Fired for Attending a Rob Bell Conference, but then…

Yesterday I listened to Rob Bell’s sermon from two weeks ago called: “The Village Elder.”  He takes almost an hour to expound a robust theology of aging while remaining fresh and innovative for the kingdom.  I cannot recommend this particular sermon enough!

In this talk, Rob tells of a story from a year ago July (2009) when Mars Hill hosted: Poets, Prophets, and Preachers.  On the first day of the event, Rob was made aware of one of the attendees’ situation.  He was a pastor at a church about 8 hours away from Grand Rapids.  His phone had a message on it, so after one of the sessions he went to listen to it.  The call was from the Pastor that he answered to.  For attending the Rob Bell conference, and associating with Mars Hill, this pastor was fired.  There are several problems with this situation, for instance the reality that Rob is probably one of the most biblically sound preachers in America.  But, rather than go on a rant defending Rob, let me continue to tell the story.

During the last session of the conference, Rob shared what had happened with the other pastors at this preaching conference and called them to give an offering to help tide over the finances for this fired pastor for a few weeks.  When they had taken communion and given the offering, there were two big milk crates full of cash.  He literally walked out of the conference with a backpack full of cash!  These women and men who are mostly ministers, gave about $10,000 to support them!!!  Talk about kingdom!  But then…

This is the ACTUAL money that was given!

When the fired pastor went home, he had been scheduled to preach in church the following Sunday.  He had a team of friends who had helped him prepare a large prop for the sermon and had invested time into the message.  So they urged him to set up in his backyard with the prop and to preach the sermon anyway to some friends that Sunday at a BBQ.  Fifty people showed up!  So they asked if he would want to give them a sermon from the Bible the following week.  And at the second BBQ they had 300 people in his backyard!  Then they asked, can we come back again next week?  By week three, 1,000 people showed up!  The neighborhood was clogging up with cars and there was no room in the backyard, so a friend of his who works for the city opens up the nearby stadium so that they can have room for everyone.  After the first three weeks, it was clear that God was really up to something.  So they continued to meet each week in a rented building.  And within several months (not years), they had enough offering to purchase an abandoned opera house to meet in.  But then…

Rob had lunch with this fired pastor a couple of months ago.  He wanted advice on how to process what God had been doing since the conference, which was only one year ago.  At this lunch, this fired pastor informed Rob that the previous week, 10,000 people had shown up!!!!  This was within one year of that first BBQ.  And the week that Rob prepared for this sermon, he got a phone call and was told that the Fire Marshal showed up and they were literally having to turn thousands of people away because so many were coming, wanting to hear about Jesus!

Wow!

Sometimes, getting fired from church can be how God takes a broken situation and transforms it for the kingdom.  Sometimes, what seemed like a great injustice, can be redeemed for something much more beautiful than the mind can ever comprehend.  As Mike Yaconelli famously spoke about- “getting fired for the glory of God!”

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AFTER THOUGHT: A few readers have suggested that it is not fair to have this kind of a story without any details about the “who” and the “where.”  It seems that Rob chose to not reveal  the name of this pastor with intentionality.  Perhaps, this pastor is not ready to be the ‘next big thing’ in the Christian ‘celebrity’ world and so Rob chose to not put him in the limelight?  Who knows.  Ultimately, this is a story that should inspire us that in spite of seemingly hopeless circumstances, new life can occur!  I for one don’t need ‘evidence that demands a verdict’ to embrace both the truth and beauty of this story.  *But, if you want some facts, the picture of the money is from the actual conference… so there is a start ;-)

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  • http://blog.adamwhitley.com Adam Whitley

    Amazing story! I’m so sharing it.

    //AW

  • brambonius

    wow…

    I must rethink my ideas about megachurches…

  • http://brokentelegraph.wordpress.com Ian, for The Broken Telegraph

    what an awesome story, kurt. God is alive and well…are we?

  • Tiggy

    Maybe it’s a sign that change is on its way.

  • http://captainquaker.wordpress.com captainquaker

    That is an amazing story!

  • http://www.jmsmith.org James-Michael Smith

    Two things:

    I like Rob Bell’s preaching and writing, but I don’t know if I’d call him “the most Biblically-sound preacher in America.” I think, as Ben Witherington has charitably pointed out on his blog, he often takes liberties with the text that are not backed by exegesis or archeology (Witherington, though, is also a fan of Bell, so it’s a friendly critique.)

