Platforms and Kingdoms and The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill

Kate Berkey

December 3, 2021

I’ve been listening to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast in almost every spare moment recently. If you’ve never heard of this podcast, it’s a beautifully crafted podcast from the Christianity Today team about the story of Mars Hill Church, Pastor Mark Driscoll, and the state of the American church. In my opinion, they tell this narrative in the tension of grace and truth, quick not to resort to gossip or slander. Rather, I see the CT team’s diligent and delicate work of crafting the story in a way that seeks to honor the various parts and people in this story.

The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Church Podcast Logo

But The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill is brutal, and I’m not sure why I’ve gravitated back to it for a second time. I’m sure part of my reasoning is my love of a well-crafted and well-told story, and believe me, this is a well-told story. It’s captivating and intriguing and leaves the listener wanting more. But I think more than that, the story itself captivates me.

It hooks me. I can’t stop thinking about the American church and the empires we’ve built. I’m captivated by the role of platform—online and otherwise—for Christians in our modern world. Because to be sure, if anyone wants to be anyone with significant influence, they need a platform. They need a social media presence and a following online and in person. They need a large email list and thousands of subscribers. The more, the better.

Ditch the Masses?

And I’m not sure that all of this is bad—the large numbers. After all, didn’t the crowds follow Jesus? Did they mob Him, pressing in on every side of Him? Won’t the masses gravitate toward a story filled with truth and love and light? Don’t we all crave meaning and purpose in a way that our world just can’t satisfy?

So, I don’t think it’s always a bad thing if a church or a leader or a speaker or a writer or anyone who is following Jesus builds a large platform. But as I listen to this podcast repeatedly, I am reminded of a quote from Christine Caine that I heard in 2016. It went something like, “If the light on you is stronger than the light in you, then the light on you will destroy you.” 

If you know little about the Mars Hill story, you’re probably not alone. I only had a vague understanding before I started the podcast. A quick Google search will tell you more than you want to know, but in a nutshell, theirs is a story of a mega-church that crumbled to the ground as their leader focused on numbers and brand and platform through bullying tactics, intimidation, and a win-at-all-cost mentality. As a woman in the Kingdom of God, I must admit that I also find many of Mark’s views on men and women and marriage to be terrifying and damaging. I’m sure there are others who would disagree with me, but honestly, I have very little desire to be a part of the Kingdom he preached on week after week. I’m not sure it was an accurate representation, anyway.

A Problem Bigger than Mars Hill

I think there were more than a few things Mark got wrong about the Kingdom of God, but I’m not convinced he’s alone. I don’t think we can hold him up, crucify him, cut him down, tout him as the poster child of a pastor gone wrong. Because I think our modern Christianity loves celebrities. We love influencers and charismatic people who can build platforms and followings. We crave them, and I can tell you as someone on the other side—the side of trying to build a platform online—the pressure is real. I feel it every day. I’ve woken up at 4 in the morning thinking of all the things I should do to build mine and Kristy’s platform as we prepare to launch a book.

It’s never ending, and it’s exhausting. And sometimes it just feels like a gigantic waste of time. To be fair, I don’t think it always is. After all, if we truly carry the words of life through Jesus, shouldn’t we be trying to reach the world? So, while these efforts aren’t a waste, the pressure and the worship given to those who can build something large and impressive is concerning.

Whose Kingdom are we Building Anyway

This morning as I was again listening to another episode of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, I asked myself the question, “Am I trying to build my empire or God’s Kingdom.” Not that I think I will have an empire someday. Yikes. Nah. Probably not.

It’s a heart question, a heart check. Because, “if the light on us is greater than the light in us, then the light on us will destroy us.” So in all this working and striving and posting the most perfect picture and caption on social media, what is our motivation? A personal brand or the Kingdom of God? I don’t think these are just questions that leaders and writers and pastors and influencers should ask of themselves. I think this is a greater cultural question, because we are a culture that gets dopamine hits off of likes and comments.

So why are we doing all of this?
And someday, will we find we built empires and brands and personal kingdoms on sand?

Our words and our actions have power. I think we sometimes forget that. But as followers of Jesus, may we pause a little longer today and ask ourselves some honest questions about our motivations and desires and the little kingdoms we are building for ourselves.  

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