Last week I commented on SteveMcCoy's blog about the latest sermon to be podcast by the Cussing Pastor. CP's church has grown and grown big. So... they are launching Video Venues as a solution to this problem.
Now... I want to be careful here. The CP serves God, not Bob. CP's community is different than mine, and its choices are its own.
But like Steve is now doing, I want to raise some questions. I'll try to do it carefully, tactfully, but still... some questions.
First, this is a great problem to have. When your community is healthy, growing and pushing out the walls, that's something to celebrate.
The obvious question is "what's next?"
I've written a lot about the role of pastor and how I believe that the larger a community gets, the harder it is to be an actual pastor as opposed to a manager, a CEO, an administrator... and eventually (both figuratively and now literally) a talking head.
It seems like the clear choice to me is to plant churches.
If you have the resources to plant a video venue, you have the resources to plant a church. If you have the need to do a video venue, I believe you have the need to plant a church...
I can think of very few reasons to choose a video venue over a church plant... and I don't like any of them. All I can say is that to me:
1. Video Venues seem to perpetuate the celebrity pastor model we (well... at least I am ) are trying to move away from. As Rick McKinley here in Portland is prone to say, "The celebrity-driven church must die." Now, while I'm sure that the CP would agree with that statement in principle, what good is your principle if your structures don't concur?
By setting up video venues, we not only perpetuate the structure that feeds the celebrity-driven church model... we plant it, water it and build a wall around it. We literally splice it into the DNA of our communities by going to great length, expense and trouble to ensure that everyone who wants to hear one single individual speak on a Sunday morning, can.
2. Video Venues seem to place an unbridgable distance between a pastor and his or her people, which I believe is unhealthy for a community. I've talked a lot about shepherds knowing those they are trying to shepherd, whether as a pastor or an elder. This is nigh unto impossible in the 1000+ person mega church... adding a Video Venue that meets 20 miles distant from the "main campus" does absolutely nothing to alleviate this. In fact, it says it is normal and good. I disagree.
3. In fact, Video Venues are unhealthy in the long run to the soul of both pastor and people. Doug Pagitt says something to the effect that with the way most do preaching, it's possible over the course of a couple of years for a person to hear literally hundreds of messages from a preacher and have that preacher hear not a single word from that person. At this point, pastors of large churches are literally firewalling themselves off from the people they are trying to love, shepherd and teach. How is this positive in any way, shape or form? The addition of Video Venues magnifies this problem 100 fold. Now, I not only am teaching people I have never and will never meet, I must place even more protections around myself to keep any one of them from ever feeling entitled to offer me feedback or even ask me a follow-up question.
I know that there are reasons why people want to do this- "We're growing! More people want to be part of our church than we can accomodate!" Fine. Time to set up a podcast so whoever wants to hear your sermon can, no matter how many seats you have in your space. Time to tell some of the Christians to grow up, step out in faith to something new and make room for someone not quite as far along the journey as them. Time to get off the celebrity train, say goodbye to the influence, power and resources (money) that having that many people "under" you brings. Time to invest heavily in other pastors, other/new communities. Time to plant churches.
Caveat: I know I come off sounding like I know it all. I know I don't. I realize that as the pastor of a church with just over a hundred people, I'm talking about institutions with multimillion dollar campuses and thousands of people that are headed by famous, well-known and respected pastors. Ok. I'm batting way out of my league... I don't feel like these churches are "apostate" or "shipwrecking their faith" or any of that kind of stuff. These are choices communities make, sometimes with spiritual motives, sometimes with financial ones, usually with a mixture of both. These choices are (on balance) either positive or negative for the Church here in America. I feel as though they will end up being negative... and I'm just saying so.