It appears Mars Hill Bible Church is preparing to say goodbye to founding pastor Rob Bell as the Grandville, Mich., megachurch has called on the community of believers to send Bell, said to be "on the cusp of a new journey," messages of blessings or to tell of his impact on their lives.
The "Grace + Peace" post, which provides an entry form for comments, reads:
"During his 12 years at Mars Hill, our founder and teacher, Rob Bell has impacted thousands of lives. Now, as he is on the cusp of a new journey, we’d like to offer you the chance to impact his.
"In the space below, we invite you to send Rob a message of blessing or share an example of how his presence or teachings have impacted your journey."
At the time of the publication of this report, only a handful of members and non-members had left comments of support or a testimony regarding Bell's impact on their lives. That number is likely to grow, however, as the non-denominational megachurch is home to about 7,000 members and attracts plenty of supporters who follow Bell's books and his teachings online.
One member named Abby wrote:
"Rob, I have attended Mars Hill for the last 11 years with many doubts, joys, desires, struggles, and celebration. God has spoken through you specifically addressing all of these experiences. Mars Hill is my home. Thank you for working relentlessly to bring about God’s grace and peace into our community and world. Your words have moved me into a greater understanding of the love of Jesus, and thus giving me hope for my life. Thank you for listening to the Spirit, for providing teachings that enlighten rather than condemn, and thank you for telling me that who I am is enough."
Mars Hill Bible announced on Sept. 22, 2011, that Bell, who founded the congregation with is wife, Kristen, 12 years ago, would be leaving the church due to "feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities."
Bell later revealed that he and his family would be leaving Michigan all together to pursue these new opportunities, one of which includes a television drama he is co-producing with "Lost" executive producer Carlton Cuse.
The Love Wins author was expected to teach a series on Acts through December while Shane Hipps continues to fulfill his duties as a Teaching Pastor at Mars Hill. The megachurch also announced that it would be "inviting other familiar voices to teach on Sundays during the spring of 2012."
Bell's final sermon, titled "Grace + Peace," will be on Dec. 18, 2011, according to Mars Hill's teaching schedule. Hipps, who joined Mars Hill in his current role in 2010, is scheduled to teach during the Dec. 25, 11 a.m. service.
Bell also pursued his "Fit to Smash Ice Tour," which stopped in Canada and the U.S. The last stop on the teaching tour was on Nov. 26, 2011, in Charlottesville, Va.
The pastor and author's latest book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, caused a firestorm in the evangelical community for questioning whether the Bible actually teaches that there is a literal and eternal hell.
Love Wins, according to Time magazine, was "particularly galling" to conservative Christian critics because the penning of the book was seen as a "mutiny" from within the evangelical Christian community.
The controversial book, published March 2011, prompted several "response" works from other Christian leaders. Most notably, Francis Chan 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 on Is Hell for Real or Does Everyone Go to Heaven?
Love Wins is lauded by others in the Christian community for its timeliness and remains atop many best-sellers lists and is among the top 20 most popular Christian titles on Amazon.
"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," wrote Mars Hill's elders and leaders in September. "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."
Bell, 41, said during his Sept. 25 address to the Mars Hill Bible Church congregation that he thought he would die there, adding that "change is a form of loss."