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.
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 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.