Mars Hill is Gone: A Reflection

Here are some words on Mars Hill’s imminent closure/dissolution, why I’m relieved at it, and how I think God isn’t done yet in the areas where Mars Hill operated.

Today it was announced on the Mars Hill website that Mars Hill Church is disbanding. Each church belonging to Mars Hill (MH Ballard, MH Portland, etc) will have the option of either becoming its own independent church, joining an existing church to form a new congregation, or disbanding and shepherding the congregants to new home churches. As for the Mars Hill legally-existing entity itself, I find it best to quote the release exactly:

(1) All of Mars Hill’s existing church properties will either be sold, or the loans on the individual properties will be assumed by the independent churches, subject to approval by the lender; (2) all central staff will be compensated for their work, and then released from their employment; (3) if any funds remain after the winding down and satisfaction of Mars Hill business affairs, they will be gifted as seed money to the newly independent churches, then, (4) the existing Mars Hill Church organization will be dissolved.

Mars Hill is gone. A church that started out small in the late nineties, and through the first decade of the 21st century and a bit into the second, blazed a vibrant, bright trail of gospel proclamation and work for Jesus, is closing down. It is a shame, and yes, it is a tragedy that Mars Hill is ending its journey this way. But to me, in a way, it’s a relief, and here’s why.

I blogged on Mars Hill before, and in that post said that if serious change and repentance didn’t happen on the part of the elders, God wouldn’t permit the church to continue to survive for even another year. I still believe that was, and is, true. Today, I read a post by a Mars Hill pastor (lead pastor of Mars Hill Shoreline, Steve Tompkins) where he repents of his part in some of the bad stuff happening in the leadership there. This part stuck out to me (it’s a bit long but is a must-read):

Eight or nine months ago as I was reflecting on Revelation 2-3 (the letters to the seven churches), I began to feel that Jesus was placing Mars Hill under discipline and calling us to repent. Over the course of these past months this text of scripture, especially the first and last letters (those to Ephesus and Laodicea), have consistently formed the paradigm through which I have come to view events, attitudes, and decisions at Mars Hill. In these letters we see Jesus walking among his churches. He knows what is happening. He speaks his words of commendation as well as rebuke. He calls the churches to have ears to hear. He calls them to repent, and puts them on a timeline of his choosing. If they prove to have ears to hear, choose to humble themselves, confess their sins and repent, then the corporate outcome is joy and fruitfulness. If however, they fail to repent then the consequences are serious and severe, including the removal of the lampstand of his presence and his light. What strikes me as significant is that our sovereign King places the outcome in the hands of the church itself. This has profound implications.

First of all it means that what has been happening at Mars Hill is the work of Jesus in our midst. It means that the root of the problem is not satanic opposition or attack, nor is it social media or vocal online critics, nor is it the members or attenders of the church (past or present). Nor is it elders, deacons, staff and leaders who have called for change from within. In fact the root of the problem has been the leadership of the church who have been blindly committed to maintaining the status quo as if we simply need to push through what has so frequently been referred to as a “difficult season.” All such attempts at crisis management and damage control are futile, foolish, and in fact create more harm since they are the polar opposite of repentance. I am convinced that Jesus is bringing his word of rebuke to the leadership (including me) through the Spirit. This is his word of loving discipline. In Rev 3:19 Jesus says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” I personally must have ears to hear and a heart to respond.

Let’s get something straight before we continue. The nonbelieving world did not cause Mars Hill to have to shut its doors. Angry non-believers, hating the true gospel being preached and hating God’s truth, did not do this. Mars Hill has weathered such crises and attacks from the outside before, as have all Bible-believing churches (including my own – just google on Westside Church’s (in Vancouver) purchase of the Centre for the Performing Arts in late 2013 to see what lots of non-believers in this city thought of a church like mine getting that property). What happened to Mars Hill, materially, was a crisis of confidence brought on by the broader evangelical community – a community that was Mars Hill’s home – saying, publicly, “there is some serious sin here, and it needs to stop.” But what happened spiritually, I believe, was Jesus causing more and more pressure to come on Mars Hill’s leadership – starting with Mark Driscoll – to repent and change, and that didn’t happen. And so, as far as I can personally tell, Jesus chose to move and end Mars Hill’s ministry.

Now, this is a relief to me, I find. Why? Because it’s over. All this drama, this angst, this controversy, which for sure has to have been wreaking havoc on the spiritual lives of the Mars Hill membership, people who have had Mars Hill as a home for however long, even years maybe, is over. Now the healing can begin. Now the attenders and members at Mars Hill can be members of churches that aren’t morally, ethically and spiritually compromised. Now a new day can begin.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is a tragedy. If serious repentance, and humbling, and change happened in the Mars Hill leadership, it would have glorified and honoured God and, I believe, allowed Mars Hill to continue existing for the indefinite future. It would have had years more worth of ministry to do, years more worth of sound gospel teaching to give, years more worth of preaching the gospel and leading people to Jesus. We’ll never know the major progress and work that Mars Hill could have accomplished for Jesus had Mark led his elder team in humble, Jesus-centered and Jesus-worshiping repentance and change. We only know that it won’t happen, and that’s the biggest shame.

But God is not done yet. God got along just fine doing His work before Mars Hill, and He certainly will get along just fine without it. Mars Hill had a huge impact in terms of the gospel on Seattle, from what I’ve read (what with it formerly being the least-churched city in America), but now that it’s gone, God will continue to do work. Our God is an amazing God, full of surprises, full of wonder and great works. The God that parted the Red Sea and led His people out of slavery in Egypt, and then led His people out of the bondage of sin through Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, will continue to save souls and give new life in Seattle, and all the areas Mars Hill operated in, and beyond. I’ll quote Genesis 18:14 and repeat God’s words in this, “is anything too hard for the LORD?” No, nothing is. I expect great things to happen in Seattle and everywhere else Mars Hill operated, even if we can’t see them in the news or whatever. People’s lives will be changed, because God is at work and He won’t let a church closing down stop Him.

Praise God for the good that Mars Hill did in its time, and praise God for it ending in a way that will allow the people of Mars Hill to move on to healthy and responsible gospel communities where they can be cared for and shepherded.

Also, let’s pray for Mark Driscoll. This has to be hard on him, and regardless of how responsible he is for all of this (and I do believe he holds a great deal of responsibility for it), he’s still our brother in Christ, and he was at one time used by God to great effect and great glory to God. Let’s pray his heart will be soothed and comforted in forgiving and gracious gospel community, and that he’ll be brought to repentance and restoration in a gentle and non-harsh, but lovingly firm, fashion.

That’s it for now.

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