Reflections on the Christianity Today’s podcast series, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.”

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Reflections on Christianity Today’s Podcast, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.”

I have finished listening to all of the episodes to this point (including the bonus episode with Joshua Harris), and here are some of my takeaways.

1). Driscoll and the other leaders at Mars Hill were innovative and had a ton of great ideas they were able to implement to grow quickly as a church organization. However, with that rapid growth, came a lot of opportunities to abuse and spiritually manipulate people in the church. One of the comments that was constantly made was, “Look at the fruit.” There were a number of moments that showed a great bounty of spiritual fruit, but there was also a lot of rotten fruit that simply was ignored, because the “fruit” that was being looked at was numerical, then spiritual. It’s vitally important to not buy into the message that “Numerical growth = Spiritual growth.” The spirit may be growing, but it may not be holy.

2). Being a woman at Mars Hill was difficult. I understand that some religious groups/denominations have various views of women in ministry, gender roles, etc. When women are not allowed to work, because it would disqualify their spouse to be a leader in the church, that is toxic. When women have to stop what they are doing, because their spouses need to have their sexual needs taken care of, that is toxic. When a woman has to sit in a church service, and the minister talks about sex in a very pornographic way and proof-text the Bible to promote sex acts that a woman may be uncomfortable with, but has to perform because her husband request it of her and can now use the “Bible says/pastor says” card, that is toxic. Some notable quotes from former members was a woman, who praised this brash talk on gender roles and sex because it helped get her husband to “step up to the plate,” but then realized how toxic it because as the pendulum continued to swing too far. The other member (Jeff from 90lbs wuss), said that the teachings on sex in the church not only made his wife uncomfortable but that what was being communicated was “spiritual rape.”

3.) Transparency and accountability are vital to healthy church culture, and yet it is also the two things that continue to be thrown out the window in the guise of “protecting the integrity of the church.” Screw your false sense of integrity! It has nothing to do with integrity and everything to protect a brand. Out of all the times I have been a church member, consultant, and pastor, it is few and far between that I have seen leaders be humble and transparent with the church about sin, corruption, and other church issues. Transparency and accountability is a two-way street. In the case of Mars Hill, Driscoll needed to have accountability, and when there were by-law changes to give him more power and less accountability, it eventually lead to the fall of Mars Hill. On the same token, it is also important for governing boards and teams to be held accountable. I have witnessed and heard too many stories where a pastor was forced to resign, fired, or simply quit due to an overzealous, fruitless, fearful, power-hungry board who needed to protect their “assets” at the cost of destroying a minister and their family.

4.) The evangelical community needs to stop making celebrities out of ministers. The problem is two-fold. First, it puts an unrealistic amount of pressure on the pastor, regardless of the size of the church. They tend to focus more on performance than being transformed by the Holy Spirit. Second, it gives the leader a false sense of self and an overinflated ego, that gives him/her a “god-complex.” It leads to an abuse of power, and/or when there is a fallacy, it causes much damage across the church and community.

If you have not listened to “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill,” I would highly recommend it if you are interested in church dynamics and culture.

Dear Pastor, It is okay to mourn your church.

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man in blue and brown plaid dress shirt touching his hair

I had just finished a Zoom meeting with some area ministers.  The third Tuesday of every month is a time for us to gather over a meal and encourage each other in ministry.  As we were discussing some of the challenges in this new way of doing ministry.  As one pastor put so elegantly, “I’m finding out how much I am missing my congregation.”

Ministry is full of challenges.  I had heard on the pastor say that when he was in seminary, the professor proclaimed, “Ministry would be fun if there were no people.”  Before COVID-19, this statement would have gotten a few laughs and nods, but as the comment was said, there was no laughing, just a hollowness in our hearts and minds.  We may not miss the negativity, the gossip, the hurtful anonymous letters, and the personality conflicts.  But what we do miss, is the voice, eyes, touch, presence of an individual, even if that same individual has wronged you.

I have seen ministers who have defied government orders by still having services in their buildings.  I have seen pastors who have had criticism from the community, by doing a drive-in service; some even had had the police called on them.  Some pastors sit by the phone to receive updates from congregants who have been hospitalized while some preach a eulogy to a camera in an empty funeral home chapel, as no one has come out for services in fear of getting sick.

I get it.

