The church is more than a place; it is a people. You will never see the word “church” applied to a place or building within the New Testament. The church is a gathering of the saints, an assembly of the redeemed, a race, nation, priesthood and people for God’s own possession, called out of the world and created for worship.
Apparently, some in the early church forgot and abandoned this reality, which is inherent to the identity of the church. Maybe they feared persecution or were too distracted by worldly cares. Maybe they worked too hard or had too many family obligations. Maybe they had a few scrolls to read and a shofar to blow and simply chose to worship in the convenience of their own homes. Whatever the reason, the author of Hebrews was concerned.
This tendency, unfortunately, is not limited to the early church but now plagues American Christianity. Each week, scores of believers forsake the assembly of the saints and, instead, tune in to a televised, streamed or podcast sermon. While radio offered the first taste of listening to a sermon within the comforts of the home, modern technology affords the opportunity to listen on the road, in the gym or on a mountain. These benefits are incredible blessings that should be used for our edification, but they are no substitute for the local church.
A podcast is not a pastor, and you “meeting with God” in solitude is not a church service. Those whose worship experience consists merely of such isolated engagement not only rob themselves of the grace of community, but they rob the local church of their participation and they rob God of the glory that He intends to display.
The Beauty of Community
Why is this individualization of the faith so concerning? Because the local church is the primary vehicle for sanctification. God has not designed you to be transformed in isolation but in community.
Consider the following passages:
How can we love, exhort, honor, serve, forgive, admonish and teach one another if we are not regularly gathering together?
The local church is messy. It always has been – just read 1 Corinthians. But messy doesn’t mean unnecessary or dispensable. There is a beautiful grace to be found in the midst of the mess.
Perils and Pitfalls
Church is more than a sermon. It is singing with the saints, speaking and hearing words of encouragement, praying together, serving one another, opening your life and home, giving of your time, treasures and talents, taking communion and celebrating baptism. The preaching of the Word is a fundamental aspect of the local church but not the sole activity in which we engage.
Such reductionism is dangerous to our souls because it removes us from the very mediums through which God sanctifies His saints.
Consider a few of the more obvious costs if your primary church experience is vicarious and virtual:
- Deep community is sacrificed, and thus there are limited opportunities to be sanctified through mutual encouragement and exhortation.
- The sacraments are sacrificed, and thus there are limited opportunities to be sanctified through regular participation in communion and baptism.
- Church discipline is sacrificed, and thus there are limited opportunities to be sanctified through loving correction.
- Service and mission are sacrificed, and thus there are limited opportunities to be sanctified through selflessly giving yourself for the sake of others.
Those who seek sanctification primarily through radio, television or podcast ironically reject the very means provided by God to cultivate holiness. They, instead, foster individualism and isolationism, which begets self-centered, new age spirituality, not deep authentic Christianity.
This blog is not intended to condemn those who have fallen victim to the podcast pastor mentality, but rather to awaken them to the beauty and necessity of the local church.
Each week The Village receives well-intentioned yet misguided emails and phone calls from people around the globe who are not covenanted with a local church and who consider Matt Chandler to be their primary pastor. We truly care about each story we hear, but we cannot adequately shepherd from afar or respond to everyone.
Our primary priority is to “the flock of God that is among [us]” (1 Pet. 5:1-3). Pastors have been charged and called by God to the stewardship and oversight of the flock in which they have been placed. Therefore, a pastor’s primary responsibility lies not in outside speaking engagements, writing projects, media or emails from podcasters but, instead, in the call to equip the saints within his own local church.
Still, even when we are compelled and able to respond, we do so always to the end that those to whom we reply would immediately seek out a local church. The Village (and various other churches, podcasts, conferences, books and websites) can hopefully provide supplemental assistance to discipleship, but a podcast is no substitute for a pastor, and the internet is no substitute for a church.
So if you are a podcaster seeking our theological or pastoral help, we encourage you to find a healthy local church and invest yourself fully there, ministering to the needs of those around you and allowing yourself to be ministered to.
For help finding a healthy local church, consider the following searches:
For help finding theological resources, consider the following websites: