How to think about multi-site churches


Have you seen Mark Dever’s chat with Mark Driscoll and James McDonald about multi-site churches? It’s excited plenty of interweb comment, not least because of the rather vigorous way Dever is set upon by the other two in a kind of jokey, jovial but still half-serious way.

(‘Multi-site’ means planting a new congregation or church service at a new location, but having the lead pastor from the mother church still do the bulk of the preaching, usually by means of a video feed. It’s a growing and controversial practice in US churches. Is it healthy? Useful? Biblical?)

For my money, Mark Dever came out of the conversation looking wise, gracious and godly, merely by virtue of asking thoughtful questions and not speaking over the other two. But if he had been given the chance, I would have liked him to have asked one more question: what’s your theology of preaching?

Mark attempted to start the conversation on a theological note by talking about the nature of the church as an assembly. Again, if he had been given half a chance to put his own view, I think he would have argued that his objection to the multi-site approach is not pragmatic (although he would list certain disadvantages), but biblical.

However, I suspect that even if the conversation had continued in that vein, Mark might have found it hard to knock down the multi-site approach on ecclesiological grounds alone. Mark Driscoll would argue that his multi-site church plants function as perfectly legitimate independent congregations. They have a pastor who is responsible for them, they have elders and deacons, they practice church discipline, they have membership, the word is faithfully proclaimed and the sacraments administered. According to a full and traditional Reformed ecclesiology, they would seem to have all the standard marks of a legitimate Christian congregation. They just happen to get 75% of their Bible teaching via a video feed from Pastor Mark in Seattle. But where in the Bible’s ecclesiology is that ruled out?

I would have liked the conversation to turn more to the nature and theology of preaching. What is preaching? Is it the kind of communication that can happen just as easily from a video screen as in person?

In terms of the regular preaching that leads and shapes and feeds a Christian congregation, I would say most certainly not. Because preaching is not just information delivery, nor even contextually-shaped information delivery based on the preacher’s knowledge of his people. It is an ongoing relationship, in which the pastor demonstrates the truth of his message by his own changed life, and in which the people not only listen to the pastor’s words but follow his example. The preacher’s knowledge of his people is of some importance, but it not nearly as significant as the people’s knowledge of him.

As Paul says to Timothy: “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me” (2 Tim 3:10-11). The teaching and the life go together. That is why Paul urges Timothy in his first letter not only to hold fast to sound doctrine, but to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim 4:12). Timothy is to keep a close watch not only the teaching but on his own life and godliness, and to let the people see his progress. “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (2 Tim 4:16).

It seems to me that it is the nature of biblical preaching that makes the multi-site model ultimately untenable.

22 thoughts on “How to think about multi-site churches

  1. Thanks for raising this, so we can discuss these issues in an Aussie forum, Tony. I’m very keen to hear what the Sola Panel community has to say.

    A couple of reactions:

    1. To clarify Dever’s critique of multi-site (and indeed multi-service) churches, is not that each ‘campus’ functions as an independent assembly. Rather, he and 9 Marks complain that the entire organisation is called ‘church’. Why not called each Mars Hill campus ‘church’ and call Mars Hill in total ‘network’, ‘diocese’ or ‘presbytery’? That’s his complaint.

    2. How does your comment about preaching fit with any church over perhaps 200 people? Let along contexts like Katoomba?

  2. Hi Tony,

    I didn’t see the interview that you mentioned but I do share your concern on this issue – although perhaps not for the same reason. I have to admit that I don’t think Paul’s exhortations to Timothy that you mentioned sufficiently produce the theological description of preaching you’re after. Paul doesn’t actually mention anything about the event of public preaching, his remarks are far more general and I suspect the proponents of the multi-campus approach would be able to point to their ministries and the visibility of their lives and doctrine to show that Paul is on their side.

    My concern is that this apparently revolutionary and avowedly protestant practice seems strikingly full of Roman assumptions. A significant part of the Roman tradition is epsicopal unity – that is, the Bishop is the true church (especially when he is celebrating the mass) and others are unified as the church in, through & with the bishop’s ministry. This new protestant version has the church unified by the “Reformed” sacrament of preaching. The church comes together when “the Preacher” exercises his ministry. The church is less unified by the confession of the Lordship of Christ Jesus in any one place than it is by the preaching of a single man in every place, even when it may be on this topic.

