It’s hard to imagine “the shed” — the large area occupied by the former shopping mall’s former anchor department store in Grandville, Michigan — without Rob Bell and his assortment of props and interactive sermon elements at center stage; but starting in January, 2012, that may become reality with Thursday’s announcement that Bell is leaving the church he founded a dozen years ago.
As things now stand, the majority of Sunday teaching responsibilities would pass to Shane Hipps who came to the church two years ago after pastoring Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Hipps is the author of the Zondervan book, Flickering Pixels, a book about how technology shapes society.
Here is the announcement from the church website:
September 22, 2011
To our community of attendees, listeners, and supporters:
The infamous quote “change is the only constant” certainly holds true at Mars Hill. We have experienced ongoing changes that have improved and transformed—as well as at times unintentionally created tension or heartache within our community. And now, we have another significant change to hold together.
Feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities, our founding pastor Rob Bell, has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God’s love with a broader audience.
It is with deeply mixed emotions that we announce this transition to you. We have always understood, encouraged, and appreciated the variety of avenues in which Rob’s voice and the message of God’s tremendous love has traveled over the past 12 years. And we are happy and hopeful that as Rob and Kristen venture ahead, they will find increasing opportunity to extend the heartbeat of that message to our world in new and creative ways.
Rob and Kristen started Mars Hill and helped create a church that removes the barriers to meeting Jesus. And while we recognize that no one person defines a community, we acknowledge the impact of Rob’s leadership, creativity, and biblical insights on our lives, and face a deep sadness at the loss of their presence in our community.
Rob will be addressing our community in both Gatherings on Sunday, September 25, to describe his journey and call to pursue a new venture. For the remainder of this year, he will be teaching our Acts Series several times with his last teaching being in December.
As we plan for the future, Shane Hipps will continue to teach our community and we will be inviting other familiar voices to teach on Sundays during the spring of 2012.
We continue to be amazed by the grace and trust of the community we serve. Your voice and heart will be important elements of how we move forward together as a community of believers. We invite you to continue on this journey with us and ask that you would join us in prayer while we carefully discern what lies ahead for the Mars Hill community.
Grace and Peace,
The Elder Team, Ministry Leadership Team, and staff of Mars Hill
The September 25 podcast will be available for download on Tuesday, September 27.
Meanwhile, at RobBell.com, the author/speaker/pastor has announced another road tour for November, “The Fit To Smash Ice Tour” with initial dates in the northeast United States and Toronto.
Have I ever told you the story about the smoke machine at the wedding? Or the time I hit my head and had to be told who I was? Or the one about Eleazar and the elephant?
I didn’t think so. Which means it’s time for a tour. Over the next year or so I’ll be out on the Fit to Smash Ice Tour with the good chance I’ll be somewhere near where you live. As usual it’s several hours of entirely new content I haven’t given before, exploring all the exhilarating ways we stumble and fumble and fail and bleed and limp along and just how good and sacred and thrilling it all is.
I’m hoping to break some new ground on this tour, going places we haven’t gone before. I want you to be inspired, provoked, challenged and moved in all kinds of new ways throughout the evening so that you leave Fit to Smash Ice.
But a caution comes from this voice, quoted at USAToday’s religion online page:
It’s not uncommon for megachurch pastor-authors to consider leaving church leadership, according to Rick Christian, president of Alive Communications, a Colorado Springs, Colo., literary agency that represents megachurch pastors. At a certain point, some feel more like a CEO than a shepherd, Christian said, and can be tempted to leave the headaches behind — especially when they’re making good money from royalties.
But he encourages them to go slow and remember that “there’s something inherently great about the accountability that comes with” leading a congregation. Authors who leave that world incur new risks, he said.
“You can have somebody who leaves for the wrong reasons and becomes a lone ranger,” Christian said. “They’re just running and gunning for the Lord on planes, in hotels, zipping around at 30,000 feet. You can lose touch very quickly.”
Others agree parish life keeps communicators grounded. Elaine Heath, associate professor of evangelism at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, noted a long history of leaving the parish for wider outreach opportunities — even Methodism founder John Wesley gave up a settled pulpit to be an itinerant preacher.
But in today’s world, she said, book tours and online virtual relationships are not enough to sustain a pastor’s moral authority.
Update – September 26 — “So they loaded up the truck and they moved to Beverly. Hills that is…” Okay, R. B. isn’t going to Beverly Hills, but we do know he’s going to California as per this (ABC affiliate) WZZM channel 13 report from his Sunday sermon.