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Jedidiah Coppenger leads a Baptist21 panel at Southeastern Seminary with Danny Akin, Thabiti Anyabwile, Mark Dever, James MacDonald, Darrin Patrick, and Ben Mandrell (September 2011):

HT: Thabiti

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23 thoughts on “Discussion on Polity and Multi-Site”

  1. Great, apart from the bizarre loud breathing ten minutes in …!

    1. Bob says:

      Totally agree … find out who that breather brother is… and take the mike away.

    2. Jamie McBride says:

      It is Danny Akin. You can see him holding his mic to his mouth.

      1. P.D. Young says:

        and mickey d wonders why technology is resisted!

  2. Adam C says:

    Arg! I wish the one brother on the far left would take his microphone away from his face because I can hear his nose whistle the whole time and I can’t pay attention!

  3. Bob says:

    I feel a bit sorry for Jedidiah. He obviously wanted to move on from the “multi-site” issue, but it was clear that most of the others felt that the issue was unsettled. (which it remains)I am aware of the subsequent exchanges between MacDonald and Thabiti. I am assured that they can work it out as brothers in Christ.

    1. Jamie McBride says:

      I would be surprised if they can come to an agreement on the issue apart from agreeing to disagree.

  4. Owen says:

    Jed Coppenger=my nominee for moderator of the year. What a stud.

  5. Matt Waymeyer says:

    “We had a struggling, dying church that came to us with 35 people and said, ‘Help us—we’re dying.’ I can’t get there physically, so we put on a video screen in 2004, and [now] there’s 1400-1500 people going there every week. People are getting baptized; they have the Lord’s Table; they meet under eldership; they have church discipline—all the things that Mark would rightly insist upon from Scripture—and I really just don’t get what the chafe is.” (2:45-3:10)

    Are these 1400 new people converts or transfers from other churches? If they’re transfers, then perhaps the chafe comes from the pastor down the street who is faithfully preaching the Word and shepherding his little flock, but half the people leave the assembly because he simply can’t compete with the communication skills of the rock star pastor who was just beamed into town and can now be seen on a big screen near you.

    I’m not especially addressing the specific scenario described by James MacDonald—just using it to express a greater concern about this approach in general. It appears to feed the consumerism that is so rampant in the church today, and, in some cases, at the expense of faithful ministries that don’t have the polish and big name appeal of the celebrity preacher on the video screen.

    1. Gary says:

      Amen Matt!!

      1. Brad says:

        Matt, so what happens if the multi-site down the street is faithfully preaching the Word, and maybe not even just faithfully preaching the word, but living it as well? Are we to cry foul when people leave for the “rock star” pastor because we’ve become tone deaf, lazy and unwilling to try a new method of communication in order to serve and accommodate our congregation?

        What’s interesting is that we Reformers almost always default to the “Word isn’t being preached” card when we learn a new church has risen fast and is using the latest technology to spread the Word (expect for the Internet, I guess) – and we often do this all before we’ve even bothered to look into what that church actually teaches. Look no further than the “so-called” discernment bloggers treatment of men such as Tim Keller, John Piper and Mark Driscoll for a perfect example of how this often plays out in Reformed circles. In fact, the “discernment” blog style is one that is deeply embedded in a great deal of Reformed preaching today that works to keep congregations sheltered and the Word from being accessible and preached.

        And maybe it’s because the Word is being lived out down the street, or that people are looking elsewhere because it isn’t being lived in their existing congregation, that the guy down the street sees the increase. But what’s wrong with that if the Word is being preached? Whatever happened to an attitude of “He must increase, but I must decrease?” Are we really embracing God’s sovereignty here?

        So I don’t think this issue is as simplistic as you make it seem. There are obviously “rock star” pastors and abuses galore here, but I certainly see an issue with how the layman is often treated should he desire to search for a new church home – particularly when he decides to reject a dead church that mouths the Gospel, yet has grown apathetic to his spiritual needs that are best met through the actual practice of what’s being preached. Matt, all this is to say, that I get your concerns. But I’m growing unsympathetic when a complaint about the Gospel not being preached is the first thing we reach for when discussing the “hot, new church plant” that’s quickly risen to numbers far greater than ours.

        1. Matt Waymeyer says:

          Brad, what you’re describing is a completely different scenario than what I have in mind, so perhaps we agree more than you think. You seem to be thinking of people leaving a dead church which isn’t living the Word and which simply mouths the Gospel while growing apathetic to the spiritual needs of the people (and then on top that, mistreats people when they begin to look for a biblical alternative). Not at all what I had in mind. You also seem to think that I am accusing the multi-site church of not preaching the Gospel. Also not what I had in mind.

          I’m thinking of a scenario in which both churches are preaching and living the Gospel, but people leave the small church that they are supposedly committed to simply because their current preacher can’t compete with the communication skills of the new video preacher down the street. My concern isn’t for the small-church preacher of lesser skills and how “his numbers” are doing—my concern is for people who have lost sight of what it means to be committed to a local body of believers because they’ve gotten caught up in a consumerism that leads them to look for the next best thing, even it means leaving an assembly that needs them and cares for them.

          1. Brad says:

            “I’m thinking of a scenario in which both churches are preaching and living the Gospel, but people leave the small church that they are supposedly committed to simply because their current preacher can’t compete with the communication skills of the new video preacher down the street.”

