What Have We Learned? – The End of the Mars Hill Church Empire

Guest Post by the Lee Karl Palo

After the mounting controversies surrounding Mars Hill Church Pastor Mark Driscoll culminated in his resignation, the MHC network has chosen to disband. The multiple sites that formerly had live video of Mark delivering sermons each Sunday will choose to either dissolve themselves or become independent churches.

This move makes a lot of sense if you understand that Mars Hill was largely built upon Mark Driscoll’s cult of personality. One of the accusations of Driscoll was that he systematically pushed out those who challenged his authority, creating an environment where there could be no successor from within the organization.

It is certainly my hope that the many people attending the various Mars Hill locations can discern the best course of action for their future.

Not everything is ending well though. I am left with a bad taste in my mouth from some of the remarks made by church leadership after Driscoll’s resignation. The church’s board of overseers, upon receiving his surprising resignation, had some interesting comments to make.

Driscoll was seen to have “been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner.” But they also noted that “Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy.”

I suppose what really bothers me is that the bullying they readily acknowledge on the part of Driscoll seems to be glossed over. Is bullying not sufficient to warrant any substantive action? Given the effects such actions are known to have on others, is this not in itself an action which might be deemed immoral?

I couldn’t help but think of one of the most quoted passages in all of scripture, 1 Corinthians 13, and how it might apply to this situation.

“If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal.

Mark Driscoll is, by all accounts, a very charismatic and gifted orator.

“If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing.

Certainly many people have found Driscoll’s vision of a more masculine Christianity to be appealing. Whatever the case, he wasn’t found by the church’s board of overseers to have committed heresy, at least according to their church’s independent understanding of orthodox Christian belief.

“If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.

Driscoll has resigned his position at Mars Hill, and he has issued apologies for his behavior, even if some question what the apologies mean.

“Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

It’s possible some in leadership at Mars Hill thought that Driscoll would need to address certain issues prior to returning to his position as pastor. Given the church’s board of overseers findings about bullying behavior on the part of Driscoll, it is reasonable to assume that if they had conditions for his return, those conditions would involve more accountability from Mark and greater authority for other church leaders.

It may also be telling that elders within the church have found themselves complicit with certain bullying actions in the past. Nevertheless, it is clear that they had hope for Driscoll to return as their pastor at some point in the future. That they would desire reconciliation for Driscoll is surely a noble goal.

“As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. We know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I’ve put an end to childish things. Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.

I have no way of knowing whether Driscoll resigned because he understood what he had done and the consequences of it, or if he resigned because he would have to change how he did things prior to returning to his position as pastor of Mars Hill church (would he share power?). In any case, it is time for me to move on now that the ministry Driscoll has had, which has greatly troubled and angered me in the past, is over.

As someone who cares deeply that theology should be crafted out of love for God and neighbor, it has been difficult to see ways in which Driscoll has used the Bible to hurt many different people (including stay-at-home dads like me whom he has derogatorily referred to as being “Marty Stewarts”).

I will pray that Mark Driscoll may be transformed—to truly know love as talked about in 1 Corinthians 13, so the old Mark will be no more—that is my imprecation.

© 2014 Lee Karl Palo

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from the Common English Bible (CEB). For reasons as to why I use the CEB, go here.

Image courtesy of Mars Hill Church Seattle via Flickr (Image source)

Death, mortality, and the conversations we miss

Jeff Tweedy, lead vocalist for the rock band Wilco, reflected on mortality during a recent conversation on NPR. The artist, whose brother had just died and whose wife was recently diagnosed with cancer, was asked to explain the inspiration for a song entitled, “Nobody Dies Anymore.

“[This speaker] was claiming that the first person that will live to be a thousand years old is alive today, and what really struck me was that this guy is really afraid of dying. (Laughter) You know, there’s a great deal more to be gained from our mortality than I would be willing to sacrifice… The notion of living till you forget all of your friends, forget all of your family – I don’t know, this idea of living forever was somewhat horrific to me.”

As of late, there have been a number of interesting conversations on mortality and the question of when life is worth living. Each offered its own gift of provocation of ideas never quite resolved and also left a nagging feeling that something was missing.

Boo to You!

Guest Post by Rev. Kendra Behn-Smith

The first time we took a family trip to Disneyland it was the end of October and we happened to be there on Halloween. Now this was before Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and the park was open to all ticket holders all evening. And so we found ourselves in the line into the park on Halloween evening with a large group of people.

Now there were costumes everywhere in all shapes and sizes. Our own little Princess had abandoned her costume and we were returning in regular clothes. Just behind us was a group of young adults all in costumes. Now these were not off the rack costumes. These young people had gone to a great deal of time and effort to create authentic Disney character costumes for the evening. We were impressed, not just with their obvious attention to detail, but by the fact that these young people had chosen to spend Halloween night at Disneyland rather than in some more, shall we say ‘edgier’ venue.

