Pastor Rick Warren encouraged the congregation at Mars Hill Church during its final Sunday service to trust Jesus and give grace to its leaders, including Mark Driscoll, who resigned from the church as its founding and lead pastor amid much controversy in October.
The Seattle-based megachurch officially dissolves at the end of the year and the individual campuses still meeting become independant churches.
In his sermon via pre-recorded video, Warren said, "Let me suggest this: number one, refuse to be bitter about what's happened. If you hold onto bitterness you'll only hurting yourself. Bitterness prolongs the pain."
"Number two, refuse to blame anybody. … Stop the blame game …," he continued. "Number three, refuse to gossip or judge. … You've got to let it go ... Number four, show grace to your leaders. Why? Because every leader is flawed. … Number five, be grateful .… You need to be grateful for all of the ways that God used Mars Hill Church. Be grateful for all the ways God used Mark Driscoll ... Number six, keep your eyes on Jesus."
Driscoll resigned in October due to his admitted "divisive" leadership style. Members of the Acts 29 church planting network, which Driscoll helped found, had advised that he take time off to get help, and rescinded Driscoll and all Mars Hill Church campuses' membership from the network.
Acknowledging the conflict, criticism and "chaos" that Mars Hill Church faced this past year, Warren, founding pastor of Southern California's Saddleback Church, told the congregation, "I'm proud of you for hanging in there. You're still here."
"You know anybody can follow Jesus when it's [a] party, but the real test of spiritual maturity is how you handle the storms of life, the difficulties and even the changes that you didn't ask for," he said.
It is important to know what to do when God changes your plan, Warren said.
He added that Jesus' birth changed everybody's plans, and quoted Proverbs 19:21, which says, "Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."
"Not everything that happens in your life is God's ideal will," Warren clarified. Though plans get messed up, believers have the promise of Romans 8:28, he said. The verse reads: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
God's purpose is to make you like Christ, Warren explained. And if that's the primary purpose, then you're going to have to go through everything that Jesus went through, he added.
Warren said as he prayed about the final message he was to deliver to Mars Hill, John 12:24 came to his mind. "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds," the verse reads.
"A giant has fallen," he said, referring to Mars Hill, "but there are many young trees sprouting out of it." Warren made the statement as he held up a photo showing a giant sycamore tree that had fallen and eight young trees that sprouted from the dead tree.
Driscoll's association and friendship with Warren goes back many years, including giving sermons at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, on several occasions. He visited the church to deliver a weekend worship message while Warren was grieving the loss of his son, Matthew.
Driscoll has received friendly counsel from Warren, according to a Christian Post source, over the last year, during which he was accused of plagiarism, using book promoters that manipulated book rankings, and inappropriate leadership to which he confessed.
In his resignation letter, Driscoll admitted that "aspects of my personality and leadership style, have proven to be divisive within the Mars Hill context" and that he was resigning because he did not want "to be the source of anything that might detract from our church's mission to lead people to a personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ."
The megachurch is selling or transferring all property. The Mars Hill name and brand will also be completely dissolved by the end of the year.
"Everything is closing down at the end of the year, including our central offices," Mars Hill Communications Director Justin Dean earlier told The Christian Post. "Mars Hill will cease to exist after Dec. 31, 2014."
Dean said that after selling or transferring all property and assets that belong to the church, it will use the money to satisfy its remaining debt and take care of the remaining staff that will be laid off at the end of the year.
The remaining locations that are not being sold will be under new leadership and will no longer be affiliated with the Mars Hill brand.
Mars Hill Pastor Matthias Haeusel told King 5 News that a lot of good has come out of the church and many people's lives have changed.
"A lot of people have been loved real well at this church. A lot of people have come to faith at this church," Haeusel said. "I talked to someone this morning who had been here for 14 years and actually had a radically different trajectory from when before they came here to after."
"God did great things even through broken people," he stressed. "If we look at Scripture, that is what God always does because He is God not because we are great."