Your unassuming local pastor probably has no books published to his name, does not speak at big conferences, and will be unknown to most people outside his congregation. Yet he is far better for you than all the renowned online celebrity pastors.
Through technology we have instant access to sermons, teaching, and articles by preachers from around the world, like Timothy Keller, John Piper, and whoever else you can add to the list.
I thank God for these men, their teaching, and the resources they have published because I have learned so much from their wisdom and their work has deeply edified me. Yet, none of them can replace the need for the local pastor.
At a time when Instagram has more influence in spiritual formation than the local church, here are some reasons why your ordinary neighbourhood pastor is better for your soul than any online celebrity pastor.
He is God-Ordained For You
Your local pastor is the shepherd God has sovereignly ordained to care for your soul (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2-3). He is God’s minister for your good. God has called him to particularly love you, listen to you, and lead you.
The pastoral office is a dangerous calling. God demands the utmost from his officers who govern and teach the church. Their negligence in this respect will face a fiery judgment (1 Cor. 3:12-15).
In Ezekiel 34, God through the prophet Ezekiel indicts Israel’s priests for failing to shepherd God’s people. As James says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).
The pastoral office is a dangerous calling.
Your local pastor has a special responsibility toward you. God holds him accountable to provide for you and protect you in your spiritual life.
In other words, he is the one who has to answer to God for the well-being of your soul; not the pastor whom you listen to on the internet.
This man’s vocation to serve you is no less important than the work of famous pastors who preach around the world. In fact, it is more important for you since God has called him to preach, administer sacraments, and exercise church discipline for your sake.
Therefore, the Lord requires that your submission to Christ is proved by your submission to the ordinary, unassuming elders of your local church (Heb. 13:17).
He is Invested in Your Life
Your local pastor knows you by name. In moments of crisis and celebration, he is faithfully present in your life (Rom. 12:15). At your family’s baptisms, weddings, and funerals, he is a reliable presence, faithfully proclaiming God’s words of grace.
In your times of joy, he is the one who rejoices and celebrates with you. When you are unwell, he visits the hospital room to pray. In your grief, he sits by your side, and holds your hand.
Your local pastor knows you by name.
When you call in the middle of the night, he will rise from his bed, dress, and rush to be at your side. His life is deeply invested in yours and there is no replacement for that.
While all members of a church are called to care for one another in the church, it is the pastor who ultimately bears the weight of shepherding and caring for members.
He is Your Counsellor
Your local pastor is the one who listens to your anxieties, failures, and fears. God has called him to hear your life stories. He is sent to encourage and exhort you with God’s Word (1 Thess. 5:14-15).
You can be vulnerable and share your struggles with him. In your private sins, he is there to remind you of the grace of Jesus. In your weakness, he is there to point you to the strength of God.
He is God’s appointed counsellor to speak wisdom into your life. Pastors on YouTube and podcasts can offer godly wisdom in general. But these people do not know your life and trials intimately. Your local pastor does.
Hear him speak to your specific situation. Listen to advice and accept instruction so that you may gain wisdom in the future (Prov. 19:20).
He Preaches God’s Word For You
Your local pastor might not be as good a preacher as Timothy Keller, John Piper, or anyone else. However, God has chosen his voice for you to hear his Word. God has called him to the prophetic office to preach to you weekly from the word of God (1 Tim. 5:17).
As he proclaims the fullness of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit convicts you of your sins and assures you with the promise of the gospel that there is forgiveness to the repentant who turn to Christ in faith.
All faithful preachers do this earnestly. But what sets your local pastor apart is that he preaches particularly for you. He understands the local culture and applies God’s word precisely to your context. This is why he spends hours in his study during the week, crafting his sermon to ensure God’s word comes in all its power to his congregation.
In this sense, your local pastor is a spiritual chef of sorts. Each week he brings you freshly prepared spiritual food. There is great insight and wisdom to learn from prestigious preachers online. However, these preachers can never be a substitute for your pastor preaching to you every Sunday.
In Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead, Reverend Ames, the small-town congregational pastor reflecting on his life speaks about the boxes of sermons and prayers he wrote through his forty-five years of ministry.
You get first-hand insight into the grace of Jesus at work through the vulnerabilities and failures of your local pastor.
He estimates he probably wrote 67,500 pages. This means he wrote as voluminously as John Calvin or Saint Augustine. But unlike them, nobody published his work. As the good Reverend himself says, he wrote them “in the deepest hope and conviction, sifting my thoughts and choosing my words, trying to say what was true.”
This is true for any pastor who preaches regularly. Therefore, do not dismiss the preaching of your local pastor or underestimate the work he puts into his sermons and prayers. He labours for you so that he might show forth the glory of Christ to you.
He Models the Faith To You
Your local pastor is himself a sinner who stands by the grace of God alone. He is a frail man who struggles with wayward thoughts, the weakness of the flesh, and the wanton desires of the heart.
Yet, he battles through them by the grace of Jesus, modelling a life centred on the gospel. You get first-hand insight into the grace of Jesus at work through the vulnerabilities and failures of your local pastor.
A “celebrity pastor” is a distant figure on a pedestal whom you hear through second-hand experience. But your local pastor is a tangible model of the Christian life in his honest confessions, repentance, and faith. He models grace and holiness to you. His self-sacrificial service is to be an inspiration and his leadership of his family is to be an example (1 Tim. 3:4).
If you love and follow Jesus—the Good Shepherd who laid down his life to save you—then you will love the under-shepherd he has placed over your life.
The seemingly insignificant, somewhat strange man who serves as your local pastor is God’s grace to you. He is better for your soul than any prestigious pastor online.