I have noted before that the current by-laws of Mars Hill Church do not give members voting privileges for anything at the church. However, on his Facebook page, another former Mars Hill leader is reminding current members that they can still have a voice. Former worship leader at Mars Hill, Luke Abrams, has joined other former leaders who have gone public with significant concerns about the current direction of Mars Hill. Abrams initially posted his thoughts on his private Facebook page, but they were quickly posted on several blogs, including this one. I contacted him to make sure he approved and he gave permission for his statement to posted more widely.
I’ve been following closely the Mars Hill developments over the past few weeks, and continue to process many of the things I experienced and witnessed and participated in during my 16 years there. I’ve been hesitant to speak directly into many of these conversations, both because I don’t have it perfectly straight in my own head, and because, frankly, I’ve been afraid.
But I have decided that now is the time to speak.
I left Mars Hill in March 2013, not because I was frustrated, angry or hurt, but simply because my family and I moved to the UK for a really neat job opportunity and life experience. In the year since I left Mars Hill, I began to have questions, then concerns, and eventually, reluctant conclusions that many of the things I was taught and many aspects of the culture of Mars Hill were and are unhealthy.
In my years there, most of you know me from when I led worship with Team Strike Force (1997-2008). I also led community groups, participated in and led redemption groups, and worked behind the scenes to shepherd and serve leaders and volunteers. If you’re reading this I interacted with you in one or more of these things over the years.
So it’s really sad and challenging for me recognize and admit that there were and are serious problems at Mars Hill, because I not only went along with it complicitly, I actively participated. And while over the years I’ve had the chance to confess, repent of, and seek forgiveness for specific sins of my own, I’ve not done so for the hurt I caused while partnering with Mars Hill. I now see some of these sins, and welcome each of you to reach out to me to help me see more. The things that are clearest to me now is: (1) I routinely sacrificed friendships on the altar of growth, (2) I lived out and defended the early MH years teaching about marriage, which was domineering and forceful leadership, (3) I participated and led in a culture that took advantage of volunteers, using their time, energy, and talent without providing commensurate shepherding and care and (4) I sat by silently as people were treated in ways that robbed them of dignity.
In the past few weeks, scandals around the NYT best seller scheme have piled onto recent accusations of plagiarism. While these are for sure troubling, what weighs most on my mind is the culture of harshness and fear, the prioritization of growth over love, and the environment distinctly lacking in accountability that Mark has successfully built around himself.
There is much more I could write here, but I wanted to clarify my position with respect to Mars Hill. I am no longer a member at Mars Hill, and do not support or trust the leadership in place. I support Dave Kraft’s call for repentance with 20 other former elders. I support Bryan Zug’s call to peacefully evacuate Mars Hill.
But I know that many of you are in the middle, like I was for so many years. For me, I only saw two options – all in or all out. And it’s a nuanced and difficult situation – there are still many great people at Mars Hill. There is a lot of great teaching. Many of the CGs are healthy and loving. Many of the pastors there are doing their best to love, serve and care for the body. There is important work to do, and many more hurting people asking for help than there are people to help them. These are the things that kept me there for so long, even though I was often troubled by many aspects of the church.
I wish I had thought about it less black and white. I wish I had considered all aspects of my participation in Mars Hill and followed my conscience. So I appeal to the undecided to consider things such as:
1. Membership. If you’re a member, read through your membership covenant. Do you believe you can still, in good faith, live up to all aspects of the covenant, including being under spiritual authority of the pastors of Mars Hill? Do you believe that Mars Hill leadership has held up their end of the covenant, including meeting the biblical criteria of eldership, caring for you and seeking your growth, and setting an example? If no, you can resign your membership and still keep participating in Mars Hill in any way you like.
2. Attendance on Sundays. Even if you still listen to the sermons on podcast, attend your CG, and participate in other ways, you could stop going to Sunday service. Empty chairs will send a loud message to leadership.
3. Tithing. This is one of the loudest things you can say to leadership. If they can’t make budget they will be forced to listen to the voices. You can simply stop or reduce tithing while still participating in any other way you see fit. You can resume or increase your giving if and when you feel that your concerns have been addressed.
4. Service/volunteering. As Mark often mentions, Mars Hill relies on volunteers to keep the ship moving. I know this first hand, having volunteered ~20 hours/week for almost all of my 16 years there. If you serve in music, productions, hospitality, children’s ministry, redemption groups, or in any other capacity, consider pulling back or stopping altogether. Your service is the engine that drives the boat. If you’re not happy with where it’s going you are empowered to slow or stop its progress.
5. Community Groups. If your CG is a healthy, loving community, keep going. If, however, you are not free to peacefully but openly discuss your concerns, consider finding or starting a new CG (sponsored/sanctioned by MH or not)
6. Conferences and training. If you have a slot in Resurgence, are considering Mars Hill School, or any other training or leadership development event, consider cancelling. One because empty seats speak loudly, and for another if you have concerns about the leadership you may not want to learn how to be more like them.
7. Podcasts/vodcasts. If you subscribe, even if you don’t listen/watch, this is counted and referenced as evidence of God’s grace on Mars Hill. You can cancel your podcasts/vodcasts and send a message.
8. Books/music/merch. You can stop buying these things, and stop lending books to friends.
9. Official office or role. Are you an elder or a deacon? CG coach? Worship leader? Even if you stop serving your title continues for many months. Consider surrendering your title or office.
If you have already left or are leaving Mars Hill, that’s clear. If you’re happy and supportive of Mars Hill, that’s great and I’m glad to hear it. My experience was different, but Mars Hill is large and ever changing. Maybe things are better for you where you are in this season.
Many of you are in the middle and not quite sure what to do. I call for this more granular thinking to appeal to the middle. You don’t have to pick an extreme right now, you can simply think through each aspect of your participation and follow your conscience on how specifically you want to participate. Throwing the eject switch was too much for me when I was there, and I wish someone had encouraged me to think about it less black and white.
I think one of the distortions that Mark and the Exec Elders have bought into is that as long as there is a large and growing audience and healthy giving and service they have implicit support for where and how they’re leading. And there is frankly some truth to that, because as long as people are voting yes with their nickels and noses they are supported.
And Mars Hill has a sophisticated set of metrics they track, not just nickels and noses. The senior leadership team tracks all of the above things and more. I personally believe that Mark and the exec elders will only respond and repent when their scorecard turns red.
So if you’re on the fence, think about your noses and your nickles and all of the things you do that the leaders interpret as support. What do you want to say to them? You can’t get a face to face meeting with Mark, but you can talk to him loudly through how you participate.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I welcome any of your thoughts, and again invite you to reach out directly if you would like to talk about specific ways that I hurt you and/or participated actively or passively in your hurt.
According to former members, Luke Abrams and his band Team Strike Force were a big part of the Mars Hill culture. Luke’s music helped shape the appeal of Mars Hill and was a large draw to young people in Seattle. Now, when you go to the Mars Hill website, most references to Luke have been scrubbed. For instance, this once was a description of the song Passover (Google cache) which Abrams wrote with another former Mars Hill leader Jeff Bettger. Now, sometime after March 15, the page is missing.
Luke’s wife Jessica Abrams actually predated his public statements with a blog post where she discussed concerns she has become aware of since she left Mars Hill.