Home > church life > How to Properly Benefit From The So-Called “Paper Pastors”

How to Properly Benefit From The So-Called “Paper Pastors”

April 11, 2011

A recent re-post at Pyromaniacs makes a point about people who idolize a “paper pastor” as someone better than their own pastor, because that “paper pastor” is not real but an abstract idea, someone who doesn’t know you from Adam — as flawless as the picture models that men are often attracted to.  The post is good so far as it goes, given several basic assumptions:

  1. You’re going to a church of your own choosing
  2. Your local pastor is biblically grounded, basically of the same doctrinal persuasion as your paper pastor
  3. Your local pastor is a people-caring person willing and able to spend time with you

But what about cases where the above three premises do not fit:  someone who is compelled by another family member to attend a church not to their own liking; the pastor there is not biblically grounded — and of a very different doctrinal persuasion; and furthermore that pastor is not a “people-person” but sees himself as an ideas person, even as a preacher to other preachers.

Since good local connections are cut-off (at least as far as sermons and Bible instruction are concerned), that person must rely on “paper pastors” for good Bible teaching and overall Christian living.  So this post is my attempt to answer that very different situation:  in what ways can the so-called “paper pastors” be of benefit to believers cut-off from the “good local church” option.  These points can also be applied generally to all believers, in how we should approach Bible study and how we learn from good Bible teachers.

First we must consider some overall principles, as embodied in texts such as 1 Corinthians 11:31 (If we judged ourselves we should not be judged), and 2 Peter 1:5-8see this recent post.  I especially note S. Lewis Johnson’s observation concerning backsliding and non-backsliding Christians  (see the longer quote here):

If people will not study the word of God, they are going to need spiritual medicine.  They are going to need a spiritual physician, and I think that through the years the thing that has impressed me in the church is that those Christians who are the least problem to the elders are the Christians who are growing in the knowledge of the Bible.  If you could just get a group of Christians in a church together in which everyone was daily growing in the knowledge of the word of God, the elders could set it out and twiddle their thumbs because it would be a healthy, happy, growing, fruitful body of Christians.  This is so fundamental because the word is powerful and God sees that it accomplishes His purposes.  It is when we neglect the Bible that we begin to drift, becoming indifferent, lose our love, become overtaken and entangled in sin.

The above considerations answer one criticism in the Pyromaniacs post:  “They never persistently probe an area of sin, in you, in person, eyeball to eyeball… nor will they. Church discipline will not be a threat with them. Ever.” For the real issue is the individual’s close walk with the Lord:  continuing to study, to grow and increase in the knowledge of the Lord.  People who are doing so, as SLJ pointed out, are not the people who give problems to church elders or are in need of “church discipline” in the first place.

With that in mind, here are a few more general guidelines and suggestions:

  1. Read and/or listen to several good preachers — find those who are trustworthy and generally reliable, of basically the same doctrinal persuasion yet with many personal variations.  My “paper pastors” include Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, S. Lewis Johnson, Dan Duncan and others at Believers Chapel, John MacArthur and Phil Johnson.
  2. Don’t just collect “quotes,” read popular Christian books on general topics, or listen to special topic church conference lectures.  DO listen to or read entire sermons — preferably exegetical, verse by verse type through a book of the Bible.  Spurgeon’s topical style also works, since he goes into considerable depth in each sermon, in a similar manner to exegetical preachers.  Read the sermons in sequence rather than skipping around to “shut-out” material you might not want to read as much (this is in answer to another of the Pyromaniac post criticisms of paper pastors, that you don’t have to listen to them and “can instantly shut them up, snap!”) This approach compensates for the lack of sermons in the local church situation and provides the biblical teaching and application that at least average-quality preachers deliver.
  3. Read the Bible daily (and good quantity) — I highly recommend the Horner Bible Reading Plan or variations on it.  Read with a Berean spirit, comparing what each preacher says to the words of the text.  J.C. Ryle’s Practical Religion, chapter 5, also has many great thoughts concerning how to read the Bible.

Through this approach, the believer does not look to any one particular “paper pastor” but gains Bible teaching and godly counsel from several.  I read or listen to several good preachers, yet am well aware of “flaws” in each of them (at various minor points), areas where they “do not measure up” and don’t agree exactly with my understanding of scripture.  Thus they are not “picture perfect” idols of pastors that “aren’t real.”

  1. Rayn
    April 11, 2011 at 11:26 am

    I’m in a situation in which I attend a typical Southern Baptist Church which doesn’t practice church discipline, puts the gospel in the back, has little church fellowship (but lots of jabbering), and the congregation and preacher have a pretty shallow understanding of conversion.

    I think I have a genuine reason to be displeased with my current situation, however in some of the recent blogs I’ve read about “paper pastors” or whatever you will call it, I think I’ve been rebuked for not owning up to some of the good that DOES exist in my local pastor. My Pastor does faithfully preach that there is one way to heaven, he does preach that there must be a change in the lives of converts (though perhaps not as strongly as I think is necessary in our current predicament), he does preach that hell is a place of eternal judgement and destruction, etc.

    I’m trying to be thankful to God for what I do have, although I’m not really willing to abandon my use of a paper pastor. Your directions were helpful and I agree wholeheartedly.

    Btw, I’ve tried the Grant Horner system a couple of times. I’m sort of on-and-off with it, but I’ve never finished the entire Bible using it. It bugs me that I can’t stop and examine individual words and clauses. I really dislike reading through the prophets using it because there’s so much I don’t know about prophecy and I seem to be getting so little from it. How would you suggest approaching further studies based on following the daily Horner system?

  2. April 11, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Thanks for your comments — I agree, it’s easy for others online to criticize when they don’t know all the details of a particular church. Certainly we can be thankful when at least the basic truth is proclaimed, but that doesn’t mean individual church members should just sit by passively and not seek additional teaching elsewhere.

    For the Grant Horner system — I supplement the reading with sermon series (MP3 audios) through the prophets books (just finished a sermon series through Amos). Others have used commentaries to help go through those books. The Facebook Horner group also sometimes provides good ideas for variation. Hope this helps.


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