INTERVIEW – Wendy Alsup – A Deacon at the Church Mark Driscoll Leads – Conclusion

In January 2008, the following post was identified as the 23rd
all-time most popular post with readers of this blog. The 24th most widely read post was my interview with Rob Rufus—you can access either the audio version or the written transcript.

It was very interesting to get the inside story on what it’s like to be a female deacon working at Mark Driscoll’s church—Mars Hill in Seattle, Washington.


Mars Hill Church From Across the StreetIt is a pleasure to welcome to my blog today, Wendy Alsup, who is a member of Mars Hill Church Seattle—led by Mark Driscoll. Wendy is a mother of two, and Deacon in charge of Women’s Theology and Training. There has been a lot of controversy about Mark Driscoll in the blogosphere, so I thought it would be great to get an insider’s look at what it is like to be a member of the church he leads. For more information see my interview with Mark Driscoll, his blog or the new look Mars Hill Church website – their video section is especially cool. In part 1 we focused on finding out a bit more about Wendy and the church she attends. In part 2 we looked at what Mars Hill does to maintain a sense of community. Part 3 looked at the church’s emphasis on theology. Today I conclude by asking Wendy more about what ministry looks like at Mars Hill.

Clearly it sounds like the Bible is highly valued at Mars Hill. It is often said that many churches seem almost as though they have chosen between being a “Word” church or being a “Spirit” church—do you feel that is true in the case of your church?

H-m-m-m-m . . . that’s curious. That is a very unbiblical concept. When Christ first instructs on the Spirit’s coming, he says the Spirit will not speak his own, but will bring to remembrance the teachings of Christ. So the evidence that the Spirit is at work is that Christ, the Logos, is lifted up—which means a true “Spirit” church must be a “Word” church. I think the Spirit is working mightily at Mars Hill because I see Christ’s name lifted up and lives transformed, and I know that only happens through the Spirit’s quickening.

Mark DriscollWhat does the ministry of Mars Hill feel like behind closed doors? Mark Driscoll says things like, “I am a charismatic, but not that sort of charismatic.” Just how charismatic would the church feel to the average member who is fully involved in the life of the church?

I grew up in a non-charismatic background and was initially skeptical of switching my views on this—even once I was convinced from Scripture that the gifts are still for today. Maybe I was subconsciously afraid of being personally slain in the spirit during a service. :-) Then I began to slowly realize that many of my most respected friends at church quietly practiced charismatic gifts, but did so in a private way that seemed consistent with Scripture. My respect for them eased my skepticism and concern. Overall, it’s not a big deal around church.

Behind closed doors, Mars Hill is not dominated by any personality. It is simply a bunch of humble believers doing their best to control the chaos. It reminds me of the old Super Bowl commercials of the company that built a plane while it was flying, and another where the company likened themselves to cat herders. There is no time to become territorial, and no room to etch an empire. We’re all hanging on for dear life, but loving it at the same time. We’ve grown by nearly 4000 people in just the four and a half years I’ve attended. That’s crazy! The testimonies of transformed lives bring me to tears again and again, and makes all of it worthwhile.

What can you tell us about what it’s like to be a woman on staff at Mars Hill?

I am not technically on staff—I’m a volunteer and do most of my work from home. Our church does employ a number of female deacons, and we have many more who volunteer their time and energy. We have a wonderful group of elders who are very sensitive to the needs of women in the church and are very humble, gracious servants of Christ. It’s been an honor and blessing to work with them.
Wendy AlsupIn particular, any time I’ve approached an elder with a women’s issue that concerns me, they always receive my concern and work willingly with me to address it. But we do believe that women can’t be elders, and that wives need to submit to their husbands. And for some people, no matter how you explain it biblically, they take that to be syn
onymous with female oppression. The reality is that Mars Hill is filled with strong women who search the Scriptures and know the Word. But, Lord willing, our strength is submitted to God’s control. We’re called to be gentle, not weak, helpers, not doormats. Gentleness implies tempered strength. Babies aren’t gentle—babies are weak. But when an adult who has the strength to crush the baby instead cradles them in their arms, that’s gentleness. That’s what God has called us to be as women. Strength under God’s control. I’m very impressed with the strength, character, and theological depth of the women at Mars Hill. I’m also impressed with the way our leadership receives and develops the gifts among our women.

