Wednesday, November 11, 2009

5 Reasons I'm Averse to Video Venues

These are bullet points. There's quite a few smarter folks than me having substantive and substantial conversations on this subject. Check out David Fitch, recent posts at Out of Ur, a pro/con exchange series at 9 Marks, etc. for much more.

First, some disclaimers and caveats:

1) My aversion to the video venue multi-site movement is theologically informed and philosophically driven but not morally framed. What I mean is, I am not saying video venue multi-site is sinful or even unbiblical. I am not speaking to its wrongness per se, but rather hope to suggest it is not wise. Sort of a "not everything that is permissible is profitable" kind of thing.

2) Secondly, and this is going to sound really cliched, but Some of My Best Friends are Multi-Site Pastors. :-) And it's true. Through the Docent Group, all of the writing/research clients I have worked for are multi-site leaders. And they are all fantastic, humble, godly men who love Jesus, love the Church, and love seeing lost people get saved. In addition, I have friends and family who attend video venues for worship, and my favorite "celeb" preachers, the ones who most bless and edify and inspire me are without exception pastors of multi-site churches.

3) With that said, I do not offer any critique lightly. This is not just some throwaway exercise for me. I critique the multi-site thing knowing full well that I risk hurting the feelings of people I love and respect and admire, and that I may actually be jeopardizing my ability to continue working for some of my clients or the likelihood that they may endorse my books or invite me to speak at their events, etc. In other words, my opinions aren't offered in a vacuum of inconsequence.

But because I do love the local church and do love pastors of all varieties, I think it's important to engage this conversation with conviction, even if with gentleness. (Let the reader understand. :-)

So: why I'm averse to video venue multi-site whatchamacalits:

1) I do not think it is wise, in our consumer culture, to go down the path of continued un-incarnation.

This applies to the "virtual church" phenomenon in general, as well. In a day when the idolatry of the self and the mass production of "beauty" and the disconnection of individuals from each other are daily, constant, pernicious struggles, I don't think the church can afford to un-incarnate anything, much less its preaching. Video is by definition un-incarnational.

2) Video venues are not counter-cultural.

You can go a lot of ways with this thinking, sometimes overboard, but the kingdom of God is supposed to run counter to the way of the world. What I see in the worst examples of the video venue movement is just more accommodation of cultural values begun in the modern church's idolization of "relevancy" twenty years or so ago. All churches should be seeker sensitive (in the best sense of the phrase), by which I usually mean seeker comprehensible and seeker welcoming, and all churches should be good students of the culture and good workers at contextualization, but there is a line between contextualizing and accommodating, and I think video venues often cross the line. At what point do we look at cultural trends not as things to mirror and ape but to challenge and subvert. Technological movements in our culture may indeed all be neutral, but that does not automatically mean they are all suitable for uncritical ecclesiological appropriation. I am afraid many churches have moved from leveraging technology to merely mirroring whatever they think the world is into.

3) Video venues can reinforce the kind of pragmatism that has not served the church well at any point.

We are just now seeing the data revealing the fruit of the attractional paradigm, and it is not good. Big churches are increasing, but the numbers of Christians are not. By most accounts, the most churched states in the nation are in danger of soon-coming evangelical disaster. It's not just the Internet Monk saying this. It's Tim Keller too. Much of the video venue stuff is clearly from the same school of thought as the ecclesiological trajectory we are only now discovering was wrongheaded and impotent to grow disciples.

4) A video preacher can't be shot in the face.

Seriously.

5) Video venues assist the idolization of and over-reliance on pastors.

This is something Matt Chandler, himself the pastor of a church using video venues, brought up: Are we simply heading toward the day of 8 preachers in America?
There are a lot of sub-points under this general point:

- Would your church be able to open its satellite campus if the main pastor was not the one doing the preaching? If not, doesn't that say something important about the viability of your church and where it is centered?

- What happens if your pastor gets hit by a bus? Would your church collapse? Do you lose major attendees? Do satellite campuses have to close down? (And this is not just a problem with video venue churches, but with any church unhealthily centered on the personality of the pastor. A one-campus megachurch I attended fired its pastor and hundreds of people left. The vocal evacuees largely stated their inability(!) to attend a church where the fired pastor wasn't preaching.)

