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The Story of How Mars Hill Church Broke Up With Me

The Story of How Mars Hill Church Broke Up With Me

I love Mars Hill.

I began attending in my late 20’s, way back in the 90’s. I served alongside Mark Driscoll for many years as a volunteer, and eventually became his assistant. It was an exciting time for all of us. We put the first .mp3’s on the Mars Hill web site, the foundation for today’s podcasts that reach so many people around the world. We restructured the website in an era before “content marketing” was a thing, putting fresh content on the homepage every Tuesday. We wrote our own music and arrangements because we believed that we were sub-creators of God, our ultimate Creator.

Mark Driscoll mentored me alongside other young men and women who served at the time, and my life is better because of how he connected a theoretical gospel to my real, practical, every day life.

Prior to my time at MH I wasn’t doing anything meaningful with my life, nor did I have a plan or a vision for finding something meaningful to do. I’m thankful for the push MH gave me to try my hand at ministry – to fail, to try again, and to iterate through to what I eventually understood was my calling, which is to mentor, write, and facilitate conversations that help connect disparate groups of people.

We used to read books like The Celtic Way of Evangelism and Resident Aliens. These are books about living in and loving the culture, about influencing the culture with the Gospel rather than separating ourselves from the culture and building walls that defined us vs. them. 

As a young woman who grew up feeling disconnected in an evangelical churchy church, these books and the mission of Mars Hill helped me realize I wasn’t called to service within the church, but to the marketplace and to the culture. I was meant to live among, work along side, and socialize with the people around me in this city. 

As the years went on, I became troubled by cultural lines drawn in the sand regarding yoga, teen vampire books, Obama, and the characterization of a “Richard Simmons hippy queer Christ.”

The church that once sent me on a mission to the culture slowly became a hinderance to that mission as Bryan and I fielded questions from non-believing friends about why this Jesus Mark talked about sounds more like Glenn Beck and less like the Jesus we keep talking about. They were confused. One atheist friend said something to the affect of, “You (Bryan) and Jen are the first Christians I’ve met that I can’t dismiss, yet I don’t understand [insert inflammatory topic voiced by Mark on twitter] – that doesn’t mirror this Jesus you keep telling me about. “

This was the beginning of the end of our time at Mars Hill, when I realized we were spending more time defending Mark’s careless words and less time addressing the true stumbling block of the Gospel, which is Jesus Christ himself.

The final straw for me was when Mars Hill Central pulled all programs from the Downtown Seattle campus that were unique to the mission of that neighborhood — like the Christmas coat lunch, for example. It was at this point that I realized Mars Hill had completely abandoned the original mission its name was founded upon from Acts 17 where Paul demonstrated love for the culture, blessed the culture, and used the culture to reveal a path to Jesus in a way that people could understand and connect with.

This was Mars Hill’s inspiration back in the day, and this was the life work I was called to. But the mission to contextualize the Gospel to a specific neighborhood culture (which I understood was the original vision for localized campuses) gave way to branding a universal Mars Hill entity that was common at all locations (think: Starbucks for churches).

I grieve Mars Hill’s departure from my life over a year ago, because I loved my church and I thought we’d be on mission together until I was old and gray. I thought my participation in building the mission of Mars Hill would be a legacy left for my children and grandchildren. How foolish I was to put so much faith in a human institution led by sinful men (as I am also sinful)! The true legacy I leave for my children is a love for Jesus and his Word, and a pursuit of a true Gospel community. 

I will always love you, Mars Hill, like a school girl remembers her first crush. But I choose to continue forward on the mission God gave me through your influence, even if you choose another direction.

A Manifesto For Hurting People (and those who don’t know what to do with them)

A Manifesto For Hurting People (and those who don’t know what to do with them)

The song Stereo Hearts shuffled into the mix today – that’s the one where Adam Levine sings the hook. These lyrics jumped out at me:

Furthermore, I apologize for any skipping tracks
It’s just the last girl that played me left a couple cracks
I used to, used to, used to, used to, now I’m over that
‘Cause holding grudges over love is ancient artifacts

These lyrics caught my attention because of 1) people around me who are hurting, and 2) people around me who are inconsiderate of hurting people.

It’s just the last church that played me left a couple cracks.

1) People who are hurting.

Please guard your vulnerability. Don’t close it off or shut it down, but guard it carefully. I recently saw Brene Brown interview with Chase Jarvis and she talked about her List. She carries a list in her wallet of people whose opinion matters to her, and when she starts to feel the weight of criticism and shame from others, she pulls out her list to remember who her Truth-tellers are.

