I mentioned twice last week my time in Seattle. I continue to process the information that I am learning from the Emergent Church, especially from Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church (www.marshillchurch.org). Mark Driscoll’s vision, and experience, is not exactly like that of other well known leaders in this movement, but his journey is one that is hugely insightful and quite instructive. There is little doubt that God is blessing this visionary pastor and his church. And scores of young pastors are following Mark’s leadership through the Acts 29 network. In addition to this his book, The Radical Reformission (Zondervan, 2004), is an important popular treatment of evangelism, mission and culture. It is a full-scale rejection of the cultural, and even theological, patterns of fundamentalism without rejecting anything essential to Christian orthodoxy. This, in itself, attracts me deeply since robust evangelical faith, outwardly focused upon a positive engagement of the world, is my vision too.
Mars Hill has four core values: truth, meaning, community and beauty. God’s truth is properly placed first. Mars Hill understands that truth is not “your truth” or “my truth” but God’s truth. There is no place for relativism here. Truth, says the written explanation of their core values, comes from God, in Christ alone, through Holy Scripture. This understanding is crucial to everything else.
Second, God is the only one who can give meaning to our lives, both corporately and individually. These two are inextricably linked. This is not the old individualism of Enlightenment modernity. In the words of their basic values statement “Mars Hill seeks to continually understand cultural and worldview shifts to effectively contextualize the gospel for new generations, cultures and races.” This point is one of several areas in which Mars Hill radically departs from the denominational models of church that have dominated American church history. But the way, Mars Hill does this in a manner that is in no meaningful way like the model of “seeker churches,” which tend to adopt the culture’s values at a number of points.
Third, since the one true God exists in the perfect community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and since this triune God created men and women to live in community, Mars Hill “seeks to model deep and personal faith by serving others in a loving and authentic church community.” This family model of the church is consciously rooted in the New Testament and seeks to build a church that is nothing like boomer congregations (“What’s in this for me?”) or fortress churches (“How can we preserve ourselves?”). By this I mean Mars Hill lives in the world, never escaping to the ghetto of church life. The people are gathered and nurtured into a community of faith and taught to live lives of truth and meaning so that they can truly live with power in the world. There is no oppositional feel to this church’s engagement of culture but there is a clear prophetical stance that also sees the church calling for an entirely new culture rooted in the gospel of grace.
Finally, out of a relational community beauty will always develop and grow. Believers living in community, under truth, must know and model God to the world around them. This is the very heart of worship at Mars Hill. Worship does not copy the world, nor cause us to reject the world. Worship causes participants to enter into community and live out their core values of faith.
This understanding means that corporate worship at Mars Hill is holistic. Modern forms are employed, but not as a means of entertainment or as expressions of cultural captivity. These means are used missionally, as part of the church’s “taking ownership” of the created order. Corporate worship is fundamentally about celebration. This includes gathering, serving (both believers and non-believers together), receiving biblical instruction, response, song, communion (every week), and corporate prayer. Acts 2:42-47 is clearly at work.
So, what is different about this model? First, it is self-consciously God-centered without being detached from people. This means Mars Hill’s ministry is not based upon the needs and opinions of consumers, but at the same time it is a people sensitive, people affirming ministry. Second, Mars Hill’s model keeps mission and worship connected in a way that has been missed for a very long time in American evangelicalism, especially by the boomer generation. You might not like the music at Mars Hill but you would not notice the style of music as much as you would the vision of God cast by the worship. The fact that communion is held weekly, and the gifts of the Spirit are first used to glorify God, all make this anything but a show for seekers. God is literally adding to his church daily at Mars Hill, just as he was in the church in Jerusalem. This happens because the love of Christ and the fear of God is part of the community itself.
One thing that is particularly striking about this Emergent model is that a church of 4,000 plus does not have a pastoral staff with dozens and dozens of professional ministers. Mars Hill is staffed at the size of about a 500 member boomer congregation. How can they do this and run a major ministry 24-7? By truly using many, many gifted people effectively and by emphasizing properly that no one who joins Mars Hill can watch the “professional” ministers do the ministry of the church. While boomers talked about this biblical reality in my generation, and kept building huge church staffs for every department under the sun, Mars Hill simply does it. Volunteerism is huge here.
