Recently I've been listening to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, a cautionary podcast about the dangers of arrogance in Christian leadership. It’s a tale about what happens when skill exceeds character in ministry, a story about an amazing church becoming toxic.
The poscast, produced by Mike Cosper of Christianity Today, follows the trajectory of Mark Driscoll, a tremendously gifted speaker and visionary whose character flaws overwhelmed him and then destroyed his network of churches, many of which have reemerged with healthier leadership models.
Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned so far from this podcast.
Pastors need to be teachers and shepherds, not CEOS.
This is not to say that an effective pastor doesn’t need organizational skills and a compelling vision, but first and foremost pastors need to be teachers and shepherds. There are gifted pastors who have strong character, the ability to teach, a shepherd’s heart, and the skills of a CEO. Many such pastors build large churches that have far reaching influence for the Kingdom of Heaven. But other pastors are tremendously successful, not because they are wired to be pastors but because they are programmed to be CEOS. They succeed because they know how to articulate vision, sell products, and build organizations. These kinds of pastors often have seasons, sometimes very long seasons, of what appears to be very successful ministry. I have no doubt that things of great spiritual significance occur at their churches, but all too often they end in tragic meltdowns that bruise scores of their followers and tarnish the reputation of Christ.
Pastors need to be kind and gentle.
Driscoll was an amazing communicator, at times a great teacher, at times a tender shepherd, and at times a tyrant. There was an underlying meanness that couldn’t he couldn’t hold at bay. Scripture (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6- 9) says that they shouldn’t be quarrelsome, conceited, arrogant, given to violence, or quick-tempered. Conversely, Paul wrote that pastors needed to be gentle, temperate, patient, and models of self-control.
Pastors need accountability.
Good pastors are servants, not Kings. They serve rather than rule. Jesus told his disciples that whoever wanted to be great among them must become a servant. Servants don’t place themselves over others, rather they arrange themselves under others. In nearly every story like Discoll’s of spectacular collapses in ministry there is a history of a lack of accountability.
God doesn’t give up on people and I pray that God will act redemptively so that the skills of people like Driscoll and many others can once again be used to advance Christ’s kingdom and draw people to Jesus. I also pray for God’s protection in my own ministry because the sins that led to the downfall of others live in my heart as well.