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On the different Mars Hill church, new co-pastors hope to construct a devoted future

(RNS) — One of many largest faith tales of 2021 has been the saga of the now-shuttered Mars Hill Church in Seattle and the downfall of its controversial celeb pastor Mark Driscoll, detailed in a preferred podcast that’s been downloaded greater than 13 million occasions.

A lesser-known however noteworthy story has been enjoying out at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan. As soon as additionally led by a star pastor, the church is charting a unique course ahead, shifting from a leader-centric mannequin and putting in as a substitute this previous summer season two co-pastors: Ashlee Eiland and Troy Hatfield.

Eiland, who’s Black, and Hatfield, who’s white, are the primary co-pastors within the church’s historical past, whereas Eiland can be the primary lady to serve at Mars Hill as a senior pastor.

The 2 had been serving as a part of an interim management group on the church for the reason that departure of AJ Sherrill, the previous senior pastor, in August 2020. Hatfield is a longtime staffer at Mars Hill, having joined the church as a worship chief in 2004 when it was one of many fastest-growing church buildings within the nation underneath founding pastor Rob Bell. Eiland was known as to the church in 2019 to launch a brand new campus of the church in close by Grand Rapids.

For each, the function of senior chief got here as a shock. Eiland mentioned within the church buildings she’d grown up in, girls didn’t serve in prime management roles. Hatfield mentioned he’d by no means aspired to be a senior pastor. However after serving collectively on an interim foundation, they embraced the invitation from the Mars Hill elder board to turn into co-pastors.

Co-pastors Ashlee Eiland, from left, and Troy Hatfield lead a service at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, in Sept. 2021. Courtesy picture

“I used to be actually impressed by the thought,” mentioned Eiland. “It felt well-discerned and prayed by — and we had the benefit of getting performed some co-leadership earlier than.”

Having co-pastors at a church or different congregation is uncommon. The 2012 Nationwide Congregations Examine discovered 94.5% of congregations have one individual serving as senior chief. The 2020 Religion Communities Immediately Examine discovered that 5% of congregations have two or extra clergy who share management equally. That research additionally discovered solely 10% of congregations general have a lady serving in a senior function. If a lady chief is known as a co-pastor, it is actually because they’re married to the senior pastor.

Eiland and Hatfield mentioned they’re nonetheless fine-tuning what it means to guide as co-pastors. For now, they break up preaching duties, whereas every oversees one of many two areas the place Mars Hill worships, with Eiland in Grand Rapids and Hatfield in Grandville. Additionally they group up on bigger-picture planning for the church.

As co-pastors, the 2 have been charged with serving to Mars Hill discover its method ahead — a job made extra sophisticated by the continued COVID-19 pandemic. The church was based within the late Nineties, utilizing what’s generally known as an attractional mannequin of ministry, centered on Bell, a charismatic communicator who might draw enormous crowds. By the point Hatfield had arrived on workers, the church had greater than 10,000 folks for weekend providers.

Since Bell’s departure in 2012, the church has had a sequence of pretty short-tenured senior leaders and has shrunk in measurement. Immediately, about 1,200 folks attend in-person and on-line providers, although it’s laborious to inform how many individuals are a part of the church due to the pandemic.

Mars Hill Bible Church co-pastors Troy Hatfield, left, and Ashlee Eiland. Courtesy photo

Mars Hill Bible Church co-pastors Troy Hatfield, left, and Ashlee Eiland. Courtesy picture

Mars Hill has additionally been rethinking its identification in recent times.

“Up to now 18 months, the consideration for Mars Hill has been, how can we faithfully be a neighborhood church?” mentioned Hatfield.

Beginning a brand new campus in Grand Rapids helps with the transition. That location is basically a church plant, mentioned Eiland, and is in a residential neighborhood, which makes it completely different from the Grandville campus, situated in a former mall. The brand new campus is in a spot the place folks dwell, whereas the older location is a spot folks drive to, mentioned Hatfield. That distinction in geography, Eiland mentioned, will reshape the church, serving to make it extra congregation-centered and fewer leader-centered.

“I feel we’re going to find new methods of being this church,” mentioned Eiland.

RELATED: Like Beth Moore, many women preachers have had to break free to follow God’s call

For his half, Hatfield mentioned he has at all times been drawn to a parish mannequin of ministry, the place the clergy have a detailed connection to their congregation and their group. He’s additionally cautious how he describes the church, making an attempt to avoid any sense of possession on his half as a frontrunner.

“This isn’t my church,” he mentioned. “That is Christ’s church. And I’ve been invited to assist lead Christ’s church.”

Mark McCloskey, professor of ministry management at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, mentioned collaborative ministry — like co-pastoring — has an a variety of benefits. Having multiple chief means energy isn’t all concentrated in a single individual. It additionally means the entire burden of working a church doesn’t fall on one individual.

Greater than that, he mentioned, shared management was a standard follow within the Bible.

“Within the New Testomony, you’d should look lengthy and laborious to discover a mannequin the place there’s a sole senior pastor,” he mentioned. “Mainly, you’d have a plurality of leaders.”

That mannequin could make house for various viewpoints and views. However it’s not simple, mentioned McCloskey, who runs a program on transformational management. Pastors who suppose they should have all of the solutions, for instance, have difficultly sharing energy.

“I inform my lessons, you need to have anyone who could be in cost with out being in management, who could be current with out casting a shadow,” he mentioned.

Worship at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, in April 2021. Photo via Facebook/Mars Hill

Worship at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, in April 2021. Photograph by way of Fb/Mars Hill

When she was first interviewed at Mars Hill, Eiland mentioned, she was requested to explain a frontrunner who had impressed her to stroll with Jesus. The primary one that got here to thoughts was her grandmother, who taught her how you can pray, how you can love the Bible and how you can have a religion that was not simply in her head or her coronary heart however was lived out in her day-to-day life.  

“Character issues,” she mentioned. “Persons are watching you. Not simply who you might be at church or on a platform on Sunday morning, however who you might be to your neighbor, who you might be to the development individual working in your yard, who you might be to the individual on the grocery retailer. All of that issues.”

Eiland was fast to confess she stays a piece in progress and has a lot to study. However the significance of striving to dwell out her religion stays on the prime of her thoughts. What good will her ministry be, she mentioned, if it doesn’t form her into the individual God desires her to be?

The Church We Hope For co-pastors Bobby Harrison, left, and Inés Velásquez-McBryde in Pasadena, California. Courtesy photo

The Church We Hope For co-pastors Bobby Harrison, left, and Inés Velásquez-McBryde in Pasadena, California. Courtesy picture

Two thousand miles away, in Pasadena, California, Inés Velásquez-McBryde and Bobby Harrison, co-pastors of The Church We Hope For, a multiethnic start-up congregation, are additionally charting a method ahead as leaders through the pandemic.

The church started as a home church in January 2020, paused through the early months of the pandemic, then rebooted on as a web-based group when it grew to become clear the pandemic wouldn’t finish any time quickly.

Velásquez-McBryde described the church as a therapeutic place for individuals who have been harm by the church prior to now however who nonetheless hope to seek out the sort of beloved group discovered within the Bible. On a current Sunday, she greeted worshipers by title as they joined the Sunday Zoom name, chatting with them whereas ready for the service to start and reminding people to not spill espresso on their front room rugs at residence.

“We’re going to overlook this at some point, you already know, once we are in individual once more,” she mentioned.

Harrison additionally chimed in, recalling the potluck after a current in-person gathering. The 2 pastors, who’re longtime mates, lead the Zoom conferences collectively and take turns preaching week by week. They hope their shared management reinforces the message they preach.

“We goal to be an embodied witness of the excellent news — that women and men can serve aspect by aspect and worship aspect by aspect and lead aspect by aspect,” he mentioned.  

The co-pastors mentioned their ministry partnership has been a blessing throughout COVID, which has made the laborious work of beginning a brand new congregation much more difficult. Main a brand new church throughout COVID as a solo pastor would have been daunting, they mentioned.

Co-pastors Inés Velásquez-McBryde, center left, and Bobby Harrison lead a service at The Church We Hope For in Pasadena, California. Courtesy photo

Co-pastors Inés Velásquez-McBryde, middle left, and Bobby Harrison lead a service at The Church We Hope For in Pasadena, California. Courtesy picture

Co-pastoring is usually a wholesome mannequin for church leaders but additionally for the congregation, mentioned Juliet Liu, co-lead pastor of Life on the Vine Church in Lengthy Grove, Illinois, which has had co-pastors for many of its historical past. A shared management mannequin exhibits that within the kingdom of God, energy is supposed for use for the good thing about all, she mentioned. “Once we are entrusted with energy and authority, it’s not so one individual can maintain it for themselves,” she mentioned. “It’s really shared in order that it may be exercised on behalf of everybody.”

Liu mentioned it’s also essential for co-pastors to have a powerful friendship and belief. In any other case, their partnership can result in battle.

Velásquez-McBryde likes to make use of the time period “re-creating” when speaking in regards to the mission of the church, pointing again to the story of the Backyard of Eden within the Ebook of Genesis. Within the backyard, she mentioned, there was “concord, not hierarchy,” and the thought of a hierarchy comes after the autumn. Addressing these energy inequalities is vital — not simply between women and men but additionally between folks from completely different ethnic backgrounds.

In any other case, she mentioned, all you’ve gotten is “presence with out energy.”

RELATED: Multiracial churches increase as Blacks, whites learn to worship together


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