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.

20 thoughts on “Four Myths Regarding the Current Public Discussion of Mars Hill”

  1. Hey, Jen. I really, really appreciate the tone of this post. It’s nice that you can see the forest of the “how” without getting bogged down in the fir-needles of the “what.”

  2. Great piece!
    Social media is a cruel mistress. She’ll help propel you to super stardom, then beat your to a pulp when you screw up. To complain about criticisms from blogs, twitter, and facebook when he used those things to get famous is pretty ironic. I think when a person enters into the realm of social media they expose themselves to the repercussions of that decision. If it wasn’t for the celebrity status that he received, in part from social media, the church would be small enough to discipline Driscoll in the way God commands.

  3. Hey Jen,
    I appreciate the sentiment. I’m mostly unaware of the current issues but am well aware of the pile of blog posts and stranger articles written as exposes on MH’s alleged sins which I won’t pretend to have any idea of the truth through the lies.
    A couple thoughts on some of the ideas you presented though:
    1) You mentioned a lack of forum for dialog. I know that there is a quarterly vision breakfast where we here updates from the senior leadership and are invited to raise our concerns and dialog with our plasters and church members. This seems like an ideal place to voice concerns.
    2) You talk about how Facebook may well be a valid forum for rebuke due to the lack of modern way to reach the greater church audience. I would argue that the perfect way to reach church members without airing dirty laundery in public would be to post a note to the city.
    3) As for “don’t talk bad about my church”, I do have some trouble understanding why some people can’t just leave quietly, again I don’t have all of the details and not trying to minimize. I just know that there are a million different pastors with a million different callings starting a million different churches with a million different visions/cultures. If the MH culture didn’t work for me then I would find a new church home and never say another word about it (publicly anyway). Sometimes all of this controversy makes me feel like I’m watching people at a restaurant, ordered something that they didn’t really know what it was, complain about how horrible it is, be told by the manager that they can have a full refund and they hope they can find a good meal somewhere else, and then the person goes on yelp to tell everyone how horrible the experience was… Not saying it wasn’t bad but saying it feels like the response is loaded with a sense of entitlement and that nothing would be good enough to make the complaining stop other than to bendy he whole church to the will of those who are complaining.

  4. I have some close friends who remain active members of Mars Hill who have good reasons for that. And I have several other close friends who are dealing with what will probably be lifelong hurt from injuries suffered at Mars Hill. I’ve been guilty of letting my frustrations and aggravations lead to snarky comments that probably shouldn’t have been public. Like Greg Wright, I too appreciate this post. Thank you, Jen, for writing with such grace and clarity. And thanks for sharing Wendy’s analogy, which is very powerful.

  5. I disagree with number 1. Why? Because Jesus told us not to go about talking crap about people when they do something wrong, but to go directly to them. Then take someone with you. Then the Church. If there’s still no repentance than they should leave the Church. It’s sad to see hypocrites constantly bash this church when they, themselves, are sinning by being jerks and talking crap. Did Jesus talk crap about people out in the market? No. He went and told the leaders of the day to their faces what they were doing wrong. What you are saying and what people are doing is so wrong and divides the Church so much, I’m not surprised to see it falling in America. Good job to you for letting the enemy use you in ways you have yet to see or understand. I can only pray that Jesus’ return will be quick. Your line of thinking is disturbing indeed.

    By the way, you don’t need Facebook to shine light on things. You just need to go talk to the person. Facebook posts and posts like this aren’t shining light, they are painting the church to look like a crappy place to be. You say that we don’t know what to do after the third step, but there are examples in the Bible. You make them leave. Also, in the Bible, each church in each town made these decisions. It wasn’t broadcast to all the other churches in a way like you and others are doing.

    This is by far the worst way I’ve seen to be a “Gospel Community”. It’s quite disgusting, actually. I could go on and on, but it seems that it might be in vain.

  6. Jen, thanks for sharing this

    i know very little about the controversy that’s going on, partly because i am far less connected on line than most people and partly because i’m not generally connected with any people to begin with

    Mat Kordell–those ‘vision breakfasts’ are typically scheduled for a time of the day when those of us with jobs have to be at work, so not sure how well attended they would be by any other than pastors, leaders, and their wives

  7. CM, what you may not understand is that there have been many people who have approached Mars Hill senior leadership privately and personally over sin and wrongs suffered. Guess who gets silenced and then rapidly removed from the church and from any forums where they might be able to “tell it to the church”? Channels of communication are tightly controlled. I dare you to go to a vision breakfast and openly raise some challenging questions. The repercussions may surprise you.

  8. Mat Kordell, the reason that many former long-time members (like myself) don’t feel that we can in good conscience simply “find another church” and not say another word about it, is because of the injustice and damage that were done to some by Mars Hill senior leadership. Upright and godly men’s reputations and characters were publicly slandered and maligned by Mars Hill senior leadership. Their careers (as a Christian counselor and family law attorney) and their ability to financially support their families were severely damaged, and most of their friendships abruptly severed because Mars Hill instructed its members to shun them. This is what happens to people who question the actions of senior leadership at Mars Hill and who stand firm in their convictions and integrity. They face the anger that some sinners are capable of. It is far from Christlike and Mark needs to be called to repentance for it – not just a vague sorrow over “unholy anger” in his past, but an actual public reversal of the the highly public wrongs he did to specific people. Pastors Paul Petry and Bent Meyer are foremost in my mind, but I am sure there are others. It is wrong to fade quietly away and allow an unrepentant elder to abuse people in this way.

