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.