A Las Vegas pastor has come out in defense of Rob Bell's decision to leave the church he founded in order to focus on other works such as books and speaking engagements.
"I know Rob Bell. I don't know everything Rob is doing next, but I don't think Rob is any less of a leader, speaker, father or pastor by stepping away from Mars Hill," said Craig Gross, pastor and founder of XXXchurch.com, in a recent blog post.
"I am bothered when I read online about whether that was right for Rob to leave."
Gross was responding to criticism Bell received after announcing last month that he will step down as pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, which he led for 12 years.
Bell is leaving the Grandville, Mich., megachurch, to pursue a new calling he feels God has placed on him, which involves speaking tours and other projects. According to the church, his desire is to share "the message of God's love with a broader audience."
"A new vision, ... a new calling has been birthed in my bones," Bell told his congregation last month. "I have to pursue this new vision."
"If you don't do what you've been urging everybody else to do (which is to jump) then something ... vital in you will die; something in your own walk with God will suffer," he explained.
While Bell saw his new calling as a leap of faith, others viewed it as an "easier" and "sexier" route compared to remaining at the pulpit.
"Speaking tours feed the ego = All applause & no responsibility. It’s an unreal world. A church gives accountability & validity," Pastor Rick Warren from Southern California tweeted after Bell's announcement.
Ed Stetzer, a missiologist and president of LifeWay Research, also expressed concern over more pastors choosing to leave the local church to pursue "broader interests."
"I try not to wag my finger at others, and every person involved needs to hear from the Lord and be obedient to his call, but I must say this move away from the local church confuses (and concerns) me a bit," Stetzer wrote in his blog.
"It really goes without saying that it would be easier to travel around, preach at a church or auditorium and then go home."
But Gross of XXXchurch.com pushed back and went as far as stating that "more pastors need to leave the church."
"Francis Chan left his role at his church (Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, Calif.) and went onto something new. Rob is leaving and is off to something new. It is okay to quit. I think leaving is 100 times harder then (sic) staying," Gross contended.
"It is comfortable to stay. It is expected to stay. It easier to stay, but if your heart is not in it or if you feel the Lord leading you to something else, why stay? Do you stay just so you can have more credibility in your books or your speaking tours because you are part of the 'pastor club?'"
Gross had served at Eastside Christian Church in Fullerton, Calif., when he first started out in ministry in college. He ministered to youth there but also started a speaking ministry. He soon quit his job, leaving "the comfort of working for a megachurch," and started Fireproof Ministries. He later went on to start XXXchurch.com which helps people fight porn addiction.
"I don't ever regret quitting. It would have been easier had I stayed, but I would have missed out on so much," Gross stated.
"I think pastors would gain more credibility if they left something the minute they lost the passion or the desire to do it, despite of what people might think or what they might lose."
Bell, author of the controversial book Love Wins, will be serving at Mars Hill through December and then move to Los Angeles to pursue his new calling. He already has three books planned and a speaking tour that kicks off in November.
Additionally, Bell will be teaming up with "Lost" co-creator Carlton Cuse to produce a new TV show called "Stronger."