Kent Dobson leaves Mars Hill Church three years after taking Rob Bell’s role

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Three years after he took Rob Bell’s position at Mars Hill, Kent Dobson announced Sunday, Nov. 22, that he will leave his role as teaching pastor of the megachurch in the spring. You can watch his talk here. If you want to read a few things Kent Dobson said, here are some of the things he said last Sunday, more or less exactly as he said them during the worship service:

I have always felt restless when I hear too much God talk.

I feel homeless, it’s part of who I am, and that’s what is like to be me. I love the leadership here, I respect them. But in the last year hasn’t been a lot of alignment with my passion. This is OK. I never expected a perfect fit. Churches are weird places because people are weird, and I am the weirdest. I’ve been around church culture my entire life. Tension can be good in a church. My particular role, my job, hasn’t felt right to me. My passions and my heart no longer serve this place going forward. I know this to be true. The way you know something to be true, on the soul level.

I am going to leave Mars Hill. Over the next few months I’ll be transitioning. This is a new discussion with me and the leadership. I told my parents yesterday. It just takes time.

I feel sadness on one level.

This place has changed my life. Many times I’ve taught that there is no place where I could go in Grand Rapids and be exactly who I am except here. But now I have to loosen my grip and let this awesome place become what it is to become without my voice. I know I’ve left my imprint here, like Rob Bell left his imprint here too. Something new is on the horizon. I am leaving because it’s the right thing to do for me and for this place. I am not leaving because it’s not progressive enough, particularly on sexuality and the church. It is true that my views are progressive, but that’s not why I leave. If anyone asks me I tell them in a straight way that I think about this topic. I don’t feel that the church must be like me, I am open and affirming of homosexuality. I’ve always said that with Jesus community there are no second class citizens. I am not leaving because Mars Hill is not liberal or progressive enough.

I believe in empowering people, and I tried to empower you to go on your own journey. I’ve never met anyone that change their mind on an issue with a clever argument. You only change because you are open to people, and ideas. I’ve changed my views through relationships with people.

In my view the person of Jesus blows up any categories. The big picture for me, is that I’m drawn to the edges of religion and God. I don’t even know if we know what we mean by God anymore. That’s the edge of faith. I’m not drawn to the center, the orthodox, to the mainstream or the status-quo. And all churches must have a center. It helps them define who they are. But from time to time we can fall off the cliff. It’s hard for me to be a teaching pastor and be paid for it while I’m testing the outer edges.

I never felt like a pastor. I had to face this. My dad, and my grandfather was a pastor. I grew up thinking that ‘I want to be a pastor.’ I sort of thought that a ‘teaching pastor’ is a made up title. You’re never just a teacher, you know. I’m not just a teacher. I love ideas, questions, stories and words, but being a pastor at a church is not who I really am. And if I pretend to be it’s not good for me and for you.

I don’t refuse this job to pursue something else on the side. I don’t want to be half hearted about anything in my life.

I know that if I’m going to continue to grow I’m going to step out into the unknown. I have no back up plan. I have no idea. I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I want to keep writing and lead some tours. Beyond that I don’t know what I’m going to do. I feel called to a greater mystery that I do not know, that I do no understand, but I can feel the call anyway. All the mystery says is, “step forward.”

For the past year at least every week I read a poem called The Journey.

I am not burned out. I am alive.

I am not confused. For a while I told people that my life is unravelling, and it’s true. It’s the life and the roles I’ve protected. For something new to be born the old has to die. I am a teacher, I probably said that, but there is a difference between knowing the right words and actually going through it. I can spend my whole life talking about transformation or I can experience it.

From this stage I quoted Thomas Merton many times, and he said that you can spend many years trying to climb to the top of the ladder only to discover that it’s leaning against the wrong wall. Sometimes you can have eyes but you can’t see.

Two weeks ago I was here teaching and after the service I was standing on there and sometimes people stay in line and talk to me about various things. The first person came up and it has been a while since somebody took me out to the woodshed. This person came after me with theological weapons of mass distraction, “Do you believe in a literal hell? Do you believe in Bible inerrancy?” I answered straightforward. The next persons said, “I am an agnostic but I am spiritually curious. Some of my friends told me that this is a safe enough place to come and have some conversations.” These two people, you know, the first one, no offense, has not dozens but thousands of churches in Grand Rapids that he can go to and affirm what he wanted to affirm with passion. That is the truth.  There are a very few places where the second person can find a home. So my hope is that this place will continue to make room for the outsider, the agnostic, the heretic – which it means to hold an opinion, and the losers, like me. Churches are dime a dozen. They are all shrinking. But there no church like Mars Hill in my view.

The big question for this place and for the Church, has to involve the next generation. The high schoolers that grew up here. They are ready to lead now. St. Fancis said, “I have done what is mine to do. Now you must do what is yours to do.” I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.

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