As we moved toward the gate a cast member came up to the group behind us and pulled them out of line. Apparently the young lady dressed as Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas was ‘too authentic’ and was not going to be allowed into the park.

7 Good Reasons to Stop Giving to your Church

Is your church really worth your investment?

As much as we might like to deny it, most churches function like small businesses. They have physical assets like property and vehicles which need regular maintenance, staff that draw upon collective resources for salary and benefits, and they are liable and responsible in ways that demand clear accounting procedures and insurance in case something terrible happens.

It is also a painful truth that many churches are underwater. While some new churches will open, an estimated 4,000 close their doors in the United States every year. Of those remaining, many others are surviving off of endowments; otherwise known as the generosity of previous generations. And still others are deferring necessary maintenance in hopes that the next stewardship campaign will finally meet the escalating needs of their aging facilities.

With the rise of the “nones” and the loss of much cultural clout, it is undeniably a hard time to be a church. Now more than ever, the churches that are leaning forward and reaching out deserve the support of the faithful. But how do you determine if your church is really worth your investment?

Let me suggest that you consider divesting from your church, and investing elsewhere, if one or more of the following is true.

Your church is infested with bugs

My wife is something of a spiritual super soldier. She prays daily, reads the Bible, and even keep a gratitude journal. In many ways, She is the yin to my yang.

But she has a weakness. Spiders.

It doesn’t matter how often one might tell her that these creatures are part of God’s good creation, she despises them. So if there is a spider, no matter how big or small, I am called out to eradicate the overblown infestation.

A few months ago, our twins came home from preschool having had a series of lessons on insects. They even brought home a mantra that stuck as a common phrase in our home.

Every bug has a job.

Every church that I have belonged to has had that one person, or more honestly, those 3 to 4 people, who were bugs. Sometimes they were the people who always turned around to glower at the young family whose child was making too much noise, in their opinion. Other times, it was that person who always had one more question, or felt the need to express a concern, when everyone else was ready to make a big change.

But if every bug has a job, shouldn’t every person in the church (even the annoying ones) have one as well?

A low fog has accompanied us recently as I walk my newly-minted kindergarteners to school in the morning. Along with the feeling that you’ve suddenly been transported to London, it also has left us with beautiful dew-laden spiderwebs along our path. And while creating spiderwebs for our viewing pleasure is not their main job, each one reminds me that things are often more complex than they seem at first glance.

I suspect the same may be true of some of those bugs that reside in our pews. As frustrating, stagnating, and even hurtful, as their behavior can be, each person we encounter has a job to do, a calling to fulfill.

"Dewey Decor" used under Creative Commons from Flickr user Julie Falk.
“Dewey Decor” used under Creative Commons from Flickr user Julie Falk.

On some occasions, the misbehavior of those we perceive as bugs may be a sign that they are currently out of place. Is there another job somewhere in the church that God has equipped them for? On other occasions, perhaps their willingness to discomfort others is exactly the thing you might need to provoke change.

In sharing this post with my wife, she responded, “Every bug has a job, just not in my house.” I mention this because it is also sometimes true that there are people who aren’t ready to contribute to a church that is focused serving its community. Sometimes the bugs infest a church so much that it becomes uninhabitable (like this). This is likely to happen when we focus more upon people’s comfort and less upon their discipleship.

The key to a thriving, vital church, is developing some process to transform and equip us to be the bugs God calls us to be so we can do the jobs that are needed to build the kin(g)dom. Small groups are one pattern that works well for many churches, so long as they don’t devolve to comfortable, affinity groups.

Reality sets in…

As I was getting ready for the day this morning, I heard our five-year-old twins calling out my name. I finished brushing my teeth and went across the hallway to their bedroom.

I find the two of them kneeling on the floor with giddy looks of pride on their faces. One has a paper towel under which the remains of a spider could be found.

Despite those lessons about the purpose every bug has, sometimes we resort to our baser instincts. It’s easier to crush a bug then it is to try to understand it.

May God give us the patience and the grace to try to understand our bugs before we crush them. And may we each find ample opportunity to discover our vocation lest we be destined to become another’s pest.

Photo Credit: Featured image used under Creative Commons from Flickr user Thomas Shahan.

The Last Churchperson

Guest Post by Rev. April Casperson

I’ve always been a huge fan of science fiction and similarly speculative works. There’s nothing more intriguing than reading about, or watching a film focused on, a reality that is somehow different than the one we live in. The creative deviations to the reality we know that can often be found in science fiction challenges us to think in brand new ways.

I recently finished The Last Policeman trilogy by Ben Winters. Amazon recognized the first novel as one of its Best Books in July 2012, and it had been on my to-read list for quite some time. When I finally picked it up, I told myself that I’d put it down if it didn’t grab my attention. I was hooked after just a few pages.

