Last week the Acts 29 Network dismissed from its membership Seattle mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll and his church Mars Hill Church and asked for his resignation as pastor. This came as several controversies came to light about Mark and his church. Mars Hill’s accountability board countered with a statement of frustration that apparently that board had failed to personally contact Mark and Mars Hill’s board before making their dismissal public. This news has become fodder for bloggers, resulted in some bookstores refusing to sell Mark’s books, fomented demonstrations in front of the church, and even hit the New York Times. I don’t know Mark personally, but this brouhaha has reminded me that every pastor should be taken down. Here’s what I mean and why it should matter.
I’m fascinated with survival stories, maybe because I’m a pastor and sometimes leading a church requires great survival skills. This survival story illustrates why every pastor must be taken down, or put into different words, why we must take ourselves down.
I recently read the 1988 book Touching the Void about two mountain climbers successful yet disastrous climb of the 20,813 foot Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. One climber broke his leg on the way down. In the other climber’s attempt to lower his injured friend, he was forced to cut the rope that was suspending the injured climber over a cliff in mid-air. If he hadn’t, they both would have fallen to their deaths.
When the line snapped, the injured climber fell 150 feet into a crevasse, almost always guaranteeing certain death. Miraculously, he landed on a small ledge inside the crevasse and survived. Although he had rope with him, his broken leg prevented him from climbing out of the crevasse. And the next day his fellow climber assumed he had died.
In excruciating pain he faced three choices. He could commit quick suicide and roll off the ledge. He could stay on the ledge and slowly die from hypothermia. Or he could take the risky choice and lower himself further into the crevasse hoping to touch bottom, not knowing how deep the crevasse was. He could possibly run out of rope on the way down and die anyway, freezing to death as he dangled in mid-air.
He made the third, risky choice, and rapalled himself down into the darkness. Miraculously he was able to lower himself onto on a snow bridge. He then pulled himself out of the crevasse as he found a more gentle grade and literally crawled back to camp, dragging his broken leg behind him.
The only way he was able to survive was by going down. He went down so he could go up.
Jesus Himself embodied that principle: the only way up is to go down. The Apostle Paul wrote these profound words in Philippians that captures what Jesus did and what we should also do.
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.5-9, NIV)
Jesus went down to become a humble servant, ultimately going to the cross for our sins. And God promised that because Jesus did this, He would lift him up. God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name. (verse 9)
So, as I read the charges and counter-charges about Pastor Mark, my heart grieves that church leaders are being hurt, church people are being hurt, the Church itself is taking a hit, and spiritual seekers are saying, “See, I told you so. I don’t want anything to do with that kind of stuff (Christianity).”
Even in my sorrow, I’m learning this lesson. I must never use my ministry to glorify myself or seek personal gain. I must seek God inspired humility. I must live a life that offers as much grace to others as I have received. I must remain accountable.
And most of all, I must remember the principle illustrated in the life of Jesus: if you want to go up, you must first go down.
That’s why I believe every pastor needs to be taken down…down the road of humble service, grace-filled relating, and deep gratitude that we get to do what we do.