Megachurch pastor Rob Bell seeks life beyond the pulpit

Elaine A. Heath, the McCreless Associate Professor of Evangelism in SMU's Perkins School of Theology, talks about pastors leaving their churches in search of larger audiences.

For pastors with ambitions to reach huge audiences, there's often no better platform than the megachurch, which has given rise to powerhouse media empires from T.D. Jakes to Max Lucado to Joel Osteen and many others.

But some high-profile pastors are opting to leave congregational ministry altogether to pursue publishing and other media ventures full time. And that, some observers say, carries its own risks and rewards.

On Thursday (Sept. 22), up-and-coming pastor Rob Bell announced he's leaving Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich. in December. Bell's best-selling book, "Love Wins," raised more than a few eyebrows with the premise that hell doesn't include eternal torment. Now he's moving on. . .

Elaine Heath, associate professor of evangelism at Southern Methodist University's Perkins School of Theology, noted a long history of leaving the parish for wider outreach opportunities — even Methodism founder John Wesley gave up a settled pulpit to be an itinerant preacher.

But in today's world, she said, book tours and online virtual relationships are not enough to sustain a pastor's moral authority.

"Sometimes God calls someone like Brian McLaren to a 'global parish,'" Heath said. "What I need to know in order for such a person to remain credible, is that they are still part of a local faith community with whom they pray, worship, and serve in ministry. … Nothing can take the place of flesh and blood community."

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