I love my gospel-loving friends in multi-site churches—both leaders and members! But as Christians we work continually to reform our churches in light of Scripture. So I trust a little push back on the multi-site structure serves everyone, assuming my concerns turn out to be valid. Below are 22 misgivings I have about the multi-site model. All of these apply to churches that use a video preacher. Over half apply to churches who employ a preacher on every campus.*
1. There’s no clear example of a multi-site church in the New Testament, only supposition. “Well, surely, the Christians in a city could not have all met…” (but see Acts 2:46; 5:12; 6:2).
2. If a church is constituted by the preaching of the Word and the distribution of the ordinances under the binding authority of the keys, every “campus” where those activities transpire is actually a church. “Multi-site church” is a misnomer. It’s a collection of churches under one administration.
3. For every additional multi-site campus out there, there’s one less preaching pastor being raised up for the next generation.
4. What effectively unites the churches (campuses) of a multi-site church are a budget, a pastor’s charisma, and brand identity. Nowhere does the Bible speak of building church unity in budgets, charisma, and brand.
5. To say that the unity of the church (i.e. the unity of the campuses) depends on the leaders is to say that that the life and work of the church depends that much more on the leaders. Members, in comparison to a single-site model, are demoted.
6. To the extent that a multi-site church relies on brand identity to reach unbelievers, to that same extent they are building Christianity on their brand identity.
7. Multi-site churches which use video preaching unwittingly communicate that singing is more significant for Christian growth and closer to the heart of worship than hearing God’s preached Word. After all, how many multi-site churches stream their music over video from a central location? A church wouldn’t dare import the music, it’s thought. People need to engage with a live band. People need their music authentic, personal, enfleshed. But preaching? Apparently, it can be imported from afar.
8. When a multi-site pastor implodes, dies, or retires, all the churches that constitute that “church” are put at risk, including all the smaller once-independent congregations that the multi-site franchise took over.
9. A multi-site church formally removes the concept of “assembly” from the definition of “church” since it’s a “church” that never actually assembles (but see 1 Cor. 11:18). This is what it means to be multi-site. As such, members of a multi-site church never need to gather in order to be a church. One might say they should gather for reasons of prudence. But it’s not a formal requirement of being a “church.” A multi-site church could spread its 97 members (for example) across 2 sites or 97 sites. Further…
10. Wise and sensible pastors of multi-site churches will not follow the logic of a multi-site model to its rational conclusion, but will continue to insist on some gathering for reasons of prudence and even biblical obedience (though doing so contradicts their formal definition of “church”). Unwise pastors and members, however, will follow the multi-site logic to this conclusion by creating the opportunity for “Internet churches,” unchurched “fellowship,” and other forms of churchless Christianity.
11. A multi-site church separates authority from the people with whom you gather. Authority and relationships are pulled apart. So a multi-site church involves exercising oversight and discipline over people with whom you never gather.
12. A multi-site church makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a congregation to fulfill its obligation to exercise the keys over the whole “church.”
13. Insofar as the main teacher belongs to a different gathering, a multi-site church separates the ministry of the word from the ministry of deeds.
14. Not only does a multi-site pastor possess all the administrative power that a bishop possesses over churches in his region, he possess even more power than a bishop because he’s doing all the preaching in all those churches.
15. The multi-site church model depends upon extending the reach of “my” church rather than partnering with and aiding other congregations. That is, it’s built on a competitive model of franchise extension, rather than a partnering model of mutual aid that we see in the New Testament. All this can foment “turfyness” and competition between churches. At the very least, every additional campus is a missed opportunity for helping another ministry.
16. The pastor of a large church has difficulty knowing all his members, but he can at least have some sense of the room in which he’s preaching. Both of these are impossible by definition in a multi-site church that employs video preaching.
17. Multi-site churches make it easier to be an anonymous Christian/church member, and perhaps easier for wolves to hide. Yes, this is true of larger churches also, but now the anonymity is built into the very structures. A person can bounce between campuses—church hop!—all in the same “church.”
18. Multi-site churches make church discipline at best more difficult and at worst impossible, as an excommunicated member could easily just switch "campuses" without anyone noticing.
19. Multi-site pours gas on the fire of “theotainment,” as members receive the Word of God from a disembodied man on a screen.
20. In an age which wants authenticity and reality, multi-site is ironically anti-incarnational: it divides Word from flesh.
21. If every local church is to be a presentation or expression or picture of the universal church, that unbelievably wonderful end-time assembly of all God’s people, the multi-site church pictures a divided end-time assembly.
