Can an Online Pastor be MY Pastor?

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I can be “pastored” by a guy that I’ve never met and live in a “community” filled with people I’ve never actually seen.

“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you … ”

When Al Gore invented the Internet*, a new opportunity for “pastoring” was also invented. With a few strokes on my keyboard and a click of the mouse, I can sit under teaching from all around the world. I can be “pastored” by a guy that I’ve never met and live in a “community” filled with people I’ve never actually seen. 

I believe God inspired Peter to add those little words, “that is among you,” for a reason.

You cannot rightly “exercise oversight” if you’ve never actually sat across from a person. That is why Peter exhorts the elders to shepherd the flock that God has placed before them … not some other dude’s flock, and not the one that is in your imaginary dream world. The flock that actually exists, right under your nose.

1 Peter 5:2 is an important word for those of us that have an online writing ministry. Our audience (oh, how I dislike that word) is not our flock. We aren’t their shepherds. They are not our sheep to tend.

As much as I love the people that read this blog and appreciate their readership, I have to remember that unless they are also members of FB Jasper, I’m not their primary undershepherd.

Why do people seek online shepherds?

There are three major reasons that I believe people are drawn to an online “pastor” and community instead of the real thing.

The first reason is that there really are bad shepherds out there that are starving their sheep.

Not everybody can just move to a new church—as some may not have a biblical shepherd for hundreds of miles. Hungry sheep desire food, and so they go to the Internet to be satiated.

Secondly, some sheep are discontented and shouldn’t be.

Their pastor won’t be speaking at any conferences, writing any books or doing much else that would make him a Christian celebrity. He loves Jesus, is as faithful as he knows how to be, but Joe Pewsitter isn’t satisfied with him or his teaching so he goes to the Internet to listen to his favorite celebrity. He’d likes the way that Pastor Superstar preaches and teaches so he’ll follow him instead.

Lastly, it’s easier to hide.

You can get what you want online. You don’t have to deal with the messiness of actual relationships. If you don’t like what somebody says, just click on another link. If you don’t want to be confronted on sin then don’t type your sin into a search engine. Just follow the speakers that you like, read the articles that agree with you, and keep yourself safe. You can’t do that in a real community.

Mike Leake Mike Leake serves as an associate pastor at the First Baptist Church of Jasper, Indiana, and is pursuing a Master of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Nikki, have two young children. Mike’s writing home is mikeleake.net. Mike is also the author of Torn to Heal:God's Good Purpose in Suffering.

More from Mike Leake or visit Mike at http://mikeleake.net

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  • RevLuckett

    I like the Al Gore comment. I chuckle about it all the time because if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be able to read and respond to your article.

  • John

    I have family members who, due to their geographic location, do church online for the most part, also some by tv. There are no evangelical churches in the area that teach sound doctrine so they choose to do church at home. Not all are doing it for the reasons listed so we need to be careful not to over-generalize.

    • http://mikeleake.net Mike Leake

      John, your family members would be covered under the first point. Though, I appreciate you noting that it might not be because there are “bad shepherds” in the area–maybe they have “no shepherds” in the area.

  • Thomas C Dietz

    On a recent trip to visit family, I took the opportunity to visit a church in the Cleveland , OH area to sit in on a service with Alistair Begg who is one of my favorite online pastors. I made it clear that although he wasn’t My pastor, that he was a long time mentor and I asked him to pray with me for blessing in ministry. We were both built up by the exchange but neither was confused about our position. I’ve learned much from his spirit, style, preparation, and presentation….but he is a mentor and NOT the pastor whose care and oversight I am willingly under. We are to learn from every opportunity, but we are accountable to God first and our own “undershepherd”.

  • Billy Taylor

    Although I agree, I don’t see much difference between an Internet pastor and watching a video of a pastor at a multi-site mega church. I’m not against those per say, but the ideas of personal accountability to a spiritual leader was left behind many years ago. Unfortunately, we have substituted good preaching for pastoring a flock and the church suffered. I can learn from an online pastor, or from a video sermon, but it takes a disciple in a committed relationship to raise up another disciple. I am afraid we have far more “fans” today than disciples..

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