Rob Bell Leaves Mars Hill: Bad Idea?

When Rob Bell, a bestselling author and pastor of one of the most prominent churches in the country, decides to leave the pulpit, it’s big news. Bell’s most recent book, “Love Wins,” has sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and the suggestion in its pages that God’s salvation is universal hasn’t gone over well with some Christians.

Rob Bell

Though Bell has not been pushed out of Mars Hill, the combination of the controversy around his work and his individual success as a speaker and author cause the departure certainly have been contributing factors.

Megachurch pastors’ literary agent Rick Christian suggested that the headaches of leading such a large congregation are much easier to walk away from once a pastor has the means to support themselves in other ways.

The risk, as some others such as Saddleback Church

Rick Warren

Rick Warren have pointed out, is that such leaders no longer have a community to hold them accountable. Warren tweeted about Bell’s decision the same day Mars Hill made the decision public:

“Speaking tours feed the ego = All applause & no responsibility. It’s an unreal world. A church gives accountability & validity.”

As co-pastor of a church that my wife and I co-founded and as an author and speaker myself, I can see the appeal. The daily work of cultivating a church, serving the community’s needs, mitigating conflict, and attending to everything from broken pipes to broken hearts is hard work. and no matter how much praise and attention you get on the road, it’s easy to begin feeling like the folks in your home congregation take you for granted. Though this may be true, it may also be that they see past the public facade, and that their perception of you in fact is the healthier one.

That said, I always get an ego boost out of flying across the country, getting taken out to dinner, speaking to hundreds and selling out of a table of books. And sometimes it makes it that much harder to come back on Sunday and attend to the seemingly more mundane tasks of leading a study group or unclogging the toilet. It’s easy to start convincing yourself that the life on the road is more “real” than the one at home, and that, for some reason, you deserve better.

I’m not saying that Rob Bell has gone through this rationalization process in his own mind, but he certainly has faced the temptation. And though people can do very powerful, necessary ministry without leading a church, some concerns expressed about Bell’s risk of losing his grounding are warranted.

Maybe Rob Bell will find after a while that he longs for the rootedness of face-to-face ministry, even if it’s not as exciting or financially lucrative as writing and touring. Or perhaps God has other ideas. But on behalf of millions of people longing for more progressive, affirming Christian leaders to look to, let’s hope and pray that Bell doesn’t become the latest in a long and storied list of preachers who start believing their own hype.

____________________

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. Christian is the creator and editor of “Banned Questions About The Bible” and “Banned Questions About Jesus.” He has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called “PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.” For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • http://www.knightopia.com Steve Knight

    Good thoughts, Christian. As I understand it, Bell will be announcing more details of his plans for next steps to the folks at Mars Hill Church during tomorrow’s church services. So I think we should wait and see what he’s planning to do before we come to any conclusions  ;-)

    • http://www.facebook.com/christianpiatt Christian Piatt

      Got to be hard to have every move you make be under such intense scrutiny. 

      • Zach

        Especially when you have people writing speculative, ill-informed gibberish like this blog post.  

    • Jeff C Straka

      This seems vaguely familiar…kind like judging Bell’s book before reading it? ;)

  • http://twitter.com/deannaogle Deanna Ogle

    I appreciate your point. Sometimes it’s just easier to quit.

    However, I feel like your point is undermining ministries that don’t take place in a church. 

    Being on the road sharing his message means he has no accountability? The criticism over his last book was not solely from his congregation. It’s not like they were the only people who had an issue with it. No accountability? Tell that to all the outraged evangelicals all over the country and John Piper.  The idea that people are isolated and will always be met with unconditional praise no matter what they say just because they are on the road is absolutely ridiculous, especially in the world we have today where there will be tweets, videos, bloggers, and word-of-mouth spreading from those events.

    I’m sure he’s tired. He’s been through a rough six months. But just to assume he’s taking the easy way out is a little bit presumptuous at this point. All we have is a press release. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/christianpiatt Christian Piatt

      In my personal experience writing and speaking on the road, though there are critics everywhere, it is nothing like the flesh-and-blood accountability of a faith community you face every week. It’s just not the same. And when traveling and speaking, if you encounter detractors you can move on and find a supportive group. With church you have to work through the conflict.

      I’m not saying this is what Rob Bell is doing but the risk is real and precedent with other pastors suggests this is possible cause for concern. As Steve says, let’s see what he says to Mars Hill about further plans.

      • Cshanks7

        If Joesph smith had left the mormon church willing ,I would feel no different that rob bell leaving.AndRick Warren would bring on a celebration for the sake of those who are mislead /under feed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jacksonbaer Jackson Baer

    Blessings to Rob and to the people at Mars
    Hill. I enjoy his books and nooma videos. He’s a gifted communicator and
    I pray God uses him to spread the Good News to many people.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjRcO1Sm0HU

  • Jeff C Straka

    I think it’s time some people rethink what “community” is. Perhaps Bell doesn’t need your concept of what that community is. How can a mega church, Saddleback OR Mars Hill give a pastor any intimate community? Can no one see that a smaller “house church” community might be where Bell, and perhaps MANY of us who have left the institutional church, get our “rootedness”?

    • http://www.facebook.com/christianpiatt Christian Piatt

      Certainly. It’s possible. My wife and I started a house church. Though I’m not personally drawn to mega-churches, I have seen some do well with small community cells within the larger body. So I think we have to be careful assuming big churches can’t possibly offer intimacy.

      If Rob finds rootedness otherwise, great. My concern, as hopefully clearly stated in the article, is if he went the way of other well known preachers who have left churches to speak and write, and lose a sense of intimate, personal accountability.

      Of course that can be found outside of church. But too often it seems “celebrity” preachers don’t find this once they leave their home church. A cautionary word rather than a preemptive judgment.

    • http://www.facebook.com/christianpiatt Christian Piatt

      Certainly. It’s possible. My wife and I started a house church. Though I’m not personally drawn to mega-churches, I have seen some do well with small community cells within the larger body. So I think we have to be careful assuming big churches can’t possibly offer intimacy.

      If Rob finds rootedness otherwise, great. My concern, as hopefully clearly stated in the article, is if he went the way of other well known preachers who have left churches to speak and write, and lose a sense of intimate, personal accountability.

      Of course that can be found outside of church. But too often it seems “celebrity” preachers don’t find this once they leave their home church. A cautionary word rather than a preemptive judgment.

    • Mruspm

      GOOD POINT:  However, with all our modern day ‘stuff’, we can have that intimacy in big settings and responsibilities…. I mean we know Christ talked to 5000+ at various times in his 30 yrs on Earth, and that was over 2000 yrs ago. He used water to broadcast and echo, no mics back then.  Rethink Jeff, I have learned to do that with an open mind, no your facts, wrestle with them, and you may get a chance to do what Jesus did, teach others with Love, Tolerance (he didn’t always like people), and selflessness…… I have Hope for you.   Chris S

      • Mruspm

        I’ve always thought that little ‘churches’ duplicate efforts, overhead etc, and could be a great witness to cross the man-made-denominational barriers and join together in these little-efforts….. but who the heck am I, another aged man, thinking….again… Chris S

  • Sharon

    Not sure I can give too much credibility to someone whose “Reverand” wife violates 1 Timothy 2:11-14.

  • Mruspm

    Rob Bell inspired me greatly, I loved his challenged to the evangelical literal, but he became his own type of ‘doctrinal person’………. he is good, but nothing more then all the literalist we have had to deal with….. get real Rob… go back to the real Founding Fathers, and then lets preach……… go back to Piatt lake and think about it….

  • Nick Adams

    I will confess a bias here: I am a fan of Rob Bell – I felt the publication of his book ‘love wins’ was a particularly brave thing to do knowing that it would create a good deal of heat and criticism. Indeed the vitriol from some of his evangelical peers was particularly nasty with tags like ‘arogant’, ‘heretic’ and ‘apostate’ being casually bandied about. This surely has something to do with the decision to leave Mars Hill. However, the question remains; was he pushed out of Mars Hill or did he go freely, feeling that God was calling him elsewhere?. Until we know the circumastances of Rob’s departure, I don’t think Rick Warren or anyone for that matter should judge.


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