Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pastor in a Book

About sixteen months ago I received a letter from a person who was leaving PCC. Here is an excerpt from the letter explaining his reason for leaving…

"I’m writing to tell you that my family and I will no longer be attending Pace Community Church…….. I have been diligently reading books by authors such as R.C. Sproul, Mark Dever, John Piper, and C.J. Mahany; additionally I listen to sermons and teachings from many of these men; as well as; David Platt, and Matt Chandler."

Okay. I can deal with that. I’m used to it. It’s happened to me hundreds of times over the years, and every pastor has to deal this. Additionally, I accept that our vision is not for everyone. If a person doesn’t agree with us, it’s better for them to leave than to stay at a place where they can’t be happy. Besides, these kinds of departures result in having a healthier church. We are better off for it.

But if you were to read his letter in its entirety and see this man’s commentary of our church (from A-to-Z), you would realize how immature and premature this decision was. First of all, this was coming from a person who was about two or three years old “in the Lord” – a spiritual infant or adolescent - and all of a sudden he has an “informed” opinion about our church. According to him our theology is wrong, my preaching methods are wrong, and the direction of our church was all wrong. Secondly, this man and his family were far from God when they first started attending PCC and it was through the ministry of THIS CHURCH that they became followers of Christ. We were the very ones who personally invested in this man and his family – but all of a sudden we are no longer spiritual enough for him. He wanted to find another church that was more spiritual than we are. Thirdly, THIS MAN CAME UNDER THE SPELL OF CERTAIN CHRISTIAN AUTHORS who, he believed, were more spiritual than I am. In short, he found a new pastor… “in a book.”

Every pastor alive has experienced this – to be rejected in favor of another - it goes with the ministry. Like a rebellious teenager who suddenly can’t stand his parents, these restless know-it-alls read books written by Christian authors and then make comparisons against their local pastor. Like reeds in the wind they are tossed to and fro by something they read in a book - authored by men they have never even met! Suddenly, these adolescents under a spell become more spiritual than the very church or pastor that actually reached them with the gospel and helped birth them into God’s family. Seething in restless discontent they will attend church, sit on the pew, and listen to the pastor teach. But their heart belongs to another – it belongs to their new “pastor in a book.” Of course, the local pastor always loses when compared to the “pastor in a book.”

Here’s why....

Unlike me, the person whose writings they are they reading is perfect. Their books are edited having undergone endless revisions and can say it “just right.” Your “pastor in a book” is always there and always accessible. He just sits there on the shelf waiting for you to reach out to him, and when you do is always available for you. He never has a bad day, and always has time for you. He never makes a decision in the church that causes you discomfort. Your “pastor in a book” always agrees with what you want, (especially the dead ones), and always rules in your favor.

Your “pastor in a book” uses your favorite translation of the Bible too. He has a perfect family, just like yours. He is humble, never shows emotion, and always avoids conflict. He listens to your complaint and can always make time for your unannounced visits. His office hours are when you decide they are. He is always available, always on call, and always gives you his undivided attention.

Your “pastor in a book” has all the answers, and his theology is truer to the Bible than your real-life pastor (who is so “common” to you). He is articulate, and waxes eloquent when writing. He never stammers and can prove everything he says…. with footnotes!

Not only that, your “pastor in a book” always maintains the proper distance from meddling in your personal life. If you don’t want to hear something he has to say you simply close the book, or skip the page. He never pressures you to change your life, nor does he expect personal accountability from you. The threat of church discipline will never come from your “pastor in a book” either. He’s safe.

Heck, these guys are perfect… Why? Because they exist ONLY in your books. He’s not real - he is a figment of your imagination. In truth, you don’t even have a pastor….

Let me tell you WHO your pastor is NOT: Your pastor is not John Piper… Matt Chandler… John MacArthur… Al Mohler…. Joyce Meyer… Joel Osteen, Ed Young, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, Andy Stanley, or Lou Giglio… Your pastor is not any of the “big boys” out there in church land. I’m sure they are all good people (I even read a few of them myself). But that’s not ths point. THE POINT IS - these people don’t even know you exist! You have given yourself over to someone who will NEVER be there for you. You have joined a religious version of an Elvis fan club.

Let me tell you who your pastor IS: Your pastor is the real-life, flesh-and-blood guy you have an actual relationship with… who preached the gospel to you in an understandable way when you were unlearned and lost… He is the guy who trained and nurtured you in the first principles of the oracles of God…. He is the one who gladly received you and your family into our church family, with all your baggage, and loved you anyway…. Your pastor is the guy who let you test your wings as a small group leader and nurtured you along the way, allowing you to gain experience… He is the guy who evangelized you, discipled you, and trained you for ministry… Your pastor is the guy who got his hands dirty with the messy work of fixing your life… He is the real-life person who got on his knees and prayed for you…. and took you out to dinner and spent time with you, answering your questions… Your pastor is the guy who invited you into his home, and has been to yours… Your pastor is the one who visited you when you were recovering from surgery, or a family member was in the hospital… Your pastor is the guy who stood with you when your marriage was on the rocks, who baptized you and your children, and preformed the wedding ceremony for your grown children, and dedicated your babies. Your pastor is the man who was there when your family member died. He is the one who performed the funeral.


Yet, it is so easy to just sit on the pew and say to yourself, “John Piper would never say it that way.” Or, “Joel Osteen is so much more encouraging than he is.” Yea… and John Piper will never weep with you when you weep, and Joel Osteen won’t be there when you are in the hospital either.

I'm all in favor of reading books. I'm glad to recommend books and favorite authors myself. In fact I have an entire library full of books; many of them written by the authors I mentioned in this blog. But you have to keep things in perspective....

Your local pastor is real. Your “pastor in a book” is not.

12And we beseech you, brethren, to KNOW THEM which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves.(I Thessalonians 5:12-13 KJV)

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