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.