|Equal Time on Video Venues
| Ed note: Last month, we published an article that was critical (to say the least) of the latest trend in church planting- video venues. Consider this equal time...
I love small, neighborhood churches and have given my life (my other full-time job) to assessing, training and coaching guys who will plant smaller, missional churches that will rock their part of the world with the gospel. I work formally with 2 denominations as well as Acts 29. My heart bleeds for church planting! I believe that the key to city-wide cultural, physical and spiritual renewal is through the planting of new, indigenous, neighborhood churches. Period.
But, I would like to throw out our situation as a church that is staring down the barrel of the whole video venue deal. And, I only lay the numbers out to help you understand the tension of our situation. I am not trying to be super-planter and convince you guys that I am great. I firmly believe our church plant was in the right place at the right time. Glory to God, not to me or the elders of The Journey, St Louis.
Our church is almost 4 years old and 1300 people are attending the services. Me and my wife Amie’s plan when we parachuted into our city was to plant a neighborhood church and then plant other neighborhood churches. We would get to 250 or so and then give 50 people to a planter (that we hopefully raised up) and “rinse repeat step one.” This was a great plan except it didn't work.
One reason it didn’t work was that we couldn’t find enough planters with a heart for our area who could plant a self-governing, self-supporting self-reproducing church. I have participated in assessing hundreds of guys over the last few years and have seen many that we recommended to plant and a few that we didn’t succeed in pioneering some incredible churches. But, I have also watched painfully as church plant after church plant ceased to exist and what happens to the planter, the family of the planter and the community of the failed church is devastating to say the least. The biggest reason why churches fail (check with the experts to confirm) is the planter.
I believe that there are few guys with the calling and requisite skill set to plant a reproducing incarnational/attractional church. This is evidenced by the 70% failure rate in church plants. I saw this in our own context as we simply couldn’t find the guys with the calling and skill- set to give people to. Now, this has not stopped us from planting locally as we just sent out an elder and people to plant about 45 minutes out in the burbs. We have another intern who hopefully will plant in the next two years. My point is that if your church is experiencing growth like ours, you cannot plant fast enough, chiefly because of the lack of called, qualified, church planters.
Now, if you are talking about planting a house church, that is an entirely different matter. Mark Driscoll and I worked with Neil Cole in a group with Leadership Network who published Jonathan Stewart Campbell’s dissertation on his baton network of house churches. We are not against house churches who are reaching people who are far from God. We just feel called to plant churches that are not just incarnational, but also attractional as we see people coming to Christ and being equipped in large groups as well as smaller ones. I love Neil and rejoice with what he and others are doing, but we just have a different eccesiology as we work in same kingdom.
Another issue that hinders church-planting is a difficult, but true reality. Whether we like it or not believers and un-believers are attracted to those with " 5 or 10 talent" teaching gifts and are drawn to attend churches with that level of teaching. I am not implying that pastors who only have "2 talent" teaching gifts aren't as important or godly. I am saying what is the obvious: The larger the church the more "talents" the pastor is likely to have in the area of teaching.
I am absolutely committed to church planting as is Mark (we serve together on the board of Acts 29 that has planted a ton of churches in the U.S. and beyond). The problem in a growing church is that as soon as you give 50 or 100 away, the seats are filled back up in a month. The truth is that certain churches grow because God blesses them so that they can be a blessing. I think this is the "right" reason for mega-churches who can be a resource center (training, funding, etc) to the city, region and perhaps the world. There are a lot of jacked up mega-churches that function more like a mall for consumers rather than a mission and resource center. But, that is another discussion.
We have three guys on our teaching team, although I preach about 70 percent of the time. Truthfully, I most enjoy personal evangelism and shepherding our great staff and leaders, but I teach the vast majority of the time because it is my best gift to the church.
We were at three services in a smaller building so we moved our morning service to a high school with twice as many seats and moved back to two services. Then only 4 months later we had to go back to 3 services. We bought a cool, old Catholic church complex but have maxed it out. We are moving to five services this fall (one of those is a Spanish speaking service). We just planted a church and hope to send people to another church that is launching in early 07.
The elders believe that a large majority of people who attend come to hear me preach. I hear it all the time from unbelievers who prefer it when I preach. I hate it, but it is the truth. I don't want to set myself up as master teacher and I loathe the reality of the whole situation. It reeks of celebrity-worship, plays into consumerism and messes with my already far-too-large head. But, it also reeks of reality. Down through church history God has seemed pleased to use the teaching gift to draw large crowds and many of those people to himself. This is not a new thing, though it is weird for me to be in this position. I was a godless rebellious teen whom God saved from small rural town in Illinois. Nobody who knew me “then” can believe that I am the pastor of this church. Our elders and wife know my heart and how uncomfortable I am with all of this.
