More on Multi-Site

I recently got a copy of the eJournal by 9 Marks (named from the book 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church). It is the official “multi-site” issue. (Check it out in it’s entirety here.) The blog post I reposted here by J.D. Greear is in the issue, as are others for an against multi-site. You should most definitely read it in its entirety. I will when I get a sec. However, I’ve been skimming the cons to multi-site and noticed something interesting. First, here’s a list of the articles against multi-site:

  • “Nine Reasons I Don’t Like Multi-site Churches, from a Guy Who Should” By Thomas White – A young, tech-savvy seminary professor explains why he’s not getting on board the multi-site revolution.
  • “Exegetical Critique of Multi-Site: Disassembling the Church?” By Grant Gaines – A pastor-scholar weighs the exegetical arguments in favor of the multi-site church and finds them wanting.
  • “Theological Critique of Multi-Site: Leadership Is the Church” By Jonathan Leeman – The local church on earth is constituted by a gathering of Christians, which means the multi-site and multi-service “church” is not a church, but an association of churches.
  • “Historical Critique of Multi-Site: Not Over My Dead Body” By Bobby Jamieson – Regardless of the fact that multi-site churches haven’t existed for most of the past four hundred years, historic Congregationalists and Baptists have a lot to say against them.
  • “The Alternative to Multi-Site: Why Don’t We Plant?” By Jonathan Leeman – The multi-site church phenomenon looks like a capitulation to consumeristic culture. We should plant instead.

Now, I’m not going to address everything brought up in them, but the first article is really short and digestable, so I’m going to tackle the nine points addressed in it. Here goes:

1. A Contradiction In Terms

Here Thomas White argues that the Greek word ecclesia (the word we translate “church”) means “gathering.” He then says “The oft heard mantra “one church many locations” is a contradiction in terms.” Since that’s what Journey is, I want to speak to that. The church is the assembled people – the gathered people. When Journey gathers at NE, it’s a gathering of Journey. Same at NW. It’s not all of the gathering, as not all members of Journey gather every week. Other churches generally have four times more people on “membership” roles than those that actually attend. Journey is about the exact inverse of that, I believe. Maybe those other churches should be looking for where the rest of their church went before they start asking if what we’re doing is biblical. I’m just saying.

2. Spiritual Colonization

The argument here is “mini-dioceses” that rule the campuses from a central location. Well, at Journey we don’t have a “central location” besides that of Raleigh (currently). Our goal is to reach Raleigh for Christ and there’s not a specific area of Raleigh that we’re based out of. While we spend more time during the week at NE, that’s just because we can’t get into NW during the week – it meets in a theater. Campus locations will grow as we launch new ones and such, but our location is Raleigh. Not a “central location.”

3. Encouraging Consumerism

He argues that the more locations, the more variety you get and people can shop around. I think consumerism is way more likely in a church with one location. Case in point: mega-churches. When we launch a campus, we need a ton of people to get involved to volunteer there or fill the places at the current campus that were emptied by the launch team. At Journey, we have hundreds more volunteers than single-site churches.

4. Cannibalizing the Body of Christ

He points out a multi-site that “partnered” with a smaller church, then replaced it’s staff and sold it’s stuff. A agree with his point that this is a bad thing. However, I’ve never seen this happen and I suspect it’s not a common occurrence.

5. Shepherds Who Don’t Know the Sheep

This point addresses Hebrews 13:17 where ministers of the gospel will be held accountable for their sheep and how can a video minister do that with sheep he doesn’t even know? Well, first of all, a pastor that rightly divides the Word of God can be certain that the Word will not return void. Also, that’s what campus pastors are for. At Journey, either campus will find a number of pastors (Jimmy Carroll, Paul Crouthamel, Rob Wetzel, Smooth Via, and Paul Callaghan) weekly with whom they can speak and pray. Also, they can set up meetings with them throughout the week. It’s called “doing life together.”

6. Understanding Planting and Preacher Training

He may have a slight point here. We do need to focus on planting churches as well as campuses. That’s why Journey gives to multiple church planting agencies. Who knows, maybe we’ll even plant one ourselves. Partnerships are especially helpful at church planting – shared resources are great. Acts 29 is a great organization that does this well.

7. No Scriptural Support!!!

Ah, I most definitely disagree here. While the church that was formed out of Peter’s sermon might have fit within Solomon’s Portico at first, remember that “the Lord was adding to their number daily” and they “were going house to house.” Does White really think that they organized meetings indefinitely at Solomon’s Portico? Also, could thousands of people really hear? Did they have to all meet together weekly to be called a church? Bi-weekly? Monthly?

8. Unanswered Questions

Since he gives questions, I guess I’ll give answers.

