A Multi-Site Alternative?

First, a bit of background to my idea.

Megachurches have  lots of resources and manpower at their disposal, but they often promote geographic dislocation. People have to travel to the central location to get those resources.  Smaller parish churches avoid this problem by being closer to home and more rooted. But they’re smaller and have correspondingly fewer resources.  I don’t think we need to make bad guys out of one of these two models, though it’s unfortunate we have to pick. So are there ways around the dichotomy?

I think we should take a page from rural youth ministry practice. If you’ve ever lived in a rural area, you’ve probably encountered the phenomenon of churches sharing a youth minister. Three congregations barely have enough to pay a pastor, but they have youth hanging who need attention. So they share the costs and services of having a youth pastor with three or four like-minded area churches. And this increases the critical mass of the youth group as a bonus. I think it’s a brilliant solution to their problem.

Why can’t we use that same model for almost all staff? That would alleviate the dichotomy between high power megachurches and lower resourced parish churches. Share a family pastor, a small group director, an adult education pastor (my idea for that…), a youth pastor, share everything you possibly can. It’s church “in the cloud”…(cliche, I know). To start a new location, you just need someone to preach there. Everything else is “in the cloud”.

So, you’ve got two questions:

  1. Don’t multisite churches already do that?, and
  2. But how are you going to have good preaching at so many locations? Isn’t that always the draw of the megachurch in the first place?

Multisites as I know them still center around a central megachurch. The most resources are there and, importantly, the preaching usually comes from there too. So if we are going to really overcome the kind of dislocation which the contemporary megachurch model offers, even using the model I just described, we have to find a way to develop a higher number of consistently competent preachers.

So how do we do that? Here’s one idea.

The College of Preachers

Imagine there are 5 churches sharing resources as I described above. All the locations or sites need is someone to do their preaching and teaching. Well, what if those 5 people got together at the beginning of the week and divided up the research (though not the individual writing) part of preparation. It’d be a kind of college of preachers who could help each other.

What might that look like? Well, you could identify different areas of strength and divide them up between the people in the group. Everybody does their part of the research on Tuesday. Then they meet early Wednesday morning. The more people you have in the group, the more topics you could have covered, and the less each person would have to do. Maybe have one person each on these topics.

  1. Linguistic research (10 min)
  2. Historical background research (10 min)
  3. Commentaries surveyed (10 min)
  4. Outlines and emphases used by the greats (10 min)
  5. Articles and contemporary literature surveyed (total of 10 min, everyone contributes)
  6. Group discussion of major things to keep in mind (10 min)

If you did something like this, each person makes a 5 minute presentation of what they found most important, with 5 minutes of Q&A per section, you’d have a one-hour meeting. Then they still have the whole week to write and practice.

A Real Life Example

I actually saw something like this at work in seminary. A pastor in the area had the genius idea of drawing on the seminary students in his congregation. He usually tackled sticky subjects in the summers anyway, so we’d all get together with him on a Tuesday or Wednesday, while he was still preparing, to offer insights from our different areas of expertise. What an awesome benefit for him. And I always thought to myself that preparing a message was so much more enjoyable when done in camaraderie with others like that, with people thinking about the same text.

This “college of preachers” could also provide a good way to get input from peers and constantly be improving. Let’s say there are 5 guys in the group. Each one of them could be “on” every 5th week, meaning that his sermon would be complimented and critiqued by the group. They would always have input coming in about their messages, even when they’re out of school, so that they wouldn’t settle into bad habits. What makes this great is: it keeps getting better the more people you have. If you have 10 parishes in the organization, that’s 10 peoples’ input and expertise. And it’s 10 people off of whom you can bounce ideas and ask questions.

Thoughts? Thanks for reading.

