Rob Bell, celebrity pastors, and...a baby

Popular American pastor Rob Bell has preached his final sermon in advance of moving on to pursue other opportunities. You can read the transcript here. (h/t Kurt Willems)

Whether you like Rob Bell or not, there is no denying his departure from Mars Hill Bible Church will impact the mega church. Observing his transition, and reflecting on leadership transitions in the church in general, reminds me of just how much emphasis Christians put on good leadership. And while there is biblical basis for strong leadership, in a culture that highly values trained expertise, Christian leadership has become a sort-of subculture itself, separate from the church it’s supposed to serve.

As a result, churches can easily become dependant on their leader, not the fact that they are a dynamic group of Jesus-followers called to gather in life together regardless of who leads them (Acts 2:42). Like a celebrity-endorsed product, too often the church’s success depends on the pastor - the celebrity.

In his final address, Rob Bell calls out against this danger, offering an alternative vision for his church family:

when people ask 'what about mars hill?' or 'what's mars hill
going to do?' it's as if mars hill is a disembodied reality with a life of its own.
here's the twist: the church is not an inanimate, impersonal product. there is no 'mars hill' in theory.
there is no abstract, disembodied entity mars hill apart from the people in this room who ARE mars hill.
so when people say what's going to happen to mars hill? they're asking what's going to happen to you.
what are you going to do? how are you going to respond?
you are the answer,
because you are the church.
mars hill is not a product,
it is a gathering of people.

The cynic in me thinks Bell’s church will struggle in his departure. Whether he likes it or not, he is a celebrity leader to a lot people. But the optimist in me sees hope in Bell’s words - hope for the broader Christian church in general. The church is not a product, it is a gathering of people. As a pastor myself, this is an important reminder.
Such a message is especially relevant this time of year - a time of year when the Nativity story redefines the categories of leadership, blatantly opposing the celebrity pastor model.

A questionable couple. A dirty barn. Farm animals. Stench and loneliness intermingled in a picture of physical and social struggle. And then the leader comes. The Messiah, the Son of God, Immanuel. But he comes not in power but in weakness. A baby. This is the church’s model for leadership. This is God’s model of leadership - “servant...humble” (Phil 2:7-8).

What does the success of Mars Hill Bible Church depend on? What does the success of your church depend on? What does the success of the global church depend on?

The greatest leader to ever live - a leader who’s strength is genuine weakness.

Our leader is a baby.


Anonymous said...

Good reminder, DW! -- And congrats to you on one of your posts being a "top 10er" at CC.

David Warkentin said...

Hi Dora - thanks! And thanks for pointing out my mention over at CC. I hadn't noticed it yet!

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