Over a decade ago now (and yes, I do feel old now that I can actually count in decades!), I attended a satellite church service, which was part of the Mars Hill Church. We sat in room that felt like a shoebox — theater-like, all facing the small stage in front and of course, the big screen. The music was live, and there was a campus pastor who coordinated worship and prayed, but when it came time to hear the word of God preached, all eyes were on the screen to hear a singular message broadcasted over multiple cities delivered by just one preacher. I wouldn’t say it was a bad church experience, but it was certainly an odd one, and one that made me wonder about the theology of a megachurch with one preacher.
The church certainly began with one teacher and preacher, so is it so wrong to stick with that model? But the thing is – the church may have began with Jesus, but even Jesus enlisted many more than 12 understudies to learn from him and carry his message throughout the world. And even Paul, the most prolific church planter of the first century, never envisioned being the sole preacher/teacher for the many churches he planted. Sure, he would write to them and circle back to check on them, but ministry continued on in his absence, lead by those in that region.
Still, the megachurch (one sermon for all) model surely maximizes resources, and seemingly allows those who are gifted at preaching to do their thing. Yet, we serve a God who loves to take square pegs and fit them into round holes, so to speak — a God who often picks the one who is least qualified for the job so that God will not be missed working through this person (recall David, Moses and almost anyone who did anything worth writing about in the Bible). If we only leave the preaching to the most gifted, are we really letting God choose who will bring the word of God to the people or letting someone else decide? Furthermore, just as we prefer many sources to only one in so many areas of our lives, why would learning about God be any different? Won’t we learn more by hearing about God from many different people rather than just a few? Won’t we be more likely to get a more complete and balanced view of who God is by hearing from lots of people who have been created in God’s image rather than just one?
I am unconvinced that hearing the word of God from someone on a video screen is necessarily any less Spirit-filled and from God than a live “performance,” but I am equally convinced that it makes no sense to limit those who deliver God’s Word, no matter how talented one preacher is. I love technology in church, but when it limits those participating in worship, it seems to detract from, rather than enhance the worship experience. So, while I don’t believe it is a bad thing for a church to grow to a large size, I do believe that if God is working that hard to grow the church, God is likely working just as hard to raise up new worship leaders, pastors, preachers and teachers for each new church that is planted. And, it seems wrong to limit the preaching of God’s Word to just one leader, when there are so many others that God could use.
In fact, I think it likely that the opposite of the megachurch model (when it comes to preaching) is what God had in mind all along for the church. And perhaps we can be a little more creative within the geographically-positioned, called, preacher-congregation model that we have adopted in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). A friend shared with me that a few times a year, she and the pastor of the church she grew up in switch places for a couple of Sundays. It started with just one Sunday, because her “home” church wanted to hear her preach, but she was having trouble working out the dates to get pulpit supply for her congregation. So, the pastor at her home church offered to preach at her church while she preached at his. She got a working-weekend home, and he got a working-weekend and an adventure in a place he had never been. And, both churches got to hear a different pastor bring the word of God to their congregation. I love this idea both theologically and “vacation-ally.” (Yes, I did just invent that word!) It’s a great way to let God use multiple people to share the Word, and can be an opportunity for travel and refreshment for the pastor (and family) at the same time (and no need for pulpit supply or time off). I’ve already talked to one of my pastor friends about church swapping (of course it would be approved by session first), and I hope to make it work in the future.
I know you are all wracking your brains to think of who you know in Hawaii, but remember – there’s really no budget for this … at least not yet. I’d be interested in feedback from other pastors on this idea. And, I’d love to hear more ideas for opportunities to include more people in our discovery of who God is, rather than narrowing the playing field that seems to happen in the megachurch-satellite model. I’m not sure if church swapping will take hold, but I am sure that God is always creating new modes for us to discover more about who God is.
JULIE RAFFETY serves as the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, New Jersey. Julie is a violinist, aspiring writer, snowboarder, runner, identical twin and crazy about popcorn.