22. Multi-site churches are the current trend in evangelicalism. The great question is, will they be able to make a generational transition? Will they be able to hold together when the main preaching pastor—who is usually in himself the center of gravity for the whole enterprise—goes off the scene? And how much institutional and spiritual fall-out will occur when he does? The only examples of “multi-site churches” that have survived trans-generationally are those which invest a particular office with theological significance, as in, “The man who holds this office is the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ on Earth, the Supreme Pontiff of the Church, and you owe him your allegiance regardless of whether or not you like his preaching.” Whether our own evangelical brand of “multi-site churches” can make this transition without that kind of absolute claim seems unlikely.
*Multi-site “churches” that employ preaching pastors at every site or campus are in fact a type of presbytery: a group of churches united under one elder board (and for those multi-siters who call themselves “congregational,” it might be worth recalling that presbyterians vote on their pastors and, in some cases, discipline, too). Not all the points above apply to this species of the multi-site animal. I would say that points 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 17, 18, and 21 apply, though shades of a few others may apply as well. My misgivings with presbyterianism would require another list.
Author's note: Several of the points above were provided by Alex Duke, Jamie Dunlop, Grant Gaines, and Greg Gilbert.
Jonathan Leeman is the editorial director for 9Marks. You can follow him on Twitter.
The following is from page 57 of Mark Dever's What Is A Healthy Church?
BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO LEAVE
2. Let your current pastor know about your thinking before you move to another church or make your decision to relocate to another city. Ask for his counsel.
3. Weigh your motives. Is your desire to leave because of sinful, personal conflict or disappointment? If it’s because of doctrinal reasons, are these doctrinal issues significant?
4. Do everything within your power to reconcile any broken relationships.
5. Be sure to consider all the “evidences of grace” you’ve seen in the church’s life—places where God’s work is evident. If you cannot see any evidences of God’s grace, you might want to examine your own heart once more (Matthew 7:3-5).
6. Be humble. Recognize you don’t have all the facts and assess people and circumstances charitably (give them the benefit of the doubt).
IF YOU GO . . .
1. Don’t divide the body.
2. Take the utmost care not to sow discontent even among your closest friends. Remember, you don’t want anything to hinder their growth in grace in this church. Deny any desire to gossip (sometimes referred to as “venting” or “saying how you feel”).
3. Pray for and bless the congregation and its leadership. Look for ways of doing this practically. If there has been hurt, then forgive—even as you have been forgiven.
Mark Dever is the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and the president of 9Marks.
The Missional Quest wants us to know that being “missional” derives directly from who God is. The evidence of "sending language" in the Bible, they assert, "not only emphasizes the missionary nature of God, but it also stresses the importance of understanding the church as a sent, missionary body" (26). This produces an “alternative vision of the church,” rooted in the sending-ness of God, that will change how we understand the nature of the church. The church changes from being a cul de sac of consumers saying “gimme,” to a hub of community-engaging missionaries seeking to serve the world. “The church still gathers, but the difference is that we gather not for our [members’] own sake but for the sake of others.” I simply want to reply—well, kinda.
What seemed immediately clear to me was the fundamental disagreement I had with the authors concerning the institutional church as it relates to both its nature and function. It seemed hard at times to understand what the authors were actually trying to say the mission of the church was. In their establishing pages, the authors seemed to be issuing a corrective to two different perspectives. The first view is "the Reformation perspective," which defines a true church as one that rightly bears "the marks"—the Word rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered, and church discipline rightly practiced. The second view promotes church as a "place where . . . members are viewed as customers for whom religious goods and services are produced" (28).
The authors insist that the problem with these two views is that "the church is seen as an institution that exists for the benefit of its members" (28). There’s only one problem with this: it does! To be sure, the church doesn’t only exist for this reason, but certainly a main objective of the church is, in fact, to benefit its members.
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“Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Heb. 3:13)
Yesterday I received a kind note of encouragement from a friend. It was only about three sentences long but the Lord used it to stir some much-needed strength in my soul.
Receiving the note led me to open up my Bible and dig around to see what the Lord says to us about encouragement. As I read passage after passage, I was struck by how vital this expression of love is for God’s people. In one sense, encouragement is like oxygen in the life of a church. It keeps hearts beating, minds clear, and hands inspired to serve.
WHY WE NEED ENCOURAGEMENT
God commanded that his people encourage each other because he knows we need it. In the Gospel of John, Jesus warned that “in this world you will have trouble,” which he then followed with a much needed encouragement: “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
We live in a broken world where everything calls us toward selfishness and despair. Sin steals joy, our bodies break down, our plans falter, our dreams die, our resolves weaken, our perspective dims. We are promised suffering (1 Pet. 4:12), persecution (John 15:20; 2 Tim. 3:12), and trials of various kinds (James 1:2-3).
