Saddleback Church's Pastor Rick Warren is scheduled to give the congregation at the Seattle-based Mars Hill Church, hosted at a dozen regional locations, its last sermon via video this Sunday, as the megachurch, founded and once led by Pastor Mark Driscoll, officially dissolves.
"As we reflect on over eighteen years of ministry, and ultimately close the doors on Mars Hill Church, we are thankful that many of our churches will continue as new independent, autonomous churches," officials stated Tuesday on the church's website. "While Mars Hill Church will cease to exist, God's work through his people will continue."
As Mars Hill staff were busy closing the final chapter on the church that once rocked the Seattle area and beyond with its edgy, strict orthodox preacher who had his share of leadership problems that led to his resignation in October, there were no official reaction statements coming from the church other than an announcement on its website. Both Driscoll and Warren declined to comment, according to their respective media representatives at press time.
"Our dear friend Pastor Rick Warren from Saddleback Church has graciously offered to preach the final sermon for us. Each of our churches will be showing a special message from Pastor Rick, based on John 12:24. 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,' stated officials in the church posting.
They concluded, "Our hope is that this timely message will be an encouragement for the people that have called Mars Hill Church their home, as we reflect on the great impact our church has had on the kingdom of God, as well as an encouragement for the new churches emerging out of Mars Hill, and the potential they have to continue bearing much fruit."
Warren's message will be given to Mars Hill in video form and distributed to all its campuses to be shown at each location.
Driscoll's association and friendship with Warren goes back many years, including giving sermons at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, on several occasions. He visited the church to deliver a weekend worship message while Warren was grieving the loss of his son, Matthew.
Driscoll has received friendly counsel from Warren, according to a Christian Post source, over the last year, during which he was accused of plagiarism, using book promoters that manipulated book rankings, and inappropriate leadership to which he confessed.
Reaction to the dissolving of Mars Hill Church called for by its elders two weeks after the resignation of its founding pastor 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 early last month.
"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 and is now running a business while on break from official ministry, told The Christian Post that he purposefully left out specific criticism of Driscoll in his post, since he was "publically critical in the past."
The move to have Warren closeout Mars Hill by preaching its last sermon came with some controversy, at least in the Facebook comments section under the church's announcement.
One Facebook commentator asked about Warren: "Doesn't he teach New Age?"
"I don't know what's worse Mark leaving or Rick preaching at Mars Hill, it's a sad end of year for Mars Hill. I use to love Marks teaching, one of best preachers alive for manly Christianity," another person comments.
Still, many on Facebook praised both Driscoll and Warren.
"Pastor Mark, I absolutely love you and your entire family," writes Nicole. "Your preaching saved my life. God bless you for sharing the gospel of Christ online for all these years. Wherever you and Grace and the kids are, I'm praying for you. Thank you for everything and please preach again soon."
Facebook user Karen writes, "Pastor Rick Warren is an incredible man of God and though the end (to Mars Hill) is grievous it is an honor and privilege to have him preach at the last sermon. I, for one, am grateful for his kindness. Thank you Pastor Rick!!"