What Pastors Should Learn From ‘The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill’

Episode 623: Podcaster Mike Cosper’s groundbreaking series, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill,” offers several crucial takeaways for pastors and church planters. In this second of two #NewChurches episodes, host Trevin Wax asks Cosper to share what he thinks church leaders should learn from one of the largest church planting movements in American history and its very public dissolution.

In This Episode, You’ll Discover:

  • Insights about “the most successful church planting generation in American history”
  • The crucial role mutual trust plays in any model of church polity
  • How a pastor can benefit from negative criticism
  • What the real, lasting legacy of Mars Hill Seattle will be
  • The danger of getting obsessed with horizons, instead of loving the people in front of you

Sharable Quotes (#NewChurches):

  • A lot of people went into church planting and found it to be extremely taxing in ways that were traumatic for them. Yet Leadership Network says Gen X was the most successful church planting generation in American history.  – @MikeCosper
  • You have to define your terms. How do you measure life transformation? Are we talking about people living in community and confessing their sins to each other or are we talking about transfer growth and lots of baptisms? – @MikeCosper
  • People talk about pastors having character flaws, but Luther broke some eggs to make his omelettes. He was a cultural warrior. People wanted to kill him. Don’t give me a one-to-one comparison that a guy living in a comfortable suburb, who treats his staff like garbage, is “just another Luther.” That’s not an excuse. – @MikeCosper
  • For the most part, every stage of the Reformation was an attempt to move power, transcendence, access to God and the clarity of the gospel down to the people. We find all kinds of ways to excuse expressions of power, when power well-used throughout history is liberating for the people who live under the authority of the one who is expressing power. – @MikeCosper
  • Any tried, true and tested church polity probably is going to function pretty well, but at the end of the day it has to be a system where people are invested who can trust one another. – @MikeCosper
  • We’re slow to fire pastors when they exercise these abuses but we’re also slow to call out and discipline leaders at lower levels of the organization. We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. We really want to give people the benefit of the doubt. – @MikeCosper
  • We see that over and over in the Driscoll story. Older leaders feel compassion for Mark, see his talent, see what’s possible, so they give a ton of grace for a very long period of time with the hope their relationship is going to help him mature. We do that on a small scale all the time. – @MikeCosper
  • A lot of church planters underestimate the strength of character that is required of them to endure the difficulties of church planting. – @TrevinWax
  • You have to come back to the core idea, as a leader in the church, that I don’t have to get my way all the time. – @MikeCosper
  • There’s an energy and adrenaline required to plant a church that’s completely exhausting. There’s a need to plow through really rough soil for a really long time in a lot of these church-planting situations. – @MikeCosper
  • You need to find some relationships where you can go to people and say to them, “How do you experience me as a leader? How do you experience me as a friend? How do you experience me negatively? And believe them. That’s where I think we drop the ball. – @MikeCosper
  • The short-term legacy of the Mars Hill story is a cautionary tale, but there’s a longer view that says the real, lasting legacy are hundreds of churches across the country that, thanks be to God, did not have the same leadership challenges and networks that have been influenced by the enthusiasm and energy around those hundreds of church plants. – @Trevin Wax
  • Churches almost always have some kind of life cycle. It may be five years; it may be 150. Part of what’s cool about that is that it creates such a mystery about the long-term outcomes of our ministry. You may look at your ministry and think, “Man, what an absolute failure,” but Billy Graham 2.0 was on the front row of your church and felt a call to ministry. – @MikeCosper
  • For church planters, there’s so much of the call to say, “Keep your head down and love the people who are in the room. Don’t get obsessed with the horizons.” – @MikeCosper
  • Looking at the history of entrepreneurial church planting, I’ve become allergic to the word “vision,” because it goes everywhere and often ends up meaning whatever the lead pastor wants to make sure happens. It can become very distracting from the very simple things Scripture calls us to do. – @MikeCosper
  • Did you miss Part 1 of the #NewChurches interview with Mike Cosper? Click here to hear his fascinating conversation with Trevin Wax about Cosper’s groundbreaking podcast series, “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.”

Helpful Resources:

Published December 2, 2021

P.S. Get our best content in your inbox

We send one email per week chock full of articles from a variety of Church Planting voices.