I pastor a fantastic church. My congregants are passionate about the gospel of Jesus Christ, robust biblical preaching, and family-inclusive discipleship. But there’s also something a bit unique about my church. Before I became their lead pastor in August of 2013, their previous preacher was Dr. David Platt! But my church is not in Birmingham, Alabama; it’s in Kankakee, Illinois.
It All Began Five Years Ago…
Five years ago, some Christians began meeting in a living room to watch sermons by Dr. John Piper. Their Sunday preaching was primarily supplied by streamed sermons from well-known preachers. By God’s grace, they grew. They grew to a point where they could afford to call a pastor to shepherd and preach for them.
But why would they? Why not simply continue to video stream an extraordinarily gifted preacher instead? It would certainly save a lot of money. And let’s be honest, the homiletical prowess of a 24 year-old fresh-faced seminarian would never come close to the likes of a Piper or Platt. So why hire me?
A Pastor—in the Flesh.
These days, Christians can slip into treating preaching like a consumer commodity and preachers like buffet selections. With the internet, a believer can choose a different style and a different preacher for every mood and preference.
However, my church realized they needed a pastor. A flesh and blood pastor is crucial for the local church because preaching is an act of spiritual warfare. A pastor is a shepherd who fights in the trenches next to his sheep, defending them from the wolves. You can’t simply phone that in! Only an in-person preacher can bear the burdens of the congregation, weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.
That’s what we see clearly in Scripture. Preaching and teaching are normative functions of the shepherding pastor (1 Tim 3:2b, 5:17, 2 Tim 4:2, Titus 2:1). That is to say, pastors care for the flock by preaching and teaching, rebuking those who contradict sound doctrine (Titus 1:9). Can a preacher disconnected from a local church—in fact, completely oblivious of it’s existence—defend that flock from false teaching? Can he fend off the wolves? Can he shepherd the flock, exercise oversight, or rule well?
A church ought to receive preaching from a man who knows the church’s struggles, their strengths, their needs, their victories—in short, knows them. True biblical preaching not only rightly interprets the Word, but it also lands and applies uniquely and specifically in the people who are sitting under that Word.
A true preacher’s heart is to know and to be with his listeners. The Apostle John expressed this desire in 2 John 12: “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” Distance communication (letters, videos) are communications of grace and truth, to be sure. But they should function as less-than-ideal temporary measures. A church’s ultimate goal should be to connect the author and the recipients “face to face”. The normative medium of preaching in a local church ought to come from a pastor in the flesh.
Consider the Gospel. God had already made His Word known to His people by the giving of the Old Testament. He had already communicated Himself through His written Word. The Law of the Lord was perfect (Ps 19:7)! Shouldn’t that be enough? But God didn’t stop there. In His wisdom, he sent His Son in the likeness of men so that we could behold His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father (Hebrews 1:1-3). Jesus came in our frame, was tempted in every way as we are yet without sin. He walked in our shoes; lived our lives.
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus incarnated Himself, bringing the Word near to us. The Word was pressed into our hearts by the Incarnate Word! Churches should seek out pastors who imitate the True Shepherd: bringing the word personally in the flesh. In this way, the church not only hears the word, but they also behold the word as they watch their pastor live in obedience to the word. The writer of Hebrews encourages, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). Since the Word came in the flesh, our preaching ought to be in the flesh.
Your Pastor Knows You Better
Are Piper, Chan, and Platt better preachers than me? Yes! By far! Can they preach the gospel better than me? Probably. However, those faithful men know and care for their own flocks, but they don’t know mine. I love my flock; I care for my flock. Therefore, I endeavor to preach the written Word to my flock such that they behold the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ! Christians and churches need pastors in the flesh who faithfully minister the Word to them both in word and in deed—in the pulpit and outside it!
Many thanks to Chad Ashby for the helpful edits.