- What happens to the men in your church with preaching gifts? Where do they go to exercise their gift and bless their church family? (Somewhere else, that's where.) How do video venues develop future pastors and preachers? (This is closely related to the fact that most churches -- big and small -- more often than not hire from the outside. Across the board, we all suck at developing in-community "talent.")

Just some bullet points. I hope they are received in the spirit with which they are given: not as having it all figured out, but just as having some grave concerns. I am assuming common ground between all of us is that we want to see the fruitfulness of the Church and Christ glorified by it.

14 comments:

Scotty said...

Interesting thoughts. However, keep in mind your writing is a blog post on the internet which you announced via Twitter! Be careful about using similar tools to communicate in a very cultural way while trying to dissuade others not to.

Jared said...

Scotty, your thoughts are similar to things said in previous posts. I am not against technology. I am nowhere saying technology is bad and nobody should use it ever in any way.

There is a qualitative difference between blogging and preaching in a local church. Do you agree?

Frank Turk said...

You tagged it 98% but I think if you're serious about #5, you have to reconsider whether this is a moral issue or not.

Jared said...

Frank, you may be right. I probably should have written that point "can assist," to indicate the obvious possibility that a church can have video venues and not idolize or over-rely on its pastor.

What if, for instance, they had a team of teaching pastors who rotated regularly? This practice could mitigate the danger of the celeb factor in one-dude video preaching.

JAy. said...

I'll jump right up and offer myself for criticism, but I also think that you have to add that video-church further cheapens the church-goer's experience of the sacriments. (How do you even do sacriments in a virtual/video environment? Makes my head hurt.)

I think that the video-church is the real embodiment of the term "satellite campus," as not only is the location around, but you develop "satellite attendees" who just hover around too. If the church can't engage the attendee, the attendee won't ever really engage the church, either. (Another problem with really big mega-churches in general.)

Thanks for the post!

Steve Mizel said...

Jared,

While I disagree with you, I appreciate your tone and questions. I have had to struggle through a lot of this myself as I have thought through God's call on my life.

On your first point - "Video is by definition un-incarnational" ... Really? I can't help but see this as a classic overstatement / straw man.

There is an element of this statement that is clearly true (the speaker, as a digitial projection, cannot interact with the audience in a live, dynamic way) - but it seems to me that you are making a much broader assumption / statement out of this than can be justified.

First - while the speaker is not dynamically interacting with the peeps in the pew, the peeps are dynamically interacting with him. There is genuine response to the Word, conviction of sin, gospel-realization, and growth of the Spirit's influence in the lives of the church. How is that not incarnating the Word into the context and experience of the peeps in the pew?

Second - If the video venue is approached as a church plant and not simply as a quick franchise solution for growth - if you have local leadership connecting with local people, on mission in the local community, meeting needs of the poor in that community and sharing the gospel face to face in that community - how is that not incarnational?

Jared said...

"Video is by definition un-incarnational" ... Really? I can't help but see this as a classic overstatement / straw man.

Steve, we agree that a person visible on a video screen isn't physically present, right? That's how I define incarnational: physically present.

I don't see how my definition is either an overstatement or a straw man, although I know the implications I extrapolate from that can be disagreed with, obviously.

if you have local leadership connecting with local people, on mission in the local community, meeting needs of the poor in that community and sharing the gospel face to face in that community - how is that not incarnational?

I am talking about video preaching. I know there are lots of ways satellite campuses approach mitigating the risks of video venues. But the video preaching itself is what I am critiquing here, not multi-site in general or church planting or anything like that.

Anonymous said...

so, what about just cloning the "celeb" pastor(s)... and get it over with?

that's what it really boils down to...

the satellite church and video venue approach to preaching is about one person feeling/believing that there isn't anyone else qualified/popular/idolized enough to take their place...

and to further exacerbate the situation... you have throngs of followers following, not Jesus, but faux-Jesus.... in the form of their pastor due to the addiction to personality and performance...

it's the world we live in... and the inability to let it go that creates the illusion it's okay to be like the world...

seems I read all about this in the bible... didn't I?

graven images, false idols... etc...

sheesh...

C. Evan Leonard

Steve Mizel said...