Can you tell me a bit more about the elders of the church and how they practically express their sensitivity to the members of the church and women in particular?

Our elders are humble men who are both fiercely loyal to the mission and completely disloyal to particular methods. They have done a good job of herding the cats, so to speak, with a firm but gentle hand.
Mars Hill SanctuaryThey’ll give a divisive person a swift kick in the pants without hesitation, and turn around to put their arm around the homeless guy with bruises on his face who comes through the church door during a service (I literally witnessed this once). We have a lot of single women whose fathers’ have abdicated their responsibilities to them, and a lot of single moms whose husbands have done the same. Our elders are especially sensitive to the needs of both groups. If there is a woman at Mars Hill who has been abandoned or abused by her mate, our elders have trained the church members to take seriously their responsibilities toward her.

Which Christian women do you take most of your personal inspiration from—either inside or outside your own church?

Elisabeth Elliot is one of my female heroes of the faith. I recently reread The Path of Loneliness and was again impressed by my need to die to myself at every stage of life.
Elisabeth ElliotInside our church, several of our elders’ wives continually exhort, rebuke, and encourage me. One in particular is probably a decade younger than me, but she is willing to ask the hard questions and confront me when I need it. I never leave her presence without feeling the need to examine myself and my motives in an effort to pursue singular devotion to Christ. Most of all, my sister is my best friend in Christ. She was recently divorced, but instead of becoming bitter toward her ex-husband, she has kept her face on God. She is my personal hero of the faith. She constantly reminds me of my need of consistent Bible study and prayer, is honest about her sinfulness, keeps a short account with God, and is determined by God’s grace to raise her two boys to love Jesus. If I ever did stray from the faith, I know she’d recognize it immediately and rebuke me quickly.

So far, in what you are describing to me, I’m getting the picture of a church full of men and women who are eagerly studying God’s Word. With such a large church and only one main preacher, do you find some people feel frustrated that there might not seem to be an outlet for all this knowledge they are gathering? Or are there a lot of other areas where people can serve?

There are a BUNCH of areas where people can serve. We’re growing exponentially in numbers of attendees, but linearly in spiritual depth.
Mars Hill Church, Wedgewood Campus Growth in Christ is slow and steady. You can’t mature people overnight, so we constantly need mature leaders to minister to the needs of the people coming. We have a growing number of grace groups, which are basically accountability groups addressing various sin issues. Post-abortion. Sexual addiction. Drug addiction. And a large number dealing with the after-effects of sexual, verbal, or physical abuse. We also have a growing number of community groups looking for leaders. So, no, there shouldn’t be much frustration that there is nowhere one can be used.

Do you feel there are any disadvantages in being part of such a large church? Many Christians feel that the best kind of church is a smaller one where you can know everyone. What would you say to them?

A smaller church is wonderful IF it is growing. We attended a smaller church in South Carolina and loved it. It was like a portal for ministry. People would come there and grow and then be sent out for ministry in other areas of the States or internationally. It was a church of maybe 400, but in the few years we were there, they sent out four couples to Seattle, another couple to plant a church in Florida, missionary couples to Spain and England, and those are just the ones that come to mind right now.

