Released at the height of pandemic binge-listening, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill dominated church leadership discussions throughout the back half of 2021. It seemed like everyone was discussing and dissecting Christianity Today’s incredibly popular podcast.
With the first anniversary of the show’s release approaching, what was it that made Mars Hill a rich source of conversation? More than that, why did its message resonate so deeply with listeners?
Certainly, much of it has to do with the quality of the podcast. Mike Cosper and his team told a powerful story in a powerful way. It might also be true that part of the show’s popularity came from our cultural obsession with schadenfreude. It’s hard for us to look away when we know a train wreck is coming.
Yet, perhaps the greatest reason for its popularity comes from its relatability. If you’ve been in ministry for any time at all, chances are you’ve lived and led through your own version of the Mars Hill story. The characters and the stakes may have been different, but the drama felt all too familiar.
The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill reaffirmed our collective sense that something is broken in church leadership today.
Too many church leaders today know what it’s like to be bullied by their brothers and scarred by their fellow shepherds. Many of us have witnessed and even been wounded by power struggles within the church.
It’s not hard to see that we need a better way. We need a blessed way. We need a way of thinking about and practicing leadership that is both blessed by God and serves as a blessing to those in our care. For that reason, we must look at the Beatitudes.
While the opening words of Matthew 5 aren’t the first passage we think of when it comes to leadership, they should set the tone for all ministry. Jesus used these eight statements to define life in the kingdom. For that reason, they must also define kingdom leadership:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
What do these Beatitudes look like in leadership? How can we be sure they define us both as followers of Christ and leaders in His church?
- Jesus calls leaders to “spiritual poverty.” Jesus begins by commending those who recognize their need for God. No one is good enough or qualified enough to earn God’s favor. While there’s something to be said for knowing your strengths, Jesus would first call leaders to admit their weakness. All of us are completely and totally dependent on God. Without Him, we have little hope of leading anyone anywhere.
- Jesus calls His shepherds to compassion and care. The second Beatitude reminds us to mourn over the brokenness in this world and within ourselves. Our hearts ought to break when we see our own disobedience. Our souls ought to ache when we see the cost sin imposes on God’s people. Leaders have hearts that break over the things that break God’s heart.
- Kingdom leadership also requires humility and submission. In God’s economy, leading other people doesn’t mean placing yourself above them. Leading means serving. True leadership is about pouring yourself out for the people under your care. “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.” (Matthew 20:26-27)
- Jesus also demands that His leaders hunger for Him and His righteousness more than anything else. Sadly, too many leaders seem only to hunger and thirst for numbers. They want the Word so long as it brings people through the doors. They want to worship so long as the style connects to their target demographic. We always want bigger. We always want better. But, it’s only in chasing His righteousness that we find fulfillment.
- Leaders who bless others also practice mercy. Their very lifestyle lavishes forgiveness, kindness, and generosity on those around them. Though people may frustrate them and let them down, kingdom leaders respond with mercy. The grace they have received in Christ becomes a fountain of generosity for those under their care.
- Purity of heart also defines biblical leadership. A leader’s outer life and inner life ought to be in perfect sync with one another. To say it another way, the “pure in heart” exhibit a consistency between inward purity and outward piety. We all know how easily motivations can be warped. We’ve seen people do the right thing for the wrong reason. We can’t for a minute think that sort of behavior is beneath us.
- Kingdom leaders should also be characterized as peacemakers. Every church faces times of conflict and chaos. In many ways, our ministries will be defined by how we responded to those seasons. Did we feed the disagreement? Did we pursue what was best for us? Or, did we long for reconciliation? Peace ought to be both a personal and a professional goal.
- Kingdom leaders need the ability to see the blessing of persecution. The final Beatitude presents the biggest surprise. Persecution is a blessing? Admittedly, very few of us today know what it’s like to truly experience persecution. We do, however, know what it’s like to be challenged. How do you handle people who disagree with you? How do you respond to church members who attack your decisions? Kingdom leaders need the ability to see the blessing in disguise.
Church leadership is at a crossroads. It’s time for us to choose a better way – the “blessed” way.