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.