Mars Hill Church in Seattle is preparing for another growth spurt this fall. Needing all the help it can get, the megachurch is currently recruiting volunteers who are genuine Christians to help care for the expanding congregation.
To make sure these lay leaders are in fact Christian, Mars Hill founding pastor Mark Driscoll is currently preaching on what it means to be a Christian and what the Church is.
"Many churches allow anyone and everyone to become a member of the church. They get to vote on things. They get to lead ministries. They get to teach others. We do want to welcome everyone, but we reserve official membership of the church for those who know and love Jesus," Driscoll said in his message Sunday.
"We firmly believe unless it's about Jesus and the Holy Spirit shows up, it's not Christian."
The difference between non-Christians and Christians is that while the former may appreciate and admire the life of Jesus, Christians experience the power of Jesus in their lives, he explained.
Part of that experience includes repentance.
Mars Hill Church drew controversy earlier this year over its strict membership and church discipline process. A number of blogs and a letter by a pastor at Mars Hill revealed what some considered harsh discipline tactics involving member of the church who cheated on his fiancée and who also had premarital sexual relations with his fiancée.
Mars Hill responded to the controversy in February, stating, "Because we take our responsibility as leaders seriously and wish to steward it well, we make the process clear in our membership process and only administer church discipline for members who understand what we believe and have agreed to undergo the process in the regrettable case it becomes necessary."
The church clarified that discipline is handled at a local level and does not involve central leadership such as Driscoll. It also stated that it would review current church discipline cases to make sure "all our local leaders are operating within the spirit of love intended to be present in our existing policies."
The Seattle-based megachurch is experiencing rapid growth, drawing more than 11,000 attendees every week to 14 locations in four states. Last year, 1,135 people were baptized and Driscoll called it the most fruitful year they've had in 15 years of history. Excited for the ministry, Driscoll chose to "hand off" other responsibilities, such as leading the Acts 29 church planters network, to focus on the church.
As Mars Hill continues to see growth, Driscoll is making very clear what it takes to be a member and leader at the church.
The church, he preached, consists of "regenerated church members." And holiness is a big part of that, he noted.
"[I]f you're a Christian, we want to help you walk in holiness. We want to help you walk away from sin. We want to help you walk toward Jesus. Now, we don't want to be controlling. There are far too many people, we could never control. But we do want to influence you to submit to the Scriptures, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and to pursue holiness by the grace of God."
The Reformed pastor continued, "Some churches will say, 'Well, come as you are.' Here's how we say it, 'Come as you are, meet Jesus, and change forever.' Everyone is welcome to come, but once you meet Jesus, you start to change. You start to hate sin and pursue holiness. You stop rebelling, you start obeying. Your nature changes, your desires change, your life changes.
"Let me put it this way, any church that doesn't encourage its people toward holiness, in love, in community, doesn't really love the people."
Driscoll expressed how strict they are when it comes to those serving in the church, stating that they "need to guard the gate of membership."
"[A]s Jesus builds his church you may be one of those bricks that he lays down to build his church. But you need to be qualified, so we're looking at your doctrine, what do you believe. We're looking at your lifestyle, how do you live. We want to know that you're a member of the church, and that you love the people," he stated.
"What we're looking for is people who love Jesus who have exemplary lives. Not perfect, but humble people, growing in the grace of God, who really love the church."
Driscoll is scheduled continue his "Jesus Loves His Church" series for another nine weeks. He plans to discuss the qualifications for leadership offices such as elders, pastors and deacons, and the sacraments such as baptism, among other things.