Have really been sinking my teeth into podcasting these past several years. On one Orthodox Christian podcast I listen to, I heard a review of another podcast that really piqued my interest in a deep and personal way. I recently finished this long form journalism project from Christianity Today entitled The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. Man, did it hit several nerves inside of me! First, it strikes me as an effort to talk about things in the modern Protestant Evangelical Church that most have never talked about, at least not publicly. This will be my attempt to blog about this seminal church planting movement started and hosted by my own Generation X.
As the spiritual son of not less than 15 different Christian traditions before becoming Orthodox Christian almost 30 years ago, I have been no stranger to the kinds of schism, heresy and poorly handled church discipline so deftly described in this podcast by host Mike Cosper. His particular focus is one megachurch that rose in the 90’s, reached its zenith in the early 21st century, and then crashed and burned as quickly as it rose in 2014. The podcast’s 18 very full episodes describe the hopeful beginning, the specific vision and mission of Mars Hill Church (MHC), the governing changes, and finally the toxic culture that lead to so many faithful Christians becoming suddenly shunned and orphaned by the community that had inspired and nourished them for so long.
SO much of my story was contained in this one though I was never a part of a church plant or megachurch. The fundamentalist church where I was raised shared the same structure of ecclesiastical authority as MHC. The pastor was the end all and be all, and because of the autonomy of each local church in that fellowship, it was very difficult to challenge his direction/authority. As long as he behaved as a man of God, the parish would thrive. But far too often, even the best men put in this kind of situation without any form of accountability go off the rails and take the souls of the faithful with them.
It is easy when one hears such atrocities committed in the name of God to blame the leaders. But when a system of church government develops that circumvents the proper conciliar authority of a body of elders and places one man in charge who is meant to be shielded and protected at all costs, the demise follows almost unavoidably. And the countless numbers of godly leaders who get thrown under the bus in the name of this godless system are a testimony that something else is at stake. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:2)
We all share a part in this dysfunction, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Let us mourn with our brothers and sisters left orphaned by a hopeful church community that lost its way. And pray especially for the people who stopped going to church altogether because of this trauma. For Our Lord is the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 good sheep in search of the one lost.