It 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 Mark Driscoll’s 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. Today, we look at what Mars Hill does to maintain a sense of community.
I guess with a church the size of Mars Hill I can see why you need the members-only website you mentioned earlier. Can you tell us a bit more about what it does for the church and how it is used by the average member?
As I said before, it is primarily an information portal. Members post their contact information. They can also post business information and classified ads. The elders post important updates on the ministry. There is a forum where you can ask theology questions or discuss current events. Most importantly, there is a well-used forum for prayer requests. This has been an incredibly valuable tool for building community. Recently, I walked through the crowded lobby at church and stopped a lady I barely knew to have a conversation with her about a prayer request she had posted. As I walked away from that conversation, another lady I had never seen before stopped me about a prayer request that I had posted. It meant a lot to me to be able to have two meaningful, encouraging conversations with women I barely knew, all facilitated by the forum for prayer requests.
I can only assume that a church the size of Mars Hill must find it difficult to keep a community feel—it sounds like that is one of the functions of your website. What else does the church do that helps you personally to feel “connected”?
Community groups (small Bible studies meeting in various neighborhoods where we have members) are emphasized in every way possible. There is a community group information desk in the main lobby, and community group contact information in our monthly newspaper and on the main church website. Our elders emphasize it at the end of every service, and we try to emphasize it at each women’s teaching event.
How does the church make sure that ordinary members have access to the pastoral care and support they need?
Ideally, they are involved in a community group where they can be honest about their needs. From there, if the community group is not equipped to give the particular support they need, we have a number of specific support groups for various sin issues. We also have well-trained staff for one-on-one counseling, including several licensed and/or certified female counselors.
Can you tell us a little about how the church is structured, and how the elders manage to keep track of everyone?
We’ve grown faster than our structure. I doubt anyone in leadership would say they “manage to keep track of everyone.” Our elders are “building the plane as it’s flying.” We have a plurality of elders with mutual accountability. Deacons serve under them. The elders each oversee specific aspects of the ministry, along with a team of deacons who help them with the details. Their individual job descriptions get jostled and redefined on a regular basis. By God’s grace, needs get met and discipline gets handed out, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t holes. I wouldn’t want to give the impression that we are some well-oiled machine, and that if you copy our structure you, too, will grow at our rate. I think our elders have a solid ministry philosophy based on New Testament church models, and they have effectively communicated it to the membership. Beyond that, structure has to follow philosophy and need, and we are always trying to catch up. We have several especially humble, wise administrative elders who patiently fulfill a very necessary, often thankless, role that most attendees never see.
Continued in part 3 . . .