Sunday, June 12, 2011

Multi-site megachurches, with friends and advocates like James MacDonald do they need enemies?

I have to admit that the first interview I saw with James MacDonald left me singularly unimpressed with him. He frequently interrupted Mark Dever and wouldn't let him finish making his various points and did not seem to really answer his questions. Mark Driscoll had a "you see I beat you" moment but I expect Driscoll to have that one-upmanship weakness. He's like that but despite that bad habit I think Driscoll still comes off looking more respectful and considerate. He also (and this I know from ten years connected to Mars Hill) can concede there are pragmatic reasons for settling on a type of church government. Now don't expect me to go into the Mars Hill by-laws 2007. That's not what I'm here for today. I'm here to say that James MacDonald made a singularly bad impression on me with his tag team interview with Mark Dever.

Then this stuff came up. Saying that congregational government is an unbiblical and satanic approach is even more assasine than Driscoll saying in Reformission Rev that congregational leadership is like letting the inmates run the insane asylum. Driscoll's prone to hyperbole and occasionally weak but emotionally charged arguments. But even he has not (that I know of) declared that congregational governance is from Satan.

MacDonald is already on my radar of stupid pastoral arguments for claiming J. Vernon McGee's sermons shouldn't be on the radio because he's dead and the Spirit isn't working through those sermons anymore. Whatever, let's just burn all the writings of the Puritans and the Spurgeon sermons because those aren't being used by the Lord anymore. A multi-site church by its nature creates a temporal and spatial gap between the pastor and the flock that isn't metaphysically or socially any different from McGee sermons. If MacDonald pre-records a sermon for a later time then by his own metric he's got sermons that aren't used by the Holy Spirit.

But wait, Mars Hill made a "videology" case that using video-taped sermons was like Paul's epistles. Now as someone who has a visual disability that precludes me from driving I actually love downloadable sermons. I also think the Spirit can use sermons written thousands of years ago by Christian teachers who have no connection temporally, spatially or culturally to the people receiving the message. If MacDonald wants to take his poorly thought-out case against old sermons from dead guys to the kind of reductio ad absurdum he seems to like then we should just cut Hebrews out of the canon right now.

Then there's this stuff about voting is unbiblical. Of course he's really only saying that congregational voting in a church is unbiblical. He doesn't really mean to say that voting in a representative democracy is unbiblical or that federalism or republican political ideals are unbiblical. If he really wants to play the voting is unbiblical card I guess ecumenical councils have to get an exemption. Oh, well, maybe that's because those could be considered executive elder board meetings. That way he's not sawing off the executive elder vote that he seems to be going for. Claiming that even Dever concedes congregational leadership is not strictly biblical and benefits from hybridization doesn't prove that MacDonald is right, it just proves that Dever is smart enough to advocate for congregational rule as something tempered by a group of elders.

But here's the thing that might be considered unbiblical, having a big multi-site megachurch assimilate a failing congregation as a way to continue growing may not be biblical either. How many church sites added to a multi-site denomination amount to keeping local congregations alive? I'm not saying that's necessarily bad. In fact I'm at a church whose history, if I understand it properly, was that it was once a non-denominational church that hit a major crisis and was saved from a nosedive by denominational help. I can appreciate that. What I'm not sure is quite so cool is if this becomes a PATTERN. Mars Hill got some sites added through church plants or failing churches that decided to integrate or reintegrate. But if the flock to be doesn't vote for it in whatever way is called for then that's how the cookie crumbles.

Way back when the Driscoll, MacDonald, and Dever "interview" happened I had some Mars Hill friends with whom I talked about the matter. My Mars Hill buddies found how Dever got treated to be embarrassing. Mark, they said, was quite a bit more respectful (I actually agree) but that they found themselves wishing James MacDonald would just shut up already and let Mark Dever finish a sentence. Dude, if people at Driscoll's megachurch multi-site wish you'd have shut up and let Dever get a word in edgewise instead of having to be right that might suggest that even people who would theoretically be on board with you think you're doing it wrong.

But why should MacDonald care what nameless members of Mars Hill think about how poorly and disrespectfully he tried to claim Dever was wrong? I don't have to assume the worst about MacDonald to say that based on what I've seen of him so far his motives may seem pristine in his own mind but he's not on his best behavior or best position of reasoning from the few things I've seen and heard from him. He's not inspiring me to pay any attention to him at this point. If he's any kind of big gun advocate of multi-site megachurches then the model and the concept needs a more compelling and courteous advocate.

And if 73% isn't 75% then trust that God's providential power to orchestrate circumstances is what it is and that we can't know it. Sometimes the worst thing the Lord can visit on us is giving us exactly what we ask for as a way of revealing our mistrust of Him. Sometimes the thing that looks like God opening a door for a church to move forward can end up looking a bit more like a money pit.

No comments: