I virtually stopped listening to podcasts eight years ago, even though I thoroughly enjoyed tapping into great guys like John Piper, Brian Houston, TD Jakes, Bill Johnson and you-know-who.
Every time I pressed PLAY, I began to feel as though I wasn't enough, and needed to be more as a communicator and specifically a pastor-communicator. I'd feel utterly overwhelmed at how short I was falling in being like these mega “successful" guys. My stories weren’t as moving, my sermon points not as clear, my sense of direction more ambiguous, my jokes not as funny. And the better the podcast, the more likely I'd want to throw in the towel afterwards.
Then I realized something: I have something that makes me irreplaceable as a pastor in my church, and no TV personality or latest podcast sensation could ever compete with me on this:
I was real.
Like, flesh and blood real.
Jesus’ own 12 disciples wouldn’t have followed him for all the great sermons he preached, but because they could reach out and touch him (ie. Doubting Thomas). This is also my biggest asset as a pastor in a local church. It's not my preaching, not my devotional life, not my great vision-casting skills, or any other super-pastor trait that separate me from the Podcast Superhero but the following:
- You can touch me.
- You can smile at me.
- You can hurt me.
- You can ignore me.
- You can glare at me.
- You can observe me.
- You can follow me (literally).
- You can hug me.
- You can slap me.
- You can say yes to me and no to me.
- You can look into my eyes and see the lights on.
I finally met one of my writer-heroes recently, John Eldredge. My heart sunk when we finally connected because, although he smiled at me and we shook hands, the lights were definitely off. And I get it - there’s no way he can be personal with the thousands of people his ministry has impacted.
And here's the thing: the Virtual Pastor/shephered (one you interact with via media of all forms, including books) was never ever intended to replace a real flesh-and-blood guy or gal like you.
People and churches need "real", tactile, touchable. And the problem with communicators and teachers like Francis (albeit incredibly gifted) is that they aren't "real" in that way. Oh, they're real to a certain group of people who interact with them like you interact with your circle. But for the vast majority of us who look on from the outside, listening to a podcast is like taking a peak in on someone’s Instagram feed - it’s an artificial environment that can be separated from reality. I'm saying this nicely. You'll almost always be getting everything sunny-side-up.
Side note: Pastors aren’t effective because they have it together but because they're a real-deal compilation of successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses. That's quotable, I think I'll quote myself:
Pastors aren’t effective because they have it together but because they're a real-deal compilation of successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses.
That you are real and gritty is more important to your church than hilariously funny sermons, finely crafted liturgies, or a poster-worthy life of ministry success. I’m still amazed that the most impacting Sunday talks are not works of oratory genious, but the ones when I put aside my notes and talk from the heart, unpolished, raw, breaking every toastmaster rule, and people grab onto it like they’re starving and I’m offering fresh bread.
On the level of presence, where you're there in the flesh-and-blood, Jesus himself can’t even replace you. Like a safe podcast, anyone can read the Gospels from a distance, or take in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. But to really impact a life, Jesus himself said that simply reading your Bible (or watching the Miracle Channel, or podcasting David Platt, etc. etc.) wasn't enough, so he positioned real, flesh-and-blood leaders in the local church (Ephesians 4:11-16). If He gave these gifts - pastors, teachers, etc. - don't you think they must be utterly vital in a Christian’s life? Yes, I'd say so!
So pastor, simply be true to who you are, keep your eyes on Jesus, and lead your people towards Him as together you engage a one-of-kind faith-adventure.
Now, if I can be a great communicator while I’m at it, and tell funny stories that engage the audience, and throw in clinchers that cause grown men to weep, it’s icing on the cake and butter on my bread. But it will never be the main thing in my leadership of Evangel. Me, the flesh and blood me - that’s my most powerful asset, and it's yours too.
Nothing, not even my buddy Chan, can substitute you.
Just remember that.