When encouragement is absent from the life of a church people will feel unloved, unimportant, useless, and forgotten. God knows his people are in need of grace-filled reminders, so he calls us to encourage each other every day until his Son returns (Heb. 3:13).
WHAT IS ENCOURAGEMENT?
Biblical encouragement isn’t focused on complementing someone’s haircut or telling them how good their homemade salsa tastes. That kind of encouragement is important, but the encouragement the Scriptures refer to is explicitly Christian encouragement.
Encouragement is shared with the hopes that it will lift someone’s heart toward the Lord (Col. 4:8). It points out evidences of grace in another’s life to help them see that God is using them. It points a person to God’s promises that assures them that all they face is under his control.
The New Testament reveals that encouragement was a regular part of the early church’s life together (Acts 13:15, 16:40, 18:27, 20:1-2, 27:36). They shared Scripture-saturated words with each other to spur one another on in faith (Acts 14:22), hope (Rom. 15:4), unity (Rom. 15:5; Col. 2:2), joy (Acts 15:31), strength (Acts 15:32), fruitfulness (Heb. 10:24-25), faithfulness (1 Thess. 2:12), perseverance (Heb. 10:25), and the certainty of Christ’s return (1 Thess. 4:18).
Encouragement was and is an essential way of extending grace to each other.
HOW DO I GROW IN BEING AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO OTHERS?
There isn’t only one “right way” to encourage each other, but here are a few ideas to help you get started.
- Pray for God to make you an encourager. Ask him to give you a heart that loves others and creativity to know how to show it. Ask him to help you die to self-centeredness and grow in a desire to build others up. Because God delights in helping his people obey his commands, we can trust that his Spirit will teach us how to bless others for his glory and their spiritual good.
- Study Barnabas and ask God to make you like him. Barnabas was nicknamed the “son of encouragement” by the early church (Acts 4:36). He was the kind of guy you wanted to have around as you were serving the Lord. He wasn’t just a spiritual cheerleader, but he was a man of great conviction who wanted to see the church flourish and did all he could to make it happen. Ask God to give you and your church a heart like Barnabas.
- Make encouragement a daily discipline. For some of us encouragement comes naturally, for others, not so much. I have a reminder in my calendar each day to send someone an encouraging note, email, text, or phone call. I need this reminder to pause, pray, and then intentionally try to spur someone on in Christ.
- Pray for God to show you who to encourage. Ask God to bring someone to mind that you should reach out to. One way to do this is by praying through your church’s membership directory. Check out this article to learn more about that.
- Use Scripture if you’re able. Nothing encourages us like promises from God’s Word. Make a list of Scriptures that God has used to bless you personally or an excerpt from something you read in your daily devotional. Mine the Psalms, Romans 8, and the Gospels. Find and share riches of God’s grace with others.
- Be specific in what you say. The note I received from my friend included two very specific ways he had seen evidences of grace in my life. When I read them, I was humbled and reminded of the fact that God does actually work in and though me. I needed that.
- Regularly encourage your pastor. If your pastor says something that God uses, tell him about it. Don’t expect him to write you back, but just send a few lines in a card or an email. Nothing encourages a pastor like hearing specific ways God used a sermon or counseling session to work in your life.
- Pray that God would create a culture of encouragement in your church. Ask God to make your church a community that loves each other in specific, tangible ways like encouragement. Ask God to use you to help fan that flame. Don’t get discouraged if people don’t return your encouragement (Matt. 6:3-4; Eph. 6:3-8) or if you don’t see fruit from it (Gal. 6:9-10). Creating a church culture that glorifies God takes a long time, lots of prayer, and abundant grace. I encourage you to keep at it.
- Be wise. If you want to encourage someone of the opposite sex, use discernment in how best to do it. If I’m going to encourage a single sister in the congregation, I will tell my wife and copy her on the email. If I were encouraging a married sister, I would again tell my wife and copy her and the husband of the person I’m encouraging. You can also use that as an opportunity to encourage both the husband and wife.
- Get started. Who can you encourage right now? Who has blessed you recently that you can thank? What verse can you share with them? How might God use it?
May the Lord do more than we can imagine through just a little encouragement (Ephesians 3:20-21).
Garrett Kell is the lead pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Garrett's personal site, "All Things for Good."
