Yesterday, I covered three lessons that ought to be learned by those paying attention to the saga of Mars Hill Church.
What other lessons can be drawn from this amazing saga? What can be learned from the demise of MHCC?
Leaders must be deeply involved in the pastoral life of the church, no matter how large the church. The temptation of sarx in powerful leaders of large churches is to isolate themselves from day to day stuff in order to focus on preaching and vision. While leaders cannot be distracted from their personal responsibilities by a pile of details, isolation is deadly. If leaders cannot be pastors to every member of a large church, they must then compassionately invest in pastoral realities lest they lose touch with the church Jesus calls them to shepherd. This pastoral work should be with “report to” people as well as with some old and new members. Without these connections, leadership becomes abstract, policy driven, and in danger of becoming fear based and abusive as decisions become for the good of the organization instead of for the good of the people.
The elder board of a large church must keep close touch with staff morale. This often gets lost in defined channels of communication where top leaders never hear the hearts of lower level staff. Because staff are closest to the life of the church, they are most sensitive to the life of the church. While outsiders see the leader’s greatness, the staff often see a darker, more dysfunctional side of things. Leaders must not write off their discouragement or frustrations to Satan’s attack, or simply condemn unhappiness as bad attitudes. The board must remember that the staff/infra-structure is as important as the charismatic leader for the health and effectiveness of the organization, for effective sustainable ministry. To illustrate, isn’t the server at a fine restaurant at least as important as the executive chef and the CEO? When organizational culture begins to go sour, the staff become interchangeable tools for carrying out organizational goals. But especially in a church, staff must be always be valuable persons, whom leaders bless and serve, as well as being employees serving with performance metrics.
Sound theology, effective ministry, good teaching, and evangelism do not guarantee Christlike church life. They can never replace love and service, mutual submission and support. Leaders must always promote a climate of trust which can only occur where personal vulnerability and compassionate care are present. Trust is the willingness to risk being vulnerable based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another. In a climate of distrust, communication lines are sewer lines where comments are tainted by the sickness of the culture. But in a climate of trust, communication lines are power lines where even a harsh comment comes in the context of commitment. So instead of retaliating or isolating, the recipient goes graciously to the speaker to see what’s happening.
Beware the temptation to virtue. I think the temptation to virtue is much more dangerous than the temptation to vice. The Devil’s temptations of Jesus were temptations to strengths, not sinful passions. We think of leaders falling to temptation around money, sex, power, and information which are temptations to vice, to lustful passions, to sarx. Wise leaders build accountability provisions around these vices. But the temptations to misuse virtues often go completely unrecognized and therefore without protections of accountability. I think of many stories of leaders who ended up in sinful relationships – not because they were tempted to indulge sexual lusts but because virtues of pastoral helping were used beyond boundaries of godliness. Caring is expressed in a touch, then in touches, in holding . . . and misused virtue becomes devastating sin.
It takes a team to build something good and something bad. Even the most dynamic leader does not build a dysfunctional culture alone. Subordinates cooperate in building the culture which turns on them later. People often make the dynamic leader to BE the church rather than the servant of the church. When leaders buy into that lie, their identity becomes so intertwined with the church that all charges become personal attacks. They become an idol and the worship becomes idolatrous. A church culture based in anger and fear cannot produce the life of the Spirit.
Tomorrow: 6 Positive Lessons Learned from the Growth of Mars Hill Church
About Gerry Breshears
Dr. Breshears is a Professor of Systematic Theology and Chair of the Center for Biblical and Theological Studies at Western Seminary. In addition to his three decades of educational ministry at Western, Dr. Breshears has taught at numerous Bible colleges and seminaries around the world, such as Lebanon, Ukraine, Netherlands, Taiwan, Poland, Canada, and the Philippines. He has also been published in numerous magazines and scholarly journals, including the Journal of Psychology & Theology and Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. Dr. Breshears is also the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society and continues to serve on the regional executive committee of that organization. Dr. Breshears serves as a preaching elder at Grace Community Church. He and his wife, Sherry, have been married since 1968, have two sons, one daughter, and are enjoying their season of life as grandparents.