It happens every day. A blog post, a tweet, a podcast, from someone popular and with a big evangelical footprint, telling us how all believers should think about a particular issue. It might be who you should vote for (or not) as a presidential candidate, how you should engage your homosexual neighbor, how you think about racial injustice, or a whole host of other issues in the news.
By itself, that might not be so bad. After all, if what they are sharing is an unmistakably sound biblical position, then we should all agree. But far too often that is not the case. What is communicated is a very strong opinion, based on their perspective of biblical principles, argued in a very passionate way. Frankly, it is often times an opinion that I don’t think is as biblical as they think it is.
But forgetting that for a moment, here is my real point: Where are the elders of your local church? Since when did a handful of high profile and highly popular figures become God’s spokesmen for your local church? Please don’t misunderstand me—most (if not all) of them would not argue that they should supplant the role of local pastors. They are simply sharing their views on a particular issue, even if sometimes they do so in an authoritarian way. In addition, as 1 Corinthians 3:21–23 makes clear, there is a sense in which ministers belong to the church at large. But the fact remains that local church pastors have been given a charge regarding the flock that they oversee (Heb 13:17).
My argument is not that there is no real blessing in teaching ministries that reach beyond one local congregation. After all, this is a blog post. To this day we all benefit from the writings of men throughout the history of the church who served outside our local context. Nor is my
attitude that those who have popularity and influence should be despised for this. I benefit from many of these teachers every week. My concern lies in what seems to be happening on a local church level. Instead of church members looking to the men who have been entrusted with the responsibility to watch for their souls, and benefiting from their instruction and guidance, they often tune out their actual under-shepherds and give more weight to Internet Shepherds. The Internet spokesman becomes the expert and the local church elders are measured by the more famous voice. It is very near to an almost apostolic kind of influence, but in the realm of popular culture. What’s more, depending upon which theological camp the voice is sounding from, he is always joined by a chorus of those who agree with him and applaud him. This serves to almost canonize the opinion. If the reader or listener also perceives himself to belong to that “camp” then it strengthens his grip on that opinion — and here’s the key — regardless of the position of his elders. That is not spiritually healthy.
But the fault does not just lie with the people. Fault belongs to local pastors as well. Pastors are to be theologians, but not in an ivory tower. They must help their people with sound doctrine and meaningful application of that doctrine. Pastors must give guidance to the local church regarding the issues of the day, even if that guidance is the lesson that we should not be so wrapped up in matters that garner headlines today and are forgotten tomorrow. The way that local pastors shepherd the flock through “our time” is two-fold. The foremost way is by the tireless, consistent, faithful, careful, sober, exposition of Scripture. That exposition is both public and personal. It is from the pulpit and face-to-face. There is nothing more timely and timeless than the accurate exposition of Scripture. The second way is by the timely examination of very public and pressing issues in light of their consistent teaching ministry. In other words, now the pastors help their people see how what they have been taught all along gives them a clear perspective on what has the world up in arms. In these two ways (faithful instruction and timely application) local church pastors shepherd their people through the issues of the day. And in this way the people learn to look to those who have been given the responsibility for their spiritual care. It is up to local church pastors to teach their people the role of local church pastors.
If pastors are faithful in their ministry of the Word, and if they are faithful to shepherd the flock of God through the issues of the day, the people will learn the value of real shepherding versus someone they only know by the click of their mouse. God’s plan for shepherding the flock is the local church and its elders, not the Internet.
Richard Caldwell is one of our eleven TES campus pastors, having served as the senior pastor of Founders Baptist Church in Spring, TX since 1998.