There was a time when most things I knew about the Bible came from my pastor, and I learned them while sitting in a pew. These days, not so much.
I now daily hear from dozens of spiritual leaders. My index finger is trained at moving with just the right timing to scroll through their headlines and quotables. I read articles, hear podcasts, and talk with friends about what big name pastors are saying about this or that in the familiar way we used to talk about the big moments on our favourite TV shows.
I am extremely thankful for these voices online. I have been deeply encouraged and edified by what I have read and heard. But I do wonder if we skipped a step in discernment. After all, there was no candidating weekend for my social media shepherds.
There was no candidating weekend for my social media shepherds.
In a short 20 years, we have gone from having our called pastors as our primary spiritual leaders to being inundated with teaching, opinions, and advice. The spiritual voices available for browsing are as innumerable as the stars, or so it sure seems. There are no steps required to come under their influence except a simple click.
Many of us (women especially) deeply appreciate the access we have to the daily lives of our online shepherds. They are just so relatable. It is so easy to trust people with whom we feel like we sit down for coffee every day.
For example, Jen Hatmaker’s online presence makes you feel like she is a best friend. But what happens when her teaching doesn’t line up with what I hear on Sunday? What if what she is saying is easier to hear than what my pastor is saying, both because of what she says and the way she says it? Could it be that we end up landing in the camp of whoever we trust more? And who would that be?
We’ve put our pastors in a competition they can’t win. They can’t beat the collective internet if the prize is most time, most access, most influence, most ability or most wisdom.
So, what have they got?
Your pastor is your pastor.
Chosen by God, called by God and positioned by God to shepherd you. That’s worth more than clickbait because it has built-in levels of accountability that provides protection for us and for them.
We need to trust on purpose. God gave us some specific qualifications for our spiritual leadership within our churches. However, there is no Bible verse that directly states who we should follow online. And let’s be honest, even if there was, how could we really check if a person we only know through the internet meets the grade?
There are, however, some cautions in Scripture about people who tell us only what we want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3 is feeling pretty 2022: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”
There is also plenty of Scripture to guide us toward what we are to think about and meditate on. Psalm 1 is one of my favourites. The person who chooses their influences carefully is in a pretty sweet spot, “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does he prospers” (Psalm 1:3).
Psalm 1 paints a restful picture of what life looks like when we carefully choose who is feeding into our lives. Let’s take steps to use that kind of intentionality with the online voices whispering in our ears. I don’t want to accidentally outsource my spiritual care to the internet. Especially when God’s plan for my shepherding through the local church is so much more beautiful.