It is no secret among those who know me well that my journey over the past several years has been influenced by Eugene Peterson's writings. I've been impacted in a manner that is essentially indescribable through a number of his books…in fact, there has not been another author over the past few years that has influenced my ideas and passion for spiritual formation/spiritual theology more than Peterson.
Well…I've been reading many blogs, articles and overhearing many conversations regarding Multi-Site/Video venue "Church". People I know have asked what I thought…I've been trying to be gracious with my answers…despite the tempted to be ungracious. So, I'll let something that I read in one of Peterson's 90's books, Under the Unpredictable Plant. The great thing about this quote is that it originates from the context of vocational "holiness"…it is not primarily a comment that originates from Dr. Peterson's "take" on praxis or ecclesiology or even methodology. It speaks to the heart of the issue…the leader's heart and spirit. One last thing before you read the quote – that is the crux of the matter for me…this multi-site/video venue issue is an issue of the heart…for why should any one, no matter how popular or how good of a communicator be doing things that at the root of the issue has to do with the "me". You discern after reading this…
"The reason we get restless…and want 'more of a challenge' or 'a larger field of opportunity has nothing to do with prophetic zeal or priestly devotion; it is the product of spiritual sin. The sin is generated by the virus of Gnosticism. Gnosticism is the ancient but persistently contemporary perversion of the gospel that is contemptuous of place and matter. It holds forth that salvation consists in having the right ideas, and the fancier the better. It is impatient with restrictions of place and time and embarrassed by the garbage and disorder of everyday living. It constructs a gospel that majors in fine feelings embellished by sayings of Jesus. Gnosticism is also impatient with slow-witted people and plodding companions and so always ends up being highly selective, appealing to an elite group of people who are 'spiritually deep' attuned to each other and quoting a cabal of experts. The gospel, on the other hand, is local intelligence, locally applied, and plunges with a great deal of zest into the flesh, into matter, into place – and accepts whoever happens to be on the premises as the people of God. One of the pastor's continuous tasks is to make sure that these conditions are honored – this place just as it is, these people in their everyday clothes, a 'particularizing love for local things, rising out of local knowledge and local alliance'." p. 130, Under the Unpredictable Plant
When I read those words, I said, "that's it". It is Gnosticism…separation of reality of God's giftedness revealed in a local context to be able to hold up a "higher intelligence and/or a higher appearance/show of giftedness". Multi-site/Video venues are simply that – a denial of the giftedness on the ground of the local to be able to appease the ego of those considering themselves universally gifted and excuse the responsibility/call of the those in our immediate community of relationships. It is much more uncomfortable to be able to deal with the sweat, mistakes, rambling, and bumblings of a local pastor/leader/teacher than to deal with the "pretty boy" on the screen. As long as we perceive that giftedness and the communication of the gospel's life/Kingdom implication is only in the hands of a select few, we are in trouble. And to be able to label it (or rather legitimize it) by calling it "apostolic", "efficient" or whatever, is imply to deny the reality of what it is – get to the bottom line, a leader/pastor doesn't want to give up their "audience" and wants to have a bigger and bigger perceived impact for no other reason that they can't admit that they have "issues"…deep issues that are difficult for anyone to admit. I believe Eugene is absolutely right – Gnosticism continues to wreck havoc on the praxis of the Church…as long as we hold up the "ideal" pastor/teacher as one who can best entertain, hold on to our waning attention span brains with pithy insights, and who we just "got to hear on Sunday mornings", we are in trouble. As long as I can deal with teaching/preaching on a screen it exempts me from dealing with a real person in a real community on the ground in an actual locale….that's too messy and unpredictable…all of us would rather have our preaching "on cue" because a real person might not be able to pull it off the way WE like. You see, that's the other side of the issue – as others have said, this whole issue is just another way that consumerism raises it's ugly head. Consumerism is Gnosticism on steroids…the application of stuff and the latest "cool thing" to replace the the depth of having to deal with the inadequacies of being human.
Oh well…my take? It's just the latest debate that is wasting our time…it is another practice that one day will be sifted through the wisdom of God…so I'm OK to let it be after this post…let the weeds grow among the wheat…I simply pray that the literal 1000's caught up in the throws of celebrity worship, consumerism, the fascination with the "mega", and a denial of what God can and will do in the crucible of real life when we give Him a chance won't be detracted to the point that they become another statistic of the disillusioned.