Pastoral Lessons from Mars Hill Church E7: Lessons on Power

Join Ryan Williams, Dave Bruskas, and Sutton Turner as they reflect on their time at Mars Hill Church in Seattle and share lessons they have learned that can serve other pastors and ministry leaders.

‘So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. ‘ 1 Peter 5:1-3

Listen here: http://olderpastoryoungerpastor.libsyn.com/pastoral-lessons-from-mars-hill-church-e7-lessons-on-power

A transcript of the podcast is below.

Introduction:
Welcome to The Older Pastor/Younger Pastor Podcast, a discussion through pastoral, epistles, scripture, and ministry in the 21st century. The Older Pastor/Younger Pastor Podcast is part of Am I Called Ministries. Am I Called Ministries helps current and aspiring pastors, ministers, and leaders to live, love, learn, and last in ministry. Visit Am I Called at amicalled.com.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
Welcome to a special series of episodes of The Older Pastor/Younger Pastor Podcast. In today’s episode, we will be discussing Pastoral Lessons Learned from Mars Hill Church: Lessons on Power. Many of you know the Mars Hill Church in Seattle closed its doors at the end of 2014, after a year of scandals, complaints, and revelations about what had gone on within the church for many years.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
At its peak, Mars Hill Church was around 18,000 people spread over 15 different church campuses and had an operating budget of around $32 million. It had a weekly podcast audience of 300,000 people. And from that point at its height, it was within 24 months that the church had closed its doors.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
I was a part of Mars Hill Church. I served as the lead pastor at the Everett location. Dave Bruskas also served at Mars Hill as an executive elder. And with us today is our guest, Sutton Turner, who also served as an executive elder at Mars Hill Church.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
Today, like I just said, we’re going to be talking about lessons on power, and to kick us off in that discussion I’m going to look at 1 Peter 5:1-3. I think this is a great opportunity just to remind people that The Older Pastor/Younger Pastor Podcast, its primary audience, its main focus is current and aspiring ministry leaders.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
We want to help equip ministry leaders to live, love, learn, and last in ministry, and we’re hopefully taking the lessons, the good, the bad, and the ugly, from Mars Hill Church to help ministry leaders not make the same mistakes, not head down the same path, and, hopefully, make some course corrections, or to be encouraged in the path that they’re currently on.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
Today, obviously talking about power, I think it’s really important that if we’re talking to ministry leaders, we look at the scripture that kind of encourages ministry leaders to use their power in a certain way. I’m just going to read that for us and we’ll jump straight in.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
So, 1 Peter 5:1-3, Peter writes, “I exhort the elders among you as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of Christ as well as one who shares in the glory about to be revealed, shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion, but willingly as God would have you, not out of greed for money, but eagerly, not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being an example to the flock.”

Pastor Ryan Williams:
Dave, Sutton, how you guys doing?

Sutton Turner:
Good, man. Good to be with you.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
It is.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
I feel like a mediator today because I know people are just listening and can’t see what’s going on here, but Ryan is wearing a Texas Longhorn burnt orange shirt.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
Oh, come on.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
Sutton is a huge Texas Aggie. Yeah, and so I’m feeling the tension today. Let’s just pray this goes okay.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
Yeah, man. When we talk about power, the powerhouse that is Texas really needs to be brought into a discussion here.

Sutton Turner:
Yeah. And i think this goes well into a domineering culture where fear is used by one school over the other for 100 years. Yeah, I think this is perfect.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
It’s perfect, it’s perfect.

Sutton Turner:
This is perfect [crosstalk 00:03:48] this one-

Pastor Ryan Williams:
Might not be talking about Mars Hill here, but we ought to be talking about something else.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
Probably the fastest we ever went off the rails on The Older Pastor/Younger Pastor Podcast.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
That’s it. That’s it. Well-

Sutton Turner:
And you did it, Dave. Dave, you did it.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
Yeah. Sorry. Please forgive me. I repent.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
I think having a discussion about power is a really helpful thing, especially as it relates to Mars Hill. Really, my view of power is that power is actually not a morally good or a morally bad thing. I think power is a reality that plays out in institutions, whether they be church or secular, wherever they are, whether they be families or they be businesses. Whatever it is, power is there, and power can be used for good or for bad.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
It’s inherent within a church that there is power. I think most people would say that God has established an order for how that power is to be used. No matter what the polity looks like or your ecclesiology is, there is a structure within the church for the distribution of power and how it’s used. Congregational churches, it’s pushed out into the congregation, the priesthood of all the believers. In more traditional settings, it is more institutionalized with bishops and popes and things like that, and anywhere in between.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
Maybe just kick off, Dave, I’m just going to ask you, what do you see God’s intentions for power being in the church?

