The past two days I have written on the lessons to be learned from the demise of Mars Hill Church. You can find those posts here and here. Today, I would like to consider some lessons to be learned from its explosive growth.
What lessons are to be drawn from this astounding saga? What are lessons from the growth and power of MHCC and Pastor Mark?
The Word of God, rightly proclaimed, is effective. Early on, Pastor Mark made the choice to distance himself from the emergent church movement, embracing a pulpit philosophy of expositional Bible teaching rather than “relevant” communication. The message of the Word continues to be powerful when taught with Spirit-led authenticity even in the most unchurched of cities. Those messages found receptive ears far beyond Seattle with astounding numbers of world wide sermon downloads.
Jesus will build his church. Where others were affirming Mike Regele & Mark Schulz or Michael Jinkins in prophesying the death of the church, Pastor Mark and MHCC showed that the church is still the bride of Christ. He and men like Matt Chandler, Tim Keller, and Daniel Montgomery – to mention a few – are leaders of large, high impact multi-site churches. Those who are blogging the end of the mega church need to listen to this lesson. The verdict on multi-site and video venue models of church is still out. Will it prove to be a fad like bus ministries or one effective model of church organization? MHCC theologized that each campus must have its own campus pastors, ministry teams, and community life. Sites cannot be franchises to expand the brand or celebrity speakers or cheap ways to plant churches.
Churches should be about raising up leaders. Many asserted that the video venue approach of MHCC replaced preachers and leaders with a video screen. But a more careful look will show that MHCC was exceptional in raising up young leaders, equipping and encouraging them to believe God could use them mightily. Ironically these same men strengthened at MHCC are the ones who refused to tolerate the centralized leadership model, the controversies, and the culture of conflict that brought about the demise of MHCC.
Technology is a tool that can be used for great good. Capitalizing on the resources of the high tech culture of Seattle, MHCC lead the country in effective use of technology both in the church and in the cloud. They explored podcasts, vodcasts, and internet resource sites as portals to vast church resources. But one must remember the proper order. Technology is a great servant, but a tyrannical master.
The encouragement of church based bands is a welcome alternative to Contemporary Christian Music and its touring professionals that often are more like Hollywood than Church. MHCC demonstrated that the message of the gospel can be effectively presented in all sorts of musical genres. They led the way in utilizing the evangelistic power of high quality music.
Large churches ought to help equip other churches. MHCC emphasized the role of a large church as an equipping resource for other churches. Where some built the revenue of the church by charging for downloads, everything on Resurgence was free to the user. As it turned out the donations from the users more than paid for the materials.
Love believes all things and hopes all things. A final lesson is being written as I write. Even as MHCC will discontinue operations in a few weeks, the Mars Hill churches are in process of replanting, many with a lot of continuity of their leadership teams and congregations. Many of those leaders have privately pondered and publicly repented. In a context of vulnerability, trust can be rebuilt and the work of the gospel go on. While bloggers continue to build their income with disparaging gossip, Christians ought to hope in the power of gospel-centered transformation, with a sense of confident expectation of good based on the character of the God of Exodus 34:6-7.
About Gerry Breshears
Dr. Breshears is a Professor of Systematic Theology and Chair of the Center for Biblical and Theological Studies at Western Seminary. In addition to his three decades of educational ministry at Western, Dr. Breshears has taught at numerous Bible colleges and seminaries around the world, such as Lebanon, Ukraine, Netherlands, Taiwan, Poland, Canada, and the Philippines. He has also been published in numerous magazines and scholarly journals, including the Journal of Psychology & Theology and Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. Dr. Breshears is also the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society and continues to serve on the regional executive committee of that organization. Dr. Breshears serves as a preaching elder at Grace Community Church. He and his wife, Sherry, have been married since 1968, have two sons, one daughter, and are enjoying their season of life as grandparents.