When Your Pastor Isn’t As Good As Your Podcast
Years ago, when I was still very new in pastoral ministry, I was a young preacher. This was in a day before podcasts (if you can imagine such a world), and a good friend of mine was visiting me on a Sunday at my church and listened to me preach, and he gave me some indelicate feedback. We were eating lunch after church. He just heard the sermon, and I will tell you, this friend of mine went to Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, under the preaching ministry of Mark Dever. This dear friend of mine, whom I love, we were sitting at lunch, and he just was exasperated. He said, Heath, I don’t even know why you preach. He said Mark Dever is the best preacher I’ve ever heard, and I feel like we should just film his sermons and play them at places like your church. Now, a lesser man would have struggled to continue his friendship with such a person. But I love my buddy, and I knew what he meant, and he was telling the truth that he liked Mark Dever’s preaching more than mine. In fact, he was probably telling a greater truth than that, that his preacher is a better preacher than I am. And that is fine. I can live with that. It points out a problem that exists on a grand scale today, which is how dominant podcasts are. Your favorite preacher definitely has a podcast out there. Those preaching podcasts make some people quite famous and quite well-known. Right now, today, you can go online and listen to any living preacher you want. You can listen to him address any topic you want. You can listen to him all day long if you want. A lot of times, let’s be honest, you’re going to listen to that podcast, and you’re going to come to church on Sunday, and you are going to think that your pastor, as he preaches his sermon is not as good as your favorite pastor that you listen to on a podcast every week.
That can create some real problems. One of the problems it can create is that you are likely to be frustrated. You get used to hearing sermons that you like, through the week, from your favorite preacher who just, I mean, just bangs on every cylinder that you’ve got. You love it, and then it’s just frustrating to sit through the sermon at your church as you compare what the guy up front is doing to what the guy in your ear does throughout the week. Then there’s another problem that could lead you to skipping church. Listen, I know people who have made the decision, especially since Covid, that well, we don’t need to go to church on Sunday, we don’t need to get up out of bed and go do all that and listen to a sermon that’s not as good as the ones we can listen to online on our podcast. There are real problems that are created. It can also create a breakdown in relationships because some of you who have your favorite podcast let your pastor know that you don’t think he’s doing a very good job with your emails and with your comments, and maybe even with your statements on social media. Though I hope you don’t do that. The point is it can create some real frustration and some real problems in your life and in your church, and so what do you do when your pastor just isn’t as good as your podcast?
Well, let me tell you a few things. First of all, listen, I’m going to tell you the truth about spiritual giftedness. So teaching and preaching is a gift of the Holy Spirit. You can’t get it. You can’t work it up. You can’t earn it. You can’t bestow it. The Spirit either gives the gift of teaching and preaching, or he does not. Once the Spirit gives the gift of preaching and teaching, there are some people who are more gifted than others. The Holy Spirit gives the gift of preaching and teaching to some and not others. To those of us to whom he has given the gift of preaching and teaching, he does not give the gift equally. There are people who are more gifted teachers and preachers than others. I’ll leave it to your judgment who those people are, but you can have the gift of preaching and teaching and not have as much of it as somebody else. The issue is not the amount of giftedness, as though there was some objective way to measure that. The issue is the faithfulness of your preacher to the word. Don’t bang your pastor over the head because there’s somebody with such a powerful gift of preaching that tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, listen to him on a podcast or that it’s not their fault that somebody else has a greater gift of preaching and teaching than they do. Instead, be thankful if they use what gifts they’ve got to faithfully preach the word of God to faithfully teach about the good news of Jesus Christ.
Realities to Remember
Another reality to remember if your pastor isn’t as good as your podcast is to remember the issue of relationships. In the Bible, we don’t get disembodied content; we always get content that comes in the context of a relationship. That is to say, in the Bible, it’s not just the teaching and the content that matters. It’s not just, is this faithful? Is it good? Is it engaging? It always comes in the context of a relationship. So look, you can listen to a podcast from a really great preacher. But that guy doesn’t know you. The pastor at your church is the only one who has the potential to know you. And his work for you is not just as a preacher, but he’s also caring for the needs of the congregation. He’s also doing administrative work throughout the week. He’s doing funerals, and he’s doing marriages, and he’s doing counseling. One of these days, if you haven’t already, you might need his help. He is the only one who has a chance of doing your funeral and of helping your marriage, not the guy on the podcast. The other thing about this relationship deal is that you know your pastor, your pastor knows you, and you know your pastor. I would suggest if you’re frustrated because your pastor isn’t as good a preacher as the guy on the podcast, don’t think of this as a one-way relationship. But think of it as a two-way relationship. Instead of sitting there wondering why your pastor isn’t as good as the other guy. Maybe you could think about showing him love and care, showing love and care to his wife and to his kids, and encouraging him in all the ways that you can and make it not just about disembodied content but about a relationship that exists between a pastor and a flock. Two people who love each other.
Another reality to remember when your pastor isn’t as good as your podcast is to remember the context of your pastor. Okay, let me put it to you this way. Most of the really popular preachers out there, most of the really well-known and famous ones, are able to devote extraordinary amounts of time to preaching and teaching. They are able to develop an infrastructure that makes it possible to purvey their sermons out beyond where they are. In other words, they have a lot of latitude to focus on preaching and to disperse their message that your pastor is not likely to have. Most pastors out there don’t get to just focus on preaching. In fact, one of the things that I always talk about is that the three big jobs of a pastor are preaching and teaching. That’s what we’re talking about here. But another big job is administration. Those of us who are working hard in pastoral ministry have to do a massive amount of administration. We have to think about budgets, we have to look at spreadsheets, and we have to deal with staff. And we have to deal with insurance and buildings and all of these kinds of things. It’s a massive job. And then, third, there is pastoral care. We’re not just preachers who walk in behind a pulpit and tell the truth for 30 or 40, or 50 minutes. We have to care for people. We have to be there when their husbands die, we have to see them when they’re sick in the hospital, and we have to call them when they’re sick. And all of those things take up time throughout the week. I’m saying that if you look at your pastor’s context, you might want to keep score on things more than his preaching. Of course, his preaching needs to be faithful; it needs to be true; it needs to be honoring to the Lord Jesus Christ. But cut this guy some slack. If you’ve got a pastor, like most of them, this guy is working really, really hard. And the Sunday morning sermon is only one vector of his performance, so cut him some slack.
Hearer of the Word
Here’s the last thing I’ll say if you got a pastor who just isn’t as good as the guy on your podcast. Don’t forget what your job is as a hearer of the Word of God. Your job as a hearer of the word of God is to listen to what God’s word is for you from the text of Scripture in the sermon. If your pastor is opening up the Bible, reading the Bible, and explaining what it means, then that is a word of God from you. Your job is to listen to it. Your job is to hear and follow. Your job is not to sit in judgment on God’s messenger who is bringing God’s word to you. It is not your job to use that as an excuse to stop up your ears. Listen, if you’ve got a man who’s faithful at all, regardless of how gifted he is, if he’s faithful at all, he is giving you God’s word. Don’t judge him. Listen to his faithful words from the Bible as you would listen to the Lord, and that will help you have a larger heart of grace for your pastor if he’s faithful and trying really hard.