    Of course, in these situations appeals are made to the ministry of Paul planting churches throughout Asia minor. Fantastic! because now we have a apostolic succession to add the the authority of this kind of ministry.

    Not surprisingly you soon find this preacher appealing to the order of God’s Triune relations to underwrite his authority in a church or realistically, THE church where his sacred ministry is carried out.


  3. I think you’re probably putting your finger on either the key, or at least a key issue, Tony.

    But, I think Mikey is raising a key issue with his point 2.  If I can extend it a bit – lots of people benefit from listening to/ viewing sermons they were never present for.  Is it only ‘preaching’ under certain circumstances, and then becomes something else?

    I also wonder about this and our doctrine of Scripture.  I am generally of the view that the Bible doesn’t just give us the content for our preaching, but is itself preaching, or proclamation to us.  But often the writers’ lives (if not their identities) are fairly hidden to us. Does an implication of what you’re saying move the Bible more towards being a source for our preaching, but not preaching in its own right?

  4. The idea of having a preacher beamed in via video is something that is very new in the history of Christianity.  But historically speaking, during the Puritan era, wasn’t one of the things the Puritans were concerned about was the right for ministers to preach in their own churches rather than having to read a collect written by a bishop or theologian?  I’m no history buff but I wonder whether the sort of theological and pastoral struggle back in the Puritan era can help inform this new situation!

  5. Thanks for the comments guys.

    Mikey, I don’t wish to speak for Mark, but I don’t think his only objection to the multi-site model is nomenclature (i.e. it’s fine so long as you don’t put the label ‘church’ in front of it). I think there are deeper theological objections in play to do with the nature of church, not just what you call it. (Have a look at the e-journal the 9Marks guys did on the subject last year.)

    As for the implications my comments would have for preaching—of course I’m not saying that all Christian teaching and preaching must at all times be delivered face to face by someone whose life you know well and can imitate. I run a Christian publishing house after all!  So books, audio sermons, conventions and even blogs (!) that teach the Bible all have their place. But they don’t replace the need for what I see as normative, which is the regular preaching and teaching ministry of congregational pastors who devote themselves “to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and to teaching” (to use Paul’s words in 1 Tim 4), and whose godly lives function as an illustration and example of what they are preaching. This ongoing relationship pastoral relationship of preaching and example should be the norm, and it would be undermined or lost if the dominant preaching voice of the congregation were to come in via video link.

    Mark B, I think I’m saying that there are many kinds of preaching and contexts for preaching, most of which are helpful in at least some way, but that in the ongoing life of a congregation the authoritative leadership exercised by the pastor (or pastors) is a package of proclamation and life.  In terms of your question about Scripture, I would say that Scripture is the proclamation, and thus the source and content of our proclamation. The goal is to speak “as one who speaks oracles of God” (1 Pet 4:11), as Phillip Jensen and Paul Grimmond argue in their new book on preaching, The Archer and the Arrow (MM product plug quota now met).

    David, I hadn’t thought of the star-power aspect of the whole thing in Romish terms. I’ve certainly been struck in my US travels by how ‘clericalised’ many of the Reformed-evangelical churches are. They tend to worship and follow their pastors in a way that we don’t tend to do here.

    I rather suspect that the driving force behind many of the multi-site experiments is more pragmatic than theological (even if it betrays a certain theology underneath). They feel that they can gather more people at a new service or church plant by leveraging the profile and gifts of the super-star preacher. I think it’s as simple as that.

  6. Hey Tony. Thanks for your reply.

    1. I was already aware of the 9Marks journal and so my original comment was loaded with all that. The nomenclature, in the mind of Dever, reflects a ecclesiology which undermines the independence of the local church (read: campus) and imposition of authority from the bishop (lead senior ministry).  How do you respond to that? Kind of argument?

    2. But what do you make of the normative experience of a member in a church of 600 people? Is that as inappropriate as a video venue?

  7. I know that this is somewhat of a tangent to your original discussion Tony, but I have to admit that as I listened to the discussion I became quite distressed (to the point where I almost turned it off 2 mins in). I’m actually a bit disappointed that the gospel coalition thought that this would be a helpful discussion to make public.

