Why the 7 Mountain Mandate is Toxic Theology

Why the 7 Mountain Mandate is Toxic Theology

If you have followed my journey this last decade at all, you likely know conflict and controversy is something I try and avoid.  I try to stay in my lane, be faithful with what’s in front of me and let God take care of the rest.

In praying over this year, it became very clear that this season ahead is different.  The last 12 years I either had to be careful to phrase the things on my heart in ways they fit the organizational narrative I was a part of, or I was trying to get my footing again after everything I thought I was called to was taken away.

I am not out to point fingers at people.  But I am out to candidly share my story and speak out about things that are significant and current issues in the Body of Christ.

For some of you who have been walking with me since Africa, you may hear me saying things you disagree with or that step on toes.  I might even share some things that make you mad.  And I am OK with that.  Because I hope and pray if that’s the case, you will take it back to Jesus and have a chat with Him about it. You are always welcome here and incredibly loved, regardless of agreement.  To me the hallmark of relational maturity is the ability to still have great friendships with people who see things differently.

This post is a long one, friends.  I want to go into detail about a topic I have touched on here and there in days past.  I’ve tiptoed around it, but today I’m just going to say it.  Deep breath.  Here we go:

The Seven Mountain Mandate is not synonymous with missions or the great the commission.  Rather, it is inherently and deeply flawed theology.

For those of you who are not familiar with what I’m talking about, let me fill you in.

What is the Seven Mountain Mandate?


In this teaching, the kingdom of God and Great Commission are tied to taking certain mountains of culture.  There are 7 mountains of cultural influence (pictured above) and the goal is scale to the top of the mountain so you can as a Christian be in charge at the top.  Because leaders at the top have the power to set agendas and enforce values that will bring God’s Kingdom in that area of cultural influence.  On earth as it is in heaven.

I once heard the most prominent teacher of this theology state the following {and yes this is a direct quote}: “Those 7 mountains of influence are so powerful that he who occupies the top of those mountains can literally shape the agenda that forms nations.”

I replayed the segment a few times to make sure I had heard correctly.  I did.  This type of thinking is an insidious, sneaky, tangential teaching that can easily mimic the heart and nature of true missions.

But what’s so wrong with wanting to see transformation come to people?  And doesn’t God care about these areas too?  Absolutely He cares.  Yes, He calls us to be involved in loving our communities.  But God sets people in high places of leadership not because they were trying to climb a mountain and become king of the cultural hill.

Isn’t calling this toxic a bit strong Michele?  Some of you are asking that.  It is strong.  Because it NEEDS to be strong. And here’s why.

A toxin is a poisonous substance produced by living cells capable of causing disease when introduced into the body tissues.  Toxic theology produced by living cells (members, often leaders) in the Body of Christ causes sickness in those that ingest it.


Let’s look at the culture that the 7 mountain worldview propagates.

The 7 mountain mandate often assumes that leadership is about “rulership” and exerting control from the top down to affect change.  It is a power-over model of leading that celebrates taking dominion from the high place to “set the agenda that forms nations.” 

In a very real sense, it is colonialism dressed up in different clothes.  The goal for many who adhere to this teaching often becomes to the seize the seat of power and enforce what they think the Kingdom of God SHOULD look like in their mountain of culture.

You don’t get much farther from the great commission than this.  That is not discipling nations, it is dominating nations.  And I don’t know about you friend, but I’m not a fan of having someone force their views on me. Conformity to rules doesn’t mean genuine change of heart.

True transformation never comes from the top down.  It always comes from the inside out.

Mountains & God’s Upside Down Kingdom

As I became more aware of the prevalent application of this teaching and saw the culture it gave rise to, the whole analogy began to bug me more and more.  Finally one day I was like, “Jesus I’m bothered.  Why am I bothered?  I love working and serving people in the community.  But I’m bothered.  Why?”

I had a picture of the mountain of God coming up underneath the cultural mountains and flipping them upside down, where low place became the high place and the high place the low place. In God’s upside down Kingdom, that made way more sense to me.



So in this model, instead of fighting to be rulers, we influence by becoming servants.   We “scale” the mountain by serving and intentionally building relationships in a power-under stance of service.  The high place becomes the low place and the low place the high place of influence because of love-based servant leadership.