I have personally resisted the “Church Growth model” since my seminary days in the early 1970’s. I actually studied it first-hand, as a young church planter, under Donald McGavran and Peter Wagner, the fathers of the movement, while doing an M. A. in missions at Wheaton Graduate School in the early 1970’s. I have resisted the Church Growth emphasis, while all along I prayed and looked for a new model to emerge that would capture the minds of a new generation of church leaders. (My sense of my own call has always been to evangelism, thus to missions and revival, and this, I sincerely believe, has continually stirred this interest within me.) I thank God today that I have lived long enough to see my prayers answered. The future of this movement will be very interesting and I hope I can be part of it in some small way. I believe God is in this and this growing network could be putting down patterns that the Holy Spirit will powerfully use to renew the entire church in the West. I surely hope so.
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I am excited and encouraged about what is happening at the Mars Hill Church in Seattle. I don’t know much about the “Emergent Church Movement”, but it seems that the Holy Spirit is doing something “fresh” in this movement, and it will be interesting to watch over the next few years. This Church sounds much like the Evangelical Free Church we attend here in St Louis. It seems that both of these Churches demonstrate a passion for God and His people without being “consumer driven”. I have a friend who is a Firefighter in Seattle, I’ll have to tell him about this Church.
Though I haven’t been to Seattle and been to MH, I’ve learned a lot from the preaching and lectures of Driscoll, articles by and about Driscoll, etc. I think he is leading a community of Christians to live missionally and we need their example. He is so unique that I’m afraid that at least a part of their “success” is personality driven (so easy to do), but I tend to be optimistic about MH as a good example of incarnational church.
Once again, I am encouraged by what you have written. How do you do it? Mars Hill, Seattle model, sounds incredibly “authentic”, if that word means anything these days. Though I don’t know anything about Driscoll, I am learning more about the “emergent church” and the Acts 29 churches thru books and comments, etc.
In the 70’s I was part of the “sheperding movement” which was supposed to be just like the churches of Acts. We met in homes, took communion weekly, prayed, sang scripture songs, and mainly did things different than “denominational churches”. But we went astray, I think. We became so proud of “being different”, that we essentially created a new denomination that for all intents and purposes was not any different in its “gestalt” than any other church we were trying to get away from. Eventually what happened was what you already know so well. Spiritual abuse by leaders who began to become authoritarian in order to hold on to the reigns of “where” the church went, “what” the church could think or support and “how” people could act, etc.
What you wrote about concerning Driscoll’s church sounds very encouraging. People using their gifts not for their own personal gain (as it seems when reading Charismatic theologians), or to make themselves appear as “Gospel Gestapos”, (as so many Reformed academics seem to sound like), but simply for what Paul wrote in I Corinthians 12: 7 “…for the common good.” Not very flashy is it? To use your gift to help others. But that is often the way of God. He works in the open, but behind the scenes to effect His sovereign will and plan. He has chosen to use us to do His work. It still blows me out of the water when I think about it. He has given his people gifts, as He has chosen, in order that He might take care of us thru each other. We cannot boast about our gift, for He gave it. And neither can we hide behind the pew and allow the “professionals” to do the work. We are all responsible to use what gifts He has given to us to help those with whom we rub shoulders every day.
I hope that this view of “doing church” goes further than the west coast. As Christians, we need to ask ourselves some very simple questions. At a time when the church is losing its audience, and its focus, it is encouraging to consider that God may be moving to correct our course by bringing us back to simple truth. What is the goal of Christian community? Surely part of it is I Corinthians 12:25 “so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another”. And how is that to happen unless we are involved with each other relationally? How am I to use my gifts if I don’t know anybody in the church, or don’t care to be disturbed by others in the church, or deny that the Holy Spirit has gifted me at all.
I am also encouraged to read that no “authoritarian” structure has emerged yet at MH. As I stated earlier, that is where the sheperding movement went astray. We gave too much authority to man. I believe, at least in part, that we did this subconsciously to absolve ourselves of the personal responsibility of “wrestling with God” in true “Jacob fashion” to get His blessing. It sounds like MH is stressing the need for each individual to step forward and use his or her gifts, and it is expected not demanded. The Spirit of God is moving in that arena and it is fabulous to read.