Let's begin with a boring statistic: 8.1 percent. According to an American Religious Identification survey, that's roughly how many Americans in 1990 were willing to identify themselves as having "no religious identification." Fast-forward eighteen years to 2008 and that same ARIS study number becomes 15 percent. Give it four more years in the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life's 2012 study it becomes 19.3 percent. That's one in five Americans. In other words, in a space of about 20 years, the number of Americans willing to claim no religious identity has doubled and there is no indication that trend is slowing down. This is the fastest-growing religious demographic in America. The statistics aren't as boring anymore, now are they?
Apparently, "Nones" are on the rise. As the body commissioned to preach the gospel to and disciple all nations, the question becomes, "What is the church going to do about it?"
In The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated James Emery White steps in to provide an answer, or rather, a vision for the American church to reach those Nones with the gospel of Christ. As the former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the founding pastor of Mecklenberg Community Church—one of the fastest growing churches in the nation—he seems particularly qualified for the task.
With a clear, engaging style, vivid illustrations, biblical roots, and a proper sense of history, White lays out a clear path for churches to make the changes necessary to deal with the shifting religious sands. The book breaks down into two parts. In the first, White tells us who the Nones are, and in the second, he lays out a plan to reach them.
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In evangelism, we have a very specific bull’s-eye to our aim: we want to persuade people to become followers of Jesus. We want them to convert.
But Paul says we persuade others to follow Jesus (2 Cor. 5:11). I find the word persuade helpful, as it guards us from error: we persuade, but we do not manipulate; we persuade, but we are not the ones who bring about repentance or conversion. Of course, we long to see people converted because we understand that conversion is required for them to become Christians. But true conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Conversion is the point of Christian faith that is most often misunderstood. It’s also a word that’s not particularly in favor with the modern world. No surprise. It was confusing when Jesus taught it to a religious leader of his day (John 3), and it is confusing to Christians and non-Christians today. So it’s good to spend some time explaining it.
In the Muslim context where I live, many people from other faith backgrounds find it disorienting to hear me preach that no one is born a Christian, that all Christians are converts. Even those from Christian backgrounds are confused about conversion, because many come from traditions that emphasize that a person is a Christian because of external reasons. But the Bible clearly teaches that conversion is not a function of your parents’ religion, of which church you join, or of what your passport says. It’s not based on your academic achievements, even if they are from a religious institution. Conversion comes from true, conscious, genuine faith in Jesus.
But just as we cannot produce conversion, neither can we produce genuine faith. This also is the Holy Spirit’s territory.
Of course, when we teach the gospel with the aim to persuade we must know the gospel well enough to be able to teach it. When we share our faith, we center on the message that leads to salvation. It’s important to note that when the Bible uses the word gospel, in the Old Testament as well as the New, it always does so in relationship to salvation.
Here’s a good working definition:
The gospel is the joyful message from God that leads us to salvation.
This is another definition that appears to be underwhelming because we must ask, “What, then, is the message of salvation?”
The gospel message answers four big questions: Who is God? Why are we in such a mess? What did Christ do? And how can we get back to God? There are no more important questions to deal with in the world, and the answers are summarized in this outline: God, Man, Christ, Response (see the appendix for various Scripture passages that support this outline):
God is our Creator. He is loving, holy, and just. One day he will execute perfect justice against all sin.
People are made in the image of God. We are beautiful and amazing creatures with dignity, worth, and value. But through our willful, sinful rebellion against God, we have turned from being his children to his enemies. Still, all people have the capacity to be in a restored loving relationship with the living God.
Christ is the Son of God, whose sinless life gave him the ability to become the perfect sacrifice. Through his death on the cross, he ransomed sinful people. Christ’s death paid for the sins of all who come to him in faith. Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the ultimate vindication of the truth of these claims.
The response God requires from us is to acknowledge our sin, repent, and believe in Christ. So we turn from sin, especially the sin of unbelief, and turn to God in faith, with the understanding that we will follow him the rest of our days.
Another way to tell the same story is in an outline of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. There are many other good summaries of the gospel. The particular outline you use doesn’t matter as long as you teach the message people must know to be reconciled with God.
The hope in evangelism is that we so steep ourselves in gospel truth and gospel living, and so apply ourselves to gospel study, that the gospel can’t help but come out of us.
Mack Stiles lives in Dubai with his wife Leeann. He serves as an elder of Redeemer Church of Dubai and as the General Secretary of the IFES (parachurch) movement in the United Arab Emirates. He is also the author of a number of books on evangelism, including Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living and Speaking the Gospel (IVP, 2010).
