Of Mars Hill Church and City Harvest Church

I read a particularly striking article this evening; though predicated upon the fall of Pastor Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church in Seattle, USA, but almost entirely relevant to the fall of Pastor Kong Hee and City Harvest Church in Singapore.

Pastor Paul Tripp, while in the midst of counselling Pastor Mark and advising the Mars Hill before the eventually dissolving of the church wrote these prophetic words, “What happens with leaders often in these situations is that they give you one paragraph of acknowledgement of wrong, and 6 paragraphs of how they are a victim. If I’m counselling an adulterous man, and he sits in front of me and all he talks about is his wife, I know that man is far from confession and repentance. Because once he sees his sin it is devastating and you cry out for God… You think about your future, you don’t think about how to manage it. Until you get to that level of brokenness, what you do is manage a crisis, instead of dealing with the deep personal sin at the bottom of the crisis.”

It is with great sadness that I read these words. Pastor Mark, though not my pastor, was someone I listened to a fair bit. God had given him an extraordinary gift: powerful, passionate, expository preaching. Theologically, he is astute and as a communicator he is one par excellence. I have learnt tremendously from his sermons. And the explosive growth of Mars Hill (before it imploded) was due, in no small part, to his gifting. However, he has tainted his entire ministry because of his deep character flaws, and more damningly his seeming refusal to repent sincerely over the church elders and members who had suffered under his abusive, coercive leadership.

Why do I mention Pastor Kong Hee? Because there are parallels. The outward circumstances may be entirely different. But the philosophy of ministry, borne out of Scripture can be applied in both cases. Here are some of my personal reflections:

1. No matter how gifted a person is, no matter how matter how large and impressive a person’s ministry may have grown, no man or woman is ever excused or exonerated from character flaws or integrity issues. Repentance is key – an acknowledgement of sin without excuses or playing the victim card and a desire to set things right. The restoration of the Apostle Peter after his denial of his Master, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the great motivation for us to come clean.

2. The temptation of leaders to surround themselves within an echo chamber is deadly. Concerning Pastor Mark, Pastor Paul Tripp had this to say… what Mark needs in an Executive Pastor is a “55 year-old seasoned godly man who watches over Mark’s soul as he administrates the church, and who can pull Mark into a room and say ‘you can’t do that in a meeting’ and you need to call another meeting and ask for forgiveness from the people you just spoke to. He doesn’t need a man who is his trigger man.” In other words, Pastor Mark did not need a yes-man/yes-people. But that was precisely what he had. He would not listen to godly critique. He ignored the groundswell. Until it was too late.

It sounds eerily similar to the City Harvest case. Pastor Kong was supported by his leadership, all of whom were complicit in the Cross Over Project. Other city pastors, as early as 2011/2012 had voiced concerns to Pastor Kong. But the echo chamber prevailed. Until it was too late. (As a side-note, I am personally of the opinion, one of the worst influences in Pastor Kong’s life is Phil Pringle. It seems to me that the delusion of grandeur was planted into Pastor Kong’s mind/heart by this man, through prophetic words given him. While I would not go as far as to say Phil is a false prophet, he has definitely given false prophecies.)

3. Lives are devastated. This seems obvious enough. The fallout from Mars Hill Church was as far-reaching as it was deeply impacting. Many walked away from church, and some away from the faith. Even for those who eventually started attending another church, that came only after a long healing process. The worst part of it, as many had testified, was the absence of closure. No repentance from Pastor Mark. No contact from their former pastor.

Now, one may argue that there seems to be a difference between City Harvest and Mars Hill in this aspect. I’d argue that’s not the case. Yes, there remains a sizeable congregation in City Harvest despite the conviction/jailing of Pastor Kong and City Harvest leaders. But you needn’t look far for many affected by the falling out. Those who tried to voice out, but were silenced. Or those who chose to walk away, from church or from the faith.

Closing thought: I really do believe both Pastor Mark and Pastor Kong started off well. They loved the Lord and their lives matched the gospel they preached. Somewhere along the way, perhaps slowly and imperceptibly, over time… something changed. The simplicity and humility of Christ – a distinctive of a disciple of Christ – gave way to a different kind of spirit.

In a strange only God can ordain kind of way, what has transpired with both Mars Hill Church and City Harvest Church could be the best thing that could have happened to them – with a huge disclaimer – if lessons are learnt. God often does that. I have seen it play out in my own life (perhaps a story for another time). In a nutshell, He brought me from a seemingly high point to a devastating low, in order to show me my own flaws. And really this is my prayer for both Pastor Mark and Pastor Kong. The restoration of God remains for those who would humbly seek Him and in repentance, turn to Him.

* Several quotations from my post is taken from this article.

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