O.K. “farce” may be a little strong, yet the video above illustrates why I think video venue church is disingenuous when it comes to reaching the world with the gospel. This video records a conversation between pastor James McDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel, pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill in Seattle, and pastor Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist church on the positives/negative of video venue/ multi site churches. McDonald and Driscoll are advocates specifically of video venue multi-site. Dever is not. This conversation, I think, substantiates several things I have been saying about the video venue church elsewhere. Here are my previous concerns with video venue form of church along with some observations from this video that substantiate my general thesis: Video Venues are the antithesis of Missional.
1.)Video Venues decontextualizes preaching. I believe preaching is different than teaching. Preaching speaks into the context, interprets Scripture for what God is doing in and among a local congregation and its context. It is the work of the Spirit using the preacher to call people into God’s Kingdom now. (This is why it often is conjoined with prophecy in the NT – read the classic on this here). It is speaking the Word over and into a context. This is one of the functions of the interpretive leader. The preacher however, that is separated by miles cannot do that. By definition, this preacher never knows anybody in the community, cannot by definition speak into people’s lives in this way. Preaching by definition becomes the mere cognitive transfer of information done in an entertaining and/or engaging format.
Now, pastor James gives a nod to the contextualization nature of preaching when he says recordings of preachers’ sermons should not be played after the preacher dies. He says Vernon McGee recordings should be put to bed for this reason. If this is true, what can it mean when Driscoll freely acknowledges he’s an introvert and therefore doesn’t want to know anyone is his congregation, just let the Spirit lead and guide him to say what needs to be said in his sermon. To me this reveals the decontextualized nature of Driscoll’s (and the Neo-Reformed in general) preaching. How then does preaching for Mars Hill in Seattle not become a form of info –distribution by a preacher who is unusually gifted in being engaging. It is preaching decontextualized, detached from real life. It is one step further towards preaching becoming commodified, consumerized, a product distributed to be used by those who come seeking a better Christian life. Once this happens, “the Word” becomes a user-friendly item and it by definition is no longer the Word of the God. And since I firmly believe that the preacher’s task in the community is to be an interpretive leader, one who helps the community see God at work in and among them contextually through Scripture, this means video venue preaching is the very antithesis of missional. Tell me where I’m wrong?
2.) Video venues draw crowds to a celebrity and this attraction works against (as opposed to helps) the formation of church in mission. If the church is the living body of Christ operating out of the gifts of the Spirit ministering the gospel in everyday life among the world, the attraction of people to celebrity is by definition not church. At the very least this personality contest/video impulse works against the drive into Mission.
Yet, in this video conversation, both Driscoll and McDonald extol “draw” on celebrity as one of the advantages of starting churches with video. They seem to think celebrity is something to be used to build churches, spread the gospel. Yet is this what is actually happening? I think not.
In fact what is happening, more often than not, is merely the shifting of consumers into churches wanting more accessible/engaging, entertaining information/teaching. When pastor Driscoll says that this church in Albuquerque went from 200 to 500 in few six months with him videoing, does he think suddenly people who had never heard him wanted to suddenly hear the gospel? Does he think people did not come from other churches. So let’s just be honest here eh? This isn’t evangelism, or building churches this is warehousing Christians who want “better” teaching (whatever that might mean?) This is churches playing musical chairs. When pastor James talks about leveraging his influence to start and build up other churches, doesn’t this really say what video church is about? What does he mean by his influence? Those who know him via Moody radio? Does he really think non-Christians want to go hear him preach? Is this really building up more churches? Or is this musical chairs, people who are obviously other Christians moving from another church to come hear him? Is this church? Is this gospel? No offense, but I’ve heard of several small churches (300 or less) being shut down or taken over in the wake of each video venue Harvest moving in? Is this spreading the gospel? Or more musical chairs? When pastor Driscoll says video is less consumerist because he’s not there? Is this completely bizarre? When he says his church is mission centered not pastor centered is this just plain crazy? To me this is all talk masking how video venue preaching is the very antithesis of missional. Can someone tell me where I am wrong here?
3.) Mission requires more than words. Video venues intensify the dependence upon words. In a way, this video discussion proves a (part of a) thesis that I want to build upon in the weeks ahead; that the Reformed people possess an unhealthy overconfidence in preaching as the means to proclaim the gospel and that this itself feeds into the attractional proclivities of the Neo-Reformed missionals. Somehow video venue can be justified as missional. And what gets overlooked is that the gospel requires contextualized incarnation in post Christendom in order to be interpreted (completely). It requires the embodiment of redemption. It requires contextualization!! When Christendom still exists, where Christian language is still ubiquitous, where the Bible still has inherent authority even among those not living it, the Neo-Reformed strategy continues to work. It is a strategy that plays off of and continues to service the culture of Christendom: the culture of existing Christians and those who know about Christ but have good decisions for Christ and this is perfectly good thing to do. It will not play well however in the mission-fields of post Christendom. For all these reasons, Video Venue church is the antithesis of missional.
I first saw this video on Steve McCoy’s blog, a Neo-Reformed devotee. See this post by Steve and his excellent fair-minded views and the ensuing comments from the Neo-Reformed part of the conversation! Thanks Steve!!
Notes on what’s coming next:
I still aim in about two weeks to begin a promised series of posts engaging the Neo-Reformed Missional efforts which include Tim Keller, Jim Belcher, Acts 29, The Gospel Coalition etc. I’m doing it off of reading this book here.
For those interested in pursuing the Missional conversation, don’t forget the Missional Learning Commons coming up. It’s free (except for 10 bucks to help for children’s care).