Editor's note: This article is a lightly adapted excerpt from Mack's most recent book from the Building Healthy Churches series: Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus (Crossway, 2013). It's the second of four excerpts. (The first, "How Should We Define Evangelism?", can be found here.)
Should college students join a local church by campus if they have a church membership “back home”?
This question is often asked of me in reference to Christian students who are coming to college and have a church membership “back home.” Here are some things to consider that may help to answer the question.
It’s difficult for a Christian to keep the commands of Hebrews 13:17—“obey your leaders and submit to them”—if you move away. Put simply, how can leaders/pastors “keep watch over your soul” and “give an account” for someone who is no longer there? Bless your now-former leaders; bless those who have to give account by placing your membership at the church best positioned to shepherd you and keep watch over your soul.
College students should not be thought of as a "special case."
Though college years are a unique season of life, college students shouldn’t think of themselves or be encouraged to think of themselves as some kind of special case. Though a student’s time at college is limited, four years is more than long enough to plug into a local church. Living somewhere temporarily doesn’t negate the call to be in the fellowship of the local church. Rather than being viewed as special, college students should be viewed as normal and, thus, should be encouraged to do what Christians “normally” do: join a local church.
Dave Russell lives in Washington, DC where he serves as the Director for Campus Outreach DC and an Assistant Pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. After 15 years of serving in college ministry, Dave is transitioning to plant a church in Charlotte, NC that will launch in 2015. You can follow him on Twitter at @DRussinDC.
In The Twilight of the American Enlightenment, George Marsden offers us a window into a lost world and, to some extent, the story of how that world was lost.
These days, we have heavily-scripted quasi-reality shows on every major network most nights of the week: from WWE Raw to The Bachelor to whatever number Big Brother is up to this season. Pretty much everyone knows these shows are rigged, and pretty much no one cares. It’s tough to imagine a world where rumors that the contestants of The $64,000 Question were prepped for their answers sparked a congressional investigation and set scandalized elites bewailing "how deeply corruption had struck into the heart of the culture" (5).
It's not any easier to imagine a world where these same intellectuals foresaw doom in the "predictable moralistic plots" of The Rifleman and the mindlessness of sitcoms like Leave It to Beaver. What would these men say of The Walking Dead, or any particular iteration of CSI?
Marsden’s book is about American thought and culture in the 1950s, especially how an influential group of public intellectuals looked, from that time and place, toward the future of American civilization. These intellectuals were spread throughout the academy, the print media, the government, and even the church—men like Walter Lippman, Henry Luce, Arthur Schlesinger, and Reinhold Niebuhr.
As Marsden frames it, the burning question these men faced was this: "If what passed for culture in America was increasingly to be dominated by TV, then what hope was there to cultivate the higher ideals necessary for the survival of Western civilization?" (6). If the masses lose interest in those "higher ideals," if all they want is to be entertained and to buy whatever they're told is in fashion, how will they resist the rise of Soviet-like totalitarian authority?
That intellectual elites should criticize the ad-driven, consumption-oriented vacuity of American popular culture is not foreign to our 21st century context. But today, members of this class often speak with the frustration and condescension of an outsider. In other words, they’re describing problems of other people. By contrast, Marsden's subjects were the consummate insiders. They were at the power centers of American society and they knew it. These men were driven not by frustration but by anxiety—anxiety born of identification, ownership, responsibility. They believed the future course of American culture was theirs to guide, and they saw that what they loved was drifting away.
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Gratefully, Don Whitney’s new edition of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life has removed all references to sermon tapes and subscription services. I confess it led to a little bit of snickering and apologizing to the college students I work with. But if that’s all that we think about when we see that Spiritual Disciplines has been updated and revised, we will miss a re-wrapped gift for the church.
MOST NOTABLE IMPROVEMENTS
Perhaps one of the greatest improvements Whitney provides in this second edition is a proper understanding of how believers ought to pursue spiritual disciplines in relation to their acceptance before the Lord. Indeed, he wisely states, “It’s crucial—crucial—to understand that it’s not our pursuit of holiness that qualifies us to see the Lord. Rather, we are qualified to see the Lord by the Lord, not the by good things we do” (3, emphasis original). From the beginning of his book, Whitney rightly and wisely situates spiritual disciplines in the context of the gospel. Since Christians are loved by the Father through the work of Christ and empowered by the Spirit, they now have the freedom and ability to grow in holiness. Later, Whitney teaches, “The presence of the Holy Spirit causes all those in whom he resides to have new holy hungers they didn’t have before” (ibid., emph. orig.).
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