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
I appreciate that clarity, Ryan. I think we can look at power maybe particularly as it pertains to the church as we look at other categories that can definitely hurt the integrity of the leadership of the church, such as money and even sexuality. We would all agree that sex is a good thing if it is rightly expressed in the context of a marriage between a man and a woman. It can be a very beautiful thing. Money is just a currency that can either be used to worship God or God can be thrust in a bad position and a position He won’t hold to, where He’s manipulated to worship money.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
I see power the same way. And I really like the passage that you just read to us because, number one, how interesting that it’s Peter who writes it, Peter who was clearly the leader of the disciples and the leader of the church through its early stages, that he would write about this idea of not lording it over them or not domineering them. It so connects us back to the words that Jesus used when He taught His disciples about the dynamic of power, especially as it pertains to greatness. He tells them in Mark 10, Matthew 25, “Don’t be like the Gentiles. Don’t be like pagans.”

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
Particularly, I think there’s a militaristic aspect to it that their leaders lorded over them. Their leaders used power to dominate those under their charge, but, instead, Jesus gives us an entirely different paradigm, and that is to be servants. I think we have to be careful as we talk about this concept because some people don’t seem to be able to separate out power from leadership.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
Some people have a distorted view of leadership within our broader culture, but within church culture that thinks that leadership means exercising power to the exclusion of everybody else, where Jesus was the greatest leader the world has ever known. He is the Lord of lords. He’s the King of kings. And He was a servant leader. All power is invested in Him and He used the power that was His in order to serve, love, help, and actually empower others.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
I love the passage you picked because there’s a consistent theme starting with Jesus’ teaching on leadership to what Peter is saying to the elders, and that is, “Don’t domineer people, but instead,” and he offers an alternative, “be an example.” Jesus’ alternative is be a servant leader.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
Just a couple of thoughts that I have to kick this off.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
That’s really good, man, because there is power in the role of elder within a church, the role of ministry leader in a church. This is Peter not saying there’s no power in it. It’s saying here’s how to use your power and here’s how to not use your power.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
Sutton, would you jump in, give us some thoughts?

Sutton Turner:
Yeah. This is heavy for me today. Woke up early this morning reading about this and just kind of praying over this. I think the difficulty I have when I’m reading the scripture is this is an area that we failed, we, all three of us and many others failed at. We were a part of a failed culture.

Sutton Turner:
I look back at the … We’ve done, I don’t know, five or six of these podcasts on Mars Hill. We’ve talked about accountability, and here Paul says, “Serve as a fellow elder.” And implied in there is the fellowship and accountability there. We’ve talked a lot about the lack of accountability at Mars Hill.

Sutton Turner:
If I go on and I say shameful gain, don’t use it for shameful gain. We talked about this one week. We talked about loving people and not using people. And we did that. We used people. We didn’t love them well, whether they were staff members or they were people in the congregation.

Sutton Turner:
Then the word that sticks out throughout this, not domineering. That was probably the hardest word to read. I know in the past that I have been domineering. I can’t speak for others, but I can only speak for myself, and I look back on the culture of Mars Hill and I look at the …

Sutton Turner:
Well, I mean, if you just look at the end of Mars Hill August and September of 2014 investigation, 40 people were interviewed. Hundreds of hours of interviews were taking place, and literally, domineering was one of the findings. If you look at the findings that were there, quick-tempered, include harsh speech, arrogant, and domineering in leadership of elders and staff.

Sutton Turner:
Luckily, I’m thankful that that’s not the end of the story, but, unfortunately, that was the end of Mars Hill Church, but it was not the end of the story. The end of the story is you guys, like Ryan, you. Pastor Dave, you going back to Albuquerque, Ryan in Everett, continuing on with churches and pretty much removing that element of the culture that was in Mars Hill on a pivotal date right there in the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015.

