I thought I would pass on a very encouraging and refreshing post by Paul House professor of Divinity Old Testament at Beeson Theological Seminary (originally published for Colloquy, the magazine of the Association for Theological Education (Volume 18, Number 2 Spring 2010). I found the excerpt refreshing for maybe even more reasons than Dr. House intended. I saw the principle of what Dr. House was stressing in his call for personal ministry in the context of seminary in a more important context, namely the local church. This is not to undermine anything Dr. House pointed out in his article. If anything it extends the application of his perspectives further. His simple premise was that since ministry is so fundamentally personal, Beeson does not offer online degrees. Although he makes some qualifications where he admits the use of online resources for seminary students, he still sees the need to emphasize personal interaction. Dr. House writes:
“The Bible highlights face-to-face theological education. God sent his son, not just his word. Moses, Elijah, Huldah, Jesus, Barnabas, Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla mentored future servants of God. They did so face-to-face in community settings. They did so individually and in groups. They ate together. They prayed and worshipped God together. They suffered and shared together. They did use the medium of writing to advance their mission, but always to supplement synchronous education conducted in the same location as the learners. Jesus was able to send twelve disciples and then seventy disciples through such personal means. The early church multiplied disciples and ministers in this fashion.”
Dr. House is right, personal discipleship is what Christianity is all about. But the implications of this simple premise is should apply to the local church, God’s only true institution, with even greater relevance. The recent explosion in multi-site church models seems to fly directly in the face of this call to a more primitive and, more importantly, Biblical model of polity.
“This ancient pattern reflects ministry and human need. Ministers deal with people face-to-face, in community, and in real time relationships. The voice of the people’s shepherd, the touch of the deaconess’s hand, and the presence of God’s servants at crisis moments will last when all hard drives are discarded. Traditional personal programs sometimes fail. They often settle for less than their potential. We must strive harder to reach the biblical pattern, not seek a lower common denominator.”
What he decries in the seminary we should likewise strive against in the church. Instead of having the real pastor in person, many buildings across our nation and abroad are now filled with ecclesiastical hosts who facilitate the use of technology. This raises the concern, of which many good men have come to disagree, namely are multi-site churches biblical, unbiblical, or necessary, effective, and ultimately positive or negative? I personal argue against the use of multi-site models for the obvious reasons Dr. House has pointed about in his rationale for seminary level discipleship. The only difference in my opinion is that, in terms of the local church, the concern for personal, intimate, and community minded ministry should be multiplied tenfold. Jesus wanted to be with His people, when He could no longer be with His people He appointed under-shepherds who would be with His people in similar ways in which He was with His people. Paul was with his people too, and when he was absent from his people i.e. the churches, he stressed the desire for face-to-face ministry, “I long to see you…” (cf. Rom. 1.11-12). Paul taught Timothy to do the same and to perpetuate that model of ministry to other faithful men (2 Tim. 2.2). While multi-site models may be nifty, trendy and even “effective” for more people to virtually see the same person, the personal presence of the preacher trumps all of the above.
Emilio Ramos is the preaching pastor of Heritage Grace Community Church. Pastor Emilio is committed to the expository and exegetical teaching of the Word of God. Emilio is also the author of Convert, From Adam to Christ and the founder of redgracemedia.com- a media ministry devoted to the glory of God’s redemptive grace through Jesus Christ. He and his wife Trisha live in Dallas, TX.