I spent eight years as a pastor at Mars Hill church, both in Seattle and here in Orange County CA where my wife, Susan, and I now live. There were some good-to-great things that happened and some sad/bad things that happened during those eight years. I have reflected a great deal about my years on staff since leaving a little over a year ago. I want to share four lessons I’ve learned (and continue to learn) and am applying to my current leadership responsibilities and opportunities.
These observations are mine, and mine alone. Some who are still at Mars Hill, and some who have left, may not agree with some of my conclusions. These observations form an acrostic for ACTS.
One more thing before I jump into the ACTS. The observations and lessons learned came mostly from my experience at Mars Hill; but as I read about what’s going on in Christian leadership as well as what I’m learning in my coaching high- level leaders at other churches, I’ve come to understand that my experiences at Mars Hill are not unique.
What I saw first-hand while on staff at Mars Hill is happening in other churches and Christian ministries around the country/world. I deeply regret that I didn’t speak up more often sooner than I did.
There were numerous situations and instances where top leaders had almost no accountability in their lives and ministries. They had it on paper, but not in practice. The tough questions were not asked. There wasn’t a willingness to defer to others on staff who had experience and wisdom. A certain degree of pride and arrogance set in and ruled a lot of the time. There wasn’t openness to being genuinely accountable to others for attitudes and behaviors that were sinful and harmful.
Sin was committed over a number of years (in clear violation of I Timothy 3, Titus 1 and I Peter 5), but that sin was not adequately owned and confessed. There was a good amount of excuse-making and casting blame. We didn’t have a confessional culture where the leaders who were confronted accepted responsibility for their sin.
Top-level leaders were not open to receiving honest inquiries from other pastors on staff. Decisions were not discussed but rather announced with very little dialogue or input. There was defensiveness when an idea or direction was questioned or challenged. Asking good questions, listening well and being on the hunt for new and better ideas and ways of doing things were not a part of the culture.
The pace of ministry and functioning in crises mode a good deal of the time, due to hurried and last minute decisions without time to think through and adequately process things, resulted in a lot of exhaustion and an unhealthy work-life balance. The speed at which things happened and the lack of time to make better decisions was, and is, an unsustainable model. The principle of Sabbath was very much absent with people working insane hours at an unsustainable pace. There were many on staff who experienced, or were on the verge of, burnout a lot of the time. We survived on the adrenalin rush, which hurt and harmed people. The pace and the work environment is, and was, unsustainable, unhealthy and unwise.
As l live my own life as a leader and as I coach other leaders, I am much more aware of doing what I can to make sure there is:
1. Good and genuine accountability, coupled with vulnerability and transparency.
2. A clear value in keeping short accounts, with sin being quickly confessed and owned.
3. An attitude of being teachable and open to new ideas and ways of thinking.
4. A culture of pacing that is realistic and sustainable, resulting in good morale and joy.
As always your feedback is welcome!