Shane Hipps, teaching pastor at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids is leaving. This follows another high profile exit from Mars Hill, Rob Bell. Neither of these exits come from scandal, however Hipps is a bit more bizarre than Bell’s. Tony Jones, a friend and fellow pastor offers his perspective here. Below is Hipps’letter to Mars Hill from his Website.
There is a story in the book of Genesis about a man named Jacob who wrestled with God by the side of a river all through the night. In the end, God popped his hip out of joint and gave him a new name– Israel. I have had much in common with Jacob over the last few months. I’ve wrestled mightily with God over my identity. The fuel for my fight was my love for the Mars Hill community. Of course, fighting against God is ultimately a losing proposition. In the end, God gave me a new name, a new calling, and I will probably walk with a limp for a while.
I’ve been at Mars Hill a little over two years now and I love this church. I have loved serving in the way I have. I cannot express how great an honor it is that people would give me their time, energy, and attention so I could share what I believe are the most important things in life. While this has been a wonderful calling for me, as we all know, no calling is ever permanent. Some last longer than others. This one was shorter than I would have liked. But I’ve gotten better over the years at accepting the way these things change.
First some context about how the church makes decisions. The Elders are a body of twelve volunteers who have been elected by the congregation to be the ordained decision makers on the most important issues in the church. They are tasked with representing the community and acting on their behalf. In a church this size and such diverse make up you can imagine how challenging this is. The Elders do this out of the goodness of their heart and a strong sense of call. And I think they deserve our appreciation for serving as they have in this unique transition in the life of this church.
Not long after Rob left, the Elders determined it was in the best interest of the church to restructure the role of the Teaching Pastor to be a full time teacher, which means approximately 40 Sundays a year. In addition, that teacher would report to the Executive Director who would be responsible for the overall leadership of the church.
The original calling I accepted was to teach 25 Sundays a year, continue serving the broader church through speaking and writing, report directly to the Elders, and play a major role in casting vision. They acknowledged that the new role was significantly different than the one I originally accepted, but expressed a hope that I would consider applying for it. I respected their decision and was grateful for their invitation to apply.
And so as I’ve done a number of times in my life, I set about the process of discerning that call. Almost immediately I was hit with the sad realization that one way or another, my current calling was coming to an end. It took some time to get used to. I love the Mars Hill community and have been very happy here.
For me this was difficult because it presented me with a real dilemma. If I accepted the new role, I would have to dramatically reduce my service to the broader church which is an integral part of my sense of call. If I elected not to take the role I lose my grounding in a local community, which I understood as part of my sense of call. Frankly, I didn’t want to accept either of those.
I came face to face with one of the most powerful and difficult ingredients in discovering call — the role of limits.
In this process I kept bumping up against two limits. First, I bumped up against the decision the Elders made. They created a role that was very different than the one I am currently in. I had to confront the reality of an external set of limits that had been created. This happens all the time in life. We confront things on the outside we wish could be different. Choices our loved ones make, illness, and economic downturns. The Elders made a series of choices which they believe were in the best interest of this community. In the process I was presented with new limits.
The second and far more substantial limit was internal. Everyone of us has an interior shape and size. Some of that is predetermined and unchangeable like our height. It’s just how we got made and no amount of effort can change it. Some of that inner shape is like our weight, we can actually do something to reshape it, adjust it, change it. It’s not easy, but it is possible if we are truly called to something.
I knew instantly my internal shape did not fit the role they created. But I had to ask the question, is this something God wanted me to change about myself? Or was I simply not tall enough for this ride? That is a question easier posed than answered.
Through my process a heartbreaking clarity emerged. There were several aspects of the role that I simply couldn’t find my way into, no matter how hard I tried. These are matters of height, not weight. The simplest and most obvious was the number of Sundays required. I felt the maximum number of Sundays I could do was 30 and still serve to my optimum capacity. However, the Elders felt strongly that was not sufficient for the needs of the community.
The Elders and I have had clear communication about these issues and our differences have been respectful and open. As a result, the Elders have my full support during this difficult transition in the life of the church. I love this community, and I am very glad to accept their invitation to continue teaching as I have been until a more fitting Teaching Pastor is chosen.
When I originally accepted the calling to Mars Hill, I was given no promise by God that things would work out in any specific way. Neither was I told why I was called here. Just that I was supposed to come, I felt a bit like a pawn in God’s larger chess match– “Pawn to Rook 4.” Looking back, my great hope is that I was faithful in God’s purposes. If nothing else, I was given the opportunity to serve as a leader in a time of historic transition in the life of this church. And while it is not what I envisioned, I am honored to have served here in this way. And I look forward to continue serving until my departure date is determined.
All of this may raise questions for some of you. I’ll try and answer what I presume are the most pressing ones:
1. Shane, what are you being called to?
Well, I’ve just finished my next book which releases in October called Selling Water by the River: A book about the Life Jesus Promised and the Religion that Gets in the Way (Jericho). I’m very excited about it, and I wrote it with the Mars Hill Community in mind. So I’m looking forward to getting the word out about that. A year after that, a second book called Cats Don’t Bark: How to Find Your Purpose will launch.
In addition to those books and my speaking, I am also in the very early stages of creating a leadership development company. I’ve spent time over the years working to unlock the inner life of leaders, artists, entrepreneurs, and activists by helping catalyze their creativity, align people with their deep purpose, and enact their highest potential in the world. I’m deeply energized by the work I’ve been doing here already and feel a strong sense that I need to pursue it more intentionally.
2. Will you be moving out of West Michigan?
My next ventures do not require a move, and no move is planned.
3. How long are you going to be here for?
The Elders have requested, and I have accepted the invitation to serve as I have been until a new full-time Teaching Pastor is called. My objective is to be as helpful as I can be in teaching and pastoring this community through this transition. However, the exact date of my departure will be determined partly by the needs of this community as well as the scope of my responsibilities beyond it. As that becomes more clear we will be sure to let you know.
These past few months have been very difficult for many of us I know, myself included. And I’ve been grateful for the overwhelming support, prayer and concern so many of you have expressed. It means the world to me. So thank you, and I look forward to serving as your pastor during this transitional time.