The Podcast Pastor
by John Piper
Many Christians find biblical and spiritual nourishment from faithful podcast preachers. This is a good thing. It gives people the opportunity to build God’s Word into their lives during the week as they jog or drive or clean or just sit and listen. But with this benefit comes the question, How should we encourage these same Christians, who are benefitting from podcast preaching, to orient themselves toward their pastor(s) in the local church?
Let it be clear that we ought to deeply appreciate our local pastors, under whose shepherding and preaching we sit week in and week out. They are indispensable, as a gift from God, to His church. God does not say in Scripture that He has given podcasts to the church, but pastors and teachers. Ephesians 4:11-12: “He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry.”
He gave these pastors responsibility for particular flocks. That is what it says in 1 Peter 5:2-3: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you”—a pastor is not responsible for a flock across the world or down the street—“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, but being examples to the flock.” Pastors will only be examples as they live and minister among a particular people. This connectedness between pastor and people is a calling for the pastor and a gift to the flock.
This is the picture that God has ordained: that flocks exist, and shepherds exist, and that the shepherds have accountability for a particular flock; and that the flock should submit joyfully to its particular shepherd. This is a structure that no podcasting pastor can replace.
These local-church shepherds, then, are given an astonishing responsibility in Acts 20:28: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock”—that is, all 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.” This is a massive calling—and an enormous burden. Take heed to all the flock, he says. This is your flock. You are their shepherd. Watch over them, care for them, as no mere podcaster can.
And the counterpoint is that all those sheep should know that this is the local pastor’s responsibility, and they should submit to that gladly. They should want it. They should feel wonderfully blessed by being in a church where this is believed. And so God tells us, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls” (Heb. 13:17). And He says we should be eager “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 Thess. 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 live as examples and care for the souls of their particular sheep. No online preacher can take the place on the ground of these shepherds.
Let me add two further considerations:
First, what we should desire 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 city, making an impact on our specific community. So I say to every church member, value your pastor as the one who opens the Scriptures for you in your situation, in your community, in your web of relationships week in and week out. Support him in this.
Second, we need to acknowledge 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 Jesus together, and hear each other say great things about the One whom we love and cherish, is the way God means for us to thrive in relation to him. I have found this weekly rhythm of corporate communion with God essential to my faith over the last fifty years.
Preaching is essential to that corporate experience. Preaching is not after worship. It is worship. It is the pastor exulting over the truth of God’s Word. It is expository exultation. In other words, preaching is not an isolated moment of instruction, as if the service just switched from music to class. No, the service is worship from start to finish. We are going vertical from beginning to end, and we are connecting with God through prayers and communion and singing and giving and in the sermon. We are leaning on the pastor to draw us into his explanation and exultation over the Word of God as part of corporate worship. Podcasters cannot do this. If people only hear preaching outside the context of corporate worship, they are neglecting part of its life and its power.
I love podcasting. I think it has a place in the growth and learning of contemporary Christians. But nothing can replace the church gathered and the community of believers under the leadership and care of shepherds who minister God’s Word to them and care for their souls.