You might be asking, “pastorless preaching and teaching”? What’s that? Let me explain. What I mean by the term is any preaching or teaching where the pastor does not know you and cannot rebuke you through it. Pastors of a small church usually know their congregation well. They know what issues are going on. They know what their people need to hear because they are acquainted with the church’s struggles. Hence, God uses them to speak to the people through His Word and exercise of authority in the same way God uses the father of a family to lead that family.
Now, imagine a family listening to a father down the street who does not know them but they like what his kids say that he says. They like his pithy sayings. He’s a super cool dad. The problem is that God has not given that family that father. He gave that family their own father to lead them. What that means is that they are not being led by God because they have ignored the means God has provided them to be led. Instead, they merely have the illusion of being led because they feel inspired by the sayings of the dad down the street.
But the real reason they love the dad down the street is because he can’t really correct them when they want to do something that is wrong. He can’t really discipline them when they decide to be rebellious. He can’t do any of that because he doesn’t actually know them. He doesn’t know anything about them or what they are doing. He doesn’t know that they are going out and partying until late into the night, getting drunk and sleeping around. He doesn’t know that they violently yell at their siblings or real parents. He doesn’t know that they are actually awful kids. And that’s why they like him.
You see, he reflects what kind of god they want. They want a god who doesn’t judge them, a god who just encourages, a god who doesn’t talk to them about any subject about which they feel uncomfortable. They don’t want a god who will change their lives from the course which they have chosen. They like their sin and so they like their false god and their surrogate fathers.
What does this have to do with pastorless preaching and teaching? It’s actually the term I would use to describe any time someone chooses to go to a megachurch, listen to celebrity pastors online, or read dead teachers in replacement of placing themselves under the discipleship ministry of a small local church. You can get a variety of teaching from these, some more solid than others, but you can’t get good teaching because good teaching is creational and is going to lead you to humility rather than rebellion toward those who God has placed over you. And not submitting to the discipleship ministry that God has placed in that small local church is rebellion against God.
There is a reason why the Pharisees loved the dead prophets and killed the greatest of them who was right in front of them. You can imagine those who do not know you to be on your side. They can’t see what you are doing or what direction you are going in or how you are interpreting them. They can’t do anything because they’re not the shepherds in your time and place who God has decreed should represent Him to you.
This is also why some will even try to find pastors who, although they may know them, will not rebuke them or ask hard questions of them. The rebellious want pastorless teaching because it gives the illusion that they are being discipled in obedience to God when, in fact, they are just as hard-hearted toward God as they were when they did not have a claim to Christianity.
I see this a lot among the young, restless and reformed. They cultivate communities online or elsewhere that are just echo chambers of what they want to think and do. Whenever someone challenges them, it’s met with shouts of “Off with your head!”, or less dramatically, defriending you from the group or chat.
Cyprian, later quoted by Calvin, once said, “He cannot have God as Father who does not also have the Church as Mother.” He was thinking of a mother in authority over her children, nurturing them and disciplining them when needed. Guidance is necessary and so personal knowledge of the children on part of the mother is necessary. What this means is that no one who has replaced the discipleship ministry of the small local church with a rock concert, online celebrities, puritan paperbacks, or non-confrontational pastors has made the Church his mother.
And I would argue is that is because rebellious people don’t want fathers, and therefore, they don’t want God as their Father. They want themselves and so they mold themselves in their own image, what they admire, the lives they want to live, and ignore anything else that would redirect them toward an obedient life that cannot be lived out by their doing what is right in their own eyes and having that verified by their selective interpretations of a pastorless teaching.
You can see the venom of these untransformed people who think they are Christians because they read Van Til and listen to Reformed Forum when they are directly challenged by any type of thinking or practice contrary to their own. You can see that they have very little direct challenge in their daily lives and so they are largely offended by it when it comes into their conveniently arranged world of the echo chamber.
The Church Fathers, the Reformers, the Puritans, solid Reformed pastors are helpful to read and to listen to, but they cannot replace the teaching and counsel of the local church pastor who knows his congregation and what issues are going on. Jonathan Edwards isn’t going to tell you that your being foolish and choosing not to grow up. Spurgeon isn’t going to rebuke you for having an ongoing feud with another Christian. Tozer isn’t going to tell you directly to stop slandering your pastors and discipline you for continuing to do so. Piper isn’t going to counsel you in your marriage. MacArthur isn’t going to sit with your family for five hours while it’s in a moral crisis. Your local elders will. With all do respect to MacArthur, he has to ask people’s names when they come to ask him a question at the mic. That’s just the nature of big churches but they don’t work well for genuine discipleship because of that, which is why most large churches create smaller churches within them. You might view these men like the Pharisees viewed the prophets of old but someone needs to tell you one of the most important things you will ever hear, “They’re not your prophets.” Your prophets are right in front of you. Your prophets are addressing you specifically. Your prophets are the only ones with whom you really need to concern yourself. Everything else is supplementary, and yet, the supplement is taking place of the substance, the condiment is being eaten without the sandwich, the salt without the steak.
My fear is that many by doing this are now leading lives that are drifting away from the truth and its necessary fruits all under the delusion that they are growing simply because they are being intellectually and emotionally inspired.
As a cautionary tale, let us remember the many audiences of the Prophets and of Christ Himself who were often inspired by them, but bore no real fruit of a changed life because they did not bring themselves under obedience to those authorities.
The elders of a local church, a small local church (i.e., one small enough for the elders to know what issues are going on among the people) are given as a gift to God’s people. They are there to bring it up to maturity in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. And since there is simply no other means given in the Scripture for a Christian to grow to maturity, the only conclusion one can make of these rebellious souls is that they don’t want to live the Christian life. They want to live their lives and have Christianity affirm them in doing so. In essence, the act of throwing off the authorities God has placed over you to direct you is to throw off the authority of God, and is, therefore, nothing short of apostasy.
The good news is that if you find yourself in this position, Christ calls you to repent today of the play version of Christianity and enter into real deal. Read your books, listen to your podcasts, and attend your occasional megachurch meeting if you must, but do not replace the teaching of your local small church pastors with them because they are your real fathers representing your real Father.
The sad thing is that they might subconsciously think that they are escaping judgment but what they are actually escaping is love. What all of these dead teachers and celebrity pastors can't do is love you. And in the end, that is all the elders of your small local church are tasked to do.