What was glaring from the podcast was Driscoll’s hyperbole and rhetoric about the culture and other Christians with whom he disagreed. It formed in him and in Mars Hill a narrative wrapped in a veneer language of mission, strong enough to justify some of the things that happened. It eventually caused tremendous cognitive dissonance with its members and leaders, and it created a gulf between Mars Hill and those around it, both non-Christians and Christians.
Church planters tend to adapt their missional rhetoric from mentors, missiologists, and mission organizations. This is a good time for those of us who fit these categories to re-evaluate the language we use to articulate mission in North America. Without great precision and appropriate revision, our mobilization can over time deteriorate into scare tactics and enemy making, much like it did with the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. We need to make sure that we mobilize people into the mission of God by first affirming the image of God in others.
While the gospel has huge implications for cultural engagement and doctrinal purity—ultimately, our rhetoric to inspire young women and men into mission can’t boil down to church and culture wars.
2. Church Planter Profile: Looking For More Than Just Maverick Leadership
As a church planter myself, I can attest to the importance of the characteristics many church planting groups train for in North America. Because the predominant model highly values church as an organization, the kinds of planters many are looking for tend to have similar skill sets to effective organizational and entrepreneurial leaders. In those cases, maverick leadership is almost essential.
There is no one particular style to this kind of leadership. But maverick leaders tend to be highly visionary and decisive. They’re accomplished and, if needed, will run through walls to make things happen. Make no mistake, we need visionary and decisive leaders. Although the Bible isn’t an organizational leadership book, it offers many examples of leaders who acted courageously with vision and decisiveness. And if that were all to it, then, biblical characters such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Deborah, David, Esther, Peter, and Paul could all be considered maverick leaders. But if they are, then we also need to grapple with why the Bible doesn’t withhold stories of some of their failures and mistakes.
Much like the characters in the Bible, when pressure comes, church planters reveal their cracks. And as someone once told me, a crack in a leader can eventually lead to a crack in their church.
Vision and decision-making aren’t the most important things to look for in a church planter profile. The presence of these things, even in great measure, can’t tell you if a planter is healthy or self-aware. They can’t tell you if a planter has a history of receiving rebuke and correction, leading to character formation. They can’t tell you if a planter works well on a team. They also can’t tell you if a planter will be prone to spiritual abuse and manipulation, especially when the going gets tough.
The podcast gives us insight into how church systems can potentially enable highly visionary people to lead without empathy for others, which often is a key factor in balancing the urge to control people and narratives. Empathetic leadership is much more than just the ability to take others into account. It is a posture that pays attention to how others experience your leadership, making appropriate corrections when needed, especially when others have inordinate anxiety around you. And it’s almost impossible to have effective empathetic leadership if a church planter sees their role only to hold the vision and to make decisions.
This is where some of our church planting systems and processes fall short because they are built on the assumption that one person is given the vision from God and is in charge of executing it. There is almost no room for assessing a team of people with a corporately discerned vision. While of course point leadership is not wrong, and teams do not automatically eliminate toxic leadership, our inability (or unwillingness) to pivot our church planting systems to consider models outside of the maverick leadership model will continue to place unnecessary and unhealthy pressure on one particular person.