    I’d love it if there were a link to this new church or some other way to verify this account. My “homiletical red-flag alert” goes off whenever stories of amazing things like this happening to “some preacher in a town somewhere.” I’m not immediately calling shenanigans…but one can’t help be a bit skeptical when it comes to the workings of the church…especially those of us who have lived behind the pulpit! :)

    Great story, though, if it’s true! Thanks for sharing it, Kurt!

  • http://mylovelikeavoice.wordpress.com kickdrum_heart

    I do believe I just got goosebumps…

  • http://joshuaseek.com Joshua Seek

    As someone who has been fired from a church as well, I can definitely agree that sometimes, getting fired can be the best thing that happens. Wonderful story!

  • Leo

    The development of this guys church was nearly identical to Mars Hill’s development. That’s part of why people laughed in the podcast when he mentioned specifics.

    I’d REALLY like to know where it is. A mega-church like that springing up over night would be awesome here in phoenix.

  • http://www.jmsmith.org James-Michael Smith

    No sources or names, yet? C’mon Kurt, I can’t share this with others until I know it’s true for certain! :)

  • http://www.jmsmith.org James-Michael Smith

    And believe me, I’d love to share it! :)

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Listen to Rob Bell’s sermon. If you think he is a liar, then it is false. If you think he is a truth teller, then believe the unbelievable. Come on JM… don’t be such a skeptic!

      • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

        Actually, brother, I’m siding with the skeptics on this one…not that I doubt the story, but that names and locations really ought to go with a story like this. It’s the honorable/responsible thing to do. Unless one wants somehow to protect the firing church from embarrassment, I can’t imagine why this would not be open information.

        Grace & peace!

        • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

          JM and Dan,

          What is wrong with not having all the information? For instance, what if this pastor, in humility is not ready to the the ‘next big thing?’ Perhaps he doesn’t want an invitation to speak at Catalyst and asked Rob to not use his name as he is not ready for more ‘fame’. I think to worry about the details of ‘who’ is to worry that Rob is a liar. Are either of you accusing him of that? If not, then don’t be scientific skeptics and trust that God actually can be at work!

          • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

            LOL I don’t think for a moment that Rob is a liar. That’s entirely not the point. The point is, we live in a skeptical world, in which a lot of people *do* promote unsubstantiated claims and *are* dishonest, and a lot of *other* people see Christians (sometimes rightly) as that sort of disingenuous people. In that context, I believe the responsible thing to do is to offer substantiation even when not asked, or if choosing not to, to anticipate the questions and explain why you aren’t.

            It’s why I tend to be prolific with my hyperlinks when I report something. Not because I have to, but because I believe I ought to.

            No, I don’t doubt the veracity of Rob’s report. I still think the responsible, transparent thing to do is to provide verification.

  • http://twitter.com/askthesheep sam

    “When the fired pastor went home, he was scheduled to preach in church the following Sunday.”

    I dont get this: how can a fired pastor be scheduled to preach in church?? was he hired already again? then he wasnt without a job… right?
    *confuzzled*

  • Justin

    Sam,

    I think it should read “he HAD BEEN scheduled to preach…”

    He had a sermon all ready written for that sunday, but then he got fired, and preached it for friends in his backyard.

    • http://twitter.com/askthesheep sam

      aha! okay, thx!

  • pressgang

    Brilliant story, I totally believe it too. You can’t make a story like this up, and Rob has way too much integrity to even consider doing that. Its an absolute miracle and really inspiring. Just shows what God is capable of if we let Him…

  • John Holmes

    Dan is one of my favorite commentators on many issues, but I have to side with Kurt, this sounds life normal Christianity when God is moving. TD Jakes, went to Dallas and started a church, I knew preacher friends who were skeptical, they said he will fail he has got too big for his britches, that West Virginia preacher, the first week he opened the church, 800 people showed up, than it went to a 1,000 and than 5,000, in a year or two.. Now is up to 30,000 or so… And is only about ten years old… Grace is on this preacher… Why can’t this happen, don’t we believe in the resurrection? “Abundant grace was on them all”… Book of Acts……

    • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

      Thanks for the compliment, John! Back at ya!

      But as I mentioned in response to Kurt above, I don’t have to doubt God’s working (and I don’t) to hold that the responsible thing to do is to anticipate others’ suspicion and either (1) provide substantiation, or (2) explain up-front why one chooses not to.

