I was linked to this post by my little hobbit friend David Rainer, so I’ve got to give him props. Satellite or mult-site churches are growing in popularity, and there is, in my estimation reason for concern. A blog by Thabiti Anyabwile pointedly addresses some of the primary concerns well here (http://purechurch.blogspot.com/2006/09/mcchurch-franchises-coming-soon.html). Thabiti’s troubles regarding the idolization of well-known pastors and the potential stumbling block of pride in spreading a particular church’s model for ministry are particularly insightful, but there is also a significant spiritual consideration for such “celebrity” pastors that must be addressed.

Consider Ed Young, Pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas who pastors over 18,000 individuals at the Grapevine campus, as well as over 5,000 more at several other satelite campuses, and whose church is planting another satelite church in Miami, Florida. Hebrews 13:17 issues this charge: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” How can Pastor Young faithfully be spiritually accountable for more than 23,000 individuals?

I realize that in this growing phenomenon of satelite churches that there are other pastors/elders in place to help bear the spiritual responsibility of the people. However, does a preaching/teaching pastor’s responsibility end with his ability to properly exposite the word of God and teach it to his flock? Furthermore, what kind of relationship between pastor and congregant is necessary for a pastor to be able to effectively “preach the word…reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching…” (2Tim 4:2)? And is this kind of relationship even possible through the medium of technology and sitting underneath the word via video screen?

I suppose that some detractors of my questions would argue that I am simply underestimating the power of the Word. Surely it will go forth and accomplish it’s purpose (Isaiah 55:11), regardless of the medium or messenger. This is not a truth that I would deny. However, is there not more to being a pastor and the guardian of people’s spiritual lives that preaching via video, internet or radio to a satelite congregation? Is there something more to Paul’s desire to visit and physically interact with all of his church plants in the New Testament than scratching an itch to travel?

There seem to be more questions than answers regarding multi-site churches, and in the end I can’t escape the suspicion that this has more to do with human pride and pragmatism than it does the Kingdom. At what point do we draw the line on church size, realizing that bigger isn’t always better, and it certainly makes it more difficult to stay healthy spiritually (the dynamic of more people and personalities equals more sin and opportunity for division)? At what point do we draw the line regarding the franchising of celebrity church pastors and take seriously the mandate to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph 4:12), realizing that doing so means that we are nurturing other believers to do what we might be able to do equally well as pastors?

In closing I have to agree with Thabiti. Satelite church franchising “runs the risk of confusing the messenger with the message and building a business empire upon them both.” May the Church not be found guilty of constructing her own Tower of Babel.