Sutton Turner:
I’m thankful that that’s not the end of the story. I’m thankful that the people that are listening that maybe go, “Gosh, I don’t want to be that part of Mars Hill,” that’s not the end of the story. The end of the story is there’s a lot of healthy churches that came out of Mars Hill Church today that do not have that domineering, that arrogant, that quick-tempered culture. I’m thankful of that.

Sutton Turner:
But this is heavy. I mean, this is heavy to me today because it really, it illuminates one of the big areas that I feel like that Mars Hill was lacking.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
Sutton, I’m glad you said that. I know that’s hard to come to terms with, and I know I’ve struggled with that as much as anything. My perspective is just one perspective, and I want to be very clear about that. The way that I perceive and I see what happened and try to explain it, any attempt I make is going to be overly simplistic, but if I were to explain from my perspective what it was that took Mars Hill down, it was this issue. It was the power dynamic that was in play that was unhealthy and dysfunctional and not good.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
I remember the quote, Ryan and Sutton, from Paul Tripp as he was on our board and as he was evaluating what was going on, actually trying to help us correct the power dynamic there. He said, this is his quote, speaking of Mars Hill, “This is without a doubt the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.”

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
That’s heartbreaking. That’s painful, especially given the light, what Jesus tells us about the subject. I think the thing in the years that have followed that have been surprising to me is how quickly, it seems to me, in the Christian culture people downplay abuse of power. We almost have these categories of, hey, as long as leaders are not being sexually immoral, as long as they’re not committing financial impropriety, we don’t really care what they do in the realm of how they handle their power.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
My thinking is, well, then, you have an issue with Jesus because He speaks definitively and repeatedly about it. Even Peter, as we just read, the leader of the early church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, in 1 Peter:5 talks about, “Don’t do this for eager gain,” so he talks about money, but he also talks about power, “Don’t domineer over others.”

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
Yeah, it was a weighty, weighty issue at Mars Hill, so ultimately, in my humble opinion, resulted in the downfall of the church.

Sutton Turner:
Pastor Dave, I want to just follow up what you just said, and I totally agree and I want to affirm what you said. I agree as well this was the reason why Mars Hill Church needed to be ended. The downfall, whatever the way you want to put it, this was the reason why Mars Hill closed its doors, not any other issue. It was the domineering, arrogance, and the temperament of leadership and not living out the passage that we have just read. I totally agree with you. I was a part of that. I take part of that blame, but this was the reason.

Sutton Turner:
As we get, what are we, five years, six years from Mars Hill closing? I don’t want there to be a narrative out there that says that Mars Hill closed for any other reason besides this specific reason. And why do I know this reason? It’s because there was an investigation of over 40 people and there was hundreds of hours of interviews that I have all of those documents for and I have audio of the deliberations of that. This is it. This is it. This is the reason. This is what happened in Mars. What happened? People ask me all the time, “What happened in Mars Hill?” This is what happened in Mars Hill.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
There’s a power dynamic that exists pretty much in every relationship on earth. If you’re a parent, you understand you have power over your children. If you’re a husband, if you’re a wife, you have power over your partner. Even friendships can have a power dynamic to it. I think that there was a power dynamic across the board at Mars Hill.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
Perhaps the most glaring example of brokenness was among the executive elders in the way that we led, but it also impacted guys like you, Ryan, at the campus level. You were a lead pastor there, and here’s something that I see happen a lot now in churches that make a power dynamic or a power system somewhat broken, and that is when your responsibility to lead a group of people far outstretches your authority and your power to do so, you’re going to be in a very militaristic situation. That’s what we do in the armed forces. You’re a noncommissioned officer in the field, you do what you’re told to do and you execute and you’re responsible for the soldiers beneath you.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
I saw that dynamic play out a lot at Mars Hill when you didn’t have the authority or the power to make decisions at a local level or even to shape the ministry at a local level. You were directed in what to do, and yet, day to day out, you were held responsible for the fruitfulness and the faithfulness of that church.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
What was that like? Tell us your experience in this whole dynamic?

Pastor Ryan Williams:
Yeah. I mean, I think that this power culture, if it’s used poorly, it infiltrates the entire organization, but I think that there are some levels where that can be held up or that can be kind of … Somebody can say, “You know what? I’m going to take full responsibility here, and I’m going to try and create something different below me on the pole or whatever in the church world or the organizational structure.”