If you have been hurt by someone and choose to tell your story, there will be some people who don’t believe you, who don’t think it’s that big a deal, who think you’re crazy, and/or think you should just let it go or otherwise be quiet about it.

If these people are not in the trenches with you or on your List of trusted Truth tellers, fight for your sanity and let go of their criticisms.

If you’re hurting, your record is gonna gonna gonna gonna skip a little for awhile, and some people just won’t get it.

2) People who are inconsiderate of hurting people.

Stop it.

Just… stop it.

Stop telling people that it’s gossip to share their personal story.

Stop cultivating a culture of shame and suspicion around people who are hurting.

Stop dismissing the pain hurting people feel without listening to their story first hand.

Stop assuming that hurting people have a divisive agenda.

Stop minimizing the pain of hurting people by explaining away the circumstances of their experience.

If you are in the presence of a hurting person, you have the opportunity to:

listen,
show compassion,
express empathy,
encourage,
point them to the healing work of Jesus and his holy spirit,
…and shut up about everything else.

If you overhear the story of someone’s pain, you have the opportunity to:

call or write that person to ask how they’re doing,
listen,
show compassion,
express empathy,
encourage,
point them to the healing work of Jesus and his holy spirit,
…and shut up about everything else.

Hurting people are gonna gonna gonna gonna skip a little for awhile. What they need most is your patience and presence while the cracks smooth out.

Here’s the Brene Brown video in full (with Bryan being a total fanboi in the front row):

Four Myths Regarding the Current Public Discussion of Mars Hill

Four Myths Regarding the Current Public Discussion of Mars Hill

This week my Facebook feed exploded with discussions about Mars Hill Church and its senior leadership, which quickly turned into a debate on several threads over the nature of such discussions happening on Facebook (or anywhere public, for that matter).

As I read through it all like a gawker who can’t look away from a highway pile-up, I noticed four myths about conflict in the church that I’d like to debunk.

1) It’s wrong to talk about this in public, and Facebook isn’t the right venue.

We live in an era in which the use of technology is growing at a faster rate than policy about the use of technology.

For example, if a fourteen year old girl texts a booby picture to her boyfriend, she can be prosecuted under distribution of child pornography laws and will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life. This is because there’s currently no law in the murky middle between foolish girl and sinister pervert.

The ambiguity of this murky middle makes people nervous about things like social media. We like it for sharing our lunch and cat photos. We like it for expressing joy in the weather, quoting a book passage or sermon, and posting quiz results for which Game of Thrones character we are.

But when someone uses social media to shine light into the darkness, we get uncomfortable. We wonder, is this gossip? Is this public shaming?

I’m not saying anybody’s showing their boobies, but we are trying to figure out how to be the body of Christ in this age and how to be a Gospel community.

In Matthew 18, Jesus outlines clear direction regarding the public discussion of sin. He says:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

So the step I suppose we’re all unclear about is, “tell it to the church.” In this day and age when content marketing and social media strategies abound, who or what is “the church,” and where should this discussion take place?

First of all, the church is described in the Bible as a group of people, not a building. The bride of Christ, the people of God, and so forth. By this definition, we’re not confined to having this discussion within the four walls of a building.

Great, so who are the people of this church?

Mars Hill would define its local church body by its membership, which is defined on their site as members of the family who “participate as the church: sacrificing time, talents, and treasure; committing to the care and community of their fellow members; and submitting to the authority God has established to lead our congregation.”

The tricky thing is, there’s currently is no forum for public discussion of the hard things that have surfaced over the years within the body of Mars Hill that I know of, and there hasn’t been for many many years. Church wide meetings are tightly controlled with scripted information going out and no opportunity to ask questions or dialogue.

In general, community discussion is not encouraged, and questions are not welcomed. Quite the opposite, actually, as those who ask tough questions are frequently labeled as dissenters.

So when it comes to the step Jesus describes in Matthew 18, “tell it to the church,” it’s still unclear how we are to Biblically address a grievance within the body when the first two steps have failed.

Well shit. Now what?

Mars Hill is a church that 1) utilizes technology to broadcast its message around the world, 2) uses social media tools like twitter, Facebook, blogs, and Instagram to communicate its values and mission, and 3) recognizes that a high percentage of “followers” are by those who don’t physically attend a local Mars Hill campus.

By embracing technology and social media to broadcast worldwide, and by shutting down public discourse within the membership, it stands to reason that people online can be considered part of the church, and that Facebook is a reasonable vehicle for asking questions, pursuing accountability, and seeking reconciliation.

2) You’re just bitter and out to get Pastor Mark.

