As I was serving on a panel last week at the Connect Conference in Nashville, the question from the crowd came up about satellite campuses. Lots of churches are doing it – creating satellite campuses and then projecting in a taped sermon from the pastor at the main campus. There are some huge advantages to doing church this way. Proponents would argue:
– You can reach a ton more people than you could otherwise.
– You have the ability to coordinate larger groups as they all learn the same thing.
– You can broadcast someone who is an exceedingly great communicator so that more people can benefit from the teaching.
But despite this reasoning, I’m not a fan. I’m not questioning the effectiveness of this approach; far from it. In fact, I would venture that this style of church may be the next evolution of denominations. It’s possible in 20 years, as the mainline denominations decline, a new group of denominations will emerge. They won’t be called Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian, but instead be the Acts 29 denomination, the Willow Creek Network, the Purpose Driven Model Churches, or the North Point Campuses.
Some of these networks have a great approach in my opinion, for what it’s worth. But the whole idea of having a virtual pastor still does not rest easy with me. I’ve got 2 main objections to it:
1. The virtual pastor prohibits people who have the gift of teaching from exercising what God has given them. With the rise of the virtual pastor, those who are gifted teachers have fewer and fewer avenues to use their gifts. Now those who like the virtual model would argue that even in that model, the pulpit is sometimes filled with a live person, someone actually from the congregation. Still, nothing replaces the week to week study and preparation from a person who knows the people they are speaking to.
2. I believe the most effective teaching ministry comes when the pastor/teacher is in daily relationship with the people under their care. In this way, the teacher truly knows the people, and, perhaps more importantly, the people know him. They know his family. They know his struggles and his weaknesses. He is more than a talking head or an incredible communicator – he’s a real person who needs them as much as they need him. The virtual pastor has none of these qualities, and ultimately, I believe it creates an even larger separation between the clergy and the laity.
So there you go. Again, it’s not a question of effectiveness, because the virtual model is effective. It’s a question of whether it’s right or not. Just because we can, does it mean we should? And wouldn’t a better model be one of actual church planting, where a mother church plants a daughter one and then releases it into the world instead of struggling to maintain a hold on it?