Pastor Ryan Williams:
I think for myself, personally, I don’t speak for the other guys, I know that there was in me as well and this is just kind of a character thing that you take responsibility for everything. You own it, and then you don’t let that roll down past you. You kind of just put that on your shoulders and keep going like a good soldier. There’s a sense of, okay, you can take responsibility for this even though you may not have been given the authority to do so.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
I know that a lot of guys probably function in that way. I know that’s how I functioned. It creates kind of a soul-crushing dynamic for a leader when they’re going to take responsibility for every failure, mess-up, even though they haven’t been given authority to avert that, but they feel like it’s their responsibility to protect and shepherd the people below them.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
For me, that was my experience. I don’t think that’s heroic or anything like that. I think that was probably a little bit more of some brokenness in me of always wanting to be the good soldier and just take responsibility and soldier on and just keep marching, while at the same time, wanting to protect the people who were in my church from anything that would be negative or harmful to them. I still think there’s some good in that, and I think there’s some of my own insecurities in there as well.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
But at the same time, Mars Hill’s eldership, wherever it was, not even just the executive eldership, they were held in high regard in the churches. There was a sense of, hey, if the pastors walked into a room, people would, oh, look, there’s the pastors. There was this separateness to the pastors. There was always the title, Pastor Ryan, Pastor Dave, Pastor Sutton, and that can be a good outpour, outshowing of respect or it can be to differentiate a pastor from a staff member or a pastor from a congregant.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
I think that’s what it kind of became at Mars Hill, was that there was a real pride in being a pastor at Mars Hill because you were a part of something happening and cool. To be a pastor there, we held eldership in high regard. That meant something, and that filled a void in a lot of guys and myself as well of needing validation and approval.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
And that was just kind of messed up as you look back. I wasn’t comfortable enough in just being a follower of Jesus, that I needed to be a pastor at Mars Hill, and that kind of follower of Jesus plus pastor at Mars Hill really gave me a great sense of identity and power as well, because when an elder spoke, people listened even if that elder wasn’t reading the scriptures.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
It was assumed that everything that a pastor said was biblically informed. That became kind of destructive when guys probably weren’t as biblically informed as they should have been, but they began to speak in that way and exercise authority in that way and exercise power over people by speaking to them and giving them things that they should and shouldn’t do and putting them in church discipline situations that probably wasn’t the most biblically sound version of church discipline.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
That was my experience, man. You got to see it from above and so I don’t know if that stands true for your view of it or not, Dave.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
Yeah. I think that’s fair and I’m sorry. I’m sorry for that, Ryan, and I’m sorry for the way that the other lead pastors, or if you’re not familiar with the Mars Hill structure, probably a campus pastor in your familiar nomenclature. But I’m sorry for the way in which I had such high expectations of you and gave you so much responsibility, but didn’t empower you and didn’t give you a commensurate amount of authority to do what you needed to do. That was wrong. That’s not helpful, and that only reinforced the broader culture that was, that was abusive, and, man, I’m sorry. I’d ask that you forgive me.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
Yeah. If you’ve never experienced abuse from power, I think there’s a propensity to minimize the damage it does to people. Those of us who are in a pastoral role, we do see people come to our churches all the time, maybe limping through the doors, that have been hurt by a dysfunctional power structure.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
It takes a long season to heal. There’s so much that happens when someone you’re entrusting to serve you well like Jesus serves you well doesn’t. Instead of using his power to strengthen you and build you up, he uses his power to bully you and tear you down. It does something really horrible to your soul.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
I would just encourage those who are shepherding people who’ve been hurt by abusive power structures to be patient and to seek healing together, to be kind and do everything you can to empathize and sympathize with those who are hurting. It’s a rough, brutal thing.

Sutton Turner:
Yeah. I think one of the things, Pastor Dave, that we can look at … I know I felt this. I don’t know if you guys felt this. One of the reasons why I don’t think I could sleep this morning is I was fearful of talking about this. I think that that’s a … This is six years. I mean, we’re not talking about last week I left Mars Hill. This is six years ago, a long time ago.

Sutton Turner:
But yet, the fear that still lives in me as we talk about this, how quickly it comes back like it was just yesterday. I say that to affirm what you’re saying, Pastor Dave, that this is the long-lasting effects of being in one of these cultures. It takes a long time to heal.