    • Steven Gallowa

      TD Jakes denies the doctrine of the Trinity. He is a moralist. To use him and his “church” as evidence of God’s blessing on a ministry is not wise… IMHO

      • Steven Gallowa

        Sorry, my iPad changed modalist to moralist…

  • http://www.jmsmith.org James-Michael Smith

    I believe it’s possible…I just know the tendency among preachers to unintentionally or unconsciously inflate numbers or retell things in a way that is more spectacular than it may have actually been. Since Rob’s been known to be a little loose with his facts on occasion I have to withhold comment until the story is checked out. The preacher in me wants to share this with gusto…the scholar in me says ‘not so fast…’ :)

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      JM,

      1) I fully disagree with Ben Wittherington’s critique. He is misreading the jewishness of Jesus and the sources that point to first century rabbinic tradition. This is Witherington’s only argument against Rob on his blog btw brotha. This article by Lois Tverberg would be a great rebuttal to the “looseness” of Rob with facts that you speak of. I am not with you on that. It is simply a different view of sources…. http://ourrabbijesus.com/2009/02/10/dating-jesus-jewishness/

      2) Now, if that is the looseness that you speak of (as it is Witherington’s), it does not follow that simply because his approach to scholarly material, that he is ‘loose’ with stories that he tells. This takes his approach to the scholastic and imposes something on his character. JM, you are not being fair to Rob on this bro. You are being ‘loose’ with your judgment of him my friend.

      PS – He couldn’t inflate numbers when he gives the same sermon 3 or 4 times… someone would had called him out on inconstancies.

  • Janie Mock

    Call me a skeptic……and I’m not even convinced that it this occured, it would necessarily be a good thing…..

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Janie, Is this because you don’t like Rob Bell or because you don’t like large groups? Lots of people wanting to hear the scriptures, sounds good to me ;-) Now, the critical question I would have is if they are also trying to integrate people into small groups so that the big party is finding actual community. If that is what you are saying, I could certainly understand that.

      • Janie Mock

        Hi Kurt,

        I really don’t know much about Rob Bell, except I once watched one of his videos with a smoke machine and lasers……! But what I am very wary of is the cult of personality, such as appears to be the case with the “fired minister”. I think that sometimes when we see things occur that we like, we call it “God working…..” sort of like the being “led by the Spirit…..” Perhaps in some cases those descriptions are correct, but are they always? I doubt it. But it throws up a wall; who can challenge “God at work” or an action or belief because the person who states it is “led by the Spirit..”!!

        • Daniel J. Fick

          Spot on, Janie. Good critique!

  • http://www.jmsmith.org James-Michael Smith

    Not just Witherington’s critique, but also some of Rob’s Hebrew points are not always as he makes them out to be (such as the nuances he speaks about in the NOOMA video “Flame”). He’s just not always the most careful with his scholarship (but how many of the greatest preachers are??) in my opinion. But this isn’t reason to reject him or speak against him–I have defended him against some of my Reformed friends who think he’s a heretic and I’ll continue to do so. I even use a quote from Velvet Elvis in the intro to “Bible for the Rest of Us”…so my point is that I’m not anti-Rob by any means. I would have the same hesitancy with this story if N.T. Wright or Ben Witherington or Doug Stuart told it without me having the ability to find out the identity of this church that God has (hopefully) raised up. Again, hesitancy, not rejection. Suspending of judgment, while hoping for the best.

    But if we end up disagreeing on this approach…well…you and I can’t ALWAYS agree on things, can we?? ;)

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Well JM… if we always agree, we would be pretty lame I suppose ;-)

      Also, Rob is not inerrant so I suppose having some critique is fine ;-)

  • jason ekk

    Bottom line…

    God used a seemingly bad situation and turned it into a huge blessing.

    This is not to say that everyone who is fired is going to get a huge church (I dont want to go down the health and wealth train of thought where we supposedly deserve to be successful)… but, it is about being faithful and obedient. That is all we can do… God is in control of the outcomes and the outcomes do not determine whether we should be faithful and obedient.

  • http://officehourthoughts.blogspot.com Nathan

    I think the story needs some more details. I am not calling into doubt Rob Bell’s story. I am sure that there is a church, pastor, etc… Bell has far to much to risk by making up a story like that. The trouble is details are important. Without them we actually know very little. Was this pastor well liked in a different mega-church? If so then this is not a story about God doing a radical new thing, it is about a pastor who got fired and managed to take half his church with him (like happened in Bellevue a few years ago). Also why is it that no one on this blog has found the church yet?

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Nate, you sound like a modernist ;-) Needing all that facts so you can test out this situation and discover if it holds up in the lab, lol!