We have a great church and my teaching gift is certainly not our only "draw". But, I am coming to grips with the reality that this gift is significant and I don't need to apologize for it. Stay accountable to God, my wife and elders for it... not think of myself too highly for it... not think that gifting equals character for it...but also not apologize for it.
I hate the thought of my ugly mug on some video screen and I share the ALL the concerns that were posted here. But, I gotta tell you that the thought of preaching 4 and 5 times a Sunday doesn't look very appealing either. Some of you would say, "Just let the other guys teach more." The problem is that they are both working 50-60 hours a week on other important matters for our community. When they preach they have to take 15-20 or so hours away from their important work. We are a young church (26 is average age) and so we don't have a ton of money to hire staff. You get my drift? Right now, and maybe for a while, the elders say I need to be in the pulpit the majority of the time using the gift God has given me.
Here are the questions our elders are wrestling with:
Do I just burn out to stay authentic with the people? Or, is this video thing a way to maximize my gift? Which is more authentic, using video or slipping out of the service early to drive to the other location we meet at in order to be with them live? Can I physically and emotionally handle preaching 4 and 5 times a Sunday? Will we be able to afford to hire more staff so I can teach less? What happens if I get in a car wreck? How can we lead our people to value other teaching gifts, even if it is not as edifying to them?
How can we train more and better church planters?
As Lead Pastor of The Journey in St Louis, Darrin is responsible for the preaching on Sundays, leads the teaching team, casts vision for and leads the church, and trains pastors for ministry and church planting.
Darrin, thanks for your humility and desire to reach your city. Bill obviously doesn't understand your call and heart. My encouragement to you is to not answer a fool according to his folly
Darrin, I identify fully with your dilemma. Idealists would condemn you for even thinking this way, but then they are also the ones sitting with 10 people for the last 10 years. I believe that we need to balance 1st century ideals with 21st century reality. Short of a nuclear fallout or World War III, we are unlikely to return to the world of the first Century. Therefore we must take Biblical values and inject them into 21st Century life.
I would really love to know if people feel the same connection with your teaching gift through a video screen as they feel in a live setting. If this works, I would say "go for it!" However, great care must be taken to raise pastoral people who will ensure that strong local communities are built and you do not become simply a "teaching centre." I would also work hard at raising other godly teachers who can rotate with you and broadcast on the video screens into multiple venues.
This is by no means a path that every church should take. But if it is God's leading for you, then do not allow the negativity of people with narrow paradigms limit you!
Darrin, I thank God for your attitude toward this situation and your passion for God to work mightily in and through your church. While I may disagree with you, I am happy to call you my brother and point people to what you have to say on this issue.
I wonder what would happen if you just said that, for the sake of avoiding being a "celebrity church," you refused to preach/teach the congregation as a whole? If you told the church they had one year to raise up and equip a set of leaders (which you would happily mentor) to run a collection of smaller churches, and that after that year, like it or not, you would step down from preaching? I honestly get your point; people want to listen to you, and as long as you're preaching then no matter how much you promote branching and planting, they are going to come back for your sermons.
You may have to wean them off of you by force. I remember as a kid having a cat who had a litter of kittens. And after a while she began physically forcing them away when they came to her to nurse. I thought that was the cruelest thing in the world, until my mom explained that it was part of the weaning process. As long as she allowed them to nurse, they would, no matter what other food was available.
I offer this as a guy who has never been in your situation, so do not take this as a piece of wisdom from experience. I'm just throwing stuff out there.
You acknowledged that there are those with different ecclesiolgies working in the same Kingdom. I'd say that covers the video thing as well. (not to mention your use of the word "guys") My gut response is, "you've made your bed now sleep in it." Forgive my negativity.
I get your dilemma. Can I simply suggest that you preach as much as is healthy for your body and your relationships and then stop? Maybe God intended the physical limitations. At what point would you be willing to say enough is enough? 5 video venues? 50? At what point do you just tell people to watch you on TV? (i'm being serious) Obviously you would agree that there would be some point to draw the line. I'm suggesting that point might as well be at the physical limitations.
If you're not bothered by the bigness then rent a bigger venue. You may have a ten talent but I doubt you're going to attract more people than Jakes or Osteen. There are big enough places to put everyone in one room. If that's not an option then tell everyone you're declaring a state of emergency and have to put all your efforts in to finding some additional leadership. I have to believe you can't really hear what you're saying about the leadership thing.
Bottom line. My friend. My brother. Don't worry about all the people who can't squeeze in to the building to hear you (or whoever) preach. God will use someone else to reach them.