My prayer is that God will send His Spirit thru the church and revive us again. Thanks John for giving me another look at how God is working today. I know there can be problems at MH, just like anywhere, and I know that people will always cloud the picture with their own agendas, etc., but at least it appears that something beneficial is sprouting out of this movement and I am all for it.
I am new to your website and new to Emergent Theology thing. I am skeptical of any new theology that comes on the scene in Christianity. Christianity has gotten crazier and crazier. Leaders from different movements call out to people, come follow me, I’ll show you a better way to Jesus Christ, even though in Colossians, the word says we are complete in Christ. With that being said, I went over to the Mars Hill’s website. It look interesting. They want to fit in with the culture. Maybe too much, I don’t know. What’s with the secure online tithing page? Are people to embarrassed to give at church? Why not just broadcast the service online and tell people to stay home and have church there?
Thank you for these comments. I have visited MH in Seattle and attended one of the Acts 29 church planting boot camps a number of years ago. I love their commitment to theology and their passion to contextualize the gospel.
After reading this post and your ‘Emergent Churches’ post, I was wondering how you are working to define ’emergent’ and if Mars Hill fits into this category?
John H Armstrong on Mars Hill, Seattle
I’ve never been there, but I am a fan of Mars Hill Church, Seattle. I probably cam across Mars Hill and it’s founding elder Mark Driscoll in 2000 when
I attended a emerging seminar in Grand Rapids last week at Baker Book House. Two speakers were very disturbing. Only one of the four made sense( a Theology prof a G.R.Seminary) He was the only one who seemed to believe Theology was necessary. True, the church has failed in practical ethics, but to overreact and have no doctrinal base makes you ask, “Just what is an evangelical?” “Is leading a “moral & socially concerned” life apart from regeneration the same path to heaven?”
Please see my blog based on research on what is happening at Mars Hill Church Seattle, under the radar or a surface view. There are many, many people who are suffering from what I can only consider to be spiritual and psychological abuse. If you think my blog has merit, please post the address here for others to see another side to Mars Hill.
As a mental health counselor and a survivor of spiritual abuse, I perceive many signs of cult like control and spiritual abuse at MHC:
.Controlling Pastor with “Yes Men” Elders;
.No Talk Rule;
.Emphasis on Submission and Obedience;
.Shunning of “Unrepentant” Former Members;
.Dis-fellowshipping “Questioners” and Critical Thinkers;
.By-Laws Removing Accountability of Pastor/Elders;
.Mind and Thought Control;
.Membership Covenant and Financial Giving Pledge Required;
.“Biblical” Counseling Only, if Referred Out, Must Sign Release Form (no confidentiality allowed);
.Kangaroo Court Firing of Two Elders Who Dared to Question;
.Extreme Gender Role Enforcement;
.Members Must Attend Accountability/”Community” Groups
In my blog you will find postings which cover:
Mars Hill Church Abuse; Mark Driscoll; Spiritual Abuse; Church Abuse; Psychological Abuse; Former Members of Mars Hill; By-Laws; Controlling Personalities in the Church; Narcissistic Leaders & Other Character Disordered Leaders; My Brief Experience of MHC & Abusive Systems; “Christianized” Misogyny; “Wives Submit!”; “Obey Your Leaders!”; Membership Requirements; and more…
In Him always,
Truth & Grace
It has been almost four years since I wrote this blog on Mars Hill in Seattle. I had the joy of getting to know Mark Driscoll through a kind invitation to visit at his expense. I was treated with much love and respect and later invited t speak to an Acts 29 pastors retreat in Boulder (CO) and to the elders of Mars Hill on a private retreat since May 2005. I still count Mark a friend even though we have not shared in ministry together the last two-plus years.
I am not in the position to judge what I do not see firsthand so I post these comments to allow this critique to be seen and responded to by readers. I value this post if it sheds lights on the local context of Mars Hill. I also encourage readers to always do their own research. Do not take anything based upon what I, or any other blogger, says. Use your mind and critical faculties carefully. Do so with care and always speak the truth in love.