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The “Sins” of Mars Hill—What Have We Learned?

What Happens When a Video Venue Goes Bad: The Case of Mars Hill

Because of Sin#1, video venue multisite churches will often fall into the abuse of empire building, land acquisition (as I described here). In an effort to expand the brand, they will over-stretch, over-spend and become consumed with raising money. This, in my opinion, always goes bad. Because of Sin#2, video venue churches will sometimes fall into the abuse of hierarchical authoritarian abuse. As the whole system becomes built on the one personality and pressures build to manage problems efficiently and pump out ‘services’ product, the singular leader will be tempted to abuse his power, make unilateral decisions and stomp over people. This, in my opinion, always goes bad. It never results in Kingdom. These are the inevitable sins of which multisite video venue churches are prone.

To me, Mars Hill Seattle, and its former pastor Mark Driscoll, is a case study of what happens when multisite video venue churches fall into these sins. They got caught up in spreading the brand, protecting the brand, spreading the brand to places far from Seattle (Albuquerque, NM). It took so much money, so they were forced to raise money under dubious practices. Meanwhile, the pastor got caught up in authoritarian leadership. He did not lead collegially but in patriarchal abuse. Driscoll consolidated power more and more to the point where he singularly ruled over a small group of elders chosen to agree with him. He became unaccountable to anyone. All the theological implications of this were patently ignored. This led to the huge downfall.

The Response and Ours Too

The response? (Seen here and here.) The leadership of Mars Hill basically unwound the two sins. They decentralized the organization of the churches and de-hierarchicalized its leadership (although not totally). I say ‘kudos’ to Mars Hill leadership (finally). This to me is the beginning of the reversing of the sins of multisite video venue churches. There have also been attempts to reconcile, confess sins, and deal with all the abuse and sin of this church. Some have yet to be satisfied here.

The case of Mars Hill, however, begs the question to all MSVVs: Why wait until these sins take us over. They are endemic to the system. Why not consider the moves of Mars Hill post Mark Driscoll and implement them now before the sins manifest themselves in all their ugliness? Why not save everyone the grief? This to me is what all MSVV churches should consider. Every MMVV church should consider how can we contextualize our sites and decentralize/de-hierarchilize our organization BEFORE WE TOO BECOME ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF MARS HILL SEATTLE. At the very least, every leadership team of a MSVV church should have in place the means to shape leadership in resistance to these two sins.

What do you think? Is the diagnosis right? How has your MSVV avoided these two sins?  

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David Fitch is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary.