Church family, today I started a new podcast called “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” It is a long-form journalistic exploration of the planting and eventual demise of Mars Hill, the mega-church in Seattle that infamous Mark Driscoll planted and pastored for years.
If you’re unaware of this story, let me give away the ending. After many years of pastoring Mars Hill (a church with a member count of about 15,000 across 15 campuses), an internal investigation spurred on by letters from victims revealed a culture of emotional and spiritual abuse, gaslighting, bullying, and domineering leadership. In the aftermath, Driscoll resigned and the church all but folded. The stories shared broke my heart.
Driscoll is still making a name for himself.
One of the long-time leaders shared that one of the demographics that Mars Hill most appealed to was young men who felt they lacked direction or guidance in what “manhood” and “masculinity” were supposed to look like. Driscoll preached that manhood was about domination and violence. He famously said Jesus was a “cage-fighter” who beat the snot out of his enemies.
Put simply, he preached a “gospel” of domination and violence and then embodied it. That doesn’t seem shocking, but it shocks me that 15,000 people were so desperate for direction and purpose that they streamed to this man.
It made me think of a podcast by Rob Bell. In which he charged that the reason the Church has lost a generation is not because young people aren’t interested in Jesus. It is because the Church often doesn’t actually call us to be disciples. It instead invites us to be spectators of the spectacle of church. Bell says that young people are dying for a purpose bigger than themselves that embodies justice and peacemaking and have often not received that in the Church.
I would add, given the experiences of many, many friends and colleagues whose experiences mirrored the Mars Hill abuses, the problem on the other extreme is churches whose message calls toward a purpose, but that purpose is not of Jesus.
Jesus shows us that a godly PERSON is strong and vulnerable, grounded and loving, compassionate and passionate—regardless of gender. Jesus invited his followers to be just that—followers of his way of being in the world—not spectators.
Disciples embody the life of the one they are following after.
The Gospel of Jesus doesn’t look like what happened at Mars Hill. It tells the truth about it and works to heal the wounds of such abuses. The Gospel of Jesus doesn’t look like consumers of worship. It looks like a group of people worshipping God in every part of their lives.
My friends, may we be a people who embody the Good News of a God who rejects violence and accepts the cross, the God who bandages the wounded, the God who embraces all persons. Let us show the world who Jesus truly is. May we be a place where those burned by the church may heal and find refuge. Amen.
– Pastor Megan