Recently in a virtual roundtable, I was asked to share some personal lessons that I gleaned from a podcast generated by Christianity Today, whatever their true motives in producing what was a times inflammatory and edgy content, that has taken the ministry world by storm. While my ministry context in the rural midwest could not be more different from that of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church in Seattle, the convicting parallels have been uncanny and truly snuck up on me as I listened each week.
Here are some takeaways that I recently shared that are not meant “to pile on” as some others have unfortunately chosen to do, but to be personally processed and reflected upon where we each live and serve: (As my friend Aaron Carpenter who pastors in the Pacific Northwest just posted, “A critical mind and a critical spirit are two very different things.”)
I must be quicker to identify my own parallels with the motives and manifestations of narcissism in the primary leader than the cynical ex-follower or train-wreck gawker/outsider.
I hate to admit it, but it was several episodes in before this shift occurred. Yours truly began to see the anger, insecurity, and ambition that frequently lurks in my own heart all under the guise of “ministry.” What was most striking was the paranoia in associating the word “people” with “danger.” While the pastor of this large ministry viewed people as dangerous, it was actually the lack of transparency, accountability, and mutual love with people that led to the demise of Mars Hill and will do the same in mine…and yours. Lord, help us leaders to admit where our own hearts are prone to drift towards an inevitable narcissism that can only be regularly rooted out by open, frequent community with others in our local churches!
I will ultimately be evaluated in both history and eternity more by QUALITY and LONGEVITY than quantity and rapid expansion.
Even the casual listener quickly picks up on the fact that numbers was the end-all in this doomed church. These numerical metrics were exclusively used in evaluating the past, compensating for present issues, and charting the vision for the future. Church attendance and plants at the highest, fastest way possible were the only initiatives that pragmatically mattered. Books deals were signed and delivered on no matter how much plagiarism and shady promotion were required. Sadly, this church’s lead pastor was known to be willing to leave anyone behind that he had originally built the church with to go bigger and better. Father, help us to have the long view and “judge nothing before the time, until (You) come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise” (1 Co. 4:5).
I must avoid isolating pride at the expense of appreciating, learning from, and working with other ministers/ministries.
The church being discussed on this podcast was known for priding themselves on doing education, music, small groups, etc. “better than anyone else.” This led to isolation and autonomy that morphed into an ingrown culture that viewed everything and everyone else as competition instead of a potential partnership or collaboration. Several times, Driscoll is said to “suck all the oxygen out a room.” In other words, no one else’s teaching or perspective ultimately measured up to his. Spirit of God, help us to be open to counsel from and partnership with others that you have providentially put in our lives!
I must avoid making myself the HERO of every ministry story.
One of the most challenging aspects of this account was how the pastor became the central figure being featured and promoted. Everything rose, and therefore, would fall with him! When describing interventions with “demon trials” (folks supposedly oppressed by demons), the accounts by the pastor were less about the victim or even the Lord, and more about his own discernment and effect. The accounts of the origins of Mars Hill and other church planting initiatives left out all the other proper names of those who had helped making it inaccurately feel like a “one man show.” One the saddest statements by a former leader to the pastor was, “Jesus had gotten lost in your shadow.” Jesus, help us to never get in the way of your glory and power by taking ANY credit for what you are doing through us, our families, or our churches!
How I treat women will largely determine the RELATIONAL, FAMILY legacy of my leadership.
One of the most grieving aspects of the podcast was hearing how this rapidly-growing church was hurting women, whether intentionally or not. The frequent teaching in Mars Hill that “women need to be taken care of and protected” (not an unbiblical teaching in and of itself) came across in a way that was regularly demeaning and even controlling. Wives, no matter what, were also taught to be subject to the unilateral sexual needs and unrealistic fantasies of their husbands. Another glaring takeaway is the need to avoid what was an over-sexualized tone in the preaching and writing ministries of the church. The response of the gentler sex is, more times than not, an accurate barometer of where our ministry stands before the Lord. As one pastor recently shared with me, “You can judge a pastor by the look on his wife’s face when his name is brought up or he enters the room.” What look is on the face of the sincerely spiritual women in our lives when our name/church is brought up? Lord, help our homes and churches to be filled with girls and women who feel equally safe/treasured for who they are in Christ!
How I treat my subordinates, especially behind the scenes says more about my character in the long run than the public profile before any “fans” I impress.
It was so sad to hear the language, spirit, and bitterness of the former staff in this church. While obviously the other leaders share some culpability, the mistreatment of those working under/for the lead pastor is striking. This included disparity in lodging arrangements while traveling, overworking them without consideration for personal health, and subjecting them to the “constant whiplash of praise and criticism.” Especially telling was the “scorched earth policy” for the staff when they were either fired or left under duress. One description of final gathering of staff just before the collapse of Mars Hill was, “It was like sitting in a room of Vietnam vets with PTSD.” God, help us senior leaders and the cultures we create to never be the primary reason for a broken, burned out condition in other sincere, Christ-called leaders!
In 2 Peter 2:17, the Apostle describes unfaithful leaders as “wells without water.” As Helm puts it in his commentary on this phrase of Scripture, “They lowered their buckets into the wellspring of their own self-delusion and pulled it back up in the presence of the people. And when they poured it out before God’s thirsty flock, nothing except dry, gritty sand fell uselessly to the ground—no true refreshment and no soul satisfaction or invigorating relationship with God.” What a sad assessment of any man’s so-called ministry? In contrast, the faithful leader, the MORE you get to know them and the LONGER you are influenced by them, ought to exhibit MORE, NOT LESS REFRESHING DEPTH and DELIVERY. Here’s the conclusion : Who I truly am, as a local church pastor that is either faithful or unfaithful, is revealed more by those who are closest to me than the number of those who, at a distance, are impressed by me. May the Lord protect us from the FALL of Mars Hill by avoiding what gave RISE to Mars Hill, things that first rose up in the hearts of others with flesh just like ours.
1 Co 10:7-12 “Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.“
Very fascinating article. Thank you for taking the time to write it.
Written with Grace & Mercy in mind. No singleperson was singled outwhich is good. the piece including a prayer to keep me/usfrom falling in thevsame snare was great and shown humility was dynamite! Well written & articulated!