Saturday, 2 June 2012

Shane Hipps to leave Mars Hill

It was with interest that I read today on twitter that the wonderful teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church, Shane Hipps, is to leave the role he has held for 2years.

I have followed the journey of Shane and his young family being a regular listener to of the podcasts from Mars Hill. I was impressed at the way he was able to transition so well from his previous role as Pastor of a Mennonite church by the way Mars Hill included Shane’ previous church on this journey.

The news that Rob Bell the founder of the community was then to leave the church for pastures new only a few months ago was I am sure a great shock for the congregation. They are a church that has had a significant effect on the wider body: teaching from Rob was key to this and it certainly had a big impact on my faith journey.

I felt that Shane handled Rob’s departure brilliantly and modelled transition from being a church led by a well-known charismatic leader, with the eyes of the Christian world upon them. He seemed to find a way to fill the role that Rob left in a way I feel sure the church could not have fully expected.

Having continued to listen to the teaching from Mars Hill I have been equally impressed with Shane. His clear Bible teaching and thoughtful approach to the church has also inspired me. Here is Shane’s well-crafted blog about his immanent departure from Mars Hill.

Shane explains in his blog how the church is lead:
‘The Elders are a body of twelve volunteers who have been elected by the congregation to be the ordained decision makers on the most important issues in the church.  They are tasked with representing the community and acting on their behalf.  In a church this size and such diverse make up you can imagine how challenging this is. The Elders do this out of the goodness of their heart and a strong sense of call. And I think they deserve our appreciation for serving as they have in this unique transition in the life of this church’.

This paragraph caught my attention because, along with my lovely husband Al, we have planted churches over the past 20 years and it is the idea of creating leadership structures that fills me with the most dread. In fact when I read this today I expressed the opinion that I would be happier to stop leading and just become a member, less hassle and much less stress.

We are now leading a growing church family with our daughter and son-in-law and our next step in the journey will be to look at a wider leadership base. We have already witnessed the discomfort of those who feel it is wrong having a family only lead church but I will remind them that Aire Valley Community Church exists because we dared to step out 4 years ago and plant it.

Shane goes on to explain ‘Not long after Rob left, the Elders determined it was in the best interest of the church to restructure the role of the Teaching Pastor to be a full time teacher, which means approximately 40 Sundays a year’ and ‘In addition, that teacher would report to the Executive Director who would be responsible for the overall leadership of the church.’

For what it’s worth here are my thoughts on the eldership of Mars Hill church; I write this and I know that some may not hear my heart on this but here it is.

When Al and I felt the call to plant churches here and also in Norfolk we clearly felt the call of God on our lives. We stepped out with the belief that God would help us build community in the way He envisioned us both.
And there it is; we had a vision and we were the vision carriers. It was birthed in our hearts in a similar way we gave birth to our natural children. We gave birth to these communities, we saw the people in our hearts and we were pregnant with them and delivered them in joy and sometimes in great pain too!

Shane explains that his original contract ‘was to teach 25 Sundays a year, continue serving the broader church through speaking and writing, report directly to the Elders, and play a major role in casting vision’.

He is a vision caster; a church leader who has been given as a gift to the church to lead it, not to answer to an Executive Director whoever they are or what skills they bring to the table. You see for me if they are able to make these decisions then they should have Shane’s role. How can they know what the church needs in this context? They I presume are not vision casters.

He goes onto explain that the Elders acknowledged that the new role was significantly different than the one he originally accepted, but expressed a hope that he would ‘consider applying for it.’ Shane offered to teach for 30 wks but they refused and he is now graciously helping them until they find the teacher/pastor that they all see will take Mars Hill on.

There is a saying that ‘power corrupts’ and I am sad to say that I have seen this so often with those chosen to work alongside senior leadership. (I understand that Senior Leaders can fall to this temptation too but this is not my point here)
Al and I appointed a team around us when we pastored in Norfolk; they consisted of a couple who we had seen come to faith, a very dear lady who we had walked through a very stressful journey. Another dear lady who we thought of as a friend and Al had privilege to see married in our church to the man we had seen come to faith on an Alpha course. Plus another couple that came to the church and worked with us in leading worship.

We set their role as deacons to help us serve the growing church we were leading. When we hit some issues my heart broke in pieces when I witnessed these folks attempt to make decisions that really were not within their remit to make or in keeping with the ethos of the church we planted.

This group of lovely friends and fellow Christians thought they new best about what the church needed and were very clear in the letter they wrote to us.

Shane describes the group of 12 Elders at Mars Hill in a similar way, ‘The Elders do this out of the goodness of their heart and a strong sense of call.’
They were I am sure under the impression that they were acting on behalf of the church in the best way they knew how.

I know there will be reasons why the Mars Hill Elders have acted that I am not privy too; but what I do know from their history is that Rob had a global ministry, which put this church on the map. Their founding ethos is not just to be a local church.

Shane is another gifted teacher and writer who is capable of keeping the profile of Mars Hill alive as a teaching church not only for this local congregation but also for the wider body. I am sad to think that soon this may not be the case.I will wait and watch prayerfully that Mars Hill will not disappear for it is very true, ‘Where there is no vision the people perish’ Proverbs 29v18

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