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.

God is big enough…

Guest Post by DJ del Rosario

As many of you have heard, there was another school shooting yesterday. This one happened at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, a school all too close to where I serve as a pastor. Details are slowly being released as the events continue to unfold.

If you are like me, you respond to acts that terrify like this in one of two ways. One, you try to avoid all news as much as possible. You might do this because one more story of children shooting one another might just finally break the hope you cling on to in order to make it through the day. Or two, you are stuck, fixated on all the possible news feeds. You may find yourself obsessed with trying to understand what happened, and why it happened.

In this day and age of social media, the new norm is to comprehend, grieve and process traumatic events through the multiple lenses of those around us (physically and digitally). When things like this shooting occur, so close to home and in places that we want to believe are safe, everything can be thrown into doubt. You may find yourself doubting this very moment, but I encourage you to not push your doubts, your struggles, and your fears aside.

Faith is not the absence of doubt, and doubting doesn’t lessen who God is and what grace can do in our lives.

I’m willing to bet the house that God can handle all of our doubts, all our struggles, and even moments like this when we might be angry. The Holy One extends far beyond the profession of any denomination or ideology. Instead, we worship a God who is far more engaged with us in practical ways than in theoretical ones.

Our faith is based on the hope that God is bringing about a new kingdom here on earth.

That’s the prayer I would ask you to join in today. Let us pray for a new kingdom that only God can bring. Let us pray with fervency that the lonely, the lost, and the disenfranchised have a place in God’s kingdom. Let us pray for those people sitting anxiously in their homes who believe the lie that violence is the only choice they have left.

But most of all, today let us pray for the everyone affected by what happened at Marysville-Pilchuck High School and for victims of violence all around the world.

May God’s kingdom come, sooner rather than later.
May God’s will be done, both in my life and the lives of those around us.
May our daily bread be what we hunger for.
May God’s peace be more than academic but a way of life we strive for.
May it begin in me, may it begin in us. 



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.

Theology is a Scary Word

Guest Post by Rev. Joe Kim

In a few short months, I will have finished half of my seminary education. I will be halfway to my M.Div. degree, halfway to no more papers, midterms and finals. I will be halfway done with paying tuition and halfway closer to getting a full-time job in ministry. It seems that this would be as good of a time as any to pause for some reflection…

This week, an email was sent out to the student body announcing the finalization of the Spring Course Schedules and Course Information. I opened my student records to see what distribution requirements I would need in order to graduate.

Biblical Studies: check.
Practical Theology: check.
History: check.
Theology: still a long ways to go.

I’ve already taken classes that have interested me, such as East Asian Christianity from 1500-1800, American Religion and American Literature, Sermons of the Civil Rights Movement and Justice and Social Ethics in the Old Testament. Now, there’s theology left.

Theology is a scary word.

It makes me think of books that are too big to read, ideas that are too big to grasp, papers that are too rushed to articulate clearly, people who are too old to be relevant. It’s no wonder to me that the church is losing its relevance, when what we are taught are stories and thoughts of old, with no application to the present, and no foresight into the future.

It appears to me that we seminarians pride ourselves on the intellectual knowledge gained in the classroom; what have we have read, how much we can recite, when can we be published. All the while, we are told over and over again that the Church is dying, and that the Church needs us–young people.

Is there a disconnect in the messaging? When can what I learn be applied to what I am sure I am called to do?

One of my professors said to us that organized religion lost Jesus. He paused, repeated the statement, then looked at us seated around the table and said, “You seminarians are organized religion!”

I pray it not be so.

Photo Credit: Image used under Creative Commons from Andrew Eason. Cropped from original.