Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Beam me up, Deacon

A phenomena that hasn't yet made much inroad in the UK is that of using technology to 'broadcast' the sermon from a popular preacher into other congregations miles - many miles, maybe - away. One church in the US is apparently considering a 'satellite' congregation in, er, Scotland. I do hope they know about time differences.

The idea is a congregation meets together under its own 'service leader'. They have their own music, readings, notices etc - and then, at a predetermined time, the video screen goes on and they all listen to the sermon. Usually a well-known preacher is preaching it, at that moment, to 'his own' congregation. It's no different, a mega-church may argue, from what's been done for years, with folks in 'overflow rooms' watching the sermon on screen. It's just that now the 'overflow room' is further away!

Not everybody's happy:
Dan Phillips for example asks
  • Think about this. Christianity Today reports that, in 2002, 2000 clergy were looking for jobs. In 2009, 5000 clergy were looking for jobs. Yet let one personality become popular, and what do churches do? Beam that one personality to multiple locations. Hm... are the two phenomena related?

My guess is there may be some correlation, but probably not a lot.

Actually, the phenomena isn't that new, only the technology. What was once technologically impossible became possible but expensive, then easy and cheap. But there have always been preachers whose ministries have attracted crowds. Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, Daniel Rowland - many, many others. And there have always been folks who thought that they should get rid of the crowds! 'Send them away! There are struggling churches nearby - let them go there. Or let them plant a church; it's wrong to have that big a crowd.' When I was a pastor with Grace Baptist Churches, I heard it suggested that any church bigger than 50 was sinful. (Naturally, it was suggested without any Biblical warrant - there isn't any - and by a man whose church had never got anywhere near 50!)

Should such men do anything about it? Well, many do - Spurgeon for example planted many churches, often sending them a preacher he had trained himself. Yet the Tab continued to be full.

Here's a man who is being blessed under a particular ministry, and is actively involved - as a result - in the work of that church. Should we insist he go somewhere where he finds the ministry to be less of a blessing? On what ground?

'For the sake of the Kingdom!' someone cries. 'That's the ground.' OK - but how do you know that the Kingdom will prosper if that man's blessing decreases? Why are you so sure that the Kingdom will not prosper more if one church grows large and is able to do many things that small churches - even working together - cannot easily do? I grant that 'the Kingdom' is all-important. But why are we so sure that a lot of weak churches are better for the Kingdom than a few big ones?

My own church is middle-sized, rather than large: 250 or so on a good morning (it used to be higher, but we've planted a second congregation.) And I've had a man say to me 'It's time you sent some of your people to help a struggling cause.' But the one time we tried to do that, the 'struggling cause' didn't want it. I offered to try and lead my church to a) send them a preacher that I knew they already liked, b) help support him financially, c) encourage a team of people to come with him and help in the work. But the small church's leadership weren't interested.

Actually, I can conceive of why that might be. An influx of Moordowners would have been enough to give them the majority vote in church meetings. They could have changed anything they wanted, to make it more like Moordown. (Or less, depending on who went, of course.) And if you're tempted to say 'Gracious and spiritual people wouldn't do that,' - well, it depends. If they honestly thought that 'the way we do things' brings more glory to God than 'the way they do things', then of course they would. And anyway, if a struggling church is going to stop being a struggling church, something has to change - probably quite a lot of 'somethings'.

What's this got to do with 'beaming preachers'? Quite a bit, I think.

Suppose Pastor Jones has a remarkable ministry and people are already crowding into his church, while others are listening over the internet regularly. And two hundred miles away a group of people, who all listen to Pastor Jones, live in the town of Drysville. They've discovered that when they give recordings of Pastor Jones to their neighbours, their neighbours listen and get converted. So they all begin to meet together on Sunday morning. One option is to call a pastor to serve them. But someone suggests 'beaming in' Pastor Jones, at least for a little while. What should be the great principle that guides them?

Surely it's this: would a resident pastor be more effective, or less, in building up the saints and reaching the lost? They may decide 'less', and arrange to beam in Jones.

Mind you - I would hope it would only be a temporary expedient: for there's more to being a pastor than preaching.

1 comment:

Jonathan Hunt said...

Thanks Gary, a lot to think through here, and a lot that resonates!!