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The biggest challenge Guy Mason faced

How the City on a Hill leader dealt with a ‘grenade’ in his fledgling church

A “grenade” almost blew apart Guy Mason’s fledgling Melbourne church. The founder of the growing City on a Hill in inner Melbourne can pinpoint exact moment he faced his the biggest challenge.

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“We had a staff member who was arrested for a very serious crime. It was totally left field. Completely unexpected. The person involved was an amazing guy. Amazing marriage. Great in so many wonderful ways and yet he got caught up in doing the wrong thing,” he tells Eternity.

“That was just like a grenade. It was sad. I never felt more out of my depth than in that moment. And yet we knew that we wanted to move with direction, decisiveness and love.”

“I never felt more out of my depth than in that moment.”

After turning a lounge room Bible study into a church in 2007, ordained Anglican minister Mason has seen City on a Hill develop into a national network. Beyond its base at a cinema in Melbourne’s CBD, four other locations have been planted. City on a Hill wants to plant another 50 churches in 10 cities.

City on a Hill is one of those “success stories” that can suggest it all went smoothly and Mason has cornered the market on how to help God’s kingdom grow. But that’s not the case, even as Mason reckons City on a Hill has had a pretty good run. Offering a quick list of obstacles – from finding your venue has been boarded up, to the emotional devastation of death or divorce – Mason has found that time and size only amplify such struggles.

“The challenges have increased in terms of intensity, the more we have grown and the bigger we have got. It’s a myth to think a big church has it easy because they’ve got this, this and this.”

“The [real] challenge is you in all of this: how are you responding?”

Mason is a warm, likeable and assured guy who seems born to lead. He also frequently and humbly gives all credit to God and Jesus for anything he’s been able to achieve.

What he and his staff team instantly did after the “grenade” exploded years ago is revealing of their style of leadership.

“We did that slowly, in terms of speaking with the right people first, and just seeing people weep.”

“We didn’t want to hide it. We shared it with our church; it was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is to confess what had happened and what this individual had done.”

Transparency was “really hard” but necessary, shares Mason, who vividly recalls what it was like to know you are about to tell your church family about such public sin.

“Entering into a room full of people and seeing them very content, happy, jovial … and knowing what’s about to happen – that’s very difficult.

“We did that slowly, in terms of speaking with the right people first, and just seeing people weep.”

“For too long the church is often prone to cover up things. Yet our name, City on a Hill, is about being a light.”

The staff member was immediately removed from their position and had to go through legal proceedings. But back inside the City on a Hill community, Mason obviously wondered how people would react. What would happen to his congregation?

“Thanks to the Lord and the Lord only, people responded with such grace. For too long the church is often prone to cover up things. Yet our name, City on a Hill, is about being a light.”

Mason has found his role gradually transforming to being a leading light for other people like him. He still defines himself as a “pastor” who loves people, sharing the good news of Jesus and shepherding a church congregation. But his role has expanded to be intimately involved in the training, support and guidance of City on a Hill’s growing network of churches – and their leaders.

“I want to look like I’ve got it all together so I won’t share with someone that I’m finding something really difficult.”

While he rejects the idea of driving a wedge between a church planter and a pastor,  as if they are totally different breeds, Mason thinks a church founder needs to be vigilant about is not letting the responsibility of leadership prevent seeking support from others.

“One of the things that often needs to characterise a church planter is an ability to lead the charge forward. To do something outside of the mould … they need to have that certain ability to take responsibility. Really important and yet, at the same time, there’s a shadow to that that can totally ruin everything they want to do.

“The word is, almost, ‘independence’. They thrive on that … One of the things that will be most helpful in that – it certainly was for me – was this idea of help and support from others.

“Too often, people hold on to what is difficult or what they are finding hard. I think it’s a pride thing. I know I have it; I want to look like I’ve got it all together so I won’t share with someone that I’m finding something really difficult. And, even more difficult, [is admitting] that I need help. Can you help me with this?”

Mason surrounds himself with mentors and isn’t shy about asking members of his church for help. He’s a big fan of nurturing the various spiritual gifts within the body of Christ, and the members of it that he has involvement with. Such advocacy for the relationship thrust of Christianity is a foundational part of Mason’s approach to church life.

“Often when people think church planting they think what building, what band and where do we set up?And those things are great but, at the end of the day, it’s about the gospel and it’s about people. [It’s about] loving God and helping people know that they are made for Christ.”

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