“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 dudes 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 shepherd. 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 under-shepherd.
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 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 messy 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.
What 1 Peter encourages me to do in response
As one of those online writers I feel that I have responsibility. If someone is following me because he/she is surrounded by unfaithful shepherds then I’m truly thankful to the Lord for using me to feed His sheep. At the same time I readily acknowledge that I’m not the ideal pastor for this person. I will encourage him/her to pray that God would give him/her a faithful shepherd. Either through changing the hear to the current pastor(s) or bringing new ones. I’m thankful that God uses me in the interim but I have to remember that is exactly what it is.
If somebody is following me simply because they are discontent with their pastor I need to be careful. That can really stroke my ego. I can go off thinking that I’m doing a better job than Pastor X at shepherding his flock. Even if that were true (and it probably isn’t) God has called someone else to be their shepherd. My responsibility is to help them love the shepherd(s) that God has given them.
I also need to be aware that people like the comfort of an online community and pastor over the real thing. This will help me to encourage people that I “counsel” online to actually pursue a local church.
If you have an online writing ministry you need to make certain that you keep it in it’s proper place. You are not a replacement pastor. You are a supplement, a help, a voice, to encourage people to love Jesus more. And as such you know that one of the best ways that people grow in loving Jesus more is by growing in their love for the under-shepherd(s) that God has already given to them.
*I’m sorry, I can’t stop making that joke no matter how old it gets.