers to is inextricably connected to this unhealthy attitude, and it is something that must be countered and corrected.
2. Pastors are failing to preach. This is a subject I’ve written on before, but it bears repeating—if pastors are not preaching the Word, they are failing their congregations. And as Jared Wilson said so well recently, “Putting some Bible verses in your message is not the same thing as preaching the Scriptures.” Christians who are starving for the nourishment that only comes from the preached Word will inevitably begin seeking it out, and if they aren’t getting it from their own pastors, they’ll find it somewhere else. It’s not terribly kind to say, but here’s the thing all of us who have been given the privilege to serve the Church through preaching need to remember—Christians need to hear what God says, not what any of us have to say. My message might be cute, maybe even helpful sometimes, but it has no power. The Holy Spirit doesn’t transform lives through a clever turn of phrase; He does so whenever and wherever the Word is faithfully proclaimed.
This is something I’ve had far too much personal experience with. Once upon a time, I was an incredible consumer of podcasts—I was famished, desperate to hear the Word proclaimed and I wasn’t getting that in my local church. Eventually, for various reasons that I’ve shared previously, my family and I left and joined another congregation here in London. And a funny thing happened. As I sat under biblical instruction, I found my “need” to listen to podcasts diminish to the point that I rarely listen to them on a consistent basis today. And within a very short period of time, my pastor actually became my pastor. Because he cares enough to share the full counsel of God—to preach the Scriptures and proclaim the gospel—I want to submit to his leadership. I want to submit to his authority.
So perhaps that’s the place we need to start as we look at our concerns over unhealthy relationships with podcasts and “celebrity” pastors. If you’re pastor isn’t your pastor, then you need to look at why. Examine your own heart and attitudes first and repent of any genuine sinful mistrust of authority, appealing to Christ for his empowerment in putting that sin to death. Don’t automatically assume that your problem is your pastor, because the problem could likely be you. But if the problem truly is that your pastor is failing to preach, humbly approach him in love. Voice your concerns. Pray for him. And as a last resort, part company.