Today, Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra posted a reflection on Mars Hill Church two years later. I started twice to write an article like this but didn’t get an answer back from some of those former pastors Zylstra quoted. I must still be associated with the opposition.
Overall, I think Zylstra did a fine job of weaving together a recognizable picture of Mars Hill Church. However, I don’t think this is the last word on the subject. Several more of these kind of articles will need to be written. Probably the whole situation requires a book.
For now, I will add some comments to aspects of the article. I’ll quote Zylstra and then comment.
Slow Train Coming
Then, in a few breathtaking months, the whole thing collapsed. Founder and lead pastor Mark Driscoll’s bent toward the provocative, which was part of his draw, increasingly came under fire, fanned by a series of controversies.
The collapse was a slow motion ride of over a year. There were multiple controversies and turning points but much of what became controversial was the exposure of a pattern of leadership which had taken place over many years. In the last year, many on the inside decided they had tried everything an insider could do. Those people started to talk, organize, and give witness to what they had experienced.
PDCSD – Post Dysfunctional Church Stress Disorder
The collapse of Mars Hill released a tidal wave of hurt, disillusioned people. Many quit Mars Hill; some quit church or Christianity altogether. Hundreds limped into other area churches, asking about church bylaws and pastoral pay structures before even introducing themselves.
A valuable aspect of this article is the documentation of troubled ex-Mars Hill people careening into new churches with church related PTSD. The church’s structure wasn’t the reason for the problems at Mars Hill but in the last days, the drama was played out on the stage Mark Driscoll and his oversight board had created. No wonder ex-members were wary of how other churches do things.
Your Pastor is Not Your Father
“The biggest fear was that I was going to walk away,” he said. “The thing that hurt the most, that they couldn’t believe, was that Mark would leave them. The feeling that they lost their pastor was a hard blow.”
That’s because “Mark called us his kids,” said Huck, for whom Driscoll was a father figure. “He up and left his kids. That’s the hard part we’re still dealing with. I don’t need a public apology, but it would be nice to be acknowledged. It’s like your dad left and started a new family, and you’re here with your brothers and sisters. And you’re just confused.”
In one of my early interviews on Mars Hill Church, a former leader told me, “Mark recruited all these guys with daddy issues.” While there was much more to the demise of MHC, a fantasy about the role of pastor was a key feature. Driscoll cultivated a paternalistic stance with the congregation. At least some of those people longed for what they imagined a father figure would be, and Driscoll delivered. Even when Driscoll was harsh and outrageous, many excused the actions as a sign of paternal boldness. After all, “father knows best.”
Hopefully, the MHC affair will disabuse Christians of the wish for the pastor-father. Your pastor is not your dad. He or she is a person who can play the role of a shepherd regarding matters of faith but beware of the pastor who wants to be your father.
The Fall Out
No one took a survey, but by most estimates, about half of the former Mars Hill congregants stayed with their campus. Of those who left, most seem to have landed in different area churches. (Two were planted from the Bellevue exodus.)
I think instead of guessing, it would be valuable to do a survey. I doubt that most have landed in area churches. No doubt some have, but I don’t assume that most people have moved on and are still in church.
Well Taught or Well Conditioned?
But even though they’re wounded and unsettled, the Mars Hill diaspora has one enormous advantage: They’ve been well taught.
I hope that’s true but there are many ex-members who I am pretty sure will dispute this.
Mars Hill Church Was Where Jesus Hung Out
One unintentional and subtle message of Mars Hill was, “If you want to be part of what Jesus is doing in our city, then you should be here,” Sinnett said. “When we got out of that ethos and into the church-planting realm, I was blown away by the million things Jesus was doing in the city which were unnamed and unbranded but just as spectacular.”
No, I think this message was intentional and obvious. Perhaps Zylstra was being kind, but a consistent theme I heard from former Mars Hill leaders was that MHC was the best church, really the only church where it was all being done correctly.
We’re Sorry Now
“To a man, every one of them has struggled with what role of complicity they’ve had in the whole thing,” Fairchild said. “That has been very good for us. I have learned the difference between intent and impact—you can have good intentions, but that doesn’t always translate into helpful, gracious impact.”
The elders from Bellevue and Sammamish “truly repented of their participation in any of the sin,” Vanderstelt said. “There was a deep godly sorrow, a genuine repentance, a real desire to walk out the fruit of repentance.”
Apparently, the Mars Hill financial distributions are over.
What is missing in this article is the testimonies of all of the healing that Mark Driscoll has said has taken place. Phoenix is happening but it seems obvious that Seattle still has issues.
For much more on Mars Hill Church, see this link.