No, I have not listened to any of the "Rise and Fall of Mars Hill" podcast, but I have been watching the second season of "The Vow" on HBO. It is an unsettling documentary about Keith Raniere, the founder and CEO of NXIVM and the abuse of power and leadership practices that brought down his organization. Adrian Horton of The Guardian wrote that "as a portrait of manipulation and, in particular, the masking of female abuse through self-effacement, the series is darkly compelling, unnerving in a way that's hard to shake." The level of manipulative leadership techniques and masterful use of intellect, science and religious zeal is quite staggering.
Yes, the Church, both in the MainLine spaces right across the spectrum into the Evangelical world, has been rife with similar abuses of power and position. I've been watching "The Vow" (I will get to the Mars Hill podcast at some point) to gain the perspective that while the Church is not immune to this type of corruption and abuse, it certainly is not the source of it all. At times when we carry leadership in the Christian community these days, it can seem like the whole thing must be corrupt to the core, the source of society's evils and therefore we need to jettison the whole thing to find our bearings.
My appeal is that, rather than only seeing this as an institutional corrective within Evangelicalism, we have eyes to see that the combination of a societal upheaval resulting in a marked dis-taste with the abuse of power in all of our culture, and the work of the Holy Spirit in "shaking all things so that which cannot be shaken remains," is actually a metanoia moment for leaders to re-calibrate, own our "stuff" and re engage with the Way, in recognition that the "way of the Gentile" has permeated our leadership models and methods and we have disobeyed Christ's command to us to not be so.
Jesus spoke to his disciples once, in the midst of them squabbling about position and power in the kingdom. Jesus "got them together to settle things down. He said, 'You've observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It's not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant." (Matthew 20:26)
In another instance, the disciples were in a pickle over something quite inane. Who forgot the bread for the journey ahead? How will we sustain ourselves? Jesus pounces on this teachable moment. The strong inference in the story (particularly as captured in Mark 8) is that Jesus is the "one loaf." He is the bread of life. Their source. Their sustenance. "Haven't you realized yet that bread isn't the problem? The problem is yeast." Jesus is the head of the Church. Jesus is the source and it is our confession of utter dependence and reliance on Him that is her foundation. But when we lean away from that dependance, the "bread isn't the problem" - that which Jesus is building and sustaining - the problem is the things we begin to rely on in our own attempts to advance, sustain and govern so that, in our perspective, the Church can be all she's meant to be. So she can be sustained along the journey. But these things - the yeast - corrupt the loaf. And Jesus frankly calls it out for what it is. It is "the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod."
Religious Zeal and Political Power. To lean into either at any time, in any way, causes us to wander from the Way of Jesus and put us in the dangerous position of being disconnected from Him as the Head of it all. When they both are in play, corruption, control and carnage become inevitable and the church is corrupted. The pressures of life and ministry, so exacerbated in these times of pandemic and polarization, can subtly have us throw a dash of pharisaical and herodical yeast in the mix. Just a little we think. Or perhaps, we don't even see how much we are relying on religious manipulation and politicking to hold things together or get something done. Yet, even the smallest dose can spoil the whole loaf. We need the work of the Holy Spirit who Jesus sent "to guide us into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what he hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come." We need to be speaking with the grace and insight of spiritual wisdom as much as we are articulating our "own truth" in these times.
If we do not re-calibrate and repent, we will not only lose the Way, the tragic thing is that we will end up not leading like or looking like Jesus at all. We will no longer be able to say, "follow us as we follow Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1) and we will become the "blind leading the blind" (Matthew 15:14). And "if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit."
So let me end with the words of Peter. "I appeal as a fellow elder ... Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them - not because you must, but because your are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away." (1 Peter 5:4)
Step by step.