Is This a Church Plant?

During my lunch, I got on Twitter to see the latest updates on all the people I follow—many of whom I really don’t know. At the top of the Twitter feed was the following tweet:

PastorMark Mark Driscoll

Planning @MarsHillOC campus launch. Need facility in Costa Mesa, Irvine, Tustin, or Orange. If your church needs a pastor let me know

Since the tweet appeared to be cut off, I went to Driscoll’s Facebook page to see if there was more information. The status update read as follows:

Planning Mars Hill Church | Orange County campus launch. Need a facility in Costa Mesa, Irvine, Tustin, or Orange. If your church needs a pastor let me know. Denominations are welcome for partnership too.

I haven’t dealt with the multi-site church issue on my blog up to this point, and I really don’t have time to address it in this post. For a good discussion of that issue, I would suggest that you pick up Franchising McChurch by Thomas White and John Mark Yeats. In a nutshell, I don’t believe that a church with a “video pastor” streamed in from some location in another city, state, or even country really meets the expectations for the New Testament concept of a local body of believers gathering together to be discipled and to disciple others under the leadership of their pastor. Anyway, that is another discussion for another day.

What I want to address is the third sentence in the tweet/status update. Driscoll states, “If your church needs a pastor let me know.” In essence it seems that Driscoll is calling out to any pastor-less churches in Orange County, California so that Mars Hill can come in and take leadership of the church and essentially make Driscoll their pastor. I would like to give Driscoll the benefit of the doubt on this one, but I really don’t know any other way to take that statement.

Driscoll is not alone in this approach to “church planting.” There are several churches across Texas and the rest of the US of which I am aware that are basically doing the same thing. Some have even expanded to international locations. All of this begs the question: Is this a church plant?

When Paul planted churches in the book of Acts, he physically planted himself in a town or city and shared the gospel with the locals. As the number of new Christians grew, they would gather together for teaching and discipleship on a regular basis (usually on the first day of the week to commemorate Christ’s resurrection, but often throughout the week as well). Paul would spend a few weeks to a couple of years in a place. At his departure (and perhaps before), another person would step in as the pastor of the church and shepherd them to life in godliness.

Of course, Paul did not have the technological capabilities to stream himself into these churches live each Sunday. However, Paul did not seem in the least bit concerned that the pastor of a church he planted may not have his gift of eloquence. He did not seem concerned that the pastor did not have his years of training in the law under Gamaliel. His concern was that the pastor “be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church” (1 Tim 3:2–7).

Church planting is not taking on the congregation of a pastor-less church in order to be piped in by video to be the non-resident preacher. Church planting is actually investing your life in the lives of people through personal relationships. Therefore, this is not church planting. At best, it might be considered church revitalization. However, a church without a pastor needs a pastor, not a video sermon. Paul didn’t send weekly letters to all his church plants to be read to the congregation. Pastors taught the people in person.

Before closing, I will give one defense of what I have seen as the typical practice of Mars Hill. It appears that they generally place a “campus pastor” at the location to give some type of leadership, but the teaching comes from Driscoll. This model is better than some of the multi-site movements, but it still lacks in faithfulness to the biblical model of the church. Raise up men to become the pastor/elder/teacher for the church. Support these churches financially. Let them flourish in their own context. This is the biblical model.

3 comments

  1. Very good points. I have often wondered about the idea of multi-site churches and have been curious as to how it lines up with the biblical model of church plants, local churches, etc. From what I read in Driscoll’s Tweet, your assessment of his statement is dead on. Thanks for the insight.

  2. Pastor’s have a far more important role than just speaking from the pulpit. In the event of a temporary loss of a pastor, deacons and other senior membors are able to fill that roll. Even a sunday school teacher has the knowledge to give a sermon. There is no way a non-Resident can properly fill the roll of a pastor. I can see where outside sermons and bible teaching would be useful for widespread, isolated, families. As in various Alaskan locations. Much in the way of remote teaching for the education of children who live in these areas. But even then, the teachers that do that remote teaching fly out to all these isolated families and visit them in person on a quarterly basis. I can see where an external pastoral oversight might be needed by people to avoid the twisting and warping of biblical views that can happen in extreme isolation. But for a populated town, it is a rediculous idea.

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