I'm beginning the process of preparing for a debate I'll be doing in late September at the MultiSite 2.0 conference in St. Louis.
The debate will be between myself and Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church in Vista Ca. I hope it's a spirited, yet good-natured discussion of the theological and philosophical foundations of video venues and the ways the medium shapes both message and messenger.
I know a number of people were wondering when my name came up on emails/ads for this conference- my participation didn't seem congruent. But rest assured- I remain steadfastly in the multisite yes, video venue no camp :)
To me, multi site begins to turn back some of the most harmful effects of the mega church. Smaller, more localized gatherings is something I'll always be able to get behind, even if it does come under the umbrella of a much larger organization. It feels like a step back from the precipice that "mega" everything pushes us toward.
But if multisite steps us back from the precipice, I feel like video venues gives us a good hard shove over and down.
What we gain back in terms of smaller, more local gatherings is immediately traded away by distancing those gatherings from elders and teachers who should be shepherding and teaching out of personal knowledge of those they are leading. I understand the campus pastor thing. I also see that as incomplete, biblically.
And yes- this issue to me is a biblical one.
I began reading what is probably the seminal text in this discussion- The Multi-Site Revolution by Geoff Surrat, Greg Ligon and Warren Bird. And though it's a great handbook for how and even many why's, the question that fails to be considered is IF. At least, it fails to be considered at more than a practical, "Is it right for your church" level. And that seems pretty endemic.
The closest we get to theological, much less ecclesiological considerations is found in a paragraph heading on page 19: "Multi-Site is a God Thing." A number of stories are told about how certain churches stumbled into various types of multi-site/video venue, with the "God Thing" conclusion being made by a researcher who concluded it must be such, because as he studied it, it seemed to be happening everywhere.
I think we need more than that- the Church has a mission to reach people, absolutely. And if it's simply a pragmatic question, then by all means- what we can do we should do, if it gets us there.
But the Kingdom of God is not a pragmatic realm. Often, how we do what we do matters. What we communicate not just with our words, but with our methods matters. And because the message is SO important, and the mission so vital, we would do well to heed the words of Marshall McLuhan that we are often blind to the ways the medium shapes our message- and the medium ALWAYS shapes our message. In fact, it embodies our message, in fact, it becomes it (his famous dictum: "The medium is the message").
So, I'm glad to hear some of the voices like Mark Driscoll who are saying things like "The Jury is still out" on video venues, though I wish that were a question asked before launching a ton of them, and Matt Chandler who writes about Clouds on the Horizon... implying that there are serious questions that still need answering when it comes to this issue. He lays it out: "The theological and philosophical criticism we did find was both limited and weak. The main criticism we encountered is that the Bible is silent on multi-site. This is an argument from silence. To say that the Bible doesn't say anything about such and such and therefore it's wrong to do such and such" is weak at best and a hypocritical at worst."
I don't want to doubt the hearts and love for Jesus most of those involved in Video Venues have- though I will say, often it's just an extension of the celebrity church model and as such needs to die.
But many are simply pursuing it because their love for Jesus and for people pushes them to it. My point, and I hope the point of a growing number of others is that the unintended side-effects of Video Venues are too great, we have rushed headlong too quickly, and so a more thoughtful and theologically informed approach- and a general stepping back, is needed.