The Fundamental Freedom

I’ve just started reading through this forum put on by the ERLC and was struck by this quote from Rick Warren:

The first phrase of the first sentence of the first amendment of the Constitution is freedom of religion. In our constitution, freedom of religion comes before freedom of the press. It comes before freedom of speech. It comes before freedom to assemble. It comes before the right to bear arms. Why? Because if I don’t have the freedom to believe and practice my beliefs, I don’t need the freedom of press. If I don’t have the freedom of conscience to live as I believe God is telling me to live, then I don’t need freedom to assemble. If I don’t have the freedom to think and believe and act on those beliefs, I don’t need freedom of speech or freedom of the press or even any of these other freedoms. This is America’s first freedom because it is fundamental. Now, if the Constitution is redefined, which is what is happening today, to be only about freedom of worship, then that means you don’t have the freedom to actually practice your belief, and we are seeing that today.

A bit later, addressing the issue of civil liberties vs. liberties of conscience:

I stand in 100% solidarity with the Catholic Bishops Conference saying you have a right to not offer contraceptives. It’s not like they are illegal. You can get them anywhere; they are even free, so why would you force somebody who has a conviction against it to sell it. But it’s not illegal. For instance if they made a law that said every Jewish deli in Manhattan now has to sell pork, I would be down there with that Rabbi protesting because he has a…pork is not illegal. You can get it anywhere, okay, so why are you forcing a guy who says it’s immoral for him to do it? For instance, Muslims don’t drink any alcohol. If they made a law that said Muslims must now sell alcohol at all of their restaurants, I’m going to be there with the Muslim helping that guy because if it is them today, it is us tomorrow. So that’s an important thing to realize we are really in this together.


Website Refresh

I’m currently working on overhauling some things about my site, and on the off chance that you happen to be visiting it this week, you’ll probably find some stuff missing. The videos aren’t showing up at the moment and I still have to fix the formatting on the contact page. I still can’t decide exactly how I want the blog page to look, even though I don’t use it often.

I’ve started using the Genesis framework as good starting point, and I designed the layout in the amazing application TypecastIt’s delivered with CloudFront, which I’m just starting to play around with.

Though it’s a bit cliche at the moment, I have taken a lot of stuff out, most notably here the post dates. When blogs have dates, new visitors feel like they are getting old information if nothing has been posted in a while. But that’s kind of silly. Most of the quotes and clips I share aren’t time-bound. No one comes here for their news. So I just left the posts without dates.

At any rate, “pardon our progress” and I should have it up and running fully in the next couple of days.

Theology Among Other Disciplines

I was incredibly intrigued by several articles written for a symposium for First Things from 2006, and thought I’d share these two quotes. The symposium centered on the idea of “Theology as Knowledge” and covered very interesting debates, but this note, mentioned only in passing by D.B. Hart, really struck me. It had to do with theology among other disciplines. Make sure to see the whole series for more.

Now, as it happens, theology is actually a pitilessly demanding discipline concerning an immense, profoundly sophisticated legacy of hermeneutics, dialectics, and logic…Even if one entirely avoids considering what metaphysical content one should attach to the word “God,” one can still plausibly argue that theology is no more lacking in a substantial field of inquiry than are history, philosophy, the study of literature, or any of the other genuinely respectable university disciplines.

And then this bit:

Moreover, theology requires far greater scholarly range. The properly trained Christian theologian should be a proficient linguist, with a mastery of several ancient and modern tongues, should have formation in the subtleties of the whole Christian dogmatic tradition, should possess a considerable knowledge of the liturgies, texts, and arguments produced in every period of the Church, should be a good historian, should have a thorough philosophical training, should possess considerable knowledge of the fine arts, should have an intelligent interest in such areas as law or economics, and so on.

This is not to say that one cannot practice theology without all these attainments, but such an education remains the scholarly ideal of the guild. And, as Stoner rightly notes, the absence or near-absence of theology from the general curriculum has done incalculable harm to students’ ability to understand their own fields. This is perhaps especially or at least most obviously true in the case of literary studies; but, in fact, it would be hard to name a discipline outside the hard sciences or mathematics that can be mastered adequately without some degree of theological literacy.

