Last year, Rob Bell wrote a controversial book on who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Then he resigned his role as teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church.
Now, his successor Shane Hipps is resigning because the megachurch is falling apart and the board has decided to reorganize, placing the teaching pastor under the executive director. Hipps said, ” [I] knew instantly my internal shape did not fit the role they created.”
As much as he would deny it, Mars Hill Bible Church was built around Rob Bell. He was a controversial lightning rod who amassed a following, first as a popular teacher under Ed Dobson at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and then at Mars Hill. Bell was hip, latching onto the new media of DVD Bible studies and unusual, if thought-provoking, books with titles like Velvet Elvis and Jesus Wants to Save Christians.
When Bell resigned last year, Hipps was already handling much of the teaching pastor duties at Mars Hill. Bell was busy traveling on speaking tours and filming his NOOMA videos. He was essentially the rock star of the emergent movement.
Now, the congregation is struggling to make sense of things and to replace Rob Bell’s replacement.
This is the danger of a congregation built on the cult of personality.
It is something I know that Rob Bell worked hard to avoid and prevent, but it was bound to happen. He was too charismatic and too unusual for people not to be drawn to him personally rather than to the work he was trying to accomplish.
I have no doubt that Mars Hill Bible Church will sort through things, restructure and press on; but I will be very surprised if it ever reaches the levels of success that it achieved when Bell was the pastor.
This is a lesson we all need to learn. You can build a following or you can build a congregation. They can even coexist for awhile but the two will eventually come into conflict.