Reaction to the dissolving of Mars Hill Church called for by its elders two weeks after the resignation of its founding pastor, Mark Driscoll, has been varied, including high praise for the controversial pastor's impact on the lives of people who attended his church, a letter of repentance to two former pastors signed by 18 former elders, and fond memories of an edgy congregation meeting in the Seattle area and taking on the world around them.
"Eleven years ago, I walked into a dimly lit former warehouse with crazy art hung up everywhere, tattooed and pierced guys and girls handing out pamphlets, hard rock reverberating through the dark-painted walls, and a short, kinda thick guy up on stage yelling at everyone," wrote Seth MacGillivray, a former long-time member and deacon at Mars Hill, in a post on his Facebook page Friday evening.
"The place was called Mars Hill Church. I was a new Christian, and had a view of most Jesus-followers as a cross between Ned Flanders and high school girls who listened to DC Talk. Here was something new: an ultra-orthodox view of the bible combined with a liberal view of the world," he continued.
MacGillivray, who was at Mars Hill from 2003 to 2011 and later co-pastored a church in the Washington area, is now running a business while on break from official ministry, he told The Christian Post. He said he purposefully left out specific criticism of Driscoll in his post, since he was "publically critical in the past."
"I stayed away from talking about Mark too directly in my post because so much attention lately has been placed on Mark's failings and the failings of core leadership at Mars Hill. I wanted to make sure people understood what drew so many to the church in the first place: Love. A sense of belonging. A sense of hope," he said. "Sure, Mark's preaching had a lot to do with that, but it was the person and work of Jesus, and the opportunity we felt to be His representatives in the Seattle area, more than it was Mark's preaching style.
"When it became obvious about a year ago that there were real problems within the Mars Hill leadership core, so many of my friends stayed because of the love they felt, and because of the opportunity to share that love with others, in spite of the clear cracks that were beginning to show at the top."
MacGillivray was critical about Driscoll's resignation.
"I loved Mark's bold preaching style, and his call for men to act like men according to Scripture," MacGillivray told CP. "One of the things he always stressed was our need to willingly place ourselves under authority: authority of Scripture, authority of our elders, authority of friends we trusted. When the time came for him to model what that looked like in a real-life scenario – the elders of Mars Hill found him disqualified for leadership, and put in place a discipline and restoration plan – he resigned rather than submit, and squandered an opportunity to show men all over the world what it looks like to humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, and to allow Him to lift you back up. How beautiful that would have been."
Mars Hill announced the decision to dissolve last Friday via a letter to the church written by teaching pastor Dave Bruskas and posted on its website. Local pastors and their congregations have been asked to either go independently, merge with another church, or disband entirely.
While Driscoll was not mentioned in the "Local Mission, Local Churches" blogpost, his recent resignation, on Oct. 14, from the multi-city megachurch he and his wife helped found 18 years ago, certainly played a factor in the decision to dissolve the Mars Hill Church network. Driscoll resigned after a series of calls were made for him to step down from ministry due to his admitted "divisive" leadership style.
Still, under Driscoll's leadership, the church flourished in the Seattle area and later, beyond in the western region of the U.S.
MacGillivray writes, "We weren't a small church by the time I joined – probably a thousand or so weekly attendees at that point – but we were still small enough to be the young rebel in town, and we all felt like we were a part of something special. We wanted to change the world, one person at a time; not just by our message, but by the way we lived our lives…"
MacGillivray's full Facebook post is below:
Eleven years ago, I walked into a dimly lit former warehouse with crazy art hung up everywhere, tattooed and pierced guys and girls handing out pamphlets, hard rock reverberating through the dark-painted walls, and a short, kinda thick guy up on stage yelling at everyone. The place was called Mars Hill Church. I was a new Christian, and had a view of most Jesus-followers as a cross between Ned Flanders and high school girls who listened to DC Talk. Here was something new: an ultra-orthodox view of the bible combined with a liberal view of the world.
We weren't a small church by the time I joined – probably a thousand or so weekly attendees at that point- but we were still small enough to be the young rebel in town, and we all felt like we were a part of something special. We wanted to change the world, one person at a time; not just by our message, but by the way we lived our lives. Be the best tippers, be the best employees and bosses, be the best neighbors, be friends with everyone. Engage – rather than judge – the world around us. Be light, and be love.
We had gays and jocks and hipsters and nerds. We had the homeless who wandered in, grabbed a cup of coffee and a pastry, and wandered back out. We had former (and current) junkies, unmarried couples who were still sleeping together even though they got yelled at every week by Mark, atheists and agnostics who loved to argue but still came every Sunday, and even those Christians who listened to Christian radio. We were mostly young, and though we were full of hubris and the arrogance that can only come from those who feel like they're traveling paths never traveled before, we loved and revered the few older couples and families who (always) sat in the front, and the elder statesmen of our faith like John Piper, John McArthur, R.C. Sproul.
Once I was asked if, were something to happen to Mark, Mars Hill Church would survive. It would, I said, because of other elders we had at the time: men like Lief Moi, and James Harleman, and Scott Thomas, and Paul Petry.
I remember meeting people that became friends that I still have today. I remember learning to love to read my bible, and debate theology, and learn old Christian hymns arranged in new ways. I remember plenty of dates that didn't go so well, and I remember meeting my wife in a Starbucks when she overheard me talking about my church. I remember conversations where friends, much wiser than I, told me to grow up and be a better man than I was. I remember outdoor baptisms, and I remember two college girls walking by in West Seattle, hearing about Jesus, and getting dunked, fully clothed, in freezing-cold water with tears streaming down their faces. I remember crying myself, at every single baptism I ever witnessed.
We all know by now the recent history: the consolidation of power, the public lying, the financial malfeasance, the exorbitant salaries, the character assassination of anyone who ever spoke out, the shady book deals, the growing call from former and current members and elders for change, and the last, final betrayal from a man who refused to submit to the very discipline he always preached was necessary as a Christian.
It seems, at this point, that Mars Hill Church will be only a memory in a few years.
Ten years ago, I saw a former heroin addict OD in the lobby of Mars Hill in Ballard. One of our volunteers knew how to care for him, and while we called 911, he attended to him. The medics showed up soon after, and carried him out on a stretcher, still unconscious but breathing. Two weeks later, that same man was back, carrying trash bags from the bathroom to the dumpster. He was there because he was loved by us, and he loved us in return. He was there because he was home.
Mars Hill Church may be but a memory in a few years, but that's the memory I'll hold on to.