What is a church in Australia doing with a campus in London?

The campus pastors of Hillsong UK’s flagship Central London location announced their resignation this past weekend, an apparent sign of ongoing upheaval at the global evangelical network co-founded by Brian Houston


Reports Josh Shepherd on the Roys Report.  The report picks up on the way, as with a number of high profile ministries, Houston and Hillsong have been rocked by serious scandals.  However, I want to pick up on that one significant point, the description of Hillsong London as a location, as part of something called Hillsong UK and its leaders as “campus pastors.”

The arrival of “campus pastors” has resulted from the increasing prevalence of multi-site churches. Now, I personally don’t consider multi-site the ideal approach. However, I’m not dead set against churches using this model to create space for growth and discipleship and begin to plant. It’s the approach used by Redeemer in New York and our current church was part of a church that moved to multi-site in order to reach different parts of our city before evolving into a family of autonomous churches that continue to co-operate together.

The benefits of such an approach are that they allow for a period of messiness as new congregations get on their feet. It means that a group of believers can focus on spending time together for worship, prayer and teaching, whilst reaching out into a mission field without having to worry about a lot of the things that can easily crush a new church plant in terms of finances, infrastructure, staffing, etc.

Further, I believe in interdependence with autonomous churches with their own elders co-operating closely together. So, if that’s the direction of travel for multi-site, aiming to arrive at something we are enjoying now with churches that continue to relate together and share resources then I’m happy with that. In fact, I think that the model of a collective of small churches working together could be helpful in reaching some of our less reached urban contexts.

However, this feels like something different.  I cannot imagine a scenario where it is helpful to have an offshoot of a large church operating as a satellite thousands of miles away. This seems far more to do with building a brand than growing the kingdom.  Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the motives of our Hillsong friends are wrong. I have serious issues with aspects of their theology and practice but this doesn’t mean that there aren’t good intentions there and a desire to see people reached for Christ and on fire for God. Yet the outworking of the model has not been good.

So, the first problem with this model is that it focuses on the brand and the trademark.  Our intention is on the name “Hillsong” and this diverts our eyes away from Jesus.  Further, the whole point about a brand is that you replicate it because you associate the name, the people and the methods with success. The aim is to clone the franchise and repeat the achievement elsewhere.  This means that you are distracted away from Gospel methods as well as Gospel message.

Secondly, it builds a hierarchy.  If you are at an off-shoot site then your eyes and desires are drawn towards the mother-ship.  Everything else feels like second best.  It often means that accountability is directed towards the senior leaders of the mother-church rather than towards the local congregation.

Thirdly, if the campus relates primarily towards mother-church then that gets in the way of healthy relationships with other local churches.  The brand sees itself as self sufficient and not needing partnership or help from others outside of it.

If Hillsong is going to come through this in a healthy and holy way then it will take more than a change of personnel. One of the things they will need to do is to rediscover the concept of the local church.  This probably will mean that the brand name will have to die too. I look forward to hearing about a healthy gospel church in London, working with other London churches for the Gospel.

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