I was hesitant to listen to “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” The new podcast by Christianity Today examines how one of the largest and most influential churches in the country fell apart, seemingly overnight. I’m not too keen on celebrity gossip (even “Christian” celebrity gossip), and I especially hate the sort of schadenfreude that often characterizes these types of journalistic investigations. But a friend’s recommendation encouraged me to listen. And it turns there’s a lot there that’s really worth considering, both for church leaders and for congregants. It isn’t only a story about the flaws of one church or its pastor; the podcast also raises some great questions about how we approach “church” as American evangelicals.
Perhaps most significantly, the show explores some of the dangers we face when there’s a large gap between a leader’s charisma and his character. How can churches avoid platforming people who are especially talented, but who lack integrity? What sort of accountability structures do we need to prevent this sort of catastrophe from repeating itself again and again? These questions are especially relevant in 2021, as Mars Hill isn’t the only well-known church or Christian organization to suffer devastation because of the flaws of its leadership.
As important as those questions of leadership integrity are, there might be a more basic set of questions we need to ask. (And perhaps the podcast intends to ask these questions in later episodes, to give them the benefit of the doubt). For starters, is bigger really better when it comes to the effectiveness of a church? Is building a global media platform a better way to fulfill the Great Commission than building local communities of faithful disciples who make faithful disciples?