Does Video preaching in a Multi-Site context threaten to Quench the Holy Spirit?
In their recent book, MultiChurch: Exploring the Future of MultiSite, Brad House and Gregg Allison address what they believe is the primary objection to multisite churches: video preaching. They list four criticisms in particular: (1) Video venues foster a cult of personality; (2) Video venues devalue the pulpit and the preaching of the Word; (3) Video venues neglect the care of the congregation; and (4) Video venues isolate the preacher from the congregation (p. 78).
It is not my purpose today to address these four points. My purpose is to mention a fifth point that may well be the most important objection to video preaching: the potential for quenching the Spirit.
One way that I believe the Holy Spirit may be quenched in the act of preaching is when we do so by means of either delayed or simulcast video in a multi-site context. Note well two words. First, I said he “may” be quenched, not that he necessarily always is. Second, I have in mind “video” preaching in a multi-site context. I’m not opposed to multi-site, but I do have reservations about video preaching. Why do I say this?
Consider the nature of multi-site video preaching. It typically occurs either as a simulcast in which the video feed is live to other, multiple locations, not only across a city geographically but also across the country. The other method is delayed video feed in which a message delivered live and in person at the main campus is then watched a week later (or several days later) at other campuses of the one church.
In either of these circumstances I fear the Spirit is quenched, but especially in those situations where the video recording is played a week late at other campuses.
Let me illustrate my point by describing for you what happened a while back at Bridgeway. One of my associate pastors was preaching for me that day, but I can honestly say that what happened to him has happened on numerous occasions to me as I have preached. About 30 minutes into his sermon it became almost tangibly evident that the Holy Spirit was moving powerfully on many of our people. You may ask, “How did you discern that?” It’s hard to describe until it actually happens to you. Then you know, trust me.
In any case, the preacher sensed this as well and felt it was important to pause in his sermon and take time to pray for people to be healed. He also issued a gospel appeal. The response was overwhelming. Numerous individuals rushed to the front and our prayer ministry team was there to pray for them. Others knelt in reverence and spiritual awe/fear. It was a precious and powerful moment. Many were greatly blessed and a few were truly healed.
Now, if we had been a multi-site church with video preaching at other locations, what should the pastor have done? How do you think he would have responded when he sensed this move of the Spirit? My guess is that he, together with most, if not all, pastors would have ignored what he sensed was the Spirit’s prompting, suppressed the undeniable urge to break off from the message, and simply continued the sermon as if nothing had happened. Why?
Try to envision how this undeniably powerful moment would have been captured and communicated via video to others in a different location where the same movement of the Spirit just as obviously was not happening. Or even worse, what would happen the following week as multiple locations are watching a video of something that happened the week before but wasn’t happening in their context. Now, this isn’t to say the Spirit couldn’t repeat himself in every service at all the other locations. But do we think he will? At best the people in the other locations might enjoy watching what was happening elsewhere, at a different time, and might even learn from it. But that’s not the point.
The point is that a preacher is likely to be less open to the spontaneous interruption of the Spirit if he knows that he is being video-taped and that it will be quite difficult, if not impossible, for others at a later time and in a different location to experience what the Spirit is doing in that moment. More than likely, he will ignore what he senses from the Spirit. And that, I suggest, is quenching the Spirit.
Now, some of you may push back and argue that the Holy Spirit would never interrupt a sermon that is rooted in the Bible. I’m not persuaded that is true. In fact, the word “interruption” may not be the most accurate term to describe what is happening. It may be that the Spirit is capitalizing in that moment on the truth of what is being preached and does so because he believes it is the most helpful and spiritually beneficial thing to make personal application in the immediate present. Most times what the Holy Spirit prompts me to do is simply apply in an immediate way what I’ve been preaching. People are alert and hungry and longing for the truth to be experienced in that moment.
But regardless of what you think about what the Spirit may or may not do, the inescapable fact, in my opinion, is that a preacher’s knowledge of how his sermon will later be viewed will almost invariably lead him to be less open to the possibility of a unique moment of spontaneous ministry by the Holy Spirit. It would be wonderful to think that the Spirit would choose to do the same thing in the other venues of a multi-site church, but I’m not convinced that is typically the case.
My point, then, is simply that video preaching in a multi-site context puts certain restrictions and limitations on what a preacher can do throughout the course of his message that is not the case if people are always hearing and watching him live in their physical presence. And that scenario strikes me as a clear case of quenching the Spirit.
Consider Charles Spurgeon’s attentiveness to the Spirit’s spontaneous interruption of his sermon with words of knowledge. Spurgeon himself tells of an incident in the middle of his sermon where he paused and pointed at a man whom he accused of taking an unjust profit on Sunday, of all days! The culprit later described the event to a friend:
“Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul'" (The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon [Curts & Jennings, 1899], II:226-27).
Spurgeon then adds this comment:
“I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, ‘Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.’ And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, ‘The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door’” (ibid.).
On another occasion, Spurgeon broke off his sermon and pointed at a young man, declaring: “Young man, those gloves you are wearing have not been paid for: you have stolen them from your employer” (Autobiography: The Full Harvest, 2:60). After the service the man brought the gloves to Spurgeon and asked that he not tell his mother, who would be heartbroken to discover that her son was a thief!
Would Spurgeon have been guilty of quenching the Spirit had he ignored this prompting and simply continued with is preaching? I think Spurgeon himself would have said Yes. Would the freedom to follow the spontaneous prompting of the Spirit been possible had Spurgeon been preaching in a multi-site church with video replay of his message in other locations? I think not.