Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How to Be in More Than One Place at One Time - The Phenomenon of the Sattelite Church

Mark Driscoll just posted this the other day on how amazing it will be when he is able to preach eight sermons at the same time.

I don't know how Mars Hill structures its satellite campuses. Maybe they are so blessed with good elders to lead, but none of them can teach? Maybe they have a team of counselors at each site to deal with the day to day issues of the flock? Maybe God has blessed them with so many deacons and other gifted men and women that all their "pastor" has to do is pipe his sermon in on Sunday morning/afternoon/evening and then not have anything else to do with the life of those believers...

I know that Driscoll is a gifted teacher, as is John Piper, whose church has similar satellite campuses... and I'm sure if I vetted my own emotions I would find some dark motives for why I feel this way - I am a human being after all - but something just straight up irks me about the whole satallite campus thing. I mean it REALLY bothers me.

I'm sure no small part of it is that I recently had someone leave a very strong, loving, vibrant local congregation for a 'church' ... err ... a place with no real leadership and no ordained men, that pipes a biblically deficient church service into its christian 'ghetto'.

Somehow this flies in the face of Paul going into each town and training up men to be leaders and pastors in order to lead Gods people in the way they shold go. It just doesn't seem to fit from where I sit.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe if Paul had the technological and financial means to do so he would have piped his own message into each of the churches he sweat blood to build up. And especially since he was an apostle, and inspired, perhaps all the other leaders would have preferred that. But there are serious issues that arise from 'doing church' this way. I'm sure I have not thought of all of them, but here are a few that come to mind:

1 - Pastoral care - As gifted as these men are as teachers (and believe me, I eat up their teaching for the most part), they have no other influence or engagement in the lives of their people. And without that, I'm not even sure you can call them pastors, by definition, because they aren't pastoring. They are teaching. Its great teaching, but they are not pastoring. Pastoring goes miles and miles beyond the pulpit.

2 - Cult of Personality - A lot of people will talk about this as a problem for these "mega-churches". And it is a legitimate concern. Many people will flock to the church to hear the 'famous guy' or the gifted guy, and maybe that is not the motivation you want people to have to be coming - but if they are hearing the gospel, then I'm with Paul: Who cares about the motivation as long as Christ is preached? (paraphrase) But I think an even bigger concern is what happens when John Piper goes to be with the Lord? What if Mark Driscoll has an accident (God forbid...)? It's not pleasant to think about these things, but what happens when the 'cult leader' (to be overly dramatic) isn't there anymore? Hopefully they have instilled a love for the church and a love for Gods people that is strong enough to keep them together, but again, we are dealing with human beings here...

3 - Definition of the Church - What is it? What is it meant to be? Where do we draw the line on our use of technology for the good of the church, and where the benefits may no longer outweigh the possible detriments? And on a whole different aspect, how do you grow the church? Are you actively planting new satellites? How far from 'ground zero' do you allow them to reach? And again - what happens to those far off churches after the leader is gone?

4 - Incarnational Ministry - The call for the leadership of the body of Christ is to 'be Christ' for their people. It's the same call as each church member to be Christ to one another, just with higher stakes. The pastor and elders are shouldered with divine accountablility on a mass scale. How are the 'pastors' of satellite churches able to properly incarnate Christ to their people if they rarely if ever see them, let alone actually meet them?

Those are just a few things that come to mind. I realize that I am painting with broad strokes, and admittedly do not know the details of how these particular satellite campuses are set up. I presume that both Piper and Driscoll understand what the church is and have very likely set up the necessary structure to care for the people that come to their satellite campuses. But I am also certain that there are many other churches that are doing these satellites that are not nearly as careful.

Many of these concerns would be repeated in a post about regular "mega-churches", and these satellites take those concerns up a notch further because at least Allistair Begg can actually meet, greet and get to know a few of the 5,000 people he preaches to on a given Sunday.

And that really is the big issue isn't it? The predominant metaphor in Scripture that shows God's care for His people is that of a Shepherd and His sheep. Pastors (keep saying it and you'll understand where the term comes from) are to be the 'under-shepherds' of THE Good Shepherd. We are to emulate that care. Ancient near eastern sheepherding wasn't about butchery. Yes, they had the sacrificial system, but the majority of the livestock, particularly the sheeps, were used for milk and wool. They didn't kill their sheep willy-nilly. In fact, most of the time the shepherd and the sheep had very tight knit relationships. The shepherd cared for the sheep as his own children (which brings a whole new level to the understanding of the sacrifice - and ultimately more so, Christ's sacrifice). When Jesus said "I am the door", he wasn't just being all mystical, he wasn't even talking about heaven overtly - shepherds in those days lay down at the front of their sheep pens in order to keep their sheep inside. They were the protectors, they were the shield, the literal door - and literally 'laying down their life for the sheep' each night. The relationship between the sheep and the shepherd is to be an intimiate one of care and protection and nurture. You can't do that via uplink...

1 comment:

Joel said...

I think you're on to something. Either that, or I'm just as "human" as you are!

There's a megachurch down here that isn't nearly as solid as Driscoll's, and the pastor charters a helicopter to make it to his satellite service on Sunday mornings on time.

Also, there was an article in Modern Reformation about incarnational ministry and its limitations/distortions that was worth a read: If you need to log in, let me know and I can email you the full article.

Word verification: "romben": I had a delicious cup of romben noodle soup for lunch today - and only $0.07!