A Young Pastor's Reflections on the Mars Hill Era

The recent resignation of Mark Driscoll from leadership at Mars Hill and the subsequent decision by the elders to disband the campuses and dissolve Mars Hill as an organization has launched a tidal wave of questions and critiques. I've been helped tremendously by Mark Driscoll's preaching and ministry. I'd even go so far as to say my passion for people meeting Jesus has only been enriched by Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll. The aftermath of the fallout has provided fertile ground for reflection and reminders of what's important in ministry. What follows is just a few current thoughts on ministry and leadership as I continue to think through my own ecclesiology.

Preaching boldly, living boldly and leading boldly must flow from loving boldly.

Most men in Seattle love Mark Driscoll for what he represents... rough edges, real talk, manliness and strength. We admire Mark for his boldness. However, ministry is not a calling of brutality and strength, it's a calling to meekness and shrewdness. Jesus' demonstration of this in his life and death is our example. Leading a church, staff, and elders must stem from a love for leading people and not just a drive for organizing people. Apparently, the church, staff, and elders at Mars Hill often felt manipulated, lied to, and pressured.

In my few years I've had the privilege of sitting down with some incredibly well-loved leaders and pastors. One constant lament I've heard from the  previous generation sounds like this:

Why is it that our largest churches today are led by the most brash and egotistical men?"

I'm inspired by the voices of the past generation who encourage us to lead differently. And I'm optimistic as I look around at the thousands of next generation leaders who are resolving to lead differently. There is a true resurgence in leadership driven by love, character and relationship... not by knowledge, results and employment.

If it falls apart without you, it was built around you. And you failed.

The question that most churches don't ever want to talk about is, "what happens if this guy fails, falls, resigns, or dies?" I imagine this question haunts elders and executive leaders every time a new campus is launched, new schools are started, and more books are published based upon one guy's leadership philosophy. It's as if we operate out of a disillusionment, as if "our situation is unique," "our guy has good fences," or "God will raise someone up," "we're too big to fail."

This is an area of church leadership around the country that stems from insecurity. One way you know you've discipled someone well is if they begin to do what you're doing, and do it even better than you. Insecure leaders don't disciple other men to lead beyond themselves. Insecure leaders are self-limiting forces in their organization, because they put a limit on the success of the people in the church. Working for an insecure leader is exhausting. Ministry under the direction of an insecure leader will always revolve around that leader looking good, having a wider audience, and watching attendance always go up.

I could be wrong, but it seems the true test of leadership isn't what you accomplish in your time in office, but what lives on after you and moves forward to change a community, nation, and world. I think of the local community pastors who serve in their church faithfully and never write a book, yet train up men every year and send them out to plant healthy and secure churches. By the end of their ministry, dozens of other faithful pastors have been trained, and have trained up even more pastors. A whole army of ministers is an incredible legacy I pray I might have one day.

Can we all agree that results in ministry usually come slowly? A secure leader builds the organization around a strong plurality of elders, equips and mentors the next generation of leadership, and seizes every opportunity to make sure Christ is the hero, not themselves. In that regard, their work will live long after they step out of leadership.

Multi-site is a short-sighted strategy if it doesn't anticipate eventual transition.

The seduction of a "wider audience" and having the resources to quickly, easily, and efficiently reach people has caused almost 5% of our churches in America to adopt this model, with almost 10% of church participants attending a multisite church. There are arguments on both sides. If Paul could livestream in the early church, would he do it? Probably. But I bet he would equip and train up young men to continue the work and transition sites to local, autonomous, independent churches.

Many have had their eye on The Village Church and the Denton transition. The strategy employed by The Village Church to leverage muli-site as a means to plant autonomous churches seems to have struck an sweet spot between being biblical and practical. Too many multi-site churches are multi-site because of the gifts of one particular man. Without enabling others to grow in leadership, preaching, and pastoring, every multi-site church without a transition strategy will face the same fate as Mars Hill. I pray every church considering adopting such a model would consider how long a campus will be dependent upon the central church, who will be placed in a position of leadership and authority, and how will the campus be led locally? Without these questions being answered and defended biblically, planting campuses will always be empire building.

So where does this bring me as a next generation leader?

I suppose a summary conviction cementing in my soul is this: The gospel is urgent, but the gospel is spread relationally. Leading without love will cause you to lose everything. Building legacy without the next generation of leadership will cause you to lose everything. Empires rise, and empires fall. Multi-site is a newer, sleeker way to build an empire rather than building a multi-acre fortress.

In the end, I'm interested in building God's Kingdom, not my brand's empire. May I be secure in the reality that the one King is on the one throne, and my reputation, accolades, and successes ought not detract me from worshipping Him and serving Him with a heart that makes Him famous. How amazing is it that through this collapse, God is picking up the pieces and starting new churches? He's a sovereign leader. He's our Sovereign Lord.