This upside-down mandate is way closer to the heart of Jesus.  As a metaphor, it is something I have held onto and shared.

A few years went by and this topic settled on one of my mental shelves.  I honestly did not give much thought to it until 2016, watching how many in the church aligned themselves politically.  This last year has been a deep year of heart searching and eye opening for me.  But that is for another post soon to come.

The Way We Think Matters

One of the topics that has captured my interest in my grad school research is the topic of generative metaphors.  Say what?  The basic idea is that the way we think about a subject and the metaphors we use to frame our understanding give rise to or generate the culture around that subject matter.

Is conflict a prize fight where we take our gloves off, risk injury and go after winning?  Or is conflict a dance where each party has a valuable part to play and the goal is to move together beautifully, powerfully in relationship?

Because of my research into organizational storytelling, I was prompted to go back and read the vision Loren Cunningham (founder of YWAM) had about impacting culture as missionaries.  It is often quoted as the foundation of the 7 mountain mandate.

I served with YWAM off and on for almost 7 years.   And in my YWAM training, I heard Loren teach multiple times (by video) on the mind-molders or the spheres of society that shape the way people think . But the vision I heard Loren share had nothing to do with mountains.  It was about being salt and light influencing these seven cultural spheres as missionaries.  His teaching was 180º from the 7 mountain mandate.

Wait, wait Michele…  It’s the same thing. Mountains, spheres, pillars.  It’s just semantics and imagery.  Why are you splitting hairs over this?

Let me show you.


You don’t scale a sphere and influence from the top down.  You infiltrate a sphere, build relationships, and influence from the inside out.  You aren’t a mountaineer, you’re a missionary.  Let’s line these two worldviews up so we can see the differences.7M-07

Do you see how powerful and important how we choose to think and communicate is?   Our words literally frame our worlds.

The Example of Jesus

One of the greatest challenges to the 7 mountain mandate is the life of Jesus Himself.  He was born into a world desperately looking for a political leader.

If the understanding of cultural mountaineering was foundational to God’s Kingdom coming, Jesus would have given us a different example.  Instead we read, the only mountain Jesus scaled was to pray and remove Himself from those trying to force Him into a political leadership role.

Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.  – John 6:15

If we look at the metaphors Jesus used to talk about change and transformation, they were about inside out transformation not power over domination.


Yeast causes changes from the inside the mix.  Light changes things by showing up in the middle of darkness.  Salt affects transformation by simply being present in the situation.

And finally, at the end of Jesus’ life when He stood before Pilate, He could not have been more clear about the nature of His Kingdom.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom (sovereignty & royal power) is not derived from this world (or it’s inhabitants). If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not sourced from this realm.” – John 18:36

Policy doesn’t change people’s hearts.  Only a love encounter with Jesus can do that. Trying to manipulate, “influence” and even legislate what we believe to be God’s will on the earth, squeezing fatally flawed man-made structures into a religious mold comes perilously close to witchcraft (spiritual manipulation even in Jesus name that is rooted in our own strength and understanding rather than what God is actually doing).

God’s Kingdom is not a subculture. We are a counter culture where low is high and the highest place of all is the lowest place of service.  If kingdom influence is determined by cultural power and esteem, Jesus was an epic failure.  His own culture crucified Him.  His greatest platform was realized in a death sentence on the cross.

Jesus Himself said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation {careful scrutiny and visual evidence}; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within, among and inside you.”

His Kingdom come.  His will be done.  On earth, in us, as it is in heaven.  Selah.

Love you friends.




Love in the Time of $&*t

fleshtint-mu web

“Mama, if you stay here (in South Sudan) long enough your skin will become nice and black like ours.  You might have pale skin now, but you have Sudanese blood.”

I honestly don’t know I have ever been or could ever be given a higher honor than that statement.  To love a people so deeply you become in some sense part of them, even if for a short while.  My skin did darken, but it was more due to not mastering the art of the one-legged bucket bath than anything else.

When I heard what our current POTUS proclaimed over people I would have gladly given my life for, I just haven’t found words until now.  I’m hurt.  I’m saddened. I’m repulsed.  I’m angry.  But unfortunately I’m not surprised.

{Yes, I have heard the argument that his statement was misreported but from eye-witness accounts I have heard and read, he did actually call Africa the more profane version of a cesspool.  And yes I have heard the arguments that, oh he’s just being himself and using profanity to make a point.  Well, words matter.  And he has repeatedly tried to enact policy to mirror his words.  So isn’t just rhetoric. It is action too.}

I have stood on burning trash mounds with people who have been thrown away by almost everybody, including their own culture.  I lived right in the center of what Pres. Trump called an African $&*%hole for 7 years. 

And it isn’t.  It just isn’t.  I lived there.  It isn’t.

It is a place filled with stunningly strong people who have endured suffering most of us in the West can’t even imagine.  There is a perseverance and an understanding of community and family that have forever changed me.

I was the foreigner.  I was the one who barely spoke their language.  And they took me in.  They shared their words and their hearts and sometimes the last bit of food they had because THAT is who they are.

That Mr. President is not a $&*%hole.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is profoundly mistaken.

This family had just lost everything except each other in a bombing run.  And they were concerned that I know God would always care for me.

Was it hard?  Absolutely.  Did it stretch me beyond my own limits?  Almost every day.  Did it cost me my health?  It did, for a season at least.  But those 7 years watching a nation be born, living right in the middle of it all, those years hold some of my dearest memories and people who will forever be held in my heart as the heroes they are.

Even the littlest one gets her own greeting.  Culturally, greetings are very important.  Every single person in the room gets recognized with a handshake.

I’ve spent most of my adult life overseas in the color minority.  And every place I’ve been all I can do is marvel at how incredibly beautiful people are.  So as an artist I’m a bit perturbed by the paint color “flesh tint”.

“Flesh Tint” only applies to a small subsection of Caucasian-complected people with a peachy glow.  In a world of incredible skin colors, that moniker is myopic and ethnocentric in the worst sense.

About a year ago, I broke out my paints and laid a spectrum of flesh tints into my journal.  The One who I follow, His flesh does not match a pink-toned hue.   He is not an Italian supermodel or a paltry, pale-faced, miserable waif.

Jesus was Jewish.  He looks Middle Eastern.  He is life and joy and strength.  And He too was a refugee.  The nail-pierced One I follow was a refugee. 

He was born in a place that might qualify for Pres. Trump’s recent sentiments.  The King of Kings was born in a dirty, messy, dare I say $&*++y stable.

No matter what our flesh tint, we all bleed the same color.  Red.  And Jesus bled for all of us.

The only thing to me more disturbing than Donald Trump’s remarks, are those in certain corners of the church that seem to support his perspective outright, or acquiesce by excusing it.

Apologies can be received.  Repentance is absolutely possible.  And there can be forgiveness.   But beloved, there must not be excuses.

We who follow a Love-scarred Refugee Savior must do better than that.

I get that some of you reading may disagree with me on certain (or all) points.  You are welcome here regardless of your opinion. My goal is not to be political.  But rather to simply share from my heart and convictions.  Soon, I will be starting a new series, The Dangers of Civil Religion, that looks more at the political syncretism prevalent in some corners of the US church. In my opinion, this is the most dangerous enemy facing the church in the USA today.



Would you like a copy of the print featured at the beginning of this post?  Click the print >> to head on over to my stationery shop. They are available there as a great reminder of the beauty and strength found in diversity.

My Battle With Anxiety


This post is one of those messy, real and raw ones.  If you like nice and neat, you might want to stop here.  If you keep reading, consider yourself warned. I am going to be candid.  I mean really candid.

Church, in many streams I’ve served in, we have been abysmal in how we deal with mental health issues.  Mental health issues are not black and white.  Throwing Bible verses and platitudes at them does not make them better. Sunday school answers can and often do actually shame rather than serve.  If we truly want to be safe communities of faith and compassionate healing, we have so very much to learn about how we can love one another well in these areas.  And I hope and pray we will.

I’ll start with my story.

I thought I knew what anxiety was… until I had it.

It’s that flutter of nerves before a test, or the stress of a hard season at work or feeling edgy when difficult things were happening.  Right?  Not even close.