Sutton Turner:
Secondly, I think that pastors hearing this need to understand when you lead in that domineering way, which I have led in a domineering way. I do not live in a glass house and throw stones. I know that I have failed and sinned in this area. Let me be very clear. I’m saying that when people lead like I have led in a domineering way, the response to the people that you lead is fear, and it’s long-lasting.

Sutton Turner:
After the job, after you’ve left the church or whatever, there’s still that conjuring up of that fear that exists. I feel it today, right now. As many of you pastor, I don’t pastor anymore, but as many of you pastor, I just encourage you to realize the effects that you can have on people in this area of fear.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
I think there is also a really clear delineation between that your church and the volunteer leaders will take on the characteristics of your leadership. If your leadership is domineering, if it is authoritarian, if it is using power in a destructive way in people’s lives, that will play out in your church by those who follow you and those who are leading your church taking on those same characteristics.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
I think we saw this at Mars Hill. I think we saw that there was a caricature of a leader that fit the mold, and it was hyper masculine. It was somebody who was not afraid to say hard things or to call out sin or to do what they needed to do and then just drop it. It was angry, it was quarrelsome. It was really looking for a fight most of the time, but it was engaging. This is something that I saw at the local church level as a congregant in a local church, as a leader in a local church, and as a pastor of a local church, that people thought that they were being good leaders by perpetuating this misuse of power.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
Did you guys see that from your perspective, just kind of looking back?

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
I did. I did, Ryan, but it wasn’t until I returned to Albuquerque. I think from the perspective I had when I was functioning and serving as an executive elder in Seattle, I saw it mostly amongst the way that we as executive elders interacted with our staff across the board and in our volunteer elders. I saw it most pronounced there.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
When I went back to Albuquerque, I began to see … It was primarily, but not exclusively through our redemption group ministry there, which, again, when redemption groups were executed well, and by that I mean by the book, by scripture, and when the leaders that were empowered loved well and cared well, it was a beautiful thing with a tremendous group.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
But when leaders became harsh in that context and they became confrontational, overly so, and they became heavy-handed and they belittled those under their care, and these were people that were coming that already because of the nature of the abuse they suffered or their long-term suffering, even just their habitual sin, they were fragile as it was, it just had devastating results. It just drove people away and broke them and hurt them.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
Yeah. I lament over that. I grieve over that, and I did. On the team I joined that I love and we had … The good end of this story is we had an opportunity to sit down three years after I got to Albuquerque. We all were able to talk about even this dynamic amongst each other. I was able to own my sin and they were so kind to forgive me.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
But I also saw the way that they had interacted with the staff, absolutely, even prior to me showing up, had embraced kind of a domineering, authoritative culture that hurt. Yeah, I do believe, as best as I can tell from my very limited perspective, that it really infiltrated the whole church.

Sutton Turner:
I’ve always believed in that fact of leaders produce leaders just like themselves. Unfortunately, that can be a really good thing and it can also be a really bad thing. I look at verse 3 from our reading today, “Not domineering over those in charge but being examples to the flock.”

Sutton Turner:
That word example, I think, was really missed, and so as a result … That’s one of the things that post-Mars Hill I have tried to do, not by my own efforts but by the efforts of the Holy Spirit, is try to lead in a godly way and a loving way and a sacrificial way to try to be an example.

Sutton Turner:
To be honest with you, it first starts in my house and with my family. I’m no longer a pastor of a church nor do I plan on being a pastor of any church, but I am a leader of my household and a pastor of my household and not leading in a domineering way. I’ll just be honest with you guys.

Sutton Turner:
You leave Mars Hill but some of the leadership things that you saw, that you emulated and you repeated, unfortunately, need to be broken. They need to be stopped. They need to be called out during that time period. I think that that’s where we all have to be surrounded by ourselves. I know Pastor Dave’s loved on me in this way and encouraged me in this way and helped me change in this way because there’s some habits that you shouldn’t continue.

Sutton Turner:
The good thing, Pastor Ryan, as you’ve shown, and Pastor Dave, as you’ve shown, when you’ve gone back after January 1, 2015, when you guys led formerly known as Mars Hill churches, you had to walk through that breaking process, a breaking, that the example that we had of what a leader and an elder was needed to be dismantled and new examples like we’re seeing in scripture, examples to the flock, needed to be emulated.

Sutton Turner:
I credit you guys. That’s some hard work. And I’d love, Pastor Ryan, if you could share with us, how’d you do that? How did you go back and try to start over as a leader and try to lead in a different way 1/1/2015?

