June 6, 2012
Hipps Leaving Mars Hill, Whitehead Leaving Willow
Two prominent young pastors are leaving their influential churches.
Shane Hipps, teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church, has announced that he will be leaving the church once a new pastor is found. Hipps came to Mars Hill at Rob Bell's request to share teaching responsibilities as Bell's ministry was taking him away from the church more regularly. Last December Bell announced he was leaving Mars Hill to relocate to Los Angeles. (Skye Jethani interviewed Bell about this departure.)
Mars Hill has had a challenging year. The controversy surrounding Love Wins, Rob Bell's best-selling book, led some to leave the church. And Bell's departure has also taken a toll. In the wake of these events, leaders at the church decided to restructure the staff and adjust the teaching pastor role. They want this person to preach 40 Sundays a year and report to the church's executive director. Hipps said that he "knew instantly my internal shape did not fit the role they created" because it would "dramatically reduce my service to the broader church which is an integral part of my sense of call." Hipps has two new books in production and plans to start a leadership development company.
Late last month we also learned that Darren Whitehead, teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, will be leaving the megachurch by the end of 2012. Whitehead doesn't yet know where he will go next, but he has been wrestling with a sense that he is called elsewhere. In a letter to the Willow Creek community, Whitehead wrote:
A few months ago, Bill [Hybels] and I were having lunch together and I expressed that I felt like my time at Willow was drawing to a close. Bill was extremely gracious. He immediately committed to meeting and praying with me as I tried to discern God’s will and timing. Bill has been an amazing sounding board through this time. He assured me that I don’t need to feel rushed, but can take time to ascertain what is next.
Although very different in style, both Willow Creek and Mars Hill are large churches facing significant transitions. Both were launched by dynamic leaders (Hybels and Bell), and it is unclear how either church will manage once these leaders are no longer at the helm. With the departure of younger teaching pastors like Hipps and Whitehead, the way forward appears even more unclear.
With the number of megachurches exploding between 1970 and 2000, the dilemma of transitioning leadership within these huge congregations will be important to watch.