It’s been awhile since I wrote anything for the amazing Reformed Pub website, and so I decided that a good way to jump back in would be to share my feelings about one of the most important pastors in the world. No, I’m not going to write a lengthy, praise-filled article about Dr. James White (the man is awesome, you’re right), nor am I going to get my ‘New Calvinism’ roots on and gush over John Piper. There are any number of wonderful pastors I could write this article on, to be sure – MacArthur, Piper, Sproul, White… But the man I want to express my appreciation for today is Jacob Atchley.
If you’ve got your head tilted and a confused look on your face, searching through the databanks of your mind to find a face to associate with the name I just dropped… stop trying. For the vast majority of you, no face shall be found. Let me help you out.
How can I consider someone you’ve likely never heard of to be one of the most important pastors in the world? Well, it’s not because of his theological clarity (though he’s a beast!), nor is it because of his awesome abilities as a communicator (I could literally listen to the man read through the phone book.) It’s not even because he looks almost exactly like Kingpin from the Netflix incarnation of Daredevil.
No, the reason why this man is one of the most important pastors in the world is because he’s one of my pastors… and so, I guess my statement is a little bit deceptive. Jacob may not be one of the most important pastors in the world, but he is far and away one of the most important in my world.
That all sounds very relative and subjective, but I am convinced that within our tribe there is a real danger lurking behind our appreciation of ‘celebrity’ pastors. I say that as someone who regularly listens to the Dividing Line and Apologia Radio (those guys are all awesome and a huge gift to the church!), while following along weekly with preaching from folks like Matt Chandler. Really, you can insert your own choice of teachers – we all have them. While it is a blessing that the internet has brought world-class bible teaching right into our cars and cubicles, I’d like to offer us all the gentle reminder that while John Piper may be able to give you instruction on Desiring God, he does not know you personally. (Unless he does, in which case, carry on!)
So, without denigrating the amazing gift that some individuals are to the church globally, I’d like to offer up a few reasons why we ought to appreciate all the more the pastors who are in our very own backyard. These are the pastors who are there when tragedy strikes, for you. They are the ones who stand in front of a local gathering of the church and preach God’s word, to you. And ultimately, they’ll stand before the God of all creation and give an account for the way in which they shepherded you.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)
1. JACOB IS PRESENT.
This point seems simple, but Jacob and other local church pastors like him are present. No matter how much wisdom you glean from the wealth of talented bible teachers to be found on the internet or your television screen, they are not present with you or for you. When I hear something R.C. Sproul has said and want clarification on it, I can’t approach him personally and ask him about it – or at least, I can’t expect him to be able to respond. He’s got many people pressing in on him for his time, and that’s not his fault – nor am I his direct responsibility. But Jacob? Jacob’s there. If he drops a point in one of his sermons that confuses me, I am able to approach him and ask him about it and find out what he meant. If I am studying personally and need help or resources to understand properly what I am learning, Jacob is present and wants to help me.
2. JACOB KNOWS ME.
When I come up against issues in my own personal life, when I am not sure how to best lead my family in their current season, or when I have need of advice on how to apply Biblical principles to a very specific situation in my own life… John Piper just isn’t amazingly helpful. He can offer up great general wisdom, and I won’t take away from the huge help he and others have been to the church globally in this regard. Nevertheless, Jacob (and the other pastors our church is blessed with) is there for me personally, knows me personally, and can help me to navigate the steps I ought to take in light of Scripture… personally. Furthermore, if I were to fall into sin or be blind to an area in which I was out of step with the Scriptures, Piper will not be able to lovingly call me back to where I ought to be. Why not? Well, because he won’t see it – he doesn’t know me. Jacob does know me, and would be there to lead me toward restoration.
3. I KNOW JACOB.
These points are really simple, but consider this: I know my pastor, personally. I can see his struggles and his strengths, I can see him repent when he jacks it up, I can see him humbly lead others to do the same. I know if he’s going rogue or operating out of step with the Gospel, or if he’s behaving in ways unbecoming of one in the Lord. One of the things we have learned in the fallout of Mars Hill and other churches like it is that character is king. If that is so, how important it is to see that the shepherds over you and your faith family are operating with godly (though imperfect) character. I have personally seen Jacob repent before the church he is leading, and I have seen him deal with controversy in a way marked by grace and truth. I know Jacob. I don’t know Matt Chandler.
Ultimately, the elders in your local church are there for you and were placed so by God in His sovereignty. God chose the times and places of your dwelling (Acts 17:26), and He has also determined where your family would find themselves in terms of a local church body with whom to worship Him. God determined that we would live in a time where a wealth of information and teachers are available to us through the blessing of technology, and that is wonderful. I do not wish to pit the local church pastor against those who have been a blessing to the church on a wider scale. Instead, I want us to come to a place of appreciating those God has placed in our own lives personally, showing them honor and gratitude.
I believe our tribe could easily fall into searching through a list of favored celebrity teachers to get the answers to all our questions, or to glean advice for all of our circumstances. I am not saying that is necessarily wrong or unhelpful, but I think we ought to consider our local church family and those God has placed in leadership over that family to be more primary in our lives. If the internet disappeared tomorrow, your local church pastor would remain to offer you encouragement in the Gospel and shepherd you toward the worship of God aright.