Why Mars Hill Is Still Our Church

It would seem that nearly everyone in the Christian community has their thoughts on Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll these days. Beyond the ears of a few friends, I have refrained from tossing mine into the pile, because I  haven’t felt that my thoughts on the matter would add anything different or meaningful to what has already been said. However, based on the recent events of the last few days, I’ve experienced a greater sense of confusion and sadness as have many of my friends and acquaintances. At the risk of redundancy or pouring fuel on the fire, perhaps this will encourage a few people who may wish to read this. 

The purpose of this post is solely about why WE - as in Valor and I - still call Mars Hill our church. It is intended to answer the question of “are you going to leave,” which we get frequently from those who are still part of Mars Hill and those who are not. This is not a post about how I/we/or anyone else feels about Pastor Mark or about what should happen at Mars Hill. There are plenty of voices in that pot already and truthfully, I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. 

Valor and I started attending Mars Hill nearly six years ago, shortly after we got married. We joined a community group, led a community group and now participate in the premarital ministry and premarital counseling. We have had some challenging experiences, as I would anticipate at any church, but God has used Mars Hill to bless us tremendously. I’d like to emphasize that part again. God has used. God has used Mars Hill. Let me be clear that I do not think that simply because God has used a place, a person, an experience or a ministry, that anyone is forever bound to those things by a misplaced sense of loyalty. Our loyalty lies with Jesus and Jesus alone. 

Mars Hill’s teaching was some of the first teaching I heard where I came out clear about theology and what the Bible actually says. I attended church growing up and participated in Campus Crusade in college and came out confused and operating under a behaviorally based theology which left me fearful and ambivalent. Mars Hill straightened out my theology on any number of things, the greatest of which has been grace and forgiveness. I learned that I don’t have to constantly earn forgiveness and that God’s grace is sufficient for me every hour, every minute, every second of every day. God did a mighty work in my life through Mars Hill and while some might argue that Mars Hill demonstrates a lack of grace (and maybe, in some ways, it does), I would submit that the most loving, gracious thing a church can do is unapologetically and clearly teach the Bible. Even now, amidst all the conflict, I know I can still walk into that church every Sunday and listen to what the Bible actually says. Valor and I have tried to get a better handle on what the biblical reasons are to leave a church. To be honest, I still don’t understand what they are and aren’t. Biblical teaching, one that never confuses me and never submits to cultural pressure, is a good reason to stay. 

I want to make that point mostly because in the sea of confusion, it seems to have been forgotten. A church that reliably teaches the Bible is a precious thing and not so easily replaced. Even so, there are many, many reasons why one might choose or be called to leave a church. There are many people for whom Mars Hill is likely not a healthy or productive place to stay. I can think of many, many reasons why it would not be a healthy environment and would be very appropriate for people to leave. Unfortunately, depending on our own convictions and opinions, the temptations is to turn into legalists about the matter and that all should feel and do as we feel and do, which isn’t biblical and doesn’t work. At Mars Hill, there are those who have clearly experienced mistreatment and/or unethical situations from a culture problem and specific persons. These pastors, elders, members and their families who have left for these reasons have my utmost respect and support. There are a handful of these people with whom we personally interacted, can name, who have handled the situation graciously and who remember that Mars Hill is more than just Pastor Mark. Mars Hill is a body of 14,000 people, 13,999 of whom are not Pastor Mark and all of whom are the bride of Christ. 

What sickens me is to open up my Facebook and see people whom I have counted as friends and who were once part of my Mars Hill community,  liking Facebook post after Facebook post on bringing Pastor Mark and Mars Hill down. People whom I have respected have turned into gossips and vindictive blog trolls, seeming to forget that those of us who are still part of Mars Hill were once friends and are forever their brothers and sisters in Christ. Wherever you fall in your feelings and opinions about Pastor Mark and Mars Hill, watching a pastor fall and a church hurt and struggle is not a spectator sport. It is devastating. It is not something to be cheered for. When I looked around at the church service last night, I didn’t look at worship leaders, the campus pastor and people whose names and faces I know and cheer for the downfall of Mars Hill. I see people that I’ve had coffee with, who I’ve counseled, who have helped me, who serve faithfully and who instead of pressing the “like” button on their computer, continue to show up to love and serve the people of their church community. I think it’s obvious to everyone that Mars Hill has some cultural problems. Additionally, any pastor or elder who is dolling out abuse should be appropriately dealt with. Unequivocally. Immoral, unbiblical or unethical actions from church leadership are not allowable. I hope and pray for redemption here and that God will do great things to heal the damage and turn this ship around. My fear is that many of those in the anti-Mars Hill cheering section will be unable to recognize repentance, if it happens, or accept God’s grace to the larger body of Mars Hill. 

Mars Hill is still our church because God hasn’t called us to leave it. Plain and simple. We have absolutely seen a dysfunctional leadership culture and we’ve brushed along the edges of some situations that have made us raise an eyebrow or two and some that have frustrated and angered us. But we are not the people who have experienced mistreatment directly. We are grieved for those we know who have. There is a misunderstanding out there that those of us at Mars Hill don’t see this problem or don’t see it as a problem. That is simply untrue. We see it. We want to change it. God placed us at Mars Hill and he has currently planted us squarely in the the middle of the premarital ministry. In the middle of all the conflict, people are still getting married and we want to invite them over, serve them coffee and minister to them as God has called us to. We care about our friends and acquaintances at Mars Hill. We care about our community group. We will continue to show up to our group, our church and our ministry until God calls us elsewhere. Mars Hill may not be a healthy place for YOU. God may have or may call you elsewhere. But this is the simple answer for why WE aren’t leaving. God is equipping us and calling us to stand in the middle of the fire and keep going, right where we’re at. 

Please, however you feel about Mars Hill, remember that we are all imperfect people in need of a perfect God. God grants repentance and God’s grace is sufficient for all of us. He is faithful and good and he loves his church. Please pray for our pastors and for the 14,000 of us who currently call Mars Hill our church home. 

Brussels and Thailand, of Sorts

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The Hotel Welcome, situated in the middle of the Grand Place, a large and popular square in Brussels, was manned by a gregarious man with a booming voice and emphatic gestures, who handed us our keys and told us five times (I counted) about the fire escape procedures. The way to our room was via a labyrinth of red carpeted stairs, narrow hallways and signs pointing this way, then that way. The rooms were themed by country, no numbers on the doors, just symbols representative of the room’s country. We were in Thailand, complete with a painted sunset and a gold statue looking down at us from the rafters. The fire escape procedures were posted on the door and next to it. 

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The Grand Place was alight with Christmas festivities. We soon discovered that Belgium is not finished with Christmas on Christmas Day. Christmas happenings continue well into the new year. The square was host to trees bright with red and white flashing lights, a ferris wheel, an ice rink, 240 plus stalls of waffles, pretzels, sausage, sweets, chocolate and crafts, a Jaeger bar and hundreds of people toasting each other with steins spilling over with Chimay. I don’t know if it is just this way around the new year, but stepping out of Switzerland and into Belgium was like going from a quiet gathering to a giant house party.

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No horses for this carousel - dinosaurs and hot air balloons and airplanesimage

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We spent just shy of nine hours on the train to get from Wengen to Brussels. I had just asked Valor what would happen if the train came up on something on the tracks, when the words “screeching halt” took on their true meaning. Standing in the dining car, the force tossed us into the opposite wall. Plates went flying, glassware shattered, wine and beer glasses danced their way down table trays and split into shards and the train came to a stop, from 180mph, in about five seconds. At slower speeds, the sudden stops happened two more times. The best we could figure was that something had happened with the timing of the trains. Thankful they kept us all safe, but they lost a lot of money in glassware that day. 

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Cathedral in Cologne, Germany

That evening, we kicked our limited gluten policy to the curb for a dinner of Belgian waffles and beer in the Grand Place square. We wrapped up with a cup of gluhwein with amaretto and roasted chestnuts. We opened our hotel windows, curled up with our books and sipped our gluhwein, listening to the commotion below. After a few, we gave up on the chestnuts, because shoot, you have to hull each one and that is a lot of work for a midnight snack. 

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imageA giant bratwurst. Why not?

What Happened, Happened - A More Candid Post

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My rental snowboard sits ten or twenty feet away from me, with its backwards bindings askew. A downhill mess of packed snow and crunchy ice stretches at least a mile from where my snowboard and I sit, staring each other down. 