Six Ways Forward for the Church

I’m pretty tired of talking about Mark Driscoll.

Rachel Held Evans appears to be tiring of him as well. There was a lot to love about her latest post but I wonder if he is even worth mentioning anymore. Perhaps she needed to at least mention her muse.

Evans names 6 ways Christian (sub)culture can be changed to minimize the possibility of another abusive leader. Frankly, many of these have value and application well beyond the evangelical world she largely speaks to.

  1. We must educate Christians about abuse, bullying, and misuse of power in church settings.
  2. We must value and preserve accountability.
  3. We must take misogyny and homophobia seriously.
  4. We must measure “success” by fruit of the Spirit, not numbers.
  5. We must protect people over reputations.
  6. We must treat our pastors and church leaders as human beings—flawed, complex, and beloved by God.

In particular, number 4 caught my eye as it is as much a sin of small, struggling churches as it is of large, apparently vital ones. While shrinking numbers could signify a failure of leadership or a problematic disconnect with the community, success could just as easily signify cultural accommodation or appeasement as much as it might a real healthy ministry.

Instead of analyzing our numbers in a vacuum, we need to examine growth (and decline) to see if each truly stems from a commitment to core Gospel values. Of course, we can fight over what those should be but hopefully the sane amongst us will recognize that any serious conversation can’t take numerical success as the sole marker of faithfulness.

After all, Jesus didn’t have a lot of solid followers on Good Friday.

You can read Rachel’s post here…

Image Credit: Photo by Maki Garcia Evans.


The Cardinals on the Wrong Side of History, again?

Guest Post by Rev. Joe Kim

I love people. I love sports. It’s sad when some people in sports don’t love other people in sports.

Check out this article by Ishmael H. Sistrunk on the St. Louis Cardinals. There are eerie similarities from 1947 and 2014. Which side of history will you be on? Which side of history will the church be on?

Sistrunk writes:

Over and over Cardinals fans respond angrily to peaceful protesters, suggesting that they do not belong here. The piercing prejudice and irony to those remarks fall upon deaf ears. They claim protests should not disrupt America’s pastime, but wear jerseys altered to read “I am Darren Wilson.”

It’s not just Cardinals fans who are disgusted by those demanding justice for Brown, Kajieme Powell, Vonderrit Myers and others during sacred sports and entertainment events. The staggering amount of vicious, blatantly racist comments left on The St. Louis American’s video of the protest at the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra has made me truly question my faith in humanity.

Click here to read Sistrunk’s full post.

Photo Credit: Image used under Creative Commons from pdsphil via Wikimedia.

U2: Band or Church?

The New Yorker ran an interesting piece by Joshua Rothman called “The Church of U2” shortly after the somewhat controversial release of their recent “free” album. The article explores the not-so-subtle spirituality of the band which is still sometimes missed by fans and those who prefer that musicians wear their Christianity on both sleeves. Rothman attempts to explain this by explaining their developmental context:

Much of the confusion around U2’s faith stems from the fact that they’ve never been an “officially” Christian rock band. The ambiguity goes back to the band’s origins, in the Dublin of the late seventies, during the Troubles. In a country divided along sectarian lines, little about organized religion was attractive.

And then in the next paragraph:

Their break with organized religion was probably inevitable. But it was still traumatic, which is perhaps why almost every U2 album contains a song about their decision to belong to a band rather than a church.

It’s a good piece and worth the read for those who appreciate the band or for those who are curious about how art can be influenced by faith without being overwrought.  I found the turn of phrase in this second quote to be interesting. I wonder if U2 didn’t actually decide to authentically be church by being a band, instead of pretending or going through the motions.

Read the original piece here…

Photo Credit: Image used under Creative Commons from Dorli Photography.


What to do when the pieces no longer fit… Need a hint? It rhymes with glove.

Our family enjoys the challenge of a good jigsaw puzzle. The little ones have puzzles with large pieces that can be completed in a time span complementary to their limited attentions. When schedules allows, my wife and I will work through puzzles significantly more complex. While we chose this as a hobby to reduce stress, it’s amazing how frustrating this activity can be.

It has often been noted that human beings have an exceptional ability to recognize patterns. This skill is key to our survival as a species and essential to our progress in scientific innovation and inquiry. The unique ways our brains work to create connections is deeply related to our drive to understand the world and to derive meaning from our experiences. This skill is also critically important for solving the jigsaw puzzles we find on tables and those we encounter as we live out our days.

If you have ever wrestled with a 1000+ piece puzzle, you will have encountered the false-positive – that piece that totally fits in a place it doesn’t actually belong. This phenomenon is an example of apophenia; a human tendency to see patterns that aren’t really there. When these instances of apophenia are recognized as significant, they are called pareidolia (Greek for false image). In both cases, more data is usually the way we discern our error, make corrections, and move on.