My dear friend (and camp counselee, circa 1984), Shane Hipps, announced yesterday that he will be leaving Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when the Board of Elders selects a new teaching pastor. Here’s part of Shane’s announcement:
The road at Mars Hill has been tumultuous. Many parishioners left when Love Wins came out. More left when Rob Bell departed for California. The church staff has suffered through many rounds of layoffs, the latest being last week. Now Shane is leaving and, by the looks of the comments on his blog, some congregants don’t understand why.
I came face to face with one of the most powerful and difficult ingredients in discovering call — the role of limits.
In this process I kept bumping up against two limits. First, I bumped up against the decision the Elders made. They created a role that was very different than the one I am currently in. I had to confront the reality of an external set of limits that had been created. This happens all the time in life. We confront things on the outside we wish could be different. Choices our loved ones make, illness, and economic downturns. The Elders made a series of choices which they believe were in the best interest of this community. In the process I was presented with new limits.
The second and far more substantial limit was internal. Everyone of us has an interior shape and size. Some of that is predetermined and unchangeable like our height. It’s just how we got made and no amount of effort can change it. Some of that inner shape is like our weight, we can actually do something to reshape it, adjust it, change it. It’s not easy, but it is possible if we are truly called to something.
Rob Bell had an odd arrangement with the church: in the latter years of his tenure, he didn’t lead the staff, and he had virtually no pastoral duties other than preaching (which they call “teaching”). Shane came in under that arrangement. While I can understand the Elders’ decision to move in a more conventional direction — with a pastor who does the majority of the preaching — it seems odd that this person will report to the executive director of the church. It makes you wonder: What gifted preacher would come to Mars Hill without also being able to lead the staff?
We can only assume that the Elders know the church best, and that they think this unusual arrangement will work. Many of us will be watching to see if it does.