Assessing a Theological Foundation

There’s plenty of room and reason for having a diversity of opinion on theological issues. Yet there do seem to be a core set of ideas which determine if a person’s view of God can be reconciled with the Bible’s view of God. For anyone who thinks it’s important to have the same view of God as the Bible, these questions become especially important and helpful.

I’ve been thinking recently about what those very most important, essential questions are. Here’s what I came up with. I’ll include this in English and German for simplicity’s sake. Independent of the answers which one might think are correct, I think the questions themselves help us unearth the topics on which people will have irreconcilable differences.

  1. Do you think we have historically and epistemologically justifiable reasons to be convinced that Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the dead in the way that the event is recorded in the New Testament? Why?
  2. Do we have to have Jesus’ understanding of the Old Testament and why?
  3. The Gospel of John says “the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God.” On the basis of this idea, the authors of the New Testament seemed to see their own writings as immediately, inherently authoritative: because they recorded the God-man’s words. Do you take this view as well? Why?
  4. Can you name a passage in Scripture which is clearly erroneous but authoritative nonetheless? Why or how is that the case?
  5. There is a long-standing debate about biblical interpretation. Some say we should interpret the Bible the way we want our own writings to be interpreted: according to authorial intent, in a way which attempts to understand us the way we want to be understood. Other say that authorial intent is less helpful or important and that we should use the Bible as a source of vocabulary and metaphors in order to explain our own more contemporary philosophy. What are your thoughts about this debate?
  1. Glauben Sie, dass wir historisch und erkenntnistheoretisch berechtigt sind, überzeugt zu sein, dass Jesus von Nazareth körperlich von dem Tod auferstanden ist, wie dieses Ereignis in dem Neuen Testament beschrieben wird? Wenn ja, warum? Wenn nein, warum?
  2. Müssen wir Jesus Verständnis vom Alten Testament haben?
  3. In dem Johannes Evangelium steht: der, der von Gott gesandt ist, spricht Gottes Wort. Mit dem Anfangspunkt haben die ersten Jünger die neutestamentlichen Akten als sofort autoritativ gesehen: weil sie die Worte des menschgewordenen Gottes aufnahmen. Sind Sie auch dieser Überzeugung von den Aposteln? Warum?
  4. Können Sie einen Text in der Bibel nennen, der klar fehlerhaft ist der aber noch autoritativ ist? Wenn nein, wieso?
  5. Es gibt eine langjährige Debatte über Auslegungstheorie. Manche sagen, wir sollen die Autoren der Bibel auslegen, wie wir es gerne mit unseren eigenen Worten gerne hätten: dass Leute unsere Absichten achten und versuchen, uns so zu verstehen, wie wir verstanden werden möchten. Andere sagen, dass das weniger wichtig ist, und dass wir die Bibel einfach als Quelle von Metapher verstehen sollten, die wir gebrauchen können, um eigene oder zeitnähere Philosophien hervorzuheben. Wo stehen Sie zu dieser Debatte?

Confessions of a One-Night VIP

Here’s an excerpt from my most recent publication over at the Huffington Post. Click here to read the whole thing.

As I climbed in a cab at 3 a.m., two thoughts crossed my mind. The first, which I understood in a new way that night, was that every conversion is a miracle. Every conversion — whether of the famous actor inside, or the anonymous cab driver outside — follows a dramatic, heart-altering act of God. This is what gives us peace as we do the instrumental work of “reaching them.”

And secondly, I realized that I was thinking about these peoples’ conversion from the standpoint of their career preservation, which is a perspective which none of them would have were they truly converted. It was the perspective not of a lover of God and men, which I’m called to be, but of an elite-person-converter, a kind of career-focused person in my own right. And it struck me that no person, elite or otherwise, would ever be moved to seek God by seeing in me what he could just as easily have found in himself.