In a large church, you certainly have to work harder to build community. It’s a constant battle to assimilate new people. I feel for single women who attend Mars Hill for the first time. Mars Hill Church, Alternate CampusIt is surely intimidating and easy to get lost in the crowd. But if they can muster up the courage to approach the Welcome Desk, they’ll meet helpful people who will direct them to the community group table. There they can find contact information for small groups meeting near their neighborhood. It takes one more burst of courage to knock on the door of the community group leader’s house. But once the door is opened, they should find welcoming arms ready to make them feel at home and part of the Body. I remember knocking the first time on the door of the community group in our area. We had been attending Mars Hill for maybe a month. We got the time wrong and arrived thirty minutes early. The wife’s hair was wet when she answered the door, but she welcomed us warmly, ushered us in to sit in front of the fireplace, hugged us when we left, and it was all downhill from there. :-)

Well, our time is nearly up. What wo
uld you like to say to my female readers—some of whom may be finding it really hard to juggle a job, motherhood, and any kind of significant involvement in a local church?

Simplify your life in every way possible. If you can walk away from outside employment, do it. I keep my baby toe in the door at the community college (I teach one class online from home) because it requires very little of me (having already developed the course) and it keeps me involved in the community near our newest church location. But I’d lose my sanity quickly if I did any more.
Wendy and SonAlso, don’t compare yourself to other ladies in your church. You don’t have to keep up with them—just be a help to YOUR husband. When you find your identity in Christ and sufficiency in Him, friends can be sources of encouragement rather than competition for Best Wife/Mother of the Year. One of the most helpful things I ever did was to ask my husband what HE needed. His reply was so freeing. He didn’t care that I had a three-course meal with coordinating dessert on the table every night. He needed the kids safe and cared for, and clean socks and T-shirts for himself. And that was about it. Instead, he’d come home to find a stressed wife because I was doing all the things I THOUGHT he wanted, when all he really wanted was a content wife he could talk with honestly about work. I’m learning to be a help to him based on his real needs and not the ones I conjure up for him based on my ideas of the ideal wife.

Also, take advantage of anything your church offers with childcare. Mars Hill has a number of women’s Bible study groups where the moms pay a college student to baby-sit. Even in small churches, that’s an easy setup to maintain. Most importantly, read your Bible, but be content that your personal Bible study at this stage of life will most likely happen in small increments. Worship at Mars HillI started “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment” by Jeremiah Burroughs well before my 4-month old son was born. I’m on page 11. I may only have time to read one paragraph, and often I just reread the portions I’ve already marked—but I know those 11 pages really well. :-) My sister read Desiring God by John Piper by keeping it in her car and reading it while waiting in the car line to pick up her boys from school. My life is five minutes here, ten minutes there, and if I’m lucky, an hour break in the middle of the day when both boys happen to nap at the same time. So I have books all over the house and a Bible in every room. I’m not in a position where I can do intense, deep study on a single issue or text every day. Instead, I consider this stage of life like a survey course—I study a lot of Scripture in small quantities and read a paragraph or single page in a lot of good Christian books. Keep a Quiet Heart by Elisabeth Elliot is a good book at this stage of life because it is a compilation of short, separate thoughts full of Scripture. In ten minutes of reading, you have a complete thought about a deep truth from the Word. I try to discipline myself to walk away from whatever I’m reading to meditate on any Scripture presented. You can meditate on Scripture while changing a dirty diaper, as well as sitting in a rocker looking at the mountains. I do most of my meditating over the changing table right now.

Thank you so much for joining us—it’s been great talking with you!

Thank you for the opportunity. We’re excited about what God is doing in Seattle, and are always happy to share it.

Steve Chalke and others on Homosexuality and Gay Marriage
What Mark Driscoll likes about Joel Osteen
Plagiarism Principles for Pastors after the Mark Driscoll controversy
Strange Fire: Mark Driscoll open letter to John MacArthur
About Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock is a medical doctor, and a writer. Since 1995 he has been a member of Jubilee Church London which has sites in Enfield, Wood Green and Ilford. Adrian serves as part of Jubilee's leadership team alongside Tope Koleoso. Together they have written Hope Reborn - How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus, published by Christian Focus. Adrian is also the author of Raised With Christ - How The Resurrection Changes Everything, published by Crossway. Read more about Adrian Warnock or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.


You are warmly invited to comment on this blog. By doing so you demonstrate that you accept Adrian's comment policy.