Much has been written recently about the controlling leadership clamp-down at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, revolving around a famous Non-Compete contract, and the numerous resulting resignations and firings.
One resignation that impacted me as an interested observer was that of Zach Bolen, worship pastor and lead singer of the Mars Hill Music band Citizens. I’ve loved Zach’s music, story, and spirit for a while now, and when a source confirmed that Zach simply lost faith in Mark Driscoll and his conscience wouldn’t let him stay any longer, I was really happy. I’d long felt that the spirit of Zach’s worship music was not really a fit with the theology and leadership of Mars Hill. I know he’ll flourish elsewhere and look forward to what he produces down the road.
But Zach’s resignation signals a larger trend, that has also been confirmed to me by people close to MHC. Namely, that the controlling posture of the theology and leadership has effectively squelched the ministry of creatives, to the extent that almost all of the creative leaders have left the church. Where once MHC was a haven for graphic designers and cutting edge tech people, making it a shining example of the megachurch of the future, now all of the design and technology work is outsourced. The only creatives remaining are some of the musicians because they are paid well – but now they are leaving too, with Chad Gardner (of King’s Kaleidescope) and Zach on the outs.
Additionally, all of the leaders who ran the music venue called the Paradox in the early days of Mars Hill are now gone. And David Bazan’s fabled stint in the early days, followed by his public renunciation of Christianity, likely presaged the current fallout. All in all, we see a mass exodus of creativity from a megachurch that is supposed to be the paragon of creative ministry.
And there’s a reason for this. When the church becomes empire business, it often resorts to what I call Controlling Christianity. And this kills creativity. In fact, all of the control mechanisms that are needed to secure the monetary success of such a massive ministry and the powerful status of its leaders, are anti-creative. Creativity only functions in an atmosphere of freedom. The lack of freedom leads to cultural irrelevance in the form of contracted, secondhand creation and a dual copycat culture instead of genuine, firsthand cultural engagement. One can see that taking place in the branding and media at Mars.
And once the creativity is gone, it may be that the Spirit has left the building too.
Time will tell whether this situation is redeemable or whether it will fade away as a structural shell devoid of the creative Spirit of God.
P.S. Here’s a visceral, emotional song recorded by Jeff Bettger, a longtime member and worship pastor at Mars Hill, describing his experience with Driscoll and the church.