    There seemed to be an inordinate amount of smugness and very ego-centric language (I don’t mean that pejoratively) at work in their discussion – particularly from McDonald and Driscoll. In the opening minutes it almost seemed like a competition to see who had the most congregations/services/church plants/converts. The focus was on MY ministry… MY influence… MY reputation.  It was on what I have built… what I can extend.

    It felt like the central place of the word of God at work in people’s ministry and people’s lives barely got a look in. Instead it was all about the ministry of the preacher himself.

    I think an example of this came when Dever asked the question of ‘What happens when you die?”.  Both McDonald and Driscoll said straight away that it was all done then. There would be no posthumous video or radio casting of their messages. However, if McDonald and Driscoll’s preaching ministry is having such a significant impact on their multi-sites (which they measured in terms of converts, giving, small group participation etc) why one earth do they want to ‘go off the radio’ as soon as they die?? If they are expounding and explaining God’s word in such a way that it is bearing much fruit, convicting and challenging people, then why does their teaching become redundant as soon as they are dead?? Why, does their displacement from the church/ministry mean that the whole shebang has to be reinvented from the ground up? As much as they claimed to ‘beat’ Dever in how many open preaching slots they had available (and therefore how many preachers they can train), their church identity (as it stands here and now) seems to be entirely dependent on them as individuals. They admit that without them their churches will no longer have the same ongoing identity. They will have to be reinvented.

    What’s more, I’m don’t understand why what was a spirit filled proclamation of the gospel in 1984 is no longer a spirit filled proclamation of the gospel in 2010? Sure, context makes a difference to communication. No arguments there. But what we are (or should be) proclaiming is the unchanging, eternal word of God. So why does a few passing years (or even months) suddenly exhaust what had previously been a clear and spirit filled exposition of God’s word?* Again, it seems to me that this is a result of a very ‘preacher centric’ model.

    It’s all well and good for them to charge Dever with having a ‘pastor’ centered ministry (because everyone wants to shake his hand on the way out the door) but according to both McDonald and Driscoll’s own arguments this seems to me to be a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black.

    But perhaps I have got it wrong?? Or misunderstood them??

    *(NB.  That’s not to say that I think we should replace our sunday morning sermons with 25 year old taped CBS talks! I just think there is a significant theological inconsistency in their argument at this point)

  8. Hi Mikey

    Thanks for the clarification.  How would I respond to that sort of argument? I’d have some sympathy with it, because I think the external ‘beamed in’ pastor would undermine the health of the relationship between the pastor/elders on the ground and the people. But I guess that’s not an objection to the ecclesiology as such (i.e. the principle of the independence of each congregation, and its right to rule all its own affairs etc.), so much as an objection to a view of ministry and the pastorate.

    There’s a bigger issue lurking here, of course, regarding how we move from the NT to our convictions about polity (or about anything for that matter). I think the strength and inflexibility of our convictions should be in some sort of proportion with the strength of the Bible’s teaching. Call me an Anglican, but I really like the way Article VI (of the 39 Articles) puts it: “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”

    So could we prove from Scripture that it was wrong for two local congregations, meeting in the same locale (either same building at different times or relatively close by) to be pastored by the same person (or team of persons)? I don’t think we could. We might have other grounds for arguing that it was unwise or unhelpful (or not, as the case may be), but we would struggle to demonstrate that it transgressed a polity or structure that could be proven from Scripture.

    That’s why I was suggesting that the nature of preaching and leadership was a more fruitful avenue to wander down in this discussion. Which leads us to your second question: What happens when it’s a bigger church and it’s not possible for every congregation member to have an intimate personal knowledge of the pastor’s life? I think the principle still applies, and that the life of the pastor, how he leads his family, how he talks to the people, how he teaches from house to house as well as publicly, how sets an example in evangelism, how he persists in prayer—all this will be seen and known within the congregation over time. Not every individual will have the same level of personal knowledge, but the pastor’s life and godliness and example will still be very evident; unless of course he withdraws to the corner office and starts to think of himself as a ‘star’, and as being beyond normal everyday contact with his congregation. 

    Hope that helps.

  9. Thanks Dani. Hard to argue with anything you’ve said.

    The other side to it that I haven’t opened up is the degree to which the multi-site approach fosters the ‘pastor-as-CEO’ as opposed to the ‘pastor-as-trainer’ model of ministry (see The Trellis and the Vine, ch 8. But since that’s my second MM product plug for this post, I’d better leave it there …

  10. I would submit this is a matter of wisdom and freedom. The Bible says nothing about multi-site churches, or even the “optimum” size for churches.

    We’re free to think through the issues and come up with the best solution. And, in that sense, it’s great to hear from the guys as to their thinking – unhelpful when they try to make their way more “biblical”.

    Personally I dislike the video pastor approach. But that’s just my opinion, and I may be completely wrong (and may think differently if I was part of one of those churches!).

  11. Hi Tony,

    Thanks for raising this. Personally, I don’t think I’d much like getting my teaching via video every week, and I doubt I’d go to a church that operated that way.

    On the other hand, I don’t feel you’ve made a strong biblical case against this practice. Or rather, if your argument holds, it is fatal to any church gathering over about 50-100, as Mikey said.

    I was part of a church which had a regular attendance of 600-800 for about 18 months, and there was simply zero opportunity to really know what the pastor was like, let alone interact with him meaningfully. He may as well have been in Seattle.

    If a meaningful personal relationship with the main preaching pastor is essential to proper church, then large gatherings are out.

  12. Tony,

    Thanks for your reflections about preaching and Scripture, looks like we’re on the same page there.  This is going to take two comments.  I suppose that won’t surprise anyone who knows me.

    The goal is to speak “as one who speaks oracles of God” (1 Pet 4:11), as Phillip Jensen and Paul Grimmond argue in their new book on preaching, The Archer and the Arrow (MM product plug quota now met).

    Glad to be able to throw you that softball, boss.  Like how I subtly managed to rework you plug into my comment?

    I think my query now, is whether you’re right that this is a preaching issue rather than an ecclesiology issue. 

    If the Bible is the preaching, and does not involve an ongoing display of the preacher’s life, then how can preaching with an ongoing display of the preacher’s life be ‘normative’? 

    Surely then, what happens in an ongoing ministry in a fixed congregation is an expression of the principles of the normative preaching of the Word of God in that particular (albeit hugely common) context?

    The prophets (assuming they had some kind of itinerant ministry), Jesus, the apostle Paul are not ‘normative’ preaching but our most common expression of preaching is?

    So, I wonder if it is less to do with preaching as such, and more to do with preaching as an elder/pastor of a congregation. 

    Down one end of Protestant thinking, the preacher gets his authorization directly from God (through calling to the office) or directly from the enscripturated word of God which he is proclaiming (I’ll loosely call this a more ‘reformed’ way of thinking).  Down another end of Protestant thinking, the preacher, or at least the regular preacher in a settled assembly, gets his authority to speak from his role in the congregation – his office, or his position as pastor or elder (I’ll loosely call this a more ‘lutheran’ way of thinking, based on a stronger view of how the priesthood of all believers stands behind ecclesiology and ministry questions than tends to be the case in what I’ve called the ‘reformed’ tradition). 

    In one strand of thinking, it doesn’t matter who speaks, if they’re speaking the word of God then they’re speaking of the word of God, and it has the same authority regardless.  In the other, there is a difference whether the word of God is being spoken by the pastor publicly, by a child to their parent privately, or by a visiting speaker.  The shape of the ministry of the word – both its requirements and possibilities – is at least partly derived by a person’s position in the household of God.

    So it’s not ‘preaching’ that is the issue here, it is the requirements of being an elder in a congregation and how that role is meant to be discharged.  While all preachers must watch their lives, only elders have the witnessing of their lives as part of their ‘ministry’ – itinerants have it much less.

    Now, if that isn’t an egregiously unhelpful angle on things, I wonder if the multi-site approach could be justified (as I much as I don’t like it) as a genuinely right way forward given certain conditions:

    1. Driscoll and McDonald are functioning partly like a visiting preacher or local bishop preaching in the congregation, and partly like someone in the congregation reading out a sermon (or Homily) written by somebody else for just such a purpose.  They are expressions of the ‘type 1’ (or loosely ‘reformed’) approach, less the ‘type 2’ (or loosely ‘lutheran’) approach. 

    2. It’s quite a valid thing for a congregation to have visiting preachers, or even read out sermons, and under certain circumstances having 75% of the ministry of the word taking place that way is genuinely good.

    3. One of the key times when that is a good thing is when you have a church leadership that is not sufficiently educated to be able to provide a sufficiently substantial regular preaching ministry 100% of the time. 

    to be continued

  13. concluding
    From memory, Augustine in On Christian Doctrine thinks reading out a published sermon is good move if you’re a presbyter who lacks a theological education (that’s going on memory of reading it a long, long time ago),and Cranmer produced the Homilies because the Church of England needed preaching, but didn’t have reasonable prospects of getting sufficient decent preachers any time soon.

    Protestantism has basically gone for an approach to ministry – having an educated clergy – that tries to avoid the situation ever occurring. 

    But, if memory serves me right, there’s been two important situations where a strong evangelical impetus resulted in it.  One was methodism during the Great Awakening, where John Wesley organised local groups of methodists to meet as a Christian fellowship, and which usually lacked a preacher, and so would often read a sermon. 

    The other was the American west, where the denominations who relied upon a model of one well trained preacher per congregation failed to grow in line with the population compared to those who used other models – often having the church run by a leadership that wasn’t trusted to give ongoing preaching, and using the trained preachers to do large itinerant ministries moving around on horseback.

    I don’t know McDonald from a McDonald’s, but in Driscoll’s case I understand that he’s gone on record saying that the way forward is to have young men without any theological education planting and leading congregations.  Based on the Wesley/U.S. frontier experience I can see wisdom in that as a strategy for rapid expansion. 

    But if you go that way, only an idiot (in all seriousness) is going to think that the average guy in his mid 20s with no theological education is going to be able to carry 100% of the regular preaching ministry in a congregation and move that congregation on sufficiently into maturity in Christ.  You will look for a way to bring in from outside the congregation the more substantial public teaching of the Word of God that Protestantism considers fundamental to the being and health of the Church.

    I think the Wesley’s and the growth orientated denominations in the U.S. west would have grabbed multi-site video preaching in a heartbeat if they could have. 

    So Tony, your criticisms would apply more to what should occur when there is less growth – the aim is that every congregation be led by a guy who can do the heavy lifting of the regular teaching ministry.  But the model is based on what happens when, either due to lack of education (Augustine and Cranmer) or rapid expansion (Wesleys and U.S. west), that will leave too many congregations with an inadequate, or non-existent public expounding of the word of God.

    If any of that has something going for it, then one implication could be that the classic Reformed “marks of a true church” aren’t the whole story – or at least, need some careful thought to be the whole story.  Acts 14:21-23 seems to imply that some churches existed for a time without elders there.  No elders, and so, on a classic Reformed take on things, no ministry of the word or sacraments either, at least in terms of how Calvin expounds it in the Institutes (but it’s possible they had diaconal administration smile ).

  14. There are a number of things that need to be fleshed out in this debate.  I’m still in the middle of the process, so I don’t have a firm opinion yet, much less a conviction on the issue.

    First, I can’t see an ecclesiological problem with multi-site churches, per se, as I understand scripture.  Need more education there, if I’m missing something.

    I do see a great threat of ‘kingdom building’, a form of pride, for some who are involved in the process.

    I wonder how much my initial impression (opposition to multi-site churches) was influenced by my own jealousy.  After all, if I could be listening to Sproul or MacArthur or Piper or Chandler preach, why should I settle for the local guy?  It didn’t take long for me to realize the unfaithfulness of this attitude.  I wonder then how much of this kind of attitude affects those who feel strongly opposed to the multi-site approach.

    On the other hand, I am strongly opposed to using human methods to draw crowds of unbelievers to the worship service…I believe (it’s a conviction, not an opinion) in the regenerate worship service.  Exactly how different is the multi-site approach from other methods to attract crowds?  Isn’t using a dynamic speaker one of the ways our churches fall back on human methods?  As bad as Osteen’s theology (that’s a stretch) is, you can’t argue he isn’t a dynamic speaker.  As a reformed believer, I worry that the multi-site approach is just another ‘seeker-sensitive’ method used to draw a big group.

    (Why is it that we are so pulled toward the idea of a big following?  I struggle with that on my blog often…I keep finding myself wishing I had a larger audience…what gives?)

    Great comments from the various participants…thanks for keeping me thinking.

  15. Hi Mark.

    Yes, you’re right. It is more precisely about the relationship between preaching and pastors/elders, rather than preaching per se. And my comments were directed to what is normative and ideal rather than what might be the best expedient in certain circumstances.  However, I’m not sure that lack of education or lack of suitable people in rapid expansion really explains the current crop of multi-sites in the US; I strongly suspect it’s about utilising the gifts and profile of the big preacher to gather in as many as possible. I think the aim is to drive growth rather than respond to rapid frontier-style growth.

    So what’s wrong with that? Again, I would agree with you that going down a ‘marks of the church’ approach is not going to help all that much (my original point). My problem with it has to do with a whole model of biblical ministry, and the place of preaching, personal example, and training all members to be disciple-makers within that. I can’t see how (in most normal circumstances I can think of) you can lead and grow and pastor that kind of ministry by remote-control (or as a ‘visiting bishop’).

    Now have I made the case for that model of ministry here? Well hardly (and I hope you will forgive me for that, Craig, given the constraints of time and space). But I have done it elsewhere (viz, The Trellis and Vine), and I assume that most SP readers will be familiar with that.

    And as for Wesley and his methods, I can hardly object—given I’ve spent most of the last 23 years producing resources to help small group leaders teach the Bible! As part of larger ministry context, that kind of small group is a very handy ministry ‘trellis’. 

    In conclusion, I’d like to emphasize what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that running multi-site campuses is wrong and sinful, that it transgresses a clear command of Scripture, or that there wouldn’t be circumstances in which it was necessary. Nor am I saying that all ‘multi-site’ ministries are the same—there is a significant difference, in my view, between one pastor overseeing two smallish congregations, and the beaming of one high profile preacher by video-link to a large number of congregations. It is the latter that I am uncomfortable with.

  16. Cheers Tony… I think I am uncomfortable with the multi-site campus because it is just another step down the “preacher as rock star” path, which I’ve come to like less and less over the last few years.

    But I think Dever is also at risk in this area with his high profile ministries, as is any preacher who is regularly whizzing around the country to talk at conferences (or who is producing best-selling books).

    I’m not sure where to draw the line…

  17. @Tony
    “So could we prove from Scripture that it was wrong for two local congregations, meeting in the same locale (either same building at different times or relatively close by) to be pastored by the same person (or team of persons)?”

    But at the very least maybe we should grant Dever’s point, and acknowledge that this is what is happening: Two distinct churches are sharing a team of leadership.

    If we acknowledged that really clearly in the way we talked about it, that may well affect how that leadership team thought about themselves and how each of those churches thought of themselves.

    At the very least we might grant Dever’s point that talk of ‘services’ and ‘campuses’ muddies our thinking?

  18. “What happens when it’s a bigger church and it’s not possible for every congregation member to have an intimate personal knowledge of the pastor’s life? …. all this will be seen and known within the congregation over time. Not every individual will have the same level of personal knowledge, but the pastor’s life and godliness and example will still be very evident.”

    So by that logic, provided the pastor worked at this across his various campuses, through occasional visits, luncheons, etc etc, you would have no problem with video venues?

  19. Hi Tony,

    However, I’m not sure that lack of education or lack of suitable people in rapid expansion really explains the current crop of multi-sites in the US; I strongly suspect it’s about utilising the gifts and profile of the big preacher to gather in as many as possible. I think the aim is to drive growth rather than respond to rapid frontier-style growth.

    This might be a chicken and egg question.  Does Driscoll’s willingness to encourage young men straight into ministry without a theological education come from his willingness to utilise his gifts to drive church growth, or does his willingness to utilise his gifts come from his view that we should be getting young men straight into planting churches? 

    His multi-site strategy and his promotion of young church planters are probably in a synergistic relationship, not a straight causal one. 

    And I think my examples are a lot closer to him than I managed to express.

    Take Wesley.  If he’d just started one congregation, stayed put, and been an elder in that congregation, discipled some guys, got them to go and get educated, then plant their own congregations there would be, I think, less likelihood that the revival associated with him would have had the same growth.  His whole strategy too could be seen as coming from a desire to utilise “the gifts and profile of the big preacher to gather in as many as possible.” His aim was to drive growth rather than respond to rapid frontier-style growth.

    Or the American west.  If the growth orientated denominations had stuck with the ‘put a trained preacher in every church’ model, there wouldn’t have been any ‘rapid frontier-style growth’ in churches, only in population.  I think I can argue that they too were utilising “the gifts and profile of the big preacher (or at least trained preachers) to gather in as many as possible”. 

