My wife and I are in the process of changing churches and it’s not because they’ve been involved with a sexual abuse scandal, or even because their theology is off- It’s because Mars Hill, inadvertently promotes an institutional culture of silence over their failures, and over the failures of their pastors. Yet I still love Mars Hill and the people there.
It took a while for thing to pile up enough for us to leave Mars Hill, but Mars Hill hasn’t been the easiest church to be a part of. We’ve always been in the news to some extent.
Whether rocks were thrown to break our windows by LGBTQ hate groups, or Mark Driscoll being accused of any number of things, it was always easy to find something negative about our church online, often before church leadership had time to address it.
Yet so many of the accusations and rambling about Mars Hill were off the wall, that I couldn’t take them seriously.
“Those Crazy Bloggers”
I always had the slightly uncomfortable position of being one of the people who had worked at Mars Hill, so when bloggers would throw accusations at the church, they were easy to deflect, due to my insider information. Pastor Mark spent $200,000.00 dollars on a book deal? Not a big deal- I worked in publishing since I was a kid and $200k isn’t all that much for publicity. Plus to book was great, even though fundies had a cow over the fact that the word, “sex” was used so many times in a book about Marriage.
Pastor Mark tweeted that someone confiscated his books? I personally know three of the people who tweet from his account- Driscoll wasn’t being dishonest on Twitter, just to cause trouble.
Mark Driscoll plagiarized a book? The church addressed it two weeks later (apologies and revisions were issued), even though only secondary parties ever complained, and not the original author that was supposed to have been copied. Non-compete clauses, nondisclosure policies, 14-year-old forum posts– For every accusation, there were two sides and there were logical explanations, or changes for each issue that came up.
We didn’t leave the church because of any accusations made against it. We left the church because of a lack of communication, and in turn, a failure to love the people of Mars Hill.
Mars Hill is One
The firing of Pastor Phil is what pushed us over the edge. Mars Hill has always been run as local, self-governing, churches. Yet with the advent of more advanced technology, a central preacher and a central website, Mars Hill began to be recognized as one church. Even though each church had their own staff pastors, made their own staffing choices and worked independently of the other churches, congregants began to see themselves as one church, with different branches.
Churches packed into such a small, close-knit community like Seattle are bound to overlap in many ways, yet Mars Hill never made the transition in the functionality of the churches, and so when Pastor Phil Schmidt was fired from Ballard Mars Hill, there was amazing recoil from U-District Mars Hill. People at Ballard and U-District loved Pastor Phil as did I, sitting under his teachings at many Mars Hill events. Because the churches (in theory) were supposed to function separately, a small announcement was sent to Ballard leadership, giving the reason why Pastor Phil was fired. None of the other churches were notified. None of the congregants were notified. There was no explanation, no notice and no meeting. There was, however, an explosion of blog posts, all guessing why Pastor Phil was fired. The issue was never formally addressed by Mars Hill.
Communication is Key
What most people don’t understand about Mars Hill, is that running an organization of 15,000 members is a little tricky. Things take time to process, meetings need to be held, announcements need to be prepped, and next thing you know, it’s two weeks later and people are leaving the church because you’ve not addressed the accusations that are being written. More than an entire month after Pastor Phil was fired, Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll finally released a video indirectly addressing the conflict happening in the church.
A29 Calls for Driscoll to Step Down
A classic example of the miscommunication with Mars Hill happened yesterday, when Acts 29 removed Mars Hill from it’s extended network and called for Pastor Mark to step down and seek help. Simply being associated with Mars Hill, has a stigma and so A29 cut it’s ties,
“It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network.” – Acts 29
In an age of instant technology, churches and organizations don’t have the luxury of passive publicity. At least post on your Facebook page that you’re saddened by A29’s letter, and you’re working on a response, rather than posting pictures of the Easter baptisms, as if nothing happened at all. At the moment, however, Pastor Mark isn’t running his own Mark Driscoll Facebook page, because he stepped down from social media earlier this year.
Blatant Unrepentant Sin
The problem is that poor communication isn’t a sin. Bad theology is sinful, bad pastoring might be sinful, failing to love your congregation can be sinful, but poor communication isn’t something that requires a pastor stepping down from leadership, or a someone being put through church discipline. In the case of Pastor Mark, there isn’t blatant unrepentant sin. While poor communication has been hurting Mars Hill’s congregants, it is something that Mars Hill has recently stated that they’re working on, releasing weekly updates (starting 7.21.14) that are supposed to be more transparent. Mark Driscoll also apologized for the lack of communication in the weekly update post and stated that there would be change.
However, I can’t just dismiss the issues are Mars Hill. Even with public apologies and changes in the works, many people that I respect and trust, are leaving Mars Hill, and so I’ve made the decision to pray for change from outside the church. We’re leaving Mars Hill because we can’t be part of a church that isn’t able to communicate with it’s members and leaves us hanging in the air, while hundreds of false accusations are being thrown around.
Two Types of People
There are two types of people who will leave Mars Hill, and I hope I’m in the second category, because I honestly love Mars Hill, and wish the best for them. I hope there is a middle ground between condemnation and ignoring the problem. I hope there is a place where people can trust Jesus, and extend grace to Mars Hill.
1. Those Who Leave and Burn – for people who idolized Mars Hill or Mark Driscoll, the fact that there are issues with the church is particularly hard. For those who were overly invested in the church, rather than in Christ, transitioning from the church will bring about a lot of questioning of their core beliefs, and in turn, attacks against Mars Hill. These people have been hurt by the church, and it’s ending their world. They attack Mars Hill by changing their Biblical views and claiming that,
-Mars Hill is Theologically Off.
-Mars Hill is a cult.
Both of the statements are untrue, as Mars Hill holds to very Biblically orthodox and sound Biblical tradition. Though I’ve left Mars Hill, I still have the same Biblical views that I had when I attended the church. That doesn’t mean I hate homosexuals, but it does mean I support traditional marriage. It doesn’t mean I hate women, but it does mean I support biblical gender roles.
The fact that people are leaving Mars Hill and talking freely talking about their issues with the church, is a large indicator that the church is not a cult. Cults by definition have very few followers leaving, or talking about the cult at all, because they’re amazingly traumatized. It takes victims years to finally speak out against a cult, after the cult has been disbanded.
2. Those Who Leave and Learn – Leaving Mars Hill doesn’t change anything for these people, except for the fact that they’re leaving their community and a church that has solid Biblical teaching. There is sorrow in leaving your friends and fellowship. People who leave Mars Hill and learn from it, need to be praying for Mars Hill, extending grace to the church and continuing to support people who decide to stay at Mars Hill.
Why I Still Love Mars Hill
I’ve told this story before, and some of you may have read it before on my blog or in comments somewhere. I’ll tell it again, because when your identity is wrapped up in yourself, it’s amazing to be able to tell people about Jesus. Three years ago, I was a young, addicted, 20-something, who was full of himself and wanted to find out more about ministry. I interned at Mars Hill, and they required me to go through Redemption Groups- a couple weeks of Gospel training for people who need Jesus. Ironically, I didn’t think I really needed to be in the group, but during my time there, Jesus grabbed hold of me, and working through the people at Mars Hill, began to transform my life.
I don’t tell this story as any testament to my life, or even to the credit of Mars Hill, but Jesus changed me there, and I’m so grateful to the people who love Him at the church. There are many more stories of people who have been changed and impacted by people serving Jesus at Mars Hill. Today I’m married, my wife and I just had our first daughter, and I’m not addicted to porn anymore. I’m also just a little bit older, and a hopefully more full of Jesus than myself.
I don’t see unrepentant sin at Mars Hill, I just seem some areas that need serious work. I would continue to encourage Pastor Mark and Mars Hill to pursue transparency and good communication with Mars Hill members. If everything is about Jesus then live boldly, admit when you’re wrong, and love your congregation.