I just finished listening to the widely popular podcast series, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, and wanted to share a few takeaways I had. I share these intentionally in a general way, to be beneficial whether you’ve listened to the series or not. Each point is followed by a Scripture that, I hope, shows God’s wisdom and goodness in contrast to human sin and folly.
(1) A greater awareness of the depth of hurt and confusion that can be caused by those in positions of spiritual authority. We are all capable of affecting others, in both helpful and hurtful ways (and as sinners, it’s always a mixture). But when those trusted to be examples of faith and discipleship are found to be frauds, or to be merely concerned with their own glory, it can cause deep hurt and confusion in those who looked up to them. And part of this confusion can be difficulty retaining the good and healthy elements, including good doctrine and teaching, that were associated with the hurt.
For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. –Titus 1:7-8
(2) What a fearful and weighty thing it is to be in a position of spiritual authority. Spiritual authority has its place, and even if there weren’t defined roles of authority (pastor, counselor, youth leader, etc.), we would still find people to look up to as spiritual role models. It seems we were created to need examples and leaders. But all those in such positions ought to have a healthy fear of their potential, for both good and ill. And, it seems, this fear should increase the greater the good that seems to be coming, for “pride goes before destruction” (Proverbs 16:18).
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. –James 3:1
(3) The culture (or character) of a church matters just as much as its teaching. Thankfully, God’s word is powerful and effective in itself, and will bear fruit even when proclaimed “out of selfish ambition, not sincerely” (Phil. 1:17). However, this is not an excuse to ignore our motives and heart and character. Scripture teaches us to recognize false prophets not just by the content of their message (though we should do that as well), but by their “fruits,” including their character (Mt. 7:16). A church with sound biblical teaching that lacks grace, humility, and love in its leadership, interactions, responses to sin and suffering, and priorities will do much harm, despite its teaching.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” –John 13:35
(4) Everyone needs accountability (but no accountability structure is foolproof). The deceptive and insidious nature of sin should humble all of us, and cause us to desire accountability within committed godly relationships. And it should be obvious that those in positions of spiritual leadership need this just as much as anyone else. One of my fears is that some people will hear the story of Mars Hill, a story, in part, about the results of lack of accountability at the top levels of leadership, and respond by withdrawing from accountability themselves. There are dangers both in trusting others too much AND in trusting ourselves too much.
…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. –Ephesians 5:21
(5) While Mars Hill’s story is a cautionary tale to all, there are churches everywhere telling a different and much more encouraging story. Some of the people that encourage me the most are long-time pastors of small churches. They have been laboring faithfully for decades. They are (mostly) content to continue on just as they have, with no grand ambitions of massive growth or fame or influence. Their congregations adore them, but don’t worship them. Sure, their churches have had tough times, including disagreements and factions. But the fruit of the church has been incredibly positive, life-giving and encouraging. But no podcast will likely ever be made to tell their story.
So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. –1 Corinthians 3:7-9