  1. What happens when this generation’s gifted communicators leave?
    • One of the other pastors at that church will take over. This is more biblical that “hiring out” a pastor like many churches do. If the people go there just to hear that communicator, they shouldn’t be there anyway.
  2. When they retire or pass to heaven, will these franchised churches of today lead to the disenfranchised religious of tomorrow?
    • Some could, but the ones who grounded their people in the Word of God will stand firm because Christ is their cornerstone.
  3. Will these locations stand vacant symbolizing a failed religious experiment?
    • The one’s who worshiped the communicator and not Christ probably will. And that will be a good thing.
  4. What if one location wants to call its own live preacher? Will that be allowed or does the founding assembly own the property and make the decisions?
    • If a church starts fighting over ownership, then they need to repent and turn from that. The body is just that, a body. They should function as one. They should also submit to the one (or ones – plurality of elders, anyone?) called to be their leader(s). If that many people have an issue with the elder(s)’ decision, then maybe that part of the body should meet with them as fellow brothers in Christ.
  5. Could a remote location choose to begin piping in a new rising star with no connection to the current branches?
    • That would be a decision for the church as a whole to make. A campus is not separate from the church – it is a part. This does make it easier to have someone fill the pulpit who can actually preach when the pastor is out of town. Or even better, our pastor was in Uganda recently and Smooth uploaded part of a message from him to the internet. I then downloaded and Jimmy preached for about 10 minutes from Uganda to both of our campuses. Then we played the rest of his pre-recorded message. He was able to preach while being halfway around the world! Most single-site churches would never even think of that, much less have the technology for it.
  6. Why not just plant churches?
    • We plan on doing this as well. The multi-site model helps us be wiser with our resources.

Wow. That was fun. Next?

9. Priorities

This is an important thing to keep in mind. Let us not strive after numbers and instead strive after reaching Raleigh, and North Carolina, and the world for Christ. It’s always good to keep the Gospel as the main thing – we’re called to use our talents and God-given abilities spread the Gospel (Good News) of Christ. And remember, God doesn’t always call the equipped – He also equips the called (a.k.a. all believers)!

My Own Clarification

This might as well be considered a series. Don’t usually do that. However, Smooth posted a wrap-up to his posts that I’ve previously mentioned. I just want to respond to one point of his wrap-up.

Clarification #3: When I say that I’m done with the SBC, I mean that I’m done fighting for it and identifying with it. I don’t hate the convention. I don’t harbor any resentment towards the churches, church members, committee members, and Directors of Ph.D. studies, etc. who have intentionally marginalized me, belittled me, or treated me unfairly. Contrary to what Rev. Palmer may think, I can say with some certainty that you will never find me holding a position within the SBC. I don’t mean that I am against the SBC or think that they are evil as my good buddy John seems to think I mean. It may, however, be beyond saving. History will tell.

I think I wasn’t clear. I don’t think Smooth is against the SBC or thinks it’s evil. I meant he’s through with it (as he said) and many who say that they are through with it are counting it off as useless and others are evil. Smooth never has said that, but I’ve read it in quite a few blogs of people who have “jumped off the ledge” of leaving the SBC.

Journey still gives money to the Cooperative Program. As the senior leadership team here at Journey we decided to give to the Cooperative Program as a means of contributing to missions and supporting conservative theological training. We do not, however, identify ourselves as Southern Baptists, and you will not find any of us serving on this or that committee or going to this or that convention fighting for a voice. We just don’t care.

I am very glad Journey gives to the Cooperative Program. This finances my seminary education in two ways: first, a portion of CP funds goes to SBC seminaries, including Southeastern. Second, since I am a member of Journey – a church giving to the CP, I get a 50% tuition reduction. That’s stinkin’ awesome. While it saddens me that “We just don’t care” about having a voice in the convention, I know that’s not the case of all members of Journey, as I am a member of Journey who cares about turning the SBC around. I may be the only one, but that’s OK.

Why bother? Because of the missional impact the convention can have, you say? Again, I’m responsible for me. Maybe others are called to “save” the convention. But the reason that “young people are jumping ship by the thousands” and that Dr. Reid has to talk “good younger men off the ledge from leaving the SBC” is because saving the convention is not our calling.

I totally agree that we are responsible for ourselves. But one thing that I’ve learned at Journey is we are part of something bigger than ourselves. And while I also agree that the convention is not our calling, the convention, when course-corrected occasionally to line up better with God’s calling, could be used by God to help many people in many nations to know Him.

While Smooth and I may disagree regarding whether or not to have hope in the SBC, we are co-laborers in the Gospel at Journey and still somehow manage to get along. Heck, we’re even in the same small group!

And finally, lest you think this blog has become a blog about all things SBC and nothing else, I guarantee that my next post will mention absolutely nothing about that. It will probably be something theological or technical, since I love talking about that stuff. Politics? Not so much.

