Rob Bell’s final “epistle” has been preached at his church Mars Hill. He is leaving the church that he founded and going off to California to work on a Drama project with the guy who wrote the hit TV series Lost, Carlton Cuse.
Cuse and Bell met at the 2011 Time 100 gala — Bell was a 2011 honoree and Cuse had been on the magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2010. The two immediately hit it off and soon concocted the idea for Stronger. While spiritual, Stronger won’t be supernatural. It will touch on the spiritual side of people’s lives much like the final season of Lost did and like Bell has done in his career as a pastor speaking to congregations of more than 10,000.
Now regular readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of Rob Bell. I think that he is very articulate and has done the Church a great service in his preaching and the nooma videos that he made.
So, I read with interest his “parting epistle“. It’s a fascinating read and especially for ministers. He articulates his ministry over the years and the influence that church and he have had on each other. As a minister I was especially struck by a part of it in the middle of it. Sorry, its a long quote, but I believe that it is important
a story, to tell you why this means what it does to me.
several years ago there was a well known pastor who openly,
publicly had a number of issues that he was against, both morally
and spiritually and politically. he was loud and outspoken about
these particular issues. it turns out that one of the issues
he was most vocally opposed to was something that he himself
had struggled with and been engaged in for a number of years.
upon this being revealed publicly, his church released him from
his leadership position. shortly after this a friend of mine happened to meet him while visiting the same city and when they began conversing this pastor-in-exile expressed a great deal of stored
up venom for his former church that he had started, venting about how they had shot their wounded and they hadn’t extended him grace and love and all that. he was shocked that they had treated him like they had.
here’s what i find so startling: he was complaining about how they
dealt with him but he’s the one who shaped and taught and
molded them. he merely found himself on the receiving end
of how he had trained them to be. he created and crafted the
system to behave a particular way and then it behaved in that
it’s easy to form a circle and pick up stones,
taking turns quoting bible verses the whole time,
ready to unleash those stones on the one who’s guilty-
it’s another thing to be the person standing in the middle
of that circle, desperate for one person, just one, to say
“is any of you without sin?”
those who have ears to hear,
let them hear.
so that’s the question you have as a leader, the question
you live with: “are they getting it?”
i have tried to teach you about a big God, who holds all things, including us, in an unconditional, loving embrace. i have tried
to teach and model for you an unswerving hope and trust
that change and risk and leaps of faith are normal and at times
absolutely necessary for our growth and the continued expansion
of our hearts. so when, in this change, this loss, this transition,
this departure, you have responded time and time again with largeness of spirit and bigness of heart, with confidence that
the God who got you this far is fully capable of taking you the
rest of the way, deeply attuned to your own emotions and responses and at the very same time convinced that everybody
will be just fine because what could possibly separate us from the love we’ve tasted and experienced, the love of Christ that holds and sustains us all?
That is the thing isn’t it. It’s one that I know ministers and leaders are always struggling with. What am I teaching and exampling to people?
Have I led people to a God of grace?
Or do people see judgement and condemnation?
And they’re really important questions.
What are we portraying to our congregations and churches? Surely, if a church’s leadership is displaying grace and love and sacrifice then we will see it in our churches?
Now I do understand that some are new into a church and that there can be deep rooted issues that takes time, and patience and sometimes straight talking to address.
But many of us have been in post for quite some time and we need to keep asking the questions and looking at what we do or say because otherwise we can not only be broken ourselves but we can cause deep hurt and break others as well.
Rob Bell “epistle” is a timely reminder that we clergy help to shape and teach and mould our churches – it’s an awesome responsibility in every sense of the word.