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26 December, 2007 / theexpositor

Reflections on Mars Hill Seattle

It was our first full day in Seattle and one of the main reasons for our trip was to attend worship at the very popular and controversial Mars Hill Church, where Mark Driscoll is pastor.

We really didn’t know what to expect when we arrived. The stories of the services at MHC have varied from no scripture reading to the congregation sitting in the dark,chanting. So we were a wee bit anxious about what we would experience.

We arrived at the church about 30 minutes before the start of the 11am service, the last of three Sunday morning services at the Ballard campus. Mars Hill now has four campuses in the Seattle area, with their fifth set to begin soon. I think the total membership at the church is nearing the 8,000 mark and growing rapidly, in a city where, as Mark Driscoll says, there are more dogs than Christians.

 As we walked into the foyer of the church, we were immediately greeted warmly and welcomed to Mars Hill. The reception area was not unlike those at other churches. There was a general information desk, with schedules of services and directions to other Mars Hill campuses and home groups in the city.

Our contact person at MHC was Associate pastor A.J. Hamilton, actually one of the ruling elders of the church and generally considered Mark Driscoll’s right-hand man. I quickly learned that if wanted to know anything or find anything or anyone, you asked A.J.

 We met A.J. at the reception area of the churches front entrance. He was a very unassuming person, humbly dressed and obviously juggling several things all at once, greeting people, answering questions, and now, greeting Susie and me as well as giving us a guided tour of the churches Ballard campus.

A.J. took us around the facility, showing us their state-of-the-art production systems, multiple studios and their live broadcast capabilities. It was quite impressive. All during our tour, we could hear and/or watch Driscoll as he preached in the church auditorium.

As our tour of the church concluded, we confirmed lunch plans with Pastor A.J. and then decided to shoot some video for drop ins for the DVD part of the project. Helping us with this was Kyle, head of security for Mars Hill. He was extremely kind and very helpful during our entire stay at Mars Hill.

While I moved about the auditorium, taping various shots of Driscoll and the congregation, Susie took a seat and worshipped with the Mars Hill fellowship. I soon joined her, taking notes of the sermon, the makeup of the congregation, architecture of the room and more. We were visiting the church in mid-December, so it was time for Christmas hymns, while Pastor Driscoll was preaching his Rebel series, focusing on Philippians 4:10-23 for his text.

The auditorium was dimly lit, with focused lighting along the walls, that changed colors before service began and at the end of the service. There were a total of six large projection screens, two large screens at the right and left of each side of the platform, and four smaller screens placed from front to back of the room.

The platform was uniquely decorated, with a large prison-type chain link fence at the very back of the stage, then just in front of it was a wall designed to look like a stone prison wall with a window cut out with prison bars. Just behind Driscoll was a large wooden cross, perhaps 8 or 9 feet in height, wrapped in concertina wire.

Pastor Driscoll stood in the center of the platform, with a smaller flat screen monitor just to his left, and a small metal podium to his left, and he preached the entire sermon without glancing at notes even once. He spoke with a distinct articulation and an obvious passion for what he was preaching. He referred to Scripture often and preached verse-by-verse from his text. Driscoll did interject humor into his sermon, but it was not edgy or inappropriate, and stayed within the context of the message.

He wore faded jeans, a casual shirt and a dark blazer. He preached from the English Standard version and spoke for almost an hour, at which time he led the congregation in the prayer and turned the remainder of the service over to the Ballard campus pastor Jamie Munson.

The service concluded with the singing of Christmas hymns and Lord’s Supper. The service ended at about 12:30pm.

Susie and I had the pleasure of having lunch with Pastor A.J. and we spent almost 2 hours with him that afternoon, talking about the ministry of Mars Hill and the challenges they face serving in Seattle.

Now, my personal reflections on Mars Hill; as I stated in an earlier article, this is my personal reflections. After spending only a few hours with the folks at Mars Hill, I cannot be considered an expert on their ministry, but I can tell you what I saw, heard and experienced.

I did not see, hear or experience anything at the church or during the service that would cause me to run out the front door screaming heresy. Some of the methods I saw were probably unique to the Seattle area such as the dark room, the style of music and the casual dress. I am not sure if some of these strategies would work in Mississippi or if I would incorporate them in our area. But I did not see anything that I thought was unscriptural or distracting from the Gospel.

 Perhaps most importantly, certainly from the perspective of the church service, was the fact that the preaching of the Gospel was the center of the service. I wish I could say this is the case in many evangelical traditional services, but sadly many downplay the place and importance of preaching in the worship service. At Mars Hill, the preaching was the highpoint of the service, as it should be. Overall, my wife and I enjoyed visiting Mars Hill Church and were blessed by the people we met there. We look forward to returning for a visit again.  

While I know some of you will question my intelligence and perhaps my motives for going to Seattle, let alone talking with Mark Driscoll, I believe that in some instances we have rushed to judgement in making blanket statements concerning some ministries today. Unlike my experience at the Emergