When Does Multi-Site Church Go Too Far?

I've always been a bit skeptical of the whole multi-site church phenomenon, even though I was a member of one for nearly 3 years. My family and I grew there. We found community and some amazing friends there. We received pastoral care there. Every week we sat under some of the best preaching in America and worshiped in our own cultural vernacular. It was overall a very positive experience in so far as what was experienced.

But I remained plagued by some questions about the broader impact of the video-feed sermon model of local church ministry. An article I read today, "Multi-Site Churches Go Interstate," raises some of these, but ups the ante. The article highlights a growing trend to expand the multi-site network to the utmost limits and raises the question, How far is too far? How far away can the preaching-and-teaching pastor be and still fulfill his duty as a shepherd/overseer of a congregation? Are generic, "biblical" messages enough or should they take into consideration the needs of a particular community (even congregation)? To what extent does a distant, video image of a pastor exercise authority and influence over a congregation? How much trust does he gain? How much trust does he deserve?

Here's a theological question: What does the incarnation of Jesus Christ have to say about our models of pastoral ministry? Jesus did not stand at a distance from us, but came close and got Himself dirty in our mess. (This article has an interesting take, and then some.)

Do our methods match our message?

There are also practical issues such as, How will future generations of teaching-and-preaching pastors be raised up if they have to compete with video images of celebrity pastors? Or, as Portland pastor Bob Hyatt pointed out in the article, how will existing churches continue to exist if Wal-Church (McChurch? Starchurch? Barnes & Bible?) comes in offering a more attractive package? Of course, the allure wears off after a while. A model either works or it doesn't--produces growing disciples on mission or doesn't. But do we risk squandering valuable time and Kingdom resources on an experiment (let alone one that is theologically suspect)?

The solution to fewer qualified pastors is not to clone pastors via video broadcast, but for pastors to mentor younger, up-and-coming leaders and send them out to gather and shepherd their own flocks. The solution is equipping. Equipping is not very efficient. But then again, I don't shop Wal-Mart for high quality goods or dine at McDonald's for steak.

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