After 7 years serving in one of the most stressful situations humanly possible and having 18 rounds with cerebral malaria mess with my brain chemistry, I wound up back in the USA seriously ill and dealing with PTSD.  We are talking jump-out-of-my-skin-at-everything anxiety that made me feel like the world was ending, someone sucked all the oxygen out of the room and I was caught under a monster wave spun around until I was no longer sure what direction was up.  I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I didn’t want to be in crowds, I couldn’t think straight half the time.  Basically, back then if you looked PTSD up in a dictionary, I’m pretty sure you would have seen my picture as an example.

The organizational situation that precipitated my departure from Africa (in addition to my health problems) was one of the most traumatic things I have ever walked through in 20+ ministry.  There were violating betrayals on multiple layers and levels.  And it honestly has taken much of these 5 years just to process what the heck happened.

When I came back to the USA, my nerves were fried, my adrenals shot and my immune system in tatters.  I began dealing with debilitating panic attacks.  Somewhere in the medical maze of trying to figure out my tangle of issues, I got put on a low dose of a non-addicting anti-anxiety drug that might also help with nerve pain.  Things were still very, very hard, but they seemed to get marginally better.

I sought prayer and counsel. With a few beautiful exceptions, the responses I got often insinuated I must be the problem.  I needed to just forgive and move on.  Surely the people involved couldn’t have acted like that, or maybe they just had a hard day.  I should give grace.  Being a leader is tough stuff.  And where was my faith?  Maybe I had picked up a demon somewhere and needed deliverance.  At best, many if not most of the responses I received were a litany of what NOT to say to someone struggling.  At worst, they were circling-the-wagons, blame-shifting spiritual abuse.  And that is in no way OK… ever.

It was incredible grace I made it through some days.  I was also simultaneously dealing with extreme physical pain, family medical crises, the deepest grief and loss I had ever known and uncertainty about finances and the future.  95% of the major relationships in my world ended in the space of few weeks in 2013, along with 98% of the life I had dreamed.

I had just a few things going on in addition to skin-crawling anxiety.  I assumed the irritable, edginess was just something I’d have to deal with from rewired brain chemistry or maybe PTSD.  I found an amazing therapist who has been a gift from heaven in all of this.  Slowly I began doing better, but still the edgy, the angry and the irritable were constantly nipping at my heels.  I blamed it on hormones, adrenals, nerve damage, the weather (not really).  I honestly thought I’d just have to fight through it.   And that fight friends was exhausting.

Then one day about a week ago, I was so busy with project related work I forgot to take the anti-anxiety medication.

(Now before anyone freaks out, this particular medication only stays in your body 16 hours and you do not have to wean off of it like an SSRI.  I am not advocating ANYONE stop taking anything without the approval of your care team and doctor.) 

I simply forgot.  Into the afternoon, I felt buoyant and hopeful in a way I resigned myself I might never feel again.  I had energy.  People cutting me off in traffic didn’t make me want to scream at them very choice four-letter words.  (Of which, I can assure you L-O-V-E was not one.)  I could think straight without herculean effort.  I wasn’t edgy or overwhelmed. I felt like myself for the first time in 4+ years.

So I checked the medication out and made sure it was not a medication I needed to be titrated down from.  It wasn’t.  I searched the side effects and saw everything I had been dealing with in increasing measure… especially for the last 18 months.  So I stopped taking it.  And this Christmas, I feel like I got a huge piece of my life back.

I am keenly aware that for most of my friends struggling with anxiety, it isn’t a pharmaceutical  issue.  It isn’t an easy answer like stop taking the evil drug you are reacting to. Y’all are seriously some of the bravest people I have ever met.  You who keep showing up even in the middle of a battle.

Do I still have a challenging road ahead health wise? Indeed.  Am I still processing repercussions and lessons from what I’ve walked through? Very much so.  But in an odd way, I am really grateful for the last 4 years.  I am 1000-fold more aware and empathetic than I ever was before walking through them.

My hope in sharing all this is not to point fingers or assign blame or get into the who-did-what mud pit.  It is simply to open up a conversation about how we can truly become nurturing communities that are safe to be right where we are as we walk the road to greater wholeness.  Because in Him, we are safe.  A bruised reed He does not break. The question is, will we learn to love ourselves and others like He does.

I want to encourage you who may struggle with anxiety in varying measures, you are not alone.  Not ever alone.  It can feel completely isolating.  If your faith community doesn’t know how to be supportive of where you are at in healthy ways, please don’t give up the search to find one who does.  You, dear one, are loved so much more than you know.