Thursday, November 05, 2009

SBTS Panel Discussion on Multi-Site Churches

Al Mohler led a panel discussion hosted by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary two days ago. Greg Gilbert is the lone opponent of the practice among the panel members. Other participants are Kevin, Ezell, the lead pastor of High View Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky--one church meeting in six locations, Gregg Allison, professor of Christian Theology at SBTS and theological consultant to Sojourn Church, another Louisville church that has recently started multi-site services and whose founding pastor, Daniel Montgomery, also participated on the panel.

The conversation is very helpful. I am grateful for Southern's willingness to address it. I am particularly grateful to Greg Gilbert's insistence that Scriptural justification cannot be assumed. Important questions are raised that demonstrate the necessity of carefully studying New Testament ecclesiology.


Bart Barber said...


Thanks for pointing me to this dialogue. I was very impressed with Greg Gilbert's fortitude.

Jim Pemberton said...

Good points were brought up by all. I have to go back and watch/listen to it again. One thing that bothers me is even at the end of it, the multi-site argument portrayed multi-site churches as monolithically unified in purpose and intent. While there was the brief discussion of church discipline, this wasn't applied to the capacity of multiple sites to maintain unity in good faith.

If, for example, I wanted to intentionally infiltrate and destroy the unity of a church, there would seem much greater opportunity to do so through the central core structure of the multi-site church. If each church were separate, I could go into one church and work destruction there, having little effect on the other churches, in fact only strengthening them as strong Christians fled to them.

Chris Jordan said...

Thanks for posting this. It was good to hear from the various representatives on the panel. I appreciated Greg Gilbert, who held his own, presenting the biblical examples and imagery that is clear from Scripture.

Raising up new leaders and planting churches has been the method for nearly 2000 years. Why would we abandon (or lesson its use) now for something more "convenient"?

I recently heard an advocate for the multi-site model say that it was “practically wiser” than church planting because, "finding the people willing to leave their church to plant a new one as well as the leader who can do it are both difficult."

That may be true, but I struggle to understand how this difficulty presses us to so easily embrace a new model.

A big concern of mine is seeing what this may do in the future of the church for the next generation. Over the past several years we have seen a "passing of the baton" in church leadership, as some of the biggest personalities in the pulpit have retired or passed away. The churches, under these changes, have struggled to accept a new pastor, and many have even tried to remove the new pastor because "they aren't preaching like so-and-so used to."

Now I know this can be common regardless of congregation size. But in the next generation will a church with 7 locations, who has a change in the "video preacher," then have difficulty in all 7 sites? Will all 7 sites then split off from each other, eager to find what each site deems best? Or will the "video preacher" remain the same through "reruns" leaving the church without a need for a new preacher?

And what happens to all those upcoming preachers our seminaries are training to fill the pulpits? Will they fail to have churches?

Better yet, will there be new denominations started with one preacher and thousands of locations?

Where will this "practically wiser" direction take us?

Howard Fisher said...

I found strengths and weaknesses in both positions. First, this conversation seemed to be new to all of these men. They acted as if no one had ever had this problem before. Having grown up near Boston, and if I was Roman Catholic, this would have been nothing new at all. The word (for good or bad) "diocese" should ring a bell?

Second, this follows the first, the letters of the new testament are written to churches located by cities. Are we really going to think that there were not multiple congregations within these city churches? Could it be possible that the plurality of Elders within the churches of Ephesus would be the uniting factor of the "multi-campus site" churches? Perhaps Congregationalism with the single pastor model is wrong? Perhaps multi-congregations within a city that do not have pastors/elders that are united and accountable to one another is not the Biblical model?

Third, I have to wonder that when the Apostles preached at the temple, were they all preaching in different places in order to reach different people.

Fourth, none of this conversation dealt with what may have been a more troubling problem and the real reason they were having this discussion. Is "piping" in video to different sites biblical. So for all of the church talk, they overlooked the means with the message of grace. This ties directly in with the plurality of elders among other things.

God Bless

Jim Pemberton said...

There's certainly no biblical mandate against multi-site churches. What I have to consider is the lack of the intentional raising up of godly leadership. If you have a second site, why not raise up a pastor. What kind of system do you establish when you have a large membership across a broad enough geographic area and you aren't producing enough pastoral leadership to fully staff new sites? It seems that such a church system is more unidirectional (pastoral leadership ministering to congregation) than omnidirectional (pastoral staff ministering and raising up ministerial leadership in the churches and being ministered to by them). If a pastor isn't raising up a body of people from whom his replacement can come as well as building them up to minister to each other and minister outwardly, then he's not doing his job.

We've been involved with church planting in South America. When we've evangelized in an area, house meetings will happen. Elders of local congregations come in and teach the Bible. As they teach and pray, they begin to see God's provision of a pastor and other leadership for a new church in the area. You don't say to this new church, "You guys can have a place to worship and we'll pipe in some good teaching and pastoring for you because there's no way any of you have the ability to teach and pastor your assembly."

C. M. Sheffield said...

This panel could have been much better. I felt the imbalance of this panel was unacceptable. Greater care should have been taken to have both sides equally represented. Four (including Dr. Mohler) to one is not a "panel" its a good ol' fashioned whipping. Greg Gilbert handled himself admirably. He stayed cool at points when I perhaps would not of. I would like to see a series of scholarly papers addressing the theological and ecclesiological problems with the multi-site church model.

Marvin Merriweather said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
C. M. Sheffield said...


Your sarcastic remarks are out of place, unnecessary, and uncharitable. How you see this as fruitful is beyond me. I would kindly ask you to refrain from posting unless you have a sincere desire to constructively comment or inquire on the topic at hand.

Tom said...

Marvin, I deleted your comment because it is out of place here. Thanks, C. M.

Marvin Merriweather said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Daryl said...

A couple of things spring to mind:

As was mentioned earlier, it seems that this allows for the relatively easy and unimportant things like building buildings and organizing people, to supplant the important and more difficult things like discipling new leaders.

The other thing is this, what warrant does a church which uses video to provide preaching to multiple site have to say that my buddies dropping by and watching John Piper with me does not constitute a church?

I wonder how much the idea of celebrity pastors, however unintentionally, is driving this kind of thing.

Jim Pemberton said...

I may misunderstand the intended import of your second question, but it's not a bad observation to point out that watching videos of Piper and other preachers online, or even listening to the on the radio, resembles doing church mutli-site style. What's the difference?

I would have to say that the difference is that John Piper doesn't answer to me. He and other ministers have parachurch teaching and preaching ministries that provide valuable resources to people who are not members of their real churches. John Piper is not my pastor, but I've learned a few things from him from the material he has published for my benefit. I must carefully review and discern the truth of his teaching, but I can't directly hold him to account. John Piper has a real church he pastors who must also check what he teaches. If he strays, they must hold him accountable for they are his church and share a special fellowship with him for that reason among others.

It's a principle that I have trouble seeing multi-church sites fulfilling effectively. I'm a member of a large church, but I have a direct line to my pastoral staff. There are mega-churches who are so large that members have no direct access to the members of their pastoral staff. I consider that dangerous. It's not that the normal pastoral counsel should always be filtered through one pastor. Even Moses learned to delegate those responsibilities. But when a pastoral leader is out of touch with his congregation and cannot answer for his teaching to them, then something is amiss. Even Paul seemed to know many of the individuals in the churches he planted.

ajesh said...

Thank you for pointing me to this dialogue. I was very impressed with Greg Gilbert's fortitude. I came across this and found it pretty impressive.