“The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” is a powerful podcast created by Christianity Today that critiques and explores, through thorough investigative journalism, what went wrong with the megachurch of Mark Driscoll.
As an exvangelical, it was cathartic yet instigating, bringing up old wounds and offenses.
But one thing I think the podcast fails to do is critique the church as a whole.
Sure, Mark was a product of his time, a time that worships church leaders and surrenders power in the name of “the work of the ministry.”
But the church still here…
And continues to be here…
Unless the church as a whole takes stock and transforms, people like me and many other millennials will continue to leave its doors, overwhelmed by a lack that we smelt the second we entered through its doors.
The church has used hierarchy to establish power by separating those who lead from those who are surrendering their authority: A process Marx calls abstraction.
This abstract structure that has no grounding in “the real” continues to be employed by the church, so they can keep people in pews, not talking back, just sitting there, consuming, giving their money.
This is not the structure I see Jesus speak of…
Instead, I hear him say: The first shall be last and the last shall be first; the master shall wash the servant’s feet; the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven must become the servant of all.
And beyond his teachings, Jesus embodied this destruction of the hierarchy: He stepped into the homes of others, coming to them, rather than demanding people come to his temple of worship; he ate with the unchurched, drinking wine, discoursing; “sinners,” drinking wine; he, God incarnate, chose to take on the title “The Son of Man,” using it far more often than the “Son of God.”
Jesus, our example, continually created a level ground for us all to stand on — none above, none below, pointing to a prophecy found in Isaiah 40.
… and yet pastors don’t have time for those in their congregation.
… and yet pastors build bigger and bigger buildings.
… and yet pastors fill pages and pages of books that you need to buy because they know better than you do.
… all while never sharing their struggles.
… all while never entertaining a different opinion.
… all while trying as best they can to not look human.
… to look super-human, king-like.
… while Jesus claimed humanity, taking off his crown.
They have resurrected themselves as a cheap, new high priest who gets all the tithes and offerings, is hidden away in his (let’s be honest; it’s always his, not hers) high and lofty tower, busying himself with holy things, remaining holy, set apart… set apart from the people he leads because if he fraternizes with the common he might be made common; God forbid if he be made common…
It’s no wonder that I heard all the time, “Only 4% of millennials will identify as evangelical as they enter into adulthood.”
It’s no wonder…
… because we’re done with these resurrected high priests!
… we’re done with the superstars!
… done with the heroes!
We want a human…
… a human who is brave enough to stand in our midst, to understand us, to be one of us, to show compassion.
In Henri Nouwen’s book, The Wounded Healer, he claims that the modern world needs a new type of minister: One that candidly shares their journey so that congregants can “see themselves in the face of the one who leads them.”
One that shows compassion on their fellow humans because they too “recognize that the craving for love that people feel resides also in [their] own hearts, that the cruelty the world knows all too well is also rooted in [their] own impulses.”
One that is not afraid of criticizing the church and the Bible and life as a human because life is a “dirty curtain of our painful symptoms.”
In short, Nouwen is asking for ministers to be authentic, compassionate, hopeful humans; humans that come down from their ivory tower to stand with, not above, their fellows; understanding that “leadership is a shared vocation that develops by working closely together in community.”
This is not the Christianity that exists today…
And we are fed up with it…
Even though The Wounded Healer was written in the 1970s, even though a man stood up and said what a modern world needs, no one listened, and his description of millennials still rings true: A generation that looks inward for answers because we can’t find any about, a generation without fathers because our fathers had no clue how to live in the 21st Century — we had to teach them — and a generation that is impulsive because we are not guaranteed tomorrow with a planet dying.
A modern world is not looking for kings and lords and heroes because we know they couldn’t solve living for us. They came up empty, with their selfishness and pride. So we left that world behind, chopping off their heads, throwing them into the streets, to raise our own banners. We’ve reclaimed our agency and authority through the liberation of democracy not because we have the answers, but because none of us do, so we should live our lives as we damn well please because we only get one.
If you are wanting to help this generation, take off your crown, claim your humanity, join our ranks, and lead with compassion, lead with a hope that understands nihilism, has wrestled with it, holding it as a companion, and yet chooses to see, beyond that “dirty curtain,” “the face of God in whose image we are shaped,” choose to see the divine in the human…
That’s a leader I could trust.
That’s a leader I could follow.
Not above me.
But I don’t think Christian leaders are ready to give up their blood-stained crowns.