One of the advantages of being a Country Parson that Tim Keller and I both failed to mention is the ability of rural ministers to worship with their congregations while leading in worship. This thought came to mind when reading the recent USA Today piece on the Rev. Keller and multi-site churches.
According to the story, the reporter, one church member
heard [Keller] preach at 10:30 a.m. on the Upper East Side. Now she has brought friends to hear him at the West Side 5 p.m. service. He briefly greets her, then slips into the service just before his sermon.
In 45 minutes, before the final hymn, Keller’s gone â€” off to deliver the same sermon, “The Gospel Changes Everything,” on the East Side.
Then, again, Keller, founder and senior pastor of Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, will dash back to West 79th Street for his fourth service of the day at three leased locations.
It’s not the traditional American mom-and-pop church, where the same pastor counsels parishioners, visits when they’re ill or marries or buries them.
Keller’s service-hopping â€” he usually preaches to three-fourths of the 5,500 people who attend Redeemer services â€” reflects a new model for worship spreading rapidly across the U.S. church landscape: multisite churches.
I know what follows may sound like criticism, and I know Keller has recently written on how to respond to criticism in a way that has attracted praise, but this story does raise a number of troubling questions.
The first, what does this multi-site performance say about worship and the sermon? I know one pastor in the Redeemer network who regularly complains about Presbyterian worship being logocentric. But what could be more logocentric than a pastor showing up to give his sermon, not having participated in the rest of the service? And isnâ€™t a tad logocentric for those attending these multi-site services to go mainly to hear the Big Kahuna preacher? Reformed worship regards the service as an organic whole, with prayer (in various forms), the word (in various forms), the offering (in one form), and the sacraments constituting the means why which God communes with his people. The sermon may be the main course in the meal of worship, but it is not the only one.
The second question goes to the point of this postâ€™s title: isnâ€™t a pastor worshiping with the congregation during a service? I know he is leading, and I also know â€“ having led worship, reluctantly (as a four office Presbyterian elder) â€“ that a person is thinking about leading worship in ways that are different from thinking about honoring and glorifying God. Still, doesnâ€™t a pastor need to confess sins, sing praise, hear the word as he reads it, and maybe even tithe (usually his wife has that covered)? But if the pastor only shows up for the â€œmain event,â€ doesnâ€™t this communicate that he is not part of the congregation, not part of the worshiping assembly, not in need of the same means by which the rest of the believers are receiving Godâ€™s grace and blessing? Or does urban ministry require a different kind of church?
Which means that the advantage of a mom-and-pop church, whether in the city, suburbs, or country, is that a pastor can worship God too along with the rest of the congregation.