    In both cases their growth was because they used a strategy that freed the big preacher (Wesley) or the medium sized preachers (the American West) from the role of being elder in just one congregation.  They were actually like Driscoll – seeking to drive growth by harnessing a rare resource (the capable preacher), not just responding to it.

    My problem with it has to do with a whole model of biblical ministry, and the place of preaching, personal example, and training all members to be disciple-makers within that. I can’t see how (in most normal circumstances I can think of) you can lead and grow and pastor that kind of ministry by remote-control (or as a ‘visiting bishop’).

    No, you can’t do it by remote control.  But Driscoll isn’t trying to do that (I presume) anymore than Wesley tried to disciple everyone in Methodism either. 

    The visiting preacher/video talking head isn’t the elder.  The elder disciples the members of the congregation, the ‘big preacher’ does 75% of the public preaching.  There is a separation out of the preaching role and the elder role, which I suspect Presbyterians, with their ruling and teaching elders, will be more comfortable with than Anglicans, with their structure that the only elders are teaching elders.

    If I was Driscoll, my response to your criticism here is that it makes discipling more possible in the satellite churches.  The elder has been freed from the demands of preparing 75% of the sermons for the year, and that is all time that can then be sunk back into people (minus whatever he takes out to go and get his part-time theological education).

    As someone who did preach regularly in his early and mid twenties before he was formally theologically educated, I think Driscoll’s strategy here might actually line up with your concern.

    If I had had responsibility for a church in my mid-twenties (and anyone who knew me then is right now picturing that idea and wincing) and had had to preach one fresh sermon each week, there wouldn’t have been a lot of time for other things – it took me twenty hours a week to get a sermon together. 

    I think that’d be true of almost everyone I ran with in Brisbane at that age – they’re now all doing stirling work as laymen, Pressie ministers/theological lecturers, AFES staffworkers, independent ministers etc, but I think only one or two might have been able to do much discipling if they had to preach each week too back then.

    I think what I’m getting at, is that these things are often systems, and you have to look at the other bits and then try and criticism of the system as a whole.  This bit you don’t like is connected to Driscoll’s promotion of young men going into ministry directly, which expresses a strategy for growth not ‘choked’ by pushing everyone through years of formal theological education first.

  20. Mikey Mark and the Funky Bunch

    I like the way you’re wrestling with the nature of mission, ministry, discipling and preaching. That’s exactly the kind of discussion we need to have, and that I wanted to provoke (rather than one about ecclesiology, which I think does little to help us in this debate).

    I’m all for flexibility and finding fresh ways to do things, and I don’t wish any of my comments thus far to suggest otherwise. Nor am I against video technology.

    My remaining discomfort and caution (and that’s what it is) is still to do with the remoteness of the main teaching pastor from the training organism that is the congregation. That’s what I’ve been trying to convey in my answers above, no doubt inadequately. I’m a believer in the pastor-as-trainer model, in which what happens on Sunday (in the sermon and in every other respect) is part of a broader systemic ministry of training, in which all the disciples are nurtured and equipped to be disciple-makers, each in their own way. It’s not just the congregation having a cup of tea with the pastor, nor even see his life first-hand, but the pastor being involved in training key people personally (and them seeing his life and doctrine), and this spilling over into the key people training others, and so on.

    Can this take place in multiple ways? Could you have a team of pastors doing this work across a number of congregations in a region? Of course, and if this is what ‘multi-site’ means, then I don’t have a problem.

    But I guess I’ve been visualising 20 churches scattered across numerous cities, remaining tethered to the mother-ship and the charismatic preacher by virtue of a video feed. I think this bites against the grain of a training ministry, and promotes a more consumerist experience.

    Mark, the issue you raise with respect to ‘young men’, church planting, and theological education is another hot one. I need to take a pause from this discussion and get onto some other pressing jobs waiting to be finished. But let’s open that one up again in a few weeks time (relates to Ben Phalert’s post about ‘Kapooka’ recently as well).

  21. Just wondering If the problem with Multi-site is not having the preacher/pastor in realationship and visible to the congregation.
    Then how is it different to a parish system where the preacher only visits once a moonth ?

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