Re: On the Effectiveness of Reforming from Within

My previous post inspired Smooth to comment in his own blog post. Now I’m inspired to comment on his blog post (not him eating his own toenail, either – crazy youth pastor stuff). No, his post On the Effectiveness of Reforming from Within.

Smooth quotes Baptist21 (a group of young supporters/reformers of the SBC):

We at Baptist21, along with several “older-40” pastors and leaders in our denomination highly disagree with this inaccurate portrait of Mark Driscoll and ask that you stay in our denomination and let your voice be heard. We desire to affect change in our denomination and the world by remaining focused on what matters…

and responds with

People like myself who have gotten the shaft time and time again find ourselves wondering whether there are many more than just the guys at Baptist21 and “several other ‘older-40’ pastors and leaders.”

Well, you have one working for you, man. I still have some hope for the SBC and haven’t “jumped off the ledge” of leaving the SBC yet. I’m currently attending SEBTS and am extremely encouraged by what President Danny Akin has done there and throughout the convention to further the “Great Commission Resurgence.” You can read more about it on Between the Times, a blog maintained by he and a number of other Southeastern faculty.

I think of Erasmus of Rotterdam. He lived during the reformation and even offered his own scathing reviews of the Roman Catholic Church in works such as In Praise of Folly. But he was committed to reforming from within. Erasmus, of course, has his place in history, but he essentially failed at his efforts in reforming the church. Martin Luther, likewise had thoughts of reformation from within. He finally realized, however, that if reformation was going to happen it was going to happen from without rather than from within. Much of what we have as protestants today, we owe to Martin Luther. Where would we be if he never decided to step outside the Convention… um.. I mean Catholic Church?

Erasmus didn’t succeed in reforming the Catholic Church. That is true. Luther also tried and failed to reform it. However, the SBC has been reformed recently (as Smooth alluded to) from liberal theology. There is hope. It is possible to reform it.

As my wife pointed out, Jesus came as a Jew who came for mankind. He didn’t ditch the Jews to do it, either. He used Jewish disciples to spread news about him to the rest of the world. Even though the Pharisees and Sadducees were sectarians (people not in or of the world) and syncretists (people in and of the world), and that’s all the Jews knew of religion, Jesus used those people to bring his truth to the world.

Personally, I think Erasmus was scared. Sometimes I wonder if determination to save the convention is bred not out of conviction but fear. Staying within the SBC is safe and familiar.

He may very well have been scared. And I agree; that is a bad reason not to step out. The reason I stay with the SBC is because of why they were founded – to reach the lost. The sole purpose for the founding of the SBC is to form a sending agency for foreign missionaries to which multiple churches could give (now a part of the SBC called the International Mission Board – IMB). It eventually grew to home missions (now the North American Mission Board – NAMB), higher education (now six seminaries – SBTS, SEBTS, SWBTS, MWBTS, & GGBTS), and education of everyone (now Lifeway and Baptist Press). These are categories off the top of my head, but you get my point. All these entities together do a ton of good for the kingdom. Should we just abandon them and set out a different way? Or should we guard them with the truth of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit and let God use the insanely powerful infrastructure that He’s been using for over 150 years? (When we release control to Him, that is.)

Brothers and sisters, the SBC is not evil. It is not beyond saving. Young people are jumping ship by the thousands. Here’s exactly what the SBC stands for (summary from wikipedia of SBC’s position statements) :

  • Priesthood of all believers—Laypersons have the same right as ordained ministers to communicate with God, interpret Scripture, and minister in Christ’s name
  • Soul competency—the accountability of each person before God
  • Creeds and confessions—Statements of belief are revisable in light of Scripture. The Bible is the final word.
  • Women in ministry—Women participate equally with men in the priesthood of all believers. Their role is crucial, their wisdom, grace and commitment exemplary. Women are an integral part of Southern Baptist boards, faculties, mission teams, writer pools, and professional staffs. The role of pastor, however, is specifically reserved for men.
  • Church and state—a free church in a free state. Neither one should control the affairs of the other.
  • Missions—We honor the indigenous principle in missions. We cannot, however, compromise doctrine or give up who we are to win the favor of those we try to reach or those with whom we desire to work.
  • Autonomy of local church—We affirm the autonomy of the local church.
  • Cooperation—The Cooperative Program of missions is integral to the Southern Baptist genius.
  • Sexuality—We affirm God’s plan for marriage and sexual intimacy—one man and one woman, for life. Homosexuality is not a valid alternative lifestyle.
  • Sanctity of life—At the moment of conception, a new being enters the universe, a human being, a being created in God’s image.

I agree with these 100%. A convention that supports these things is a great thing. That’s why I’m looking forward to the day that the convention applies the same effort to contextualizing the gospel to America as it’s working on doing contextualizing the gospel to the ends of the earth. That will truly be a wonderful day!