Jared,

I agree with that definition - and can see where I broadened your statement for you. The post is on video venues - but your statement is specifically about the video sermon. I took your statement about the latter and applied it to the broader topic of the former.

Obviously, a distinction needs to be made.

The video sermon is not live, true, but the local leadership, mission, and worship is. If the venue is run well, it functions as a local church, impacting its city for good.

Again, I appreciate your tone in this post.

Elder James said...

As I am watching this collision of ideology, theology, methodology,etc. It reminds me of the days when church folks disagreed with preaches on the radio and then onto TVs, and then on the Internet, and now on to Video casting to venues whether in a church or a mall. Heck, back then they did not know how to use the phrase un-incarnation.

Are those who use methods of this nature going down the slippery road to hell? I think that we would need to ask all those who lives where changed by radio,tv preachers etc. Perhaps their stories need to be heard in the midst of the dust of this discussion on the road to Emmaus.

Jared said...

Elder James, I would've hoped it would've been obvious, but I have nowhere suggested "hell" as the result of video venues. You introduced that idea to argue against it; it is not found in anything I've written.

Also: I will reiterate I am not anti-technology. On another post on this subject a commenter started rebutting my opposition to video-recording sermons. Which is great except I have no objection to video recording sermons and my post(s) don't say anything about that.

I know technology has delivered the gospel to many. I myself have benefited in life-saving ways -- and I'm not exaggerating, honestly -- from the podcasts of Mark Driscoll and John Piper.

This is not about technology and the church's use of it.

It is about the use of video preaching in the worship gatherings.

Hope that's clear from now on out.

Peace

Elder James said...

Well, I am just about against video preaching in the context of a local worship. As a matter of fact I actually turn down an opportunity to be an associate pastor under the video preacher/pastor. It just did not seem real. But that is my opinion. I was being a little sarcastic in my last post. Technology is one of the greatest tools that the church can use. And it can be used wrongly and it can become un-incarnation. There is nothing like the hands and the voices of shepherds/pastors over the lambs of Christ.

Thanks for a great conversation and this same discussion is being had very intensely in our area.

Scotty said...

You stated/asked whether there's a qualitative difference between preaching and blogging ... while I would want to immediately answer "yes," perhaps the answer is more correctly, it depends on the individual. Some people neither learn nor respond well to preaching, but do more so from reading. Others learn and respond much better to preaching and hardly ever read. Many lives have been deeply impacted by reading. Or listening to a sermon on the radio. We need to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. That has, is, and can be done via a variety of methodologies, all of which have been used to reap great results. Preaching and teaching are the biblical means of going into the world to make disciples, but MUST it be a person live and "in person"? No. However, to have the fellowship and fullness of the church, yes.

I think you raise some great points here, worthy of significant exploration, which your post and our responses can't adequately cover. In fact, I think we must deal with these issues in a fuller and more complete way for the future of the church, which is in decline. Thanks for raising the issue here :)

nhe said...

Jared,

I just started attending an Andy Stanley Satellite. Interesting Fact:

North Point (Stanley's) satellites must agree to initially use him on video 65% of the time when they start......I don't know what the ween-off plan is after that, but that's for starters. The "pastor" preaches the other 35% of the time.

It should also be said that in Stanley's case, the satellite churches get to pick the sermon series of Stanley's that they want to use. Thus, its not piped in live, or even same day.

One plus to satellite preaching - the actual pastor gets to devote his time to the people a little more directly - less sermon prep time.

I'm not uncomfortable with the model, because (for us, and as has been said here) the other elements (worship, small group discipleship, shepherding) are in place and functioning well.

I don't necessarily think going down to only 8 preachers in America would be a bad thing - as long as it was the "right" 8. I exaggerate a tad - but I'd rather get great classic rock piped in on speakers than see rap music live.....or, in this case - great sermons on video are better than mediocre sermons live.

One last thought Jared - and I don't know if this is good or bad...but I would venture to guess that if you asked most women and most guys under 30 - What is more important to them in a church - the sermon, the worship, or partaking in a community? Sermon would get the least amount of votes.

I truly don't think that people are going to our church (mainly) to hear Stanley - I think its more holistic - they're going to a place where the music, the sermon, and the community are actually all "good". I don't know about you, but its tough to find all 3 here in Atlanta.....and probably easier here than most places.