            Hi Matt,

            Yes, I was tracking with what you were saying, but took it a step further. I think more often than not, if a church (of any size) is preaching and living the Gospel then it has no worry of losing the faithful to the new video preacher down the street. So it wasn’t so much that I disagreed with what you wrote, but your premise going in…that there are faithful, small churches losing large numbers due to the communication skills or the popularity of the new preacher. I think small churches are losing them primarily for the reasons I mentioned earlier. But, yes, I’m very glad we largely agree here.

            1. “I think more often than not, if a church (of any size) is preaching and living the Gospel then it has no worry of losing the faithful to the new video preacher down the street.”

              Short of having real statistics, there are four scenarios here that involve any church with a dynamic preacher (D-church) taking people from any church with an average preacher (A-church):

              1) Less-than-faithful D-churches sucking people from less-than-faithful A-churches;

              2) Less-than-faithful D-churches sucking people from faithful A-churches;

              3) Faithful D-churches sucking people from less-than-faithful A-churches;

              4) Faithful D-churches sucking people from faithful A-churches;

              Observation 1: No church is perfect. Even what we would categorize “faithful” churches are less faithful than they ought to be.

              Observation 2: Unfaithful churches can be turned around with faithful people. The question at this point is whether it is worth it to turn a church around or to let it die and plant a faithful one in its place.

              Observation 3: It should never be a matter of pride to boast a congregation created by the exodus of other churches in the area whether they be faithful or not.

              Observation 4: It creates an air of disunity among the local churches when people flock in large numbers from local churches to a new church plant for any reason and can harm the local general witness.

              Observation 5: If the people doing the flocking are the less-than-faithful Christians, then what remains in a faithful A-church are the faithful and the D-churches are benefiting from the popularity among less-than-faithful Christians. That’s not good for the pastors of either church.

              In scenario 1, there’s just a bad witness all the way around since no church is behaving faithfully.

              In scenario 2: Perhaps the less-than-faithful D-churches are so because they took the less-than-faithful people from the A-churches and the D-pastor has succumbed to some measure of pride. Local faithful A-churches need to be careful how they treat the D-church so as to best manage their witness.

              In scenario 3: Probably the people leaving are the more faithful people. This has happened in my area. As some denominations have fallen to the wiles of liberal teaching, many disenfranchised faithful have left their churches in favor of more faithful churches. My church is the primary one where they have come, and I’m one of the ones who have left a dying church for a living one. It’s not ideal, but sometimes this is necessary.

              In scenario 4: There’s a combination of observations 1 and 4. The D-church needs to be careful how it proceeds with the people coming to it from faithful A-churches in the area. The D-church must also be prepared to see a large turnover from such fickle people and shouldn’t count the incoming tithes too quickly. The people came because of some little flaw in their old church and will hop on to another church over some little flaw they discover in their new church.

              My conclusion: Membership changes within the same area should never be taken lightly. Faithfulness to a local congregation is a sign of spiritual maturity trumped only by faithfulness to the gospel and tempered by the spiritual needs of family members. Planting a new church with an understanding that it will undermine the faithful witness of other local churches is reprehensible no matter how dynamic the pastor of the church plant is.

  6. JP says:

    I could not agree more!! Love him!! Jed that is.

  7. Daryl Little says:

    I can’t help but feel like James MacDonald somehow over-rates his gift or maybe over-rates the importance of giftedness to the church.

    That is to say, when we begin saying “this gift is worthy to speak to 27,000 people but that gift is only worthy to speak to 250 people”, isn’t that a problem?

    My sense is that, not on purpose, we often stress the value of the gift to grow the church, rather than stressing the work of God to grow the church.

    I didn’t think that James even understood the objections. He seemed confused about why Thabiti objected to such a huge, multi-site operation as a permanent solution.

  8. Blake says:

    with the multi-site issue. I think you just have a few guys more concerned with scripture regulating our church practices (Dever, Thabiti) , and other guys (MacDonald) that believe there is more freedom with how we reach the lost and it would be better to focus on outreach than regulation of our methods.

    1. Daryl Little says:

      I have a little difficulty thinking that the multi-site is really about outreach. I really think it’s about over blowing the value of “the gift”.

      As Thabiti said, we need to ask “How good is good enough?”

  9. Regarding pastoral development, there are godly men who would make good pastors sitting in the pews waiting for an opportunity and churches whose pastoral search committees can’t seem to lay their hands on a good pastor.

    Regarding rock-star-ism, it’s one thing to talk about the heart of the pastor against the pride of being a rock star and another to recognize that his giftedness propagates a form of celebrity worship. There’s a fine line between attracting people who are hungry for a godly message and attracting people who perceive that the style of preaching is popular and they want to be a part of the popular church.

    A truly great pastor will recognize this danger and do something about it. Jesus did this when people were following Him looking for the next miraculous meal. He thinned the crowds of the false disciples by preaching truth that was difficult for them to hear. That’s a tough pattern for any pastor to follow.

    1. Matt Jacobs says:

      Dear Jim Pemberton:

      Thank you so much for your very thoughtful and very well-written post. You articulated what was sloshing around in my own head, but I just couldn’t pull together. Your post will help me to think this through more deeply and provide a better articulation of my own thoughts to others.

      Thank you, brother!

      Matt Jacobs

  10. Jordan says:

    Mike Horton has some great thoughts on the multi-site church movement over at the White Horse Inn Blog. Although it is overall a biblical defense of Reformed/Presbyterian polity (which I wholeheartedly agree with), his critiques of the movement are spot on, both scholarly and pastoral. Highly recommended.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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