On Mars Hill, Christian Leadership, and the Importance of Returning to God’s Word
As I write this post, Christianity Today is in the middle of releasing a podcast featuring Mark Driscoll and the church he pastored years ago, Mars Hill. The podcast is fascinating—especially if you have encountered similar bouts of spiritual and/or emotional abuse in the church. Therefore, I use the word “fascinating” lightly because I know the reality of such abuse and its aftermath is actually a very heavy thing and can recall much hurt and sadness. But what I’m thinking about lately, pertaining to Christian leadership, is how we approach such examinations of Christian leadership. God’s Word is full of paradoxes, and I’ve become intrigued with the question: can we learn from the failures of man and love them in the process?
The following post is my attempt to unpack that question. It’s a cursory glance, as I know many words have been written on the topic and I could spend multiple posts reflecting on the issues at hand. To begin, I’m going to explain why I’m kicking off our new Membands blog by looking at the topic of Christian leadership. Next, I’ll touch on the Mars Hill situation and how it hits close to home for many Christians. Lastly, i’ll propose a new way forward—or at least an encouragement for anyone wrestling with frustrations about the state of the church in the west.
And if you want the TL;DR version (too long; don’t read), then consider this: follow Christ alone.
To Meditate on God’s Word
Let’s begin with a set of questions. Take these into account as you read the remainder of this post.
- How do you start your day? On your phone? Watching TV? Driving to Work? Etc.
- How many cumulative minutes/hours do you spend listening to music or podcasts a week?
- How many movie quotes can you quote in two minutes? (Maybe a fun experiment to try with a friend or significant other)
- What are you reading currently? What’s on your “Books to Read” list?
And one of my favorite questions:
- Who are the five people you spend the most time with in life?
That last question hearkens a fascinating proclamation: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I love thinking about who I spend time with, what our conversations consist of, and how those individuals make me better or worse.
To rattle off those questions is simply to get you thinking about what takes up most of your time and mental capacity. In other words, what’s rolling around in that beautiful mind of yours? None of the questions listed are meant to convict—a feeling many of us might experience when we get our “average screen time” report at the end of each week. Again, the set of questions is to simply jog our collective curiosity and wonder together: “What am I meditating on?”
“The purpose of meditation is to enable us to hear God more clearly. Meditation is listening, sensing, heeding the life and light of Christ. This comes right to the heart of our faith . . ."
I’m going to bookend this set of paragraphs with a wonderful quote from Richard Foster in his book, Celebration of Discipline.
This is the point in the post I’d like to address Membands and our journey. After all, you are reading this post on Membands.com, so what does this simple product line have to do with anything pertaining to Christian leadership?
The answer to that question is “A little” and “A lot” at the same time. Membands has a little to do with Christian leadership in that this product is merely a tool. In terms of product development, a set of silicone wristbands with a mnemonic device is nothing revolutionary. However, in terms of a device that might help any Christian in the areas of memory, meditation, and evangelism . . . Membands might have a lot to do with Christian leadership in the months and years ahead.
Those are the three areas Membands can help in: scripture memory, meditation, and evangelism. And, as of July 2021, those are the three values we will discuss in many posts to come on our new Shopify website—which we feel like is a big win after utilizing another great platform, Squarespace, over the past year.
In short, although “memorization” is a reason for our namesake—”Mem”bands—we have found it’s not our actual bread and butter. In fact, we would now say memorization is about 10% of what makes our product worthwhile. Not that scripture memorization itself isn’t important—rather, we recognize it’s what memorization empowers us to do which is all-important. So what about the other 90% of the product? To put it simply, we view meditation as 45% of the product and evangelism as 45%. Again, we will explore this breakdown in a different post at a different time. But for now, let’s round out the Foster quote and why meditation is so crucial as we follow Christ.
“ . . . The life that pleases God is not a set of religious duties; it is to hear His voice and obey His word. Meditation opens the door to this way of living.” —Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
Who do You “Follow”?
That’s the question of the day, is it not? We all have individuals we look to and follow. Because of social media, it’s easy to quantify how many individuals we might legitimately follow through any given technological platform. But we can all rattle off a few individuals, mentors, and entertainers we like to follow. Athletes, actors, musicians, pastors, authors, and other leaders/influencers in our respective communities.
To follow such individuals is not an inherently poor decision in itself. But if there’s anything to glean from a podcast like Christianity Today’s “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” it’s that man is broken. And whoever we follow in this life, while contributing greatly to our frame of mind and personal growth, is also liable to hurt us in the process.
Does this mean we should pump the breaks on who we give so much time and attention to? Yes and no.
It’s good to glean wisdom from others. It’s a good thing to, in the words of Max Anderson, “read widely and read wisely.” It’s beneficial to observe good art (music, paintings, theater, etc.) and share your personal experiences with others. But through those we follow, it’s worth remembering—daily—that man is fallible.
Many are captivated with the Mars Hill story, but that’s just one example. (The podcasts also examines the rise of mega churches, pastors, and others who all play a part in society’s fascination with the famous and grandiose). In a more secular sense, we idolize musicians and superstars. But we also have others in our circle, on more of a micro-level, that we are liable to idolize as well. It’s not just those we follow in People Magazine or Christianity Today who might receive too much of our time, attention, and energy.
It’s also possible to idolize friends or family members, and with that said . . . it is very possible to idolize material items such as money, substances, or even places on a map.
We all idolize. We all worship. And as a result, we all meditate on something each second of each minute of every hour of every day.
A Better Way Forward
Another important question to consider:
- Through what lens do you follow such individuals?
The heading before the last section posed the question, “Who do you follow?” And what followed might have sounded like an admonition to pump the brakes. To not follow whoever came to mind. To leave the way of the world and live in it but be not of it.
But what I’m about to say conveys the opposite.
Continue to follow whomever you will. Partake in conversations, read books, watch movies, listen to podcasts and sermons and music that you enjoy. All of said consumption is healthy, and a general pursuit of wisdom is even healthier. If there is a point to this post, it’s to consider what you’re meditating on, and to doubly consider through what lens you are thinking about such things.
Mark Driscoll is a Human Being
To lead with the example of Christianity Today’s new series might seem like I am in full step with the publication’s podcast—that Mark Driscoll made mistakes in ministry and many people got hurt in the process. Although it is true I agree and empathize with many of the anecdotes Mike Cosper and his team share, I also choose to listen through the lens of Psalm 139:14, that Mark Driscoll is fearfully and wonderfully made. That God loves him. That Mark Driscoll is a child of the God of the Universe.
In a similar way, God loves those deeply who have messed up in ministry, are messing up in ministry, and will mess up in ministry. The point is: it’s not our place to judge or place full hope in man.
If you are a follower of Christ, we have one job: to follow Christ.
Once we decide to meditate on things that are of Christ—God’s Word, his life, ministry, death, and resurrection—we might find that we’re less surprised when man rocks the boat or even lets us down in a profound manner.
When Jesus Christ hung on the cross at Golgotha, man let him down. Not the other way around. And because he died and rose from the dead, we now have an opportunity to pursue a relationship with a man who walked this earth.
Jesus acquired fame through lowly means. But the only reason we are still talking about him today is because he spent years—millennia even—in the presence of God. And if Jesus changed the world through prayer, meditation, and loving his neighbor well while here on earth, we might do good to do the same.