Telecasting Church?

Among the many new movements within Christianity is the concept of telecasting church.  From Fellowship church in Texas to Mars Hill in Seattle, the concept is all the rage and very successful in creating church growth.  Successes aside, is it biblical?  Certainly people can use many different methods to get bodies in the seats, but it doesn’t follow that because an idea promotes growth that the method was intended by the early church fathers and more importantly intended by God.  Most obviously the Bible doesn’t address the use of the internet, video cameras and projectors for church.  However the bible does address the purpose of the church so instead of addressing the use of technology, we must address the attributes of the church and determine if telecasting a pastor hundreds of miles away meets the requirements set forth by Paul and others in the the New Testament.

My opinion is simple.  I don’t believe that telecasting is a biblical method of doing church.  I believe that this method follows a bishop model of church planting which is the same model of Rome and as such, I see it as adverse to the New Testament model of appointing local eldership in local churches.  Rome is not the only church the uses the Bishop model, many protestant church use this model as well and it can be seen as a major problem in the development of the local church.  Historically the Bishop model of church was developed after Christianity became legal and the local churches were given the mandate to organize under Constantine (Finally something attributed to Constantine that is actually true!).  The model used during this time was the same as the Roman government since Rome was obviously in charge.  We see the development of Bishops through the ancient world and these Bishops had control over an area or region of churches.  At Nicaea, for instance, one of the declarations made was that the Bishops of certain areas are to maintain control over their regions.  This was decided to limit the power of the Bishop of Rome (who became the Pope) but nonetheless, the decision removed the concept of local church government and made it a regional church government instead.  This method lead to many of the problems in the early church from the crusades to the inquisition to even the systematic slaughter of indigenous people during the spread of Christianity in the New World.  Without regional control of people it would have been impossible for these atrocities to occur since it takes power over large people groups to overpower others.  Had a biblical model of local eldership been employed the effectiveness of these movements would have been no more successful than the Westboro Baptist Church whose temper-tantrums make little difference to the church as a whole.  Simply put the bishop model of church is dangerous and unbiblical.  It is based on securer government not the bible.

PROBLEMS WITH THE BISHOP MODEL OF CHURCH PLANTING

The bishop model of church planting contains a single leader who controls many local churches.  The Bishop of Rome (Also known as the Pope), for instance, has sovereign control over churches in many different locations throughout the world (All Roman Catholic church to be precise).  Certainly Rome doesn’t use video conferencing for teaching but the control remains with the Head Bishop.  The Bishop appoints regional leadership, known as cardinals to rule over regions, local bishops over smaller regions and eventually priests to rule over a local church.  The Head Bishop (AKA the Pope) controls the messages delivered at the local level, any policy changes, and the theology of the Roman Catholic church.  For Roman Catholics they are at the mercy of one man who makes all the rules no matter where they are located. Comparing Rome with Mars Hill church in Seattle (Mark Driscoll’s church), who uses a telecasting model, we see a similar structure.  Mark Driscoll along with the elders in Seattle, maintaining control over the campuses.  Mark teaches at the local Mars Hill and the message is telecasted to the campuses.  The Bishop of Mars Hill appoints local leadership to take care of the needs of the local body (called campus pastors) but Seattle maintains control over the theology of the church, the messages and any changes in policy.  Mars Hill is a bishop model of church planting just as is Rome.

The problems with the bishop model are myriad but the most obvious is the lack of leadership at the local level.  Not to pick on Mars Hill too much, but Mars Hill is in Seattle and Seattle is a unique city with unique needs and using the same style of teaching in Twin Falls, Idaho as in Seattle is destined for failure.  Given the local campus pastor can do some things to mitigate any cultural differences,  but ultimately the Elders in Seattle can remove him from his position if he rocks the boat too much or questions any decision made by the Bishop and Cardinals (AKA Pastor and Elders).  Ultimately there is a lose of the sovereignty of the local church and the campus pastor takes on a role of a deacon – the handy man of the Bishop. In Mars Hill’s defense they have stayed in the Seattle area, but they are not required to do so.  There is no reason why they can’t plant a campus anywhere in the world and it is not hard to imagine that they will given their successes thus far.

In addition to the issues with lose of sovereignty is the lose of identity.  A telecasted pastor becomes a celebrity spreading his name and vision throughout the world.  Ed Young at Fellowship church for example is a national celebrity.  This is dangerous at best as Ed Young is a man and men are broken.  It is just a matter of time before he crashes and when – not if – he does this one man has the potential of taking down several churches affecting thousands of people. The Bishop model is only as strong as one man, a telecasted bishop is doing the work of many men (possibly thousands) and when the man crashes due to some secret sin, burn out or death (which happens to all of us) the church dies along with him.  Dependency on a single man to do the work of many does not develop a healthy church nor reduce the casualties of an inevitable crash.

Another issue with the bishop model is the inability of the community to develop a relationship with the pastor teacher. Many of these telecasted pastors have little if any relationship with the people they serve.  How can Ed Young pastor several thousand people in multiple locations throughout Texas?  I seriously doubt he knows or has relationships with even a fraction of the people in his church.  This is impossible in a mega church and even more impossible when the pastor is telecasted.  In addition, the telecasted pastor has little to no accountability to the campuses.  Church discipline is as important for the pastor as it is for the members yet the telecasted pastors is untouchable and unquestioned similar to what’s seen in a cooperation where the CEO sits in his corner office completely out of touch with the people he serves.  The membership should have the ability to speak into the lives of the pastor; it’s not a one way street.  I believe this lack of accountability helps to reinforce the “untouch-ablty” of the the pastor leading to a major crash over time.  This is not a problem isolated to a telecasted pastor it happens to many church controlled by the vision of a single man.

The telecasted bishop model also takes away the ability of the local church to reach the lost in their local communities.  In other words, where does the money go?  Does the giving of the local church go to support the local community or are the purse strings held by the Bishop?  Is not the primary reason for local giving to support the great commission within the local community?  Though we see some giving to other regions in the new testament, most of the giving was to feed the hungry and preach the gospel in the local community.  It seems to me that there could be a hole in the concept of campuses as at minimum it create the temptation of pooling all giving to the main church leaving the campuses with the inability to bless it’s community at the same level as the main church.  It also stands to reason that creating campus churches cost money and so I can’t imagine that a good sum of money is not going to the main church even if much is staying local. This is, of course, not isolated to telecasted church as it is the same problem with denominations where a great majority of money is sent to the denomination’s leaders like the SBC.

Lastly the bishop model and more specifically the telecasting model stifles the gifts of the spirit.  Instead of the elders and/or pastor training people with the gift of teaching and preaching, it subjugates them to the sidelines. What incentive does Mars Hill or Fellowship church have in the development of people?  Instead of training teachers, and building wisdom in others, the Bishop focuses on finding people with only priestly duties (Taking care of the spiritual needs of people and helping them through crisis).  If someone has the gift of teaching and preaching, they either are not able to use their gifts to the fullest extend since the position of preacher is filled or they leave the movement and seek employment elsewhere.  Driving people out of the local church and into the hands of other movements does nothing to build the health of the movement and so the movement becomes stale and ineffective over time.  Consider Mark Driscoll again.  Mark is going to get old as we all will and he will eventually take on the same role as Chuck Smith from Calvary Chapel.  Chuck is in his late eighties and has become incapable of reaching the youth of today and this has caused tension within Calvary over its eventual death as Chuck departs the earth.  Mars Hill church has a very relevant message for today but Mark, as he ages, will not be capable of relating to the next generation.  If he hasn’t spent time building up leaders who can take over as he becomes “irrelevant” his movement will die as well.  Not training up new leaders within their spiritual gifts leads inevitably to church death.

These are why I believe that the telecasting “bishop” model of church planting is not only unbiblical but not healthy.  This is why movements that try to use innovative models to improve inefficiencies at the expense of biblical teaching eventually die.  Ultimately God can use telecasting and definitely has, but I consider that Mars Hill and Fellowship church and many others who are using this method are not movements at all but one man who is using technology to spread his message.  Mark my words, the one man will eventually show his humanity and when he does the ultimate outcome is the death of the moment with no one in a position to take it over.   I would much rather see people with vision plant local churches with local elders that can reach the local culture.  These church like all will die as well but not at the expense and heartache of potentially thousands as other leaders are capable of stepping up and reaching the next generation.  God help me if a majority of church is relegated to a TV screen in a building!

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