YouTube Isn't Your Pastor
We live in a day of unthinkable convenience. No, convenience isn’t quite right. We live in an age of privilege.
Books used to be for the rich. They were expensive to print and for the most part, only those with some wealth had the ability to learn to read. So you had, primarily, a bunch of rich white folks with the books and the rest of the population without.
Consider the days before the internet. How would you buy a book? You’d go to a book store. Now go back to the early 1900s. You’d likely find books in universities and libraries. Keep going back to the mid 1700s – the time of Jonathan Edwards and the end of the age of the Puritans. Now stop. The Puritans wrote and studied voraciously, producing excellent works. I think we take that for granted. We don’t think about how on earth, in the time in which they lived, they obtained such brilliance. How did they learn enough to write about? Whose preaching did they learn under? Consider the resources available to someone at the time. They were scant.
Learning and growing in wisdom was incredibly inconvenient just a short time ago in our history. For some it was nearly impossible, for they could not read and they didn’t have books. Reading the Bible was truly a gift to relish in.
Now fast forward back to today. Zoom through dial up modems (cra-crustjklks-dee-dee-beink-uhngg), the dawn of social media, and smart phones glued to our appendages.
You can, right now, watch or listen to a talk from the most brilliant pastors, thinkers, scientists, and revolutionaries of today with the swipe of a finger. It will be in high definition and it will be free. One could not reach the bottom of the well of wisdom available online. It is like a toy store of wisdom with never-ending aisles. You can gorge until your eyes fall out of your head and your brain goes numb. It’s awesome and I for one have enjoyed the plethora of opportunities to grow. It’s a good time to be alive if you’re hungry to learn and grow in your walk with God.
I cannot count the times that a YouTube or podcast sermon has come up in a conversation. It goes like this: “I was listening to a (mega pastor name) sermon and…” The person then reveals the insight or quip from the pastor’s sermon. It is usually one of those rock star pastors. Nothing wrong with this. Some of these guys preach ferociously and brilliantly and I’m a big fan of soaking that up. But what disturbs me is this: many of the people I see consuming sermons from pastors are not members of that pastor’s church. They don’t belong to any church. They are spiritual voyeurs, watching church but not doing church.
People ask why it matters – what difference it makes. It matters a great deal. A pastor is a shepherd, an overseer – not a pixelated demigod. Again, some pastors due to their talent and the wizardry of modern technology have become online celebrities, but most of them would tell you how important it is to belong to a local church.
Pastors, imperfect as they are (I would know), keep care of your soul. They will give an account to God for how they loved and shepherded you. When you get cancer, they’ll be at your bedside. When you get a new job, they’ll rejoice with you. They will pray for guidance to lead you and God will answer that prayer. Their shepherding won't be perfect. They'll miss an email. They'll be too rough or wimpy gentle. But they will give their life for you because they love you.
Don’t you want that?
When you step out of YouTube land, you’ll likely land in the ordinary, weird, challenging, and beautiful world of a local church. The pastors may not wear face mics or have cool jeans, and their sermons might ramble and wander. The music might be a choir or a sorry rendition of a 90s worship song. You might be unimpressed with their ministries and with the church in general.
You’ll fit right in.
With our ever waning attention span, we look for the bright objects. We don’t need to be bored anymore. Reading a challenging book is unthinkable (try to read The Brothers Karamazov), and for many people books in general are out the window. We have choices upon choices upon choices and voices upon voices upon voices. So we want the decadent, rich, quick, and bright. And we want it now. So that unremarkable church with good theology and average everything else might feel like a walk through your grandmother’s closet. Some nostalgia, but not exactly exciting – and old people smell funny.
Again, you’ll fit right in.
I am not saying you have to settle for a bad church. Churches are getting pretty awesome these days. I am just saying that a physical church with real life pastors is the way our faith plays out. (Ignore any implications of multisite churches with screened sermons here. I’m no hater of multisite so long as there are involved, loving shepherd pastors there to keep care of their congregation.)
If you want to live out your faith without a church, you are spiritually homeless. The church, which is Jesus’ bride, is your people. You may not choose them, but that’s okay – Jesus already did. The family gathers over spiritual meals together: sermons, service, small groups/Sunday school, worship, and sacraments. And some families do this different than others. But they are still a family. If I say I’m a Larson, but I intentionally stay away from my family so I can hang out with someone else, I may be a Larson still but something is wrong with me. Especially if I watch another family’s patriarch on a screen to glean wisdom.
No judgment here. Those YouTube sermons (and now they have something called “sermon jams”, which is a hilarious concept but it’s actually kind of stirring) are great. I’ll keep podcasting my eardrums out, too. But friend, if you are a follower of Jesus, I charge you to engage in a local body of believers. Join them, love them, and sit underneath your pastors as those who keep watch over your soul (Hebrews 13:17). The indulgence in the convenient extracurricular teaching of the rock star preachers of today is supplemental, not an alternative.