Imagine you’re trying out a new church this coming weekend. You find your seat just as the pastor opens with a word of prayer. After some worship songs, he returns to greet the new visitors, make some announcements, and pray over the offering.
After another song or two, you expect to see him step onto the stage to deliver his sermon, but he’s nowhere to be found. Instead, the lights dim and you’re transported via video to another church with another congregation, watching someone else preach the sermon. You won’t see the “pastor”—whose Sunday role seems to be little more than master of ceremonies—until he greets you at the door on your way out.
Such is life in a satellite church. And while the look and feel of the service can vary greatly, the end result is still the same—countless believers every Sunday sit under the teaching of pastors piped in and projected from a stage somewhere else.
The concept of a two-dimensional pastor probably sounds strange, even shocking, to some readers. But the practice has become increasingly common. Back in 2010, CNN reported on the rise of “virtual churches” estimating that “at least 3,000 churches nationwide use some variation of high-def video to spread their pastor’s Sunday morning sermons” to other satellite congregations. In the last six years, that number has exploded to over 8,000 churches.  http://leadnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/2014_LN_Generis_Multisite_Church_Scorecard_Report_v2.pdf And the juggernaut shows no sign of slowing down: 57 percent of all multi-site churches plan to launch a new satellite within the next twelve months.
John Blake, a CNN reporter, wanted to experience this phenomenon for himself, so he visited a satellite church in Texas, virtually pastored by Ed Young Jr.
Young is part of a new generation of pastors who can be in two places at one time. They are using technology—high-def videos, and even holograms—to beam their Sunday morning sermons to remote “satellite” churches that belong to their congregation.
Young, whose congregation has about 20,000 members spread across five churches, said his image is so lifelike that some visitors forget he's not there.
“It’s so real that people have come up after service to see me and [other] people are saying, ‘Dude, he is on video,’” he said.  http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/innovation/07/14/virtual.preaching/
Through the advent of multi-site churches, holographic pastors are conducting virtual relationships with vast congregations. And that has led to a marked redefinition of what a pastor is—what he does and where he leads. One pastor I know has re-branded himself as a “visionary architect.” That may sound laughably grandiose, but it does capture the essence of what pastoring means within the context of a multi-site megachurch.
Elevation Church in North Carolina is a prime example. It’s a huge modern church with an ever-expanding number of satellite campuses. Its pastor, Steven Furtick, sees his congregation not as a flock for him to care for, but rather as an army to support and defend his vision. In fact, that’s the foundational purpose of Elevation Church: “Elevation is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven. We will aggressively defend our unity and that vision.”  https://vimeo.com/34476218
That represents a deviation from how God’s Word describes the role of a pastor. Scripture paints vivid pictures of a pastor caring for a local gathering of God’s people in the same way that a shepherd cares for his sheep (Acts 20:28-31; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 5:2). It was modelled by Jesus (John 10:1–16), and He passed on the responsibility to His disciples (John 21:15–17).
But the intervening two thousand years of history and advancement have given some modern pastors the idea that it’s time to abandon the bucolic models of the New Testament, and find new patterns to define, inform, and animate the role of the pastor in today’s church.
Andy Stanley, who pastors the largest multi-site church in America, argues that shepherding is an irrelevant concept in modern society. During an interview with Christianity Today, he was asked, “Should we stop referring to pastors as ‘shepherds’?” Here’s how he responded:
Absolutely. That word needs to go away. Jesus talked about shepherds because there was one over there in a pasture he could point to. But to bring in that imagery today and say, “Pastor, you’re the shepherd of the flock,” no. I’ve never seen a flock. I’ve never spent five minutes with a shepherd. It was culturally relevant in the time of Jesus, but it’s not culturally relevant any more.  http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2007/may-online-only/cln70528.html
Stanley, along with many other megachurch pastors, prefers to take his cues from the business world:
One of the criticisms I get is “Your church is so corporate.” I read blogs all the time. Bloggers complain, “The pastor's like a CEO.” And I say, “OK, you’re right. Now, why is that a bad model?” A principle is a principle, and God created all the principles.
And what does he see as the key principle behind the CEO model of church government?
“Follow me.” Follow we never works. Ever. It’s “follow me.” God gives a man or a woman the gift of leadership. And any organization that has a point leader with accountability and freedom to use their gift will do well. . . .
The church wasn’t an organization in the first century. They weren’t writing checks or buying property. The church has matured and developed over the years. But for some reason the last thing to change is the structure of leadership. . . .
If Jesus were here today, would he talk about shepherds? No. He would point to something that we all know, and we’d say, “Oh yeah, I know what that is.” Jesus told Peter, the fisherman, to “feed my sheep,” but he didn’t say to the rest of them, “Go ye therefore into all the world and be shepherds and feed my sheep.” By the time of the Book of Acts, the shepherd model is gone.
Not all multi-site megachurch pastors would speak so frankly about the demise of shepherding or the church’s need to pattern itself after the corporate world. But Andy Stanley verbalizes what so many of them really think. And such deviation from the pastoral blueprint of church history warrants biblical scrutiny rather than blithe acceptance.
To that end, in the days ahead we will carefully examine what the Bible teaches about the pastor’s duties. Does Scripture provide a place for church leaders perched atop a corporate pyramid? Do shepherds belong in the fossil record? Do we really need new metaphors for church leadership in each successive historical era? Is the inspired Word of God out of date and filled with disposable metaphors? Do we need to find a way to breathe new life into this ancient text and make it more relevant and relatable to the modern church?
In short, the answer to all of those questions is a resounding “no.” But I believe you’ll find the long answer to be far more compelling, convicting, and instructive regarding the kind of pastoral oversight you should—and shouldn’t–place yourself under. Be sure to stay with us as we explore the pastor’s job description.
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