Pastor Ryan Williams:
A lot of my experience in the last half of 2014 was pretty traumatic, not even just with church stuff, but my oldest son was born, he has spina bifida. He spent time in the hospital, had to have his spinal cord put back into his body 24 hours after he was born. Caring for him and then about two and a half weeks before we launched as an independent church out of Mars Hill, he had to have brain surgery, developed some pressure in his brain and had to have a shunt put in there. I think they call it God’s severe mercies.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
I was a wreck then. I didn’t have anything in me, and I was questioning kind of everything as we launched into … January 2015 we started Foundation Church and I think I was just … I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just empty in so many ways. For me, it was having to rely on the plurality of the whole ship around me, having to rely on the leaders around me because I couldn’t carry the load now.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
That went well in a couple of cases where the elders were gracious and kind and went poorly in some other areas where I had leaders who just basically, hey, you’re not good enough. Why are you doing this? Why aren’t you here all the time? Why aren’t you … There was just no grace for me.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
The Lord just came in and navigated that season for me. For me, Sutton, it really took a sabbatical at the beginning of 2016 to hit reset, to just begin to reevaluate. I had to reevaluate the call of ministry at that point. I’d just say, “I’m ready to throw in the towel here.” I had a counselor who said, “I’m going to give you a 5% chance of seeing out the year as a pastor.” I said, “Oh, okay, sure.” She’s like, “You’re at the verge of being done here.” It really felt like the Lord reconfirmed the call of ministry and came back saying, “We got to do this a different way.”

Pastor Ryan Williams:
For me, it was a process. There was no light switch moment, but it was just God’s grace and mercy, brothers in Christ who came around and supported me at that time to help me recreate a paradigm of leadership in the local church. And what it came down to was we want to be a people who loves one another, cares for one another, and that means putting away the desire for size.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
That means putting away the desire to be influential and saying, “Well, what if the most influential thing we could do was to be a community of people who loved the Lord with all their heart, mind, soul, and spirit and then loved one another as well and did that empowered by the spirit of God as best as we could?”

Sutton Turner:
That’s awesome. Pastor Dave, what was your path after Mars Hill in leading?

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
There are so many different aspects to it that I needed to change, Sutton, so to, just in view of time, I’ll focus on one very specific aspect of it. What I began to see at Mars Hill once it was done and over and I had a little bit of time and perspective to see better was I think one of the broken aspects of the power dynamic that I saw taking shape that I didn’t want to repeat was that between men and women.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
I didn’t change my theological convictions. I’m still to this day complementarian, which simply means that the Bible upholds that men and women are equal but called to different capacities. I’ve not forsaken that. I believe that is biblical as much today as I ever have.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
But what I began to see is that we didn’t approach that issue in a healthy way at Mars Hill. Women were often neglected. They weren’t given places of influence and given the ability to use their gifts and speak into some of the critical things that we needed to think through. Women in some way were marginalized.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
I would say five years out, six years out, now I’m a part of a church, The Village Church, which I think has a much more healthy view of complementarianism, and get to work day in and day out with just dynamic women who love God and who lead well. It’s an amazing thing just to see how that power dynamic was also broken at Mars Hill. In my opinion, just women were marginalized. They weren’t given an opportunity to use their gifts well. They weren’t invited into speaking into the critical issues of the church that they needed to have a voice in. That would be one of the areas I’ve grown in.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
What would you guys say to maybe one of our listeners out there who finds himself as an inspiring ministry leader in a church where fear is the great motivator and power and they’re seeing it misused and they’re just right now even maybe coming to terms with? These pastors, I mean, they’re not shepherding the flock of God among them willingly as God would have them being examples to the flock. They’re doing this in a domineering and really fearful way where fear is the primary motivator rather than grace and love.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
What would you say to somebody right now as they’re experiencing that and beginning to question, “Oh, wow. I’m in a church that is just like Mars Hill as far as power goes”?

Sutton Turner:
I think for me, when we look at these aspects of this domineering culture, the one thing that … Having been a leader of a domineering culture and having been a domineering leader, the one thing that is absent is humility and from humility, repentance. That’s the thing that … I know it was the first podcast that we did and we talked about as far as our experiences at Mars Hill.