  9. Yes! Well thought out and well written. I appreciate your ability to parse all of the different allegations, accounts, bloggers, news stories, MHC supporter comments, MHC hater comments, MHC Press Releases and extract some poignant wisdom.

    I think one additional point that those of us who no longer call Mars Hill our home church would do well to remember is that it is highly unlikely that we will change the minds of people who have remained under Mark’s teaching for years. If there is one thread that seems inarguable from all of the stories that surface (both through social media and my personal network of friends), it’s that MHC doesn’t want skeptics in their church. Therefore, there are systems in place from the highest levels to the lowest levels that identify and weed out inquisitive non-submissive personality types. At the highest level, it’s been documented how Petry was forced out of the church for asking questions and proposing changes to the proposed bylaws in 2007. At the common man/ woman level, asking doctrinal questions in community group or of an elder/ pastor has resulted in being told you are in sin if you do not automatically accept the doctrine as it is being taught. Additionally, if members don’t accept and obey the counsel of pastors, elders, community group leaders on non-black and white issues such as who one should date, they have been found to be in rebellion to authority and in sin and, therefore subject to church discipline.

    My point is that more likely than not, the long-standing member of MHC is more likely to be a believe first, ask questions later type. The type who asks questions in order to confirm that they believe an idea and that a person or pastor actually have credibility and are worthy of respect is viewed as a threat and a cancer.

  10. Hi Mat, good to hear from you!

    You’re right, I think there are many people who could probably just move on quietly. For them, the issue is likely more on the level of disagreement with doctrine, or of thinking someone is a jerk, or the music is too loud, or like you said, they’re not into the culture. And sadly, some of them do jump on a bandwagon and muck it up a bit.

    However, where there is sin that was committed against an individual, either by commission or omission, it’s more loving for the offended individual to pursue reconciliation and repentance than it is to just move on. And some people feel convicted to walk all the way through the process because their hope is for 1) repentance and reconciliation, or 2) removal of the person who continues to sin and remains unrepentant.

    Resolving conflict is messy, but we always hope and pray for repentance and reconciliation.

    As to The City and the Vision Breakfasts, we haven’t personally had a good experience with either. I don’t want to get into the details of what happened, but the culture to dissuade tough questions is strong no matter what avenue is available.

  11. Thanks for your comment, Frank.

    I don’t want to lose site of the fact that there are many wonderful people at Mars Hill — community group leaders, Sunday volunteers, musicians, elders, members, and so on — and not everyone buys into the culture of bullying.

    As for the others, we can’t lose hope that Jesus changes hearts and minds.

  12. I doubt that taking your grievances public was a good idea. That was wrong. No scripture you can throw at it will make it ok, ever.

  13. Yes you did, but anyway, you got his public apology so I hope that you will accept his apology now and move on.

  14. I just read this and Jen, I have to say, I am saddened. You know Don and I were part of your Mars Hill community group in Renton and grew to love you and your family. (We now attend a similar church that is closer to us geographically as we are seniors). I myself felt my conservative opinions when voiced in our group were not really responded to in a way that I felt were valued or listened to – can that be the same reaction you are having to Mars Hill but from a more liberal perspective? To air this on your blog is public in my mind. And the timing, Jen, when the Seattle media jumps on any negative story about churches or pastors who take a strong stand against the “politically correct” culture today, could not be worse with the current story about Pastor Mark’s book.

  15. Good to hear from you Jeanie. It was fun bumping into you at Goodwill a couple months ago!

    The timing of this post is perfect and intentional, hence the title, “Four Myths Regarding the Current Public Discussion of Mars Hill.”

    Even though you and I disagree on many things, you are my sister in Christ and I love you.

  16. Suzanne, the public apology is a great start, but it’s naive to think that it can be that simple. I hope and pray Mark and other leaders meet personally with families and individuals they’ve sinned against. As I said to my friend Mat above, this isn’t just about differences of opinion – it’s about sin and repentance.

  17. I have been following the Mars Hill story for many years, since we left in 2000. My husband and I left then after seven months of confusion, sadness, and anger. I recall returning to our apartment after a horrendous meeting with Mark, during which we confronted him on so many of the things coming to light now, and Googling, “Is Mars Hill a cult”? I came up with nothing but felt desperate and alone. What a creepy place, I thought! Mark shut down every question I had, and told my husband to “deal with me” or he’d deal with him.

    We lost our best friend to MHC, after she got sucked into a relationship we found controlling, both by her partner and by Mark. We were told that there were no other churches worth attending in the Seattle area.

    So here’s my question. Why is this all happening NOW? Googling “Is Mars Hill a cult?” gets you a million and a half hits. Why is it that these exact same dynamics were happening in the year TWO THOUSAND and here we are in 2014 and people are finally saying enough is enough? Why did so many have to suffer? Why were so many unwilling to leave during the last fourteen years?

    And how puzzling, that so many are scolding those who are coming forward for making the church look bad! Maybe your annoyance could be targeted toward, oh, I don’t know, Mark?? Don’t blame the victims, folks.

    In my mind, everyone who has stuck around in the last fourteen years is complicit to the hurt that has happened there.

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