(Photo: Christian Today)
Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, stood before his 7,000-member congregation Sunday to discuss his departure from the ministry he founded more than 12 years ago.
Telling Mars Hill Bible Church members that they would "be fine," Bell spent much of his half-hour sermon discussing the new calling he felt had been placed on his life to "share God's love" in new ways, according to ABC 13.
That new calling for his life involves moving his family to Los Angeles within the year to undertake several projects, which include penning more books and undertaking speaking engagements, such as his "Fit to Smash Ice Tour" in Canada and the U.S.
Bell, 41, also informed the Mars Hill congregation that he would not be starting a new church, WZZM 13 reports.
According to congregants who posted their reactions on Twitter, Bell's remarks were very emotional.
"To be honest with you, I thought I would die here, but that's not really the right way to say it... Change is a form of loss," Bell said, according to Heidi Fenton.
Chris Zoladz, a producer for WZZM 13, also tweeted Bell as saying, "We service a big God and none of this is shocking to him. All we can do is embrace a future that is going to be brilliant."
The Love Wins author attempted to comfort worried congregants at the Grandville church about his departure by telling them, "You are going to be fine."
Bell, who received a standing ovation as he concluded his remarks Sunday, will continue preaching at Mars Hill Bible Church until he departs in December.
Mars Hill staff members made the announcement Thursday that Bell had resigned, revealing in a statement:
The infamous quote "change is the only constant" certainly holds true at Mars Hill. We have experienced ongoing changes that have improved and transformed – as well as at times unintentionally created tension or heartache within our community. And now, we have another significant change to hold together.
Feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities, our founding pastor Rob Bell, has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God’s love with a broader audience.
It is with deeply mixed emotions that we announce this transition to you. We have always understood, encouraged, and appreciated the variety of avenues in which Rob’s voice and the message of God’s tremendous love has traveled over the past 12 years. And we are happy and hopeful that as Rob and Kristen venture ahead, they will find increasing opportunity to extend the heartbeat of that message to our world in new and creative ways. ...
The news had attracted so much attention that Mars Hill Bible Church's website suffered a crash that same night.
Bell, who founded Mars Hill along with wife Kristen in 1999, caused a firestorm in the evangelical community with his latest book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, which questioned whether the Bible actually teaches that there is a literal and eternal hell.
Love Wins, published in March 2011, drew various responses, with some evangelical leaders calling the book heretical and saying it espouses a universalist worldview.
The book was concerning enough to many evangelicals that some released their own writings to counter Bell's claims about hell. Among them, Francis Chan recently released Erasing Hell, Mark Galli authored God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News Is Better than Love Wins, and a group of theologians including R. Albert Mohler, Jr. and J.I. Packer collaborated for Is Hell for Real or Does Everyone Go to Heaven?
Still, some applauded Bell's work, calling it timely and prophetic.
David Vanderveen, editor of the Mars Hill Review, announced not long after Bell's Sept. 25 sermon that a companion book to Love Wins had recently been completed and would be on sale Nov. 15.
The book, titled The Love Wins Companion: A Study Guide for Those Who Want to Go Deeper invites readers of the original title to delve deeper into the issues Bells raises in the original title.
Vanderveen, who edited The Love Wins Companion study guide, announced on Facebook Sunday morning: "FYI, I just compiled and wrote the Love Wins Companion with Rob Bell that will be out shortly and includes powerful perspectives on faith from a variety of brilliant minds and exceptional leadership in the Christian church globally."
Bell will be traveling across the U.S. and Canada in November for his "The Fit to Smash Ice Tour." On his official website, Bell says "Fit to Smash" will involve "several hours of entirely new content I haven't given before, exploring all the exhilarating ways we stumble and fumble and fail and bleed and limp along and just how good and sacred and thrilling it all is."
Shane Hipps, the Michgan church's co-pastor, will continue preaching after Bell's departure. Hipps joined Mars Hill as a teaching pastor in early 2010.