I am a hot mess of emotions because this day started going sideways long before my snowboard did. Defeated, I sit in the middle of the run, wiping my eyes of crystalized snow and tears, contending with my failure to “save” the day and wondering who the hell put the damn bindings on backwards in the first place. 

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I had spent at least a quarter of a mile trying to get my left foot to go down the mountain first, only to have it kicked around and my right foot inevitably in front of me instead. I knew I wasn’t Shawn White, but I didn’t remember being this dismal at snow sports, so I was relieved to realize that backwards bindings were the primary culprit and irritated that it took me a quarter of a mile to figure it out and that anyone renting snowboards would put bindings on backwards

A bad day in Switzerland is better than a bad day in may other places, but it took me until dinner to get that kind of perspective on it. 

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I get up onto my knees and fish my snowboard back toward me, contending with how to fix these bindings. But it’s not out of any sense of resolve or virtue that I do so, that I work them around to the other side of the board or that I strap my size-too-small boots back in. I don’t want to be stuck on this mountain in the dark, I don’t want to be charged for returning rental gear past closing and I want beer or wine or both. 

We had assumed a more successful snowboarding/skiing experience, so instead of buying lift passes, we decided to ski/snowboard from Kleinne Shiedegg at the top, down to Wengen and take the train back up to Kleinne Shiedegg. After my third, fourth or fifth tumble and fight with my board, it became apparent that we would not make it to Wengen in time to take the train up the mountain and return our gear before closing. Stymied, we made it down to the next lift, hoping that a lift operator would take pity our bedraggled selves and allow us on. 

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I stand at the base of the lift that we have found unmanned. The chairs circle around and around and around. I will not get on this one. Or that one. Or this one. The sun is nearly behind the mountain, I cannot feel my toes or my fingers and despite fixing my bindings, my board is still under waxed and even when I can manage to get my feet and the front end of my board headed in the right direction, it jerks to a halt, like a car out of gas.

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I am, at this point, desperate to get off of this mountain. There is no one to plead with, only a line of locked turnstiles to say “no.” We need lift passes to get through the turnstiles and we have none. I contemplate whether I can go over or under or around, or if I can make a friend and beg to use their pass. I pull my train pass out of my pocket and approach the sensor that controls the turnstiles. I hold the pass up to the sensor, tentatively, as if asking for permission. It opens. I practically jump for joy through the turnstile and clamber onto a lift chair before anything has a chance to change its mind. So far, this is the best part of the day. 

I started by wanting to fix Valor’s day because his went sideways before mine did. I had been savoring the moments with him not having to work. When he takes time off, I really get to see how creative, funny  and sincere he is. I was so enjoying seeing him let go of the day to day concerns and get to be present in the moment. On this day, his company announced a surprise merger and we spent the majority of our morning sorting through legalese and e-signing paperwork so that Valor had a job to come home to, even though we knew little about what that job was going to look like. Much as he tried not to be worried, he was, and I was sad about that. 

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I have a difficult time with bad days while traveling. I feel like bad days can happen at work or because of traffic or during an ordinary week, but not during travel, because travel is special and when it doesn’t go as planned, I feel, wrongly so, that I need to make up for it, or make it better. So, right away, when our day started to go sideways, I adopted a “fix it” attitude, which in the end, did not serve either of us well. 

We decided that nothing makes a body and a soul feel better than a little physical activity, out in the beauty of nature, so we settled on renting snow gear and taking on the Alps. But to take on the Alps, one needs working gear. Alps: 1. Team Poland: 0. 

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Let’s end with what went well. What went well was that we were still in Switzerland and a bad day in Switzerland is better than a bad day in many other places. At the end of our day, we had delicious hot chocolate with kirsch schnapps at the Air Time Cafe in Lauterbrunnen and bought two small wedges of raw, local cheese that we refrigerated out on our balcony overnight. Disgruntled and discouraged, we returned to Hotel Edelweiss in the evening after having been turned down for dinner at three restaurants along the way. By God’s providence, two people had cancelled their reservation at our own hotel and Daniel offered the two seats to us right as we set foot in the door. We ended the day with a hot dinner and two glasses of red wine, a fire crackling in the corner, reconnecting with each other and allowing grace to take hold of our frustrating day. 

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