In struggling through the demise of Mars Hill Church I came across the web site marshillwas.us. It’s a place where people can go through and on-line interview about their relationship with Mars Hill with the results published on-line. I went through the interview, and the rest of this article is my responses to the interview questions. I have no idea if my interview will ever be published on the site, but for your consideration here it is.
Update 2018-03-05: it was published, but the link is now broken, so I’ve disabled it above. If you’re curious, here it is at the Wayback Machine.
Which describes your role at Mars Hill?
What Mars Hill location(s) did you attend?
What years were you involved / attending?
How did you first hear about Mars Hill?
In 2006 my daughter graduated from high school and decided to attend Seattle Pacific University (a bad decision we would both agree, but that’s a story for another time). She had read Body Piercing Saved My Life and in it had read about Mark Driscoll (the “cussing pastor”) and Mars Hill. We talked about it while I was driving her to Seattle and thought we should visit when we got there.
What was the circumstance of your first time attending Mars Hill?
During the time she was getting settled in at SPU we decided to visit Mars Hill Ballard.
What were your first impressions?
I was impressed—stunned might be a better word—by the number of people at the church who were under the age of 30, and especially that there were young men there. This was in sharp contrast to our home church at the time which, despite being in a large college town, had very few younger people attending. I was also impressed by Mark’s preaching.
Why was Mars Hill your church home?
Since I attended only sporadically when I was visiting Seattle, Mars Hill was my “church home” in the sense that I listened regularly to Mark’s messages and gave financially to Mars Hill—quite generously, as it turned out, although I didn’t know it at the time. We were, as a family fully invested in the church as much as we could be given we live over a thousand miles from Seattle.
We did what we did because we believed in the what the church was trying to do: reach young men with the gospel, teach sound theology, and grow families.
What about your time at Mars Hill has had a positive impact on you?
Mars Hill, and Mark specifically, kept me involved in the church. At the time I first learned about Mars Hill and Mark I was in a very dark time personally. I had been serving and worshipping in a local church, but I had not found a “tribe” where I felt I belonged. I was convinced (and still believe) that such a tribe didn’t (and doesn’t) exist locally, but Mars Hill seemed to be the kind of place where I could find such a group. While I was in no position to uproot myself and my wife and move to Seattle, I had the hope that someday I would be able to participate in Mars Hill. I had planned to spend my retirement hanging around the church picking up trash, cleaning toilets, and setting out chairs.
It also got me interested in theology in a way that I had not experienced before. Mark had (and I believe still has) a gift for illuminating scripture I had not seen before, and I fell in love with his expository preaching and going through complete books of the Bible (which doesn’t allow skipping over the hard parts). Since then I’ve sought out other great preachers and teachers such as Tim Keller, John Piper, and DA Carson, but as good as they are they can’t quite replace Mark.
What about your time at Mars Hill has had a negative impact on you?
Ironically, the thing that bothered me the most was their legalism. Ironic because Mars Hill preached—correctly, in most areas—freedom in Christ, but practiced a strict extra-Biblical legalism centered around the relationships between men and women. Two examples might be illustrative.
The first involves a young man who was exactly the kind of man Mars Hill wanted men to be: dedicated to following Jesus, hard-working (with a career, not just a “job”), kind and generous, and ready to settle down and start a family. But whenever he would approach any of the women in the church he had to run a gauntlet of questions like, “What are your intentions with this lady?” He confided in me that he would get this line of questioning after doing something as innocuous as having a cup of coffee together Starbucks. His response was to shy away from pursuing any relationship with women in the church and look elsewhere for a potential mates.
The second involves a young woman who had moved away from the church because of the pain of “Christians” condemning her because of what she wore (mostly black clothing, required by her job), her job (working in the fashion industry), her tattoos and piercings, and other open-handed issues. Deciding to give Jesus another chance, she moved to Seattle to attend Mars Hill. One Sunday shortly afterwards was serving as a greeter (at the invitation of her small group leader) when she was approached by another woman who told her, “Your leggings are causing the married men to stumble”. There are so many things wrong with this, starting with not taking the time to learn how many people had hoped and prayed for her to get her back into Christian fellowship. Fortunately, her small group leader came to her rescue and supported her and she was able to take it in stride. (Her partner in greeting was wearing Daisy Dukes and was not taken to task for her dress.)
What would you like to have changed about Mars Hill?
The other things were peripheral outgrowths of Mark’s inability to recognize his weaknesses and allow God to change him. If that had happened many of the other things wouldn’t have happened or would have been dealt with more constructively.
Which describes you?
I stayed at Mars Hill through closure.
Please describe why you stayed at Mars Hill and what that experience was like.
I stayed with Mars Hill to the very end, hoping that some good would come from everything. But there was so much chaos in my personal life at that time that it was just one other painful thing to be endured. During the time Mars Hill was coming apart, my father-in-law passed away and my children were present when a good friend took his life leaving behind a wife and young son. The kids, who were at Mars Hill at that time, could have used support from the church, but as things were falling apart at Mars Hill the church couldn’t effectively help them. It was a horrible mess.
How would you describe the reason for Mars Hill’s closure to an outsider.
From my perspective, there were two problems: immature elder leadership and Mark’s unwillingness to find and follow sound advice.
I used to find it amusing with some 25-year old kid who has been a Christian for all of three years is an “elder” in the church. Having seen the damage that they can do I no longer find it amusing, I find it terrifying.
I understand that younger people can have more energy and have fresh ideas that the church needs, but often that enthusiasm can, if not guided by wisdom, lead the church to do great harm. Wisdom is not something that can be gained just by a class or earning a degree in theology or by reading scripture. Wisdom comes from experience (and experience from making un-wise choices). As the catchphrase from the Farmer’s Insurance advertisements currently running on TV say, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two”.
I’ve been a Christian now for 44 years and over that time I’ve seen people do some really stupid things. I’ve seen Christians do some really stupid things in the name of Christ. I’ve seen people do things that didn’t appear to be stupid at first but that were in the end. Some of these things were at Mars Hill, and when they were happening I knew that this would not end well. I’m not the most mature nor the wisest person, and I would make a terrible elder, but there are men who could have served Mars Hill as elder leadership and kept the church from hurling itself on the rocks.
However, even if Mars Hill had had an elder board composed of wise, older, mature Christians, Mark, by his own admission, would not have listened to them. Mark had sh*t that he needed to deal with but didn’t. I don’t know Mark’s heart and where he is now, but I pray that he has or will deal with his sh*t.
All of this is unfortunate because if these things had been done we wouldn’t be where we are now.
What’s changed for you since your time at Mars Hill came to an end?
I find myself in the same place I was 10 years ago—wondering where I fit in the church … or if I fit at all. I have books and podcasts to feed the intellectual side my soul but I’ve pretty much given up on finding a tribe or a meaningful place to serve.
Please write anything else you’d like to add.
Oh, what could have been.