Virtual shepherds and cyber sheep...

Among many others, John Piper and Mark Driscoll have added to their church numbers by employing a video image of themselves preaching their Sunday morning sermon in the mother church as the cornerstone of other virtual worship services held on other church "campuses." And now, for something completely similar, Life Together offers small group pastors who are virtual, also...

PS: Responding to the comments below, I've now made a second post on this subject. So after reading this one, please read the second post, Video sermons and the marks of the church.... There you will find the discussion continuing...

Brett Eastman regularly gets offers to join the staff of a church to implement and lead small groups.  The only problem is that Brett is not available, but now, you can hire Brett's personally trained team to serve as your small group pastor for a year. Why hire a staff member, pay salary and benefits, then retrain them only to have them surfing for a new position?  LifeTogether wants to be your small group pastor. Through regular visits, phone consultations, strategic planning, volunteer recruitment and start to finish implementation, the LifeTogether team will help you connect your congregation and sustain those groups for the long haul.  After one year, you will have a volunteer or staff member, encoded with your churches DNA and trained in LifeTogether's strategy.  LifeTogether can be the small group pastor of your dreams. Let’s start dreaming.

Yes, I think virtual preachers and virtual small group pastors are both wrong. But seriously, they're very effective. Martyn Lloyd Jones' scruples over allowing his sermons to be broadcast over the radio do seem quaint today, don't they? I wonder whether my own congregation would vote to pipe Piper's image in to our sanctuary if the vote were taken anonymously?

If we want to hold on to our income, pastors better unionize--and soon. Outsourcing is headed our way, too. No one's safe.

(Thanks, Chris.)

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.

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Comments

Piper didn't end up broadcast to multiple campuses out of some egotistic desire. The eldership of BBC considered all possible avenues to deal with the problem.

Problem: Overflowing crowds and attendance growing each and every Sunday. Up to three services already with no end in sight. People desperate for a strong preaching of the Word are leaving weak churches and flocking to BBC.

Solution #1: Church plants...didn't work. The people attending BBC came because they wanted the sound teaching that was there and weren't ready to leave in large enough numbers to ease the crowding issue.

Solution #2: Multiple campuses with Piper rotating live, live worship at each, and simulcasts to the campus where Piper isn't. That didn't work because of the difficulty of timing the singing/prayer/praise portion of the service to the countdown clock signaling the beginning of the simulcast.

Solution #3: Multiple campuses, each with own live singing/prayer/praise time. Whoever is preaching is always live at the central campus on Saturday evening. That sermon is recorded. The pastor rotates among the campuses. Whichever campuses don't have the live sermon get the video.

Solution #3 has worked best. It's making the best of a difficult situation. It also allows the blessing that is John Piper to be extended to many more people.

Problem? As with any larger church, the pastor cannot possibly shepherd the individuals in the flock. Most attempt to do it through small groups. Personally, I think that leaves a lot to be desired and doesn't really accomplish the need for shepherding and community.

And yes...most of the church in America IS in abject poverty; thus the growth of those where the Word is preached with power and accuracy. I personally don't have a solution....

Charley

In regards to what Charley wrote under solution #1, about church plants...

I wonder if BBC has thought about anything similar to what you guys (Tim and David) have with the pastor's college, or something along those lines. You know, rather than wait for Jimmy Joe to graduate from seminary and apply for a job, help rise up men from their congregation. (surely out of thousands of people there have to be men that perhaps feel led in that way, and have that gifting.) Just my thoughts, at least.

Yes...The Bethlehem Institute (TBI).

http://www.hopeingod.org/BethlehemInstitute.aspx

Not a true "pastor's college" though....

Another Minnesotan here with friends at Bethlehem; as Charley notes, they are trying hard to avoid the "cult of personality" that built, and then nearly destroyed, Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle. They train laymen in theology, try to plant churches, and more.

That said, it's still big. Probably part of the problem is that "all the stories are true" about us here in Minnesota. We like big (Mall/Zoo of America), and we aren't terribly good at interpersonal intimacy. So the perceived difference between big & small churches isn't as much as elsewhere.

On the other hand, the Twin Cities has a bunch of other good Baptist churches and Central Seminary to boot. Piper is greatly respected, but Bethlehem Baptist isn't the only game in town for good theology.

And a union? No way. The big weakness of big churches is that the pastor can't possibly minister to ten thousand people at once. Even Minnesotans can sometimes figure that out. :^)

Charley,

I'm aware of the problems and solutions.

I respect John Piper and Mark Driscoll.

This is wrong. Maybe sometime I'll write more on it, but I do appreciate your defense and agree that the problem of the poverty of the church today is real.

Finally, all of us must be on guard against blogs, podcasts, books, conferences, and our own non-profit religious organizations serving to build our own kingdom rather than the Bride of Christ. Very good things can be done for sinful reasons and my friends Piper and Driscoll are not immune to this temptation. No one is immune.

Godly men will appreciate warnings and scrutiny, fully understanding that the Holy Spirit spoke of our hearts when He warned against the heart being "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?"

Charley,

Thank you for your comments.

I am not willing to accept that option #1 can't work. Fully orthodox and capable Bible teachers can be found and called to such a ministry. If people simply prefer the way that John Piper teaches - they need to be taught to resist the cultural conditioning that treats the local church like a commercial product that can be consumed in accordance with one's preferences.

David

David, it's fine to say people "need to be taught to resist the cultural conditioning that treats the local church like a commercial product that can be consumed in accordance with one's preferences," but how long will THAT take? In the meantime, people are flooding into overcrowded churches.

What IS a church to do when more people regularly show up than the building can accommodate?

I suppose BBC (and others "enjoying" overwhelming growth) could plant other churches then restrict attendance to those who live in each church's targeted zip codes, checking drivers' licenses at the doors, but I suspect the outrage it'd cause would dwarf the hub-bub over the video screens.

It's easy to say "That's wrong", Tim, but don't you think it should be followed by a constructive suggestion as what should be done, instead? When Paul told someone to stop doing something wrong, he also advised them as to what they *should* do instead.

So. Piper and Driscoll are wrong. Fine. What *should* they have done? Close the doors after a certain number of people arrive? Keep building larger sanctuaries to accommodate the increasing crowds? Plant churches and until people learn what David says they should be taught, attempt to make them attend their "assigned" church? Other?

Am i the only one who sees the tinges of the Old School/New School debate over the authority and position of local church pastors as opposed to the "professional" preachers who would come in and lead the people to listen to them and think poorly of their (sometimes mediocre) pastors? Call me a one-trick pony, but i can't help but see those issues involved in the OS/NS debate in lots of modern debates and issues.

"Come in"?

HOW long has Piper been pastoring at Bethlehem Baptist, exactly?

Come to that, Driscoll didn't start Mars Hill last month.

BTW, just to clarify, even in the revival period, the revival preachers didn't always explicitly disparaged local pastors, but their preaching often produced effect. Whether the intention is that or not, the result is the same.

Are you seriously comparing two men who have pastored churches for years to fly-by-night revival preachers?

Anne,

I am very fond of Piper and yet I agree with Tim and David. With no disparagement to Piper (I don't see him at all like a revivalist, and any such analogy breaks down very quickly), I think the solution is to be intentional.

Being committed to spreading the Kingdom and the influence of a ministry through church planting can only work if it is intentional. It takes more than "pastor's colleges" - as helpful as that can be. (Lest anyone think here that I denigrate the work of my friends Tim and David, I have tried to help them in any way I could.) You need to train and equip (both theologically and missionally) elders and families. A church plant that starts from a "parachute drop" of a minister has far less chance of success than one in which a church intentionally breaks off 12 families in a geographic area and then calls a man to labor there.

At least, that is the model I have for ministry in Houston, one of the largest and fastest growing cities in the US. We are about to build our first building, and are already thinking strategically (and practically) about where to plant our first church.

Okay, so say the phone rings and it's either Piper or Driscoll or another pastor who has too many people showing up on Sunday.

Remember...there are too many people NOW. Tomorrow.

What do you tell them? What practical, useful, here's-a-list advice would you have for them?

I may be misunderstanding things here - but if church plants aren't working for Bethlehem because people weren't willing to leave the "sound teaching", ISTM you already do have a personality cult there.

Kamilla

(a native Minnesotan with strong family ties to the oldest BGC church in the country!)

So Piper needs to go, is that correct?

It's just so danged easy to criticize others, but finding plausible, workable, usable solutions to an existing situation isn't quite as simple.

So far there's a whole lot of criticism but precious little help for Piper or Driscoll were either to read the thread. "You should have done THIS in the first place" isn't much use.

Anne, in case you haven't figured it out, Tim doesn't have a solution. There is no "solution" because there's not a problem. God is blessing Piper and Driscoll and they're handling it the best way they know how. God is not blessing Tim's ministry with new people, and instead of trying to figure out why that is, he takes the easy route, and says that Piper and Driscoll are in sin ("this is wrong"). It's not real hard to figure out what's going on here.

First, I cannot believe Tim's so petty (having konwn him and his brother for years), and two, numbers are not necessarily a sign of blessing (think Osteen, Warren, and Hybels), and lack of numbers are not a sign of, I dunno...divine disapproval. Just as the LORD has made all sorts of people, He assembles various sizes and types of churches, don't you think?

And from what I've read, Piper and Driscoll really are not keen on the video-feed-to-alleviate-overcrowding idea, only I daresay if they've got the fire marshal showing up, counting noses and looking hacked, they figure they'd better do *something* PDQ.

One can certainly understand their reluctance to turn people away, whether first time visitors or those who live in the area of a church plant, and only being human (Christ Chapel has three services, down from four, which Dr. Kitchens said was definitely one too many for him and the other pastors to manage), adding service after service isn't a viable option either.

Only way I can think of to make the latter option work out would be to have two pastors preaching on the same text or topic at different services. Not being a pastor, though, I'm not sure how well it'd work to have differing messages delivered on the same subject on the same day.

I dunno. It's a conundrum. Christ Chapel has around 2500 (total) at three services each Sunday, yet doesn't advertise in any way, barring a sign providing the times of the services. Dr. Kitchens doesn't write books or anything, so he doesn't get publicity like that. People just...keep coming, bringing family, friends and coworkers.

Hard to say CCBC is doing anything WRONG, per se, and I daresay the same's true of Piper's and Driscoll's churches.

They just growed. ;^)

Anne wrote:

"Only way I can think of to make the latter option work out would be to have two pastors preaching on the same text or topic at different services. Not being a pastor, though, I'm not sure how well it'd work to have differing messages delivered on the same subject on the same day."

Not being a pastor, either, I've never understood this fascination with having the same man preach week in, week out. Why do we insist on this in our churches?

Kamilla

I don't know. Actually, Christ Chapel has vexed me a little by twice now sending my favorite preachers to plant churches (one in south Fort Worth, one in - BION - Michigan).

Now, you know what MIGHT help? You've given me "furiously to think", as Poirot was wont to say. ;^)

Couldn't churches who share the same foundational doctrinal viewpoint also share, i.e rotate, preachers on Sundays? It'd help keep personality cults from forming (though I'm not sure how often that actually happens; when Dr. Kitchens retires I don't expect it to make a difference to Christ Chapel), allow assemblies to benefit from a variety of pastoral views, and if several churches are hearing the same pastors preaching, though on varying schedules, it should help spread attendance numbers in an equitable manner.

That's really not a bad idea, Kamilla. Not bad at all. Good thought!

Anne, reading the Bayly brothers' blog hardly constitutes knowing them. This is sheer pettiness and jealousy on Tim's part, and it's obvious to any impartial observer.

Actually, I knew 'em before blogs even existed.

Scary, how many years they and I have been online!

After many years of interacting with Tim both on discussion lists and via email, I'm quite, quite certain he's neither of those things you said.

Just to clarify, I love Tim, John & Mark...

Personality cult... is this real? I'm not church history buff, but as far as I know every church has a both a birth and a death. In many cases, this corresponds to a man that God raises up. Paul keeps coming to mind and his remarks that God has given him grace. To each is given an amount of grace. (Romans 12:3, 1 Cor. 3:10, Ephesians 3:8, 4:7, 1 Peter 4:10)

Are there particular attractions to John or Tim or Mark? Yes, but for me it's that they all preach the Word. I love Mark's vision of our mission. I love Piper's passion for God's glory. I love Tim's stand against the breaches in the wall. And I need to hear from men such as these... apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph 4:12). Each are their own member, and we need to hear from them all.

"Are all apostles? Are all prophets?..." 1 Corinthians 12:29

And by hear from them all, I mean to say we need faithful apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in our local churches, each with their own grace.

So what's wrong with men of God with differing amounts of grace and different gifts sharing their messages virtually? Or, what I believe Tim is getting at, what's wrong with preaching aimed at America instead of a local congregation so that believers anywhere will ditch services and be "fed" in the comfort of their own homes? Hmm...

That's my attempt...

Leaving me with this question: would the apostle Paul preach via satellite? In my mind, every point has a counter-point, and there isn't a trump giving me an answer. Somehow, I think Tim's got on up his sleeve.

Either way, Tim, you can always count on my vote.

I have been under the preaching of Pastor Tim for five years. He knows me, he is my earthly shepherd at this time in my life and God is blessing his ministry (I'm living proof). If he was only a video screen to me, he would not have been able to help my husband and I stay on the road to purity during our engagement by inviting us in his home and giving us fatherly counsel.

I know that Pastor Tim is not above pettiness or jealousy, and I hope he repents of these sins if these are indeed his motivations for this post. But, despite whether or not Pastor Tim has sinned, I believe he has made a point that we should not simply dismiss because we feel we can read through the lines and accurately know his heart.

Anne,

Fancy this... we completely agree on something.

To all,

You know, it be real nice to tune into the blogosphere and go a whole week without reading some criticism of some other pastor or Christian. Honestly, what the heck are we doing to each other? Perhaps we should all start minding our own business a little better by focusing on how our local bodies can make a *positive* difference for Christ's glory in our families, communities, nations, and the rest of the whole world.

I'm not saying there is never a time for constructive criticism, but if we spent as much time loving our neighbors as we spend telling Piper and Driscoll (and everyone else we disagree with) how to do their God given jobs, then we'd be seeing radical change for the benefit of the kingdom. And with that said I can now see myself square in the mirror and I'm off to love my wife. Blessings.

There's always time for constructive criticism, ISTM, but rebuking someone for their attempt to solve a problem without offering an alternative solution is not now, nor ever has been, nor ever WILL be, "constructive" criticism.

And yes, actually, it IS a little unnerving that you and I agree, Andy. >;^>

Amen, Anne. There's nothing constructive about this post. It's simply jealous carping, accusing two very godly men of sin, completely without foundation, motivated only by envy. Andy has a good point. Go through the archives here and at the old blog, and you'll see that the Bayly's vision seems to be "what Reformed or evangelical minister can I badmouth and run down this week?"

Mike,

You've made your point. Let it go now.

In your three posts on this topic you've done nothing but criticize Tim (even though I think David wrote the post?) while saying nothing useful or constructive. Take a lesson from Andy and look in the mirror.

Woops. OK, I see now it was Tim who posted.

Welcome back, Tim!

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?

I suspect that most people are very happy to have no one but God know the state of their souls. Unfortunately what we hide from others we also bury to the point of denial in ourselves.

The better you know Tim (personally, not just by reading this blog), the better you understand that his God-given directive as a pastor is to know the sheep under his care. That is at the heart of his vision of pastoral ministry. Knowing the sheep under his care means necessarily that he not let them alone with the poison of sin but that he leads them to repentance as well as faith. A pastor who ministers by video screen will have a very difficult time with this.

If you are content to know someone by blog, video or book, the video pastor will do. But Bethlehem's specific problem aside, doesn't watching someone on a video screen necessarily destroy some important component of preaching? Shouldn't the ideal at least include the opportunity to see the faces and shake the hands of the people whose souls you are trying to catch? I think Piper would agree and this is a reason that, though Tim respects Piper a great deal, he posted this. It's not so much jealousy--as though job security were really at stake. It's the job description itself that we need to be concerned about here.

In other words, what would Richard Baxter think?

So what do I do with this post? I just make sure that what I do in the pulpit on Sunday morning cannot be replaced by an RC Sproul/John Piper/Apollos video. I apply the Scriptures to the people sitting there in front of me. They will be in my home and I in theirs. I go to their kids' ballgames and visit them in the hospital. So when I give encouragement it means something. And when I rebuke, they know I love them.

Alright, Andrew, yet again I inquire...

The fire marshal's glowering and threatening to do whatever it is fire marshals do when there are too many people in a room to meet the code.

Now what?

This happens EVERY week.

Now what?

Shut the doors when official maximum occupancy is reached, turning people away?

That's a viable option, mind. It's happened at Christ Chapel before. Happened to my family one Christmas Eve, AAMOF. Too many people...can't come in...sorry.

There's the fire marshal. There are the people. There is Driscoll or Piper, looking stressed and wondering what on EARTH to do, so you open your mouth to give advice and say....what?

Andrew doesn't have any answers. He's simply sticking up for Tim after you, I, and others have pointed out his sin. He claims Tim's concern is for the sheep in his congregation. Then why in the world did he write this post? When did Piper and Driscoll move to Bloomington and begin attending Tim's church? Tim reminds me of those church members who are constantly backbiting and gossiping, but would never admit it. They're only sharing "concerns" and "prayer requests".

BTW, Tim's big on telling people who comment negatively about third parties that they need to communicate directly with the person they're referring to. So Tim, tell us - how many times did you express your concerns to Pastor Pipe and Pastor Driscoll before taking your "concerns" to the world wide web?

In a perfect world, sermons in streaming video, podcasts, etc should be a SUPPLEMENT to involvement in the local church with a flesh-and-blood congregation and pastor. It should not be a replacement.

And that doesn't even get into the dangerous temptation to preach a "health and wealth" gospel to get more hits, viewers and downloads.

To be fair, there's nothing inherently amiss with pointing out that a video-fed assembly is not desirable, and discussing what should be done proactively to avoid such a situation even coming up. Perhaps churches should have contingency plans in place for if/when occupancy regularly reaches a certain percentage; that level of attendance would trigger an action plan designed to avoid overcrowding at the original facility.

But there should be either the recognition that IF the situation currently exists that has made video-fed assemblies appear necessary, THEN here's what action should be taken instead, or the recognition these are just men who put their pants on one leg at a time like everyone else, and are doing the best they can.

Some observations:

First, only raw nerves get such a reaction when you touch them. Why the intense defensiveness when Tim mentions these men and does anything to question them?

Second, I always chuckle a bit when men yell at others for yelling or criticize others for being critical.

Third, Piper and Driscoll may be doing the best thing they can at this moment. I am convinced that even if this is a stopgap measure, they should be looking for a way out. I suspect they are.

Fourth, I think all of this is a symptom of a problem that has been produced by our multimedia culture. We get very easily dissatisfied with the men whom God has given us as pastors because they can't possibly compare with the men we see and hear on the CDs and MP3s and podcasts and conferences. Maybe the biggest problem is that the men who serve us as pastors are sinners, and we are actually close enough to them to see their sins. We are not close enough to Piper and Driscoll and Sproul and Kennedy and Keller to see their sins, so we assume they don't have any. The result is that we have been well-trained to be discontented with "real" men as our pastors. We want virtual ones.

Sometimes it takes me a while, but I just noticed a typo in my first post on this thread - shouldbe BG"C" church (Piper's denomination), don't know who BGS could possibly be.

Kamilla

(walks away grumbling about her wild typing fingers. . .)

Stephen makes a very good point. I think he hit the nail on the head about people in smaller churches being close enough to see the sin of the local pastor. I know dissatisfaction is a sin I have had to repent of many times. I know how easily a cult of personality can form since I know that I have worshiped at its shrine far to many times. My current pastor is not the greatest preacher, his sermons can be long and drawn out and nearly put people to sleep. But they are always solidly Biblical and out of the pulpit our pastor is one of the greatest counselors I know.

As far as what men like Piper should do... He is in a tough situation. But here is one option:

If he believes that the situation is not healthy for a church then it is time to preach about it. Preach on what the church should look like and on peoples duty to local Churches. Then move towards church plants. If peoples hearts are convicted and they are committed to following where he leads through the Elders of a church then people should be willing to go to plant.