      Ok, Ok… lets really get down to it. Hmmm… I think you want more details because you are suspicious of all things mega-church. Also, what is the problem with a guy starting preaching in his back yard and then people showing up… even if some of them came from his former church. That is not something you can control in a situation like that. The story is VERY clear that this pastor did not seek out these people, but that they just kept showing up. People tend to show up where God is!!!!

      Finally, I said it before, but let me say it once more: Rob obviously kept this pastor’s name and church concealed for a purpose… I would assume because of fear of celebrity. Perhaps this pastor requested that Rob not reveal his identity to the whole world just yet, but did feel that the story itself was powerful and needed to be told. I am sure that in the next several years the pastor and the church will ‘come out of the closet’ so to speak… but if that is all we focus on, we miss out on celebrating the awesome new creation power of God to take broken situations and bring about freshness for the kingdom!

  • http://officehourthoughts.blogspot.com Nathan

    haha. I’ve never been called that before :D

    And I think you are wrong on two points. 1) “I think you want more details because you are suspicious of all things mega-church.” I’m not against mega-churches. They are fine (Although I prefer a multi-site model, but that is just preference). 2) “Also, what is the problem with a guy starting preaching in his back yard and then people showing up… even if some of them came from his former church.” There is more and more evidence that people are not converting to Christianity. For all our talk about evangelism and bringing people to Christ the number of people who actually become Christians and join a church is so small it is depressing (somewhere around 5% or less). Most church growth comes from other churches, or the children of people. So I can be excited if a pastor is preaching great messages and people are being drawn in and brought to a deep walk of discipleship. However, generally speaking a church that grows by a thousand people a week is hardly like what we hear about in the book of Acts where there are thousands of new converts. So I would like to know more about this church, I would like to know what the percentage of their church is new Christians. Or even people who have associated themselves with Christianity in name only and are finding that there is more to Christianity than something their grandparents used to do.

    I understand the “not want to be a celebrity thing.” At the same time if you are preaching to 10,000 people a week you pretty much are a small celebrity already. Let’s face it… I doubt David Hasselhoff as 10,000 people following him on twitter (ok so he has 50,000 but still…).

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      I understand your concerns, but lets understand that when God is at work, it doesn’t follow that we need to analyze every detail of it. Lets simply let God be God. If he is drawing people to this pastor and ultimately to Himself, lets celebrate it! I am sure that this pastor is asking the kinds of questions you are of his own context… but lets leave that to the leaders in the various contexts and not project our judgments on them.

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  • http://matthafer.wordpress.com matthafer

    lol Kurt, this is why I disabled comments on my blog. People just need to be negative online. Who cares if it is really 10,000 or 10, the point is, God has seemingly used a bad situation and showed that once again, Love Wins.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Matt! Your a stud! Trust me, the skeptics are a VERY slim minority compared to the TONS of people who were blessed by this story. I am with 100%! Love Wins!

  • James Hooper

    Wow! Had a meeting today where I felt a bit injustice going. Left a bit confused. Read this story and was highly encouraged. Thanks for posting this. I will add you to my blogroll.

    Thanks again for pursuing Him.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

      Wow James! Glad u were encouraged!

      Sent from my iPhone

  • Chad

    Not sure how I stumbled upon this, but wanted just to mention that while I hadn’t heard the second half of this story, I was at the Rob Bell preaching conference in July 2009 and remember vividly the story and the offering on the final day. I even used the experience as a sermon illustration….

  • Jason Hess

    What a fantastic course of events. Thanks for sharing. I usually download teaching from Mars Hill every now and then…downloading this one as I type this.

  • kimberly quinn

    I have to side with the skeptics on this one, not because of the preacher or Rob Bell. But one “issue” we have in America is a tendancy to follow the “in” thing or the next fad. This may turn out to be just that a fad. I will be the first to humbly appologize and join you all in praising God if I am wrong. But the skiptic in me says take a wait and see approach to this story.

    • Kurt

      Kimberly, I think your words of caution are fair, but nevertheless the story is inspiring :-)

      • kimberly quinn

        I was thinking about this again, yesterday. I was chatting with someone about the concept of bearing good fruit from Matthew. This story also gives me the thought of lets wait and see what fruit this ministry, I mean the new church that this pastor has now formed, bears. It is way too early to know what kind of church they will be. Numbers are a great thing but they do not, in themselves reflect the true charactor of your church. Nore do they necessarily reflect true success. I think God is far more concerned with charactor and impact than numbers.

        • Kurt

          I agree with this statement 100% while also holding to the inspirational value of the story. I agree with your view of numbers vs impact and substance of a church. Numbers are a weak litmus test for knowing the value of a church or ministry. Thanks for your thought…


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