Screens have been a problem since long before Covid was an issue. The problem is that, because of accessibility, many Christians are quick to make famous pastors their pastors. While there are many great things we can learn online from people like Alistair Begg, John Piper, Mark Dever, John MacArthur, Ligon Duncan, and others, they are most likely not your pastor of your local church.
Even before lockdown and Zoom became the norm, the temptation to look for the ‘famous pastor’ was real. Christians may listen to a sermon on Sunday, but all the while they may be weighing its merits against those of their favourite internet pastor. Sadly, Covid has made this danger even more prevalent in the church today.
There are many great pastors across the world, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with someone being well known for their faithful Bible teaching. However, when those pastors are put on a pedestal, when they replace the pastor of the local church, it becomes a recipe for disaster.
Here are three reasons why your local church pastor should not be substituted by a pastor on a screen.
One of the many blessings of a local church is just that: it’s local. You’re in the area where you live. People see you going to church. The neighbourhood knows you’re a Christian. They see you prioritising church on Sunday instead of sunbathing or shopping.
There are additional benefits of close proximity: a local pastor can be at your door within the hour. A local pastor knows the specific situations that the church, community, and maybe even your family are going through. They know your culture, and they are more informed about your life than an ‘internet pastor’.
Proximity, though, means that you need to let your pastor in. You can’t expect all the care but side-line them. It also means that you should be looking first and foremost to your local church for discipling and training.
The Lord has given the church many wonderful leaders who have a lot of wisdom. A few were named above, but each of those men would stress the importance of gathering with your local church.
We should learn from those men, but they should not be our first port of call if we have an issue. The Lord has placed elders over us and gifted them to equip and enable their local church members for service in God’s kingdom. Let them serve you as you serve. Let them equip you to use your gifts in the church.
A local pastor can be present in the dark times, can comfort you in pain, and can rejoice with you in your happiness. But they need to be close to do that. A pastor can only be close if you are near to them and if you let them draw near to you.
A famous pastor will not know you the same way a local pastor will. Sure, you may be able to contact a pastor who is thousands of miles away, but he won’t really know what you’re like from day to day.
A local pastor, however, may well see you at the school gate, in the shop, and in the pew. They know your character, your theology, your reaction to certain things, and they use that information to serve you better.
A local pastor knows you, will see your gifts, and equip and enable you to serve the local church. You can approach them at any point with your questions, your worries, and your fears.
A pastor is supposed to be an example to the church (1 Peter 5:3), but this is only possible if the pastor is willing to make themselves known, warts and all.
The local church and the local pastor will know you, they will know what discipleship, discipline, accountability, teaching, and equipping you need. An internet pastor will not.
As alluded to in the previous point: the role of the local pastor is to equip each believer (Ephesians 4:12-16) and to be an example to them (1 Peter 5:3).
This requires the local pastor to be intentional in his approach to church life and to discipleship. It requires a pastor to think long and hard about how to best serve each member and to help them use their gifts for the growth of the church.
An internet pastor may well be able to preach a good sermon, but they cannot share a coffee with you after the service and ask you how you are. An internet pastor cannot sit with you to figure out your gifts to enable you to serve the local church.
All of that requires purposeful interaction for the growth of the church. Ephesians 4:7-16 reveals that every Christian has been gifted to help the church grow (spiritually, not necessarily numerically). That growth comes about by local leaders intentionally equipping and enabling church members to serve in the church. The result of that growth is that we, as a local church, will grow in maturity and unity to become the bride that Christ has called us to be.
Don’t substitute your local pastor with a screen! Each pastor is entrusted to equip their own congregation; don’t rob them of the opportunity to fulfil their God-given task.
Alistair Chalmers, Assistant pastor at Bruntsfield Evangelical Church, Edinburgh