Three celebrity pastors have been pushing back from (or in one case, being cast out of) the limelight. And they have led to some interesting transformations in their local contexts that inform non-celebrity churches too.
First, Pastor Mark Driscoll
is forced out resigns from Mars Hill. The church, instead of going forward as a centralized entity with many locations, decides to disperse the resources to make do on their own.
Following much prayer and lengthy discussion with Mars Hill’s leadership, the board of Mars Hill has concluded that rather than remaining a centralized multi-site church with video-led teaching distributed to multiple locations, the best future for each of our existing local churches is for them to become autonomous self-governed entities. This means that each of our locations has an opportunity to become a new church, rooted in the best of what Mars Hill has been in the past, and independently led and run by its own local elder teams.
Second, Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of House For All Saints and Sinners, recently posted a pastoral note to Facebook that they were no longer going to be offering two worship services to accomodate out of town guests (they get around 2000 visitors a year!).
After having moved to two services on Sundays (to accommodate the approximately 2,000 one-time out-of-town visitors we had in a year’s time) we are returning again to having one 5p service, starting this Sunday. Why? Because the people who make up this community miss each other.
Having two services had a negative effect on our little congregation. While having an extra service on Sunday made it easier to accommodate out-of-town visitors, youth groups, and worship committees, it also made it harder to connect with each other and more difficult to identify who the local visitors are who might be looking for a church home…
We know it may seem weird to ask for fewer visitors, but for the time being we are choosing to err on the side of just trying to be a congregation rather than on the side of being a destination church. Perhaps we are making the wrong choice, but after two years of being inundated with people visiting us because of our famous pastor, we just need a little space to be together again.
Finally, Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of the largest United Methodist Church in America, has embarked on a building project that includes a…smaller sanctuary? Smaller footprint by almost 400,000 square feet? Why?
1. To bring all weekend worship services, nurseries, children’s classrooms and adult classrooms under one roof in as close proximity to one another as possible.
2. To transform our current sanctuary into the fellowship hall, Vibe worship venue, classrooms and food service area.
3. To construct our permanent sanctuary in such a way that it feels smaller, more intimate, more sacred and serves to better engage people in worship.
Previous coverage of the CoR sanctuary here: “To Keep Your Temples, Care for the Tents.”
Celebrity v. Community
The common thread to me is that these are three churches dealing with celebrity in different ways.
- Mars Hill was unable to sustain its celebrity pastor due to the abusive way how the celebrity interacted with the pastoral community and many community members. Realizing that, they have wisely chosen to disband its organization and see if enough decentralized groundwork was done to sustain the individual church communities.
- House For All Saints and Sinners felt their community was stretched too far by too many visitors to their celebrity pastorate. They made changes to their worship schedule to accomodate them, but saw negative effects of it on their community.
- Church of the Resurrection has rebuffed church trends and in its pursuit of creating bigger and better has opted for architectural space that creates community rather than enhances celebrity. All the work being planned for Easter 2017 seems more community-minded than celebrity-minded (and needed if CoR is to transition well from Hamilton in 15-ish years).
What can Non-Celeb Churches Learn?
For individual churches, they can take some lessons from these cautionary tales about churches and celebrities.
- Keep up the pace. There’s a natural life cycle of churches’ relationships with their pastors when they are growing. The first few years they see you as their chaplain and not their pastor. But as more people come and leadership positions are turned over to people who match the pastor’s vision, pastoral leadership takes root. Churches would be wise to continue to build community alongside their pastor’s transformation so that the growth is sustainable.
- Be willing to sacrifice celebrity for community. House for All Saints and Sinners made a really unpopular choice (based on the Facebook posts–including their own Lutheran Bishops!) to reduce their capacity so that they could continue to nurture their community. Rev. Bolz-Weber comes from a recovery background and their church understands the need for community. Making decisions the benefit the “insiders” is playing with fire, but when discerned well, it could better serve the local mission than the national appetite for celebrity pastors.
- Think about the structural space. I know I’ll get some pushback that Rev. Hamilton is not at all relinquishing celebrity status. That’s not my claim: my claim is that his third (and last) Sanctuary is more focused on community and interaction than merely making videos to sell in their Production Church. By changing the way how the people in the pews or seats use their structural space, they’ll better be able to enhance their small group focus–and every church can do better to see how their architecture is enhancing or limiting community.
Celebrity and community is an interesting dialectic as the pastors must redirect the energy sent towards them back to the local mission and ministry. Some absorb it and become toxic cults of personalities, some retreat from it when they see its harm, and some channel it into the church overall structure. For each church, no matter how small, dealing with attention and how to redirect attention away from the individual members of Christ’s body to Christ’s body itself is no small task, and it’s fascinating to see how “playing with fire” it really is.
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