GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WZZM) -- Rob Bell, the pastor of the 7,000 member Mars Hill Bible Church, is stepping down in December to "pursue a new venture."
Bell's decision was announced Thursday in a statement on the Mars Hill website: "Feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities, our founding pastor Rob Bell, has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God's love with a broader audience. "
Bell founded the church 12 years ago.
The statement says Bell will be speaking at two services on Sunday to explain his departure and his "call to pursue a new venture." He will also continue to teach the church's Acts Series several times up to his departure in December.
Previous Coverage: Pastor defends views on Heaven and Hell
Rob Bell has gained more national notoriety for his 2011 book "Love Wins." In the book, Bell argues that Heaven may be open to people who are not Christians, and that a loving God would not condemn non-Christians to endless suffering in Hell.
"Is God like that?" he asked during a March 30 interview. "Is that the kind of God Jesus talked about? That view has a lot of answering to do, a lot of answering."
Bell said he does not have all the answers, and that some of his views are based on speculation.
The book proved controversial among many conservative Christians, who said his views went against fundamental tenets of their faith.
"The ideas presented in this book are troubling and this community and certainly pastors have to respond," said evangelical theologian Jeremy Bouma in March 2011.
The book led to his appearances on national news programs, including ABC's Good Morning America. He was also on Time magazine's 2011 list of the most influential people in the world.
Below is a statement from Mars Hill's website:
September 22, 2011
To our community of attendees, listeners, and supporters:
The infamous quote "change is the only constant" certainly holds true at Mars Hill. We have experienced ongoing changes that have improved and transformed-as well as at times unintentionally created tension or heartache within our community. And now, we have another significant change to hold together.
Feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities, our founding pastor Rob Bell, has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God's love with a broader audience.
It is with deeply mixed emotions that we announce this transition to you. We have always understood, encouraged, and appreciated the variety of avenues in which Rob's voice and the message of God's tremendous love has traveled over the past 12 years. And we are happy and hopeful that as Rob and Kristen venture ahead, they will find increasing opportunity to extend the heartbeat of that message to our world in new and creative ways.
Rob and Kristen started Mars Hill and helped create a church that removes the barriers to meeting Jesus. And while we recognize that no one person defines a community, we acknowledge the impact of Rob's leadership, creativity, and biblical insights on our lives, and face a deep sadness at the loss of their presence in our community.
Rob will be addressing our community in both Gatherings on Sunday, September 25, to describe his journey and call to pursue a new venture. For the remainder of this year, he will be teaching our Acts Series several times with his last teaching being in December.
As we plan for the future, Shane Hipps will continue to teach our community and we will be inviting other familiar voices to teach on Sundays during the spring of 2012.
We continue to be amazed by the grace and trust of the community we serve. Your voice and heart will be important elements of how we move forward together as a community of believers. We invite you to continue on this journey with us and ask that you would join us in prayer while we carefully discern what lies ahead for the Mars Hill community.
Grace and Peace,
The Elder Team, Ministry Leadership Team, and staff of Mars Hill
The September 25 podcast will be available for download on Tuesday, September 27.