I get that you love your church members

I get that you feel lost when you can not do a visitation, or go to the hospital, or preach a sermon in an empty sanctuary (or in your home)

I think of the parable of the lost sheep, except instead of one missing, its the whole flock that has been separated in separate areas while the shepherd is, for better or worst, trying to reach and feed the sheep under his/her care in new ways and, if we are being honest, you are completely lost.

So my suggestion to you, pastor, is to grieve.  Go somewhere and grieve this loss.  Go and grieve the simple handshakes, nudges, smiles, bump-ins, that most pastors take for granted.  Also, remember that your flock is not missing, they are just confined and they mourn too.  They miss you, and one day, they will be back and the church body will (hopefully) be stronger and united than ever, in the Name of Jesus Christ.

Suicide: The Silent Assassin

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Today, I write with a grieving heart.  Yesterday afternoon, a acting student of mine, wrote to me saying to pray for his family because his sister committed suicide in the morning.  As I read the words, there was a numbness that washed over me and pictures of his sister played in my head.  I see her laughing, smiling, and curly hair moving in the wind as she is shooting a scene in our silent movie.  I connected back saying i will lift his family up in prayer and gave him my number so he can reach me.  After that, i would examine each image in my mind, searching, hoping, that there was a clue that showed that this was going to happen; but i couldn’t find one.

Suicide is always a touchy subject.  We grieve when a beloved takes their life and we get angry when someone kills themselves after they killed a hand full of people.  Some people see it as cowardice and others see it as honorable.  What we do not seem to acknowledge is what is going on inside the person who is contemplating death.  Environment, culture, religion, social settings all factor in our view on the issue, that it is hard to get to the facts and find solutions before it is too late. It’s easy to be vocal when it is after the fact, but what happens before?  What steps can one take? can we do anything?

Here are some stats about adolescence and suicide.

  1. Suicide is ranked third as the leading cause of death among adolescents.
  2. Between 1952 and 1995, the rate of suicide among adolescents rose 300 percent.
  3. the average likelihood is that every year a teacher can expect at least one or two adolescents to contemplate of attempt suicide each year.
  4. A principle of a school can expect on average one complete suicide every five years.

Source information pulled from Crisis Intervention Strategies, Sixth Edition.

These numbers are staggering.  We can blame mental illness, but our culture still has an unhealthy relationship with the mental health institutions.  Plus some people are clear-cut case studies and others are not.

We can blame parents, schools, bullies, the justice system, etc. as the cause of suicide, but what about those who do not fit the mold?

That’s why I think suicide is a silent assassin because it can shock those who have connections with the departed, who see only the outside, while the inside is hidden.

So what can we do about it?

  1.  What i think is to have an atmosphere in one’s household of openness and honesty.  When a safe place is established in the home, you will find that adolescents will be more open to share about what they are experiencing.  The difficult part about this is adolescents are going through so many hormonal changes that they may have issues pointing at the source.  You may even have an adolescent be disrespectful or say hurtful things that can cause one’s walls to be built up.  But a discipline of openness and honesty will go along way to prevent suicide.
  2. Look for the smallest cues.  Sometimes people will play big triggers (talking about dying, joking about dying, being more secluded, rapid change in behavior, etc.) but sometimes the smallest cues can shine through, even if the person is trying desperately to hide their feelings.  As i searched through my memory banks, one particular incident came to mind.  The young woman was dancing in the dining hall working on something for the talent show.  It was really good what she was doing, however, she must not have notice that i was there.  I said that she was doing a great job and she told me no that it was stupid.  I proceed to challenger her a bit and told her that the worst critic is the one inside you head.  Everyone here is going to love and support you with what you perform.  But at the end of the day, she decided not to perform her piece.  Could i have done more?  Should i have continue to press the matter?  Did this “silent assassin,” set up home in her head already at this point?  I don’t know.  If you do notice any of the smallest cues, address them.  Do not think it is a “phase” or “hormonal.”
  3. Make sure you know your sources.  Find a good counselor.  If you can find one who specializes in crisis intervention and/or suicide, set up an appointment.  Do not let money be the fear that prevents someone for healing.  look for other sources like suicide hotlines, or any kind of online crisis centers.  Having those resources available is a small step that can have life long consequences.
  4. Support and love those who have loss on to suicide.  Lift them up with prayer, bring them meals, give them hugs, do their errands, whatever it takes, pour love into those who grieve.  Not only will the family be appreciative but it will implant the idea that they have a support system in place.

 

Sources:

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255
American Counseling Association: https://www.counseling.org/
American Association of Christian Counselors: http://www.aacc.net/