Chris Rock once shared in an interview how he develops new standup material. Like many established comedians, he shows up at small comedy clubs and gets on stage with five or ten minutes worth of jokes, developing one or two at a time and stitching what works into his next tour or special.

Rock knows the audience is as likely to react to the fact that he’s Chris Rock as they are to the actual jokes. So, when he does these drop-ins, he tells the jokes with as little personality as he can. He wants to believe they “could be done behind a curtain,” he said. If those work, he knows when he ramps them up with his onstage persona, they’ll kill.

I’ve thought of this often while working on CT’s podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. It’s the story of the Seattle megachurch that shot to prominence in the early 2000s, attracted 15,000 people in 15 locations, then shut its doors after founder Mark Driscoll resigned in 2014. In many ways, Mars Hill was an outlier. In many important ways, it wasn’t.

Driscoll was a uniquely gifted communicator and provocateur, but the phenomenon of the celebrity pastor is endemic now in megachurches. Mars Hill innovated in its use of music and video production, technology, and social media, but what it pioneered has been widely adopted and largely defines influential churches today.

The tools of technology and celebrity that built Mars Hill continue spreading, and they are every bit the temptation in smaller congregations as they are in big ones. We’ve missed the lesson that these tools formed a fragile architecture: The church couldn’t outlive Driscoll’s exit.

These tools are understandably seductive. They put a zip on ministry the way Chris ...

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