I’m sure there are many people who fit into this category, so how can you tell whether someone is acting out of love or bitterness? Technically you can’t, because only God knows the motive of our hearts. But the way we talk about conflict can offer up some clues as to how our heart is leaning.

First of all, the point of Matthew 18 is to confront a friend who has sinned against you so that he or she can repent and the two of you can be reconciled. It’s an act of grace the offended friend offers the offender so the conflict doesn’t ruin the friendship or further divide the larger body through gossip.

Confronting a friend who sinned against you is an act of love. Watching that friend continue in unrepentance is sad. And the broken relationship is painful.

Chances are, the words and actions that come from a person who loves the friend who offended, is sad they won’t repent, and is in pain over a broken relationship, won’t focus on retribution or revenge, but on rescuing that friend from his or her own destruction.

Secondly, look for folks who skip steps one and two — the private confrontation alone and with witnesses — and go straight for a public soapbox to air their grievances. This is gossip and public shaming done by folks who don’t love someone enough to speak directly to them but merely have a bone to pick.

I’ve heard some say that people should just be quiet and let God take care of his church. But I wonder why we’re to assume that this current public discussion is not God taking care of his church!

People are hurting, and they’ve hit a brick wall in the system that Jesus himself gave us to bring about healing, repentance, and reconciliation.

If Mars Hill chooses to prevent any opportunity for “telling it to the church,” then technology and social media have provided a valid work-around for bringing to truth into the light.

3) You’re just jumping on a bandwagon or joining a crusade.

Don’t be fooled by my silence up to this point, lest you think I’m simply joining a drunken conga line. I’ve been praying for years for truth to overcome fear – not only for those who have been sinned against, but for those who are unrepentant (because I love them).

I was not personally sinned against by Mark or anyone at Mars Hill. But I know people who were sinned against — painfully, and with lifelong consequences — and have walked with them for years through the struggle to understand why repentance and reconciliation is so elusive.

I’ve been extremely impatient at the slowness of God to respond, and it’s very tempting almost every day to write about what I know.

I have a T-shirt that says, “Writing Well Is the Best Revenge.” It’s faded and worn where it rubs against my belt buckle, but I can’t bear to part with it because writing is my super power.

And yet, Christ called me to silence for a season because it’s not my story to tell.

But now that folks are “telling it to the church,” I support a healthy exposure of the truth for the purpose of reconciliation.

If all of this blows up, it will be a beautiful, glorious, mess, and God will be glorified because this is his church, and he takes care of her. If we look to the circumstances at face value, we fear and cry “gossip!” But if we lock eyes with “the one who sees our injustice” as Hagar did, we’re empowered to speak and live in the light without fear.

4) You shouldn’t talk bad about my church — Mars Hill changed my life!

I hear you. Mars Hill changed my life, too!

I was there for sixteen years – all of which I spent as a dedicated member who supported the vision and mission, and even spent some time on staff.

In the late 90’s, I came of age as a believer at Mars Hill. I am a smarter, more thoughtful, less cultural Christian because of things I learned at Mars Hill. I make friends with my neighbors, send my kids to public school, and moved into the city because of things I learned Mars Hill.

But as my friend, Wendy, says here, we’re all called to something much bigger than Mars Hill, so we need to be wise about our allegiance.

In that post she also provides a great analogy for something I’ve thought as well:

“During the years since I left the church, I’ve watched the branches of the Mars Hill tree grow even heavier with new believers as the root system of mature Christians desperately needed to disciple these converts continues to erode. It is only a matter of time before a wind rushes through and causes the entire tree to crash down. I perceive that these current controversies might finally be that wind, and I do not rejoice in that AT ALL.”

If you’re part of the body of Christ at Mars Hill and you haven’t experienced broken relationships because of unrepentant sin, rejoice!

But know that there are some among you who are experiencing broken relationships because of unrepentant sin. The correct response for you is to grieve with those friends, to encourage repentance, and to facilitate reconciliation.

There’s no need to be defensive or beat someone up because you think they talked smack about your sister. Truth transcends all earthly loyalties!

In conclusion…

I write this post — possibly my longest post ever — because I love my brothers and sisters in Christ, I love the Church, and I love sorting out the messy nuances of living as one who is rescued.

I welcome your comments and further discussion.

**If you have a negative comment, please be sure to give the benefit of the doubt on motive or tone to the blog author or readers who comment.

Anonymous comments are welcomed ONLY if you need a safe place to be honest about a burden or concern that you don’t feel free to share with your name. Anonymous critical comments will be deleted immediately. If you need to respond critically, please use your name.**

(I borrowed that comment policy from my friend, Wendy.)

Peace to you.