Thoughts on the Future of Mars Hill

My good friend Shane Hipps announced this past weekend that he will be leaving Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI. He explained the circumstances of his departure on his blog. First I’ll just say that Shane is a friend and so I don’t pretend to be an objective observer here. Secondly, I’d like to say that the sky is the limit for Shane. Wherever he ends up is irrelevant. He has a great deal to offer others and I’d bet the farm that will not change.

Third, what has gone on over the past year at Mars Hill illuminates an inherent tension that we all encounter- Change is difficult. Beginning with Rob Bell and continuing with the addition of Shane Hipps, Mars Hill has been a community led by a spirit of provocation, pushing boundaries, and asking questions that often lead to a profound disorientation of “what we know to be true.” The teaching ministry of Mars Hill has been the oil in the lamp of a global community of people who have rejected the status quo carried on by the rusty, inactive propositions of conventional Christian belief.

It’s no secret that while the teaching coming out of Mars Hill has had an immeasurable impact in the lives of many, the church’s organizational structure has not been smooth, to put it nicely. Staff turnover is a regular occurrence and there’s really no point in time where you could say they’ve found their institutional groove.

The reality is that provocation and evolution don’t play nicely with stability and organizational harmony. I encounter this very tension in the balance between art and business. While churches and rock bands are entirely difference fields, the tension is very much the same. The more you push boundaries, the more disgruntled folks you will encounter.

As a community led by a provocative spirit, Mars Hill has struggled organizationally and that’s shouldn’t be a big shock. It’s simply hasn’t been in it’s nature to be a consistent, well-oiled machine. But that’s forgivable in light of the impact the teaching has had for many. But maybe after the departure of Bell, this organization is looking to minimize the very spirit that birthed their community for the sake of efficiency and stability. How else do you explain the move by the church leadership to go from their previous structure of Rob Bell, along with Shane Hipps, leading the community and shaping the vision through their teaching to the placement of a full-time teaching pastor under the authority of an executive pastor? And what teaching pastor who delivers anywhere near the caliber of teaching that Mars Hill is used to will accept that role? I’m curios to see how it shakes out and I sincerely hope they stay true to the spirit of provocation that has blessed so many.

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Future of Mars Hill

  1. It’s an interesting tension you address here. I agree that it is the heart of this discussion. The question I’m left wondering is whether it is fine to settle on one side of the fence or whether we should strive to balance the two?

    For example, is it okay for a church to accept organizational weakness because of the strength of teaching? Conversely, could a healthy church accept weak teaching because of the strength of its organization? Or, should neither of these be a healthy option and every church should strive for balance?

  2. Jeremy,

    I think that’s for each community to sort out for themselves. My best advice is you dance with the one who brought you. You do your best to continue on in the spirit from which you came. If the assessment of the church leadership feels they need to change the DNA of the church to this degree, that’s their right but they risk disappointing many who are in the pews. In keeping with the same principle, Jimmy Eat World won’t be releasing a reggae album anytime soon.

  3. I’m a member there and we’ve all felt this tension. So many have been blessed and inspired by the teaching, no doubt about it. There are others who have felt hurt and left due to the disorganization in the past (though I don’t fall into that category). Anyway, Kent has been a mainstay since the early days of the church, and has contributed a lot to the provocative teachings in Mars’ history. It’s a tall task to ask for that level of teaching each and every week from a single person though. Rob did it in his early days and it wasn’t healthy for him.

    • Thanks for the input, Chris. I like Kent’s teaching so I think it’s a good choice. I’m just curious what happens when the rubber meets the road, when a message of Kent’s causes anxiety in the community, how the new church structure will handle that. Before, no one was telling Rob what to teach. He led the community through his teaching. Now, organizationally, that is not the case. It’s a risky gamble to chop the balls off the teaching ministry when it’s the reason so many have been drawn into the community.

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