I am back from an overseas trip – I don’t post when I travel in areas which suppress the church or when I am with international staff that live in countries that do.
Upon my return, my colleagues have filled my inbox with a series of witty emails (at least they think they are witty!) about Thabiti Anyabwile’s recent article denouncing the multisite church model. You can read the original article by clicking here. If you read the comments you will find a spirited and lively debate. To sum it up, he makes the charge that multisite churches feed the idolatry of the “megapastor,” give way to competition and pride, remove the emphasis on local ministry, are pragmatist, and are nothing more than a cultural phenomenon.
Pretty hard to argue with that, I would say, though some are trying. One example is Four Oaks Community Church’s Erik Braun (you can read his reply by clicking here). He has written a point-by-point counter to Anyabwile but the real meat is in the argument that scripture doesn’t forbid it. Technically, he is correct.
I don’t think the real issue is multisite, per se. If by “multisite” we mean that the church meets at multiple sites, then our house church network is a multisite church. The real issue is the distribution of a single preacher’s message to multiple congregations and the implications behind it.
It seems to me that two things are happening simultaneously when churches pursue a multisite video preaching approach. The first is that the priesthood of the believer takes it on the chin because one priest’s gifts are so emphasized that others in the body are not able to fully participate with their gifting. This really isn’t a multisite issue. It’s a problem with our view of preaching and our view of preachers. This problem has been around a long time – consider Spurgeon’s 5,000 seat auditorium. Spurgeon was, essentially, the Joel Olsteen of his day, sans smile, as it pertains to drawing crowds. We have exalted the megapastor and multisite is just one symptom of our love for celebrity pastors.
The other issue has to do with the corporate influence of our culture on churches. The pastor-as-CEO model has overtaken the church. In the New Testament, one of the most (if not THE most) common metaphor for church is family. In our times, the corporation metaphor, with all its marketing programs, metrics, and growth-driven strategies has, in my view, displaced the family metaphor. I am not down on growth; quite the opposite – I love it. However, growth as a byproduct of slick sermon “packages” and carefully crafted “worship events” does not, in my humble opinion, produce discipleship and life transformation.
Neither of these two things are explicitly proof-texted (is that a word?) as forbidden in the Bible, so I guess pastor Braun is correct. Our models of church have consequences, of course, so while it may not be forbidden we can assume it is not without its effects.
Just as the Wizard of Oz created a persona and then failed to live up to it, my concern is that the multisite pastors of today are creating something that they can’t really live up to. Ministries that project the preaching and teaching of a small cadre of influential but fallen sinners are bound to eventually go wrong. I am not talking about scandal (though that’s a real issue). Rather, I am referring to the rewiring of our brains and hearts that happens when we adopt a set of assumptions about church that, while not forbidden, exchanges the living room for the board room.