Sutton Turner:
I just want to go back to that. The humble leader that realizes that he’s broken and that he’s a sinner and that he’s no better than the people that he is leading and trying to serve, and that he needs Jesus and the blood of Jesus and he needs to repent not only to Jesus but to repent to others for the sins that we all commit and it takes humility to do that, that’s it. To me, that’s the key.

Sutton Turner:
If you can get back to that, to me, that breaks that domineering culture. And what I’ve found is, is where there’s an absence of that humility and an absence of repentance, that’s where domineering and domineering leaders just grow. That would be my word.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
Ryan, I’d like to speak to two different … I think with that question, there’s maybe two different audiences. One would be the lead pastor, so the person who is responsible for leading the church forward, the person who the other leaders in the church look to to lead. I would really take a long, hard look at your servanthood. Are you leading in a way primarily so that you can serve others, so that you can equip and release others to do the work of ministry?

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
Understand that all systems are flawed, and so if you think that somehow your system is air-tight, a polity, and, therefore, you can’t be domineering, I see domineering leaders in congregationally run churches and I’ve seen gracious, humble, kind leaders in what we’d call the Moses model. I’m not endorsing that model, but it’s really an issue of your own heart. It comes from your own character.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
What you need to know about domineering behavior, in my opinion, it’s a response to fear. Some people when they’re fearful back down. Some people when they’re fearful and insecure, they bully up. Check your service, check your motives. Ask the question why. Why are you doing this? Are you there to serve others and make much of Jesus? Are you insecure in any way? Because when those insecurities are pressed upon, that’s when people are going to see you act in domineering ways.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
Then I want to say something, I think, to another group of people I think is critically important, if you’re not in the first chair. You gave a picture of maybe you’re seeing this manifest or this domineering behavior manifested in those that have authority over you. I would tell you to take that as seriously as if you were seeing the leaders above you dip their hands into the offering plate and take money out, or if you were aware of the leaders around you engaging in sexual immorality.

Pastor Dave Bruskas:
It is that serious of an issue. It not only harms the reputation of Jesus when you are domineering. It hurts people so deeply. In that respect, you’ve got to determine, can I be an agent of change by speaking up, or is it time for me just to go?

Pastor Ryan Williams:
That’s a really, really powerful word and encouragement, because I mean, it is as serious. We talk about sex, money, and power and corruption and why in the church do we take the sex and money so seriously but the power not so seriously?

Pastor Ryan Williams:
I mean, I would just encourage that pastor who is either realizing they’re part of a system right now that is domineering and that they are taking on that culture as well, or if it’s a pastor who is perpetrating that culture, you’re being encouraged here through scripture, through the authority of scripture, which I still hope has authority in your life, to lead the church as an example of what it’s like to be led by Jesus, to shepherd the church as an example of what it’s like to be shepherded by Jesus.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
I think some of us have become so enamored by business structures and pragmatism and ministry philosophies in the church that we have become so distant from being a sheep at the feet of our great shepherd, Jesus, that you don’t know how, it’s not an excuse, but you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be shepherded by Christ. And if you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be shepherded by Christ, then how on earth are you going to be able to shepherd God’s people in that way, in the way that Jesus would shepherd you?

Pastor Ryan Williams:
My encouragement for you is take days, take weeks, take months, take a break, read the gospels, get to know Jesus again. Give up the idea of ministry pragmatism or size or influence and get back to what it is to be a sheep shepherded by the good shepherd, the great shepherd, the one who leads you through all things so that you would fear not. And if you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t be in ministry because you’re going to keep hurting people.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
But there is a path back. There is a path back for you now. It might mean that you need to step down. It might mean that you need to take some time. But there is a path back for the minister who has hurt people and has misused power, and the path back is by getting to know Jesus again.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
Well, guys, I think we’ll wrap it up here for today. Thank you for listening to The Older Pastor/Younger Pastor Podcast. We hope it was beneficial for you and your ministry. Please tune in next time. The Older Pastor/Younger Podcast is a part of Am I Called Ministries. If you’d like to support the work of Am I Called, please head to amicalled.com and do-

Pastor Ryan Williams:
All of you are just throwing up in your mouth a little bit. That’s the Texas A&M fight song. We don’t hear it much because they don’t win much, so don’t worry about that.

Pastor Ryan Williams:
Dave, thank you for joining us. Sutton, I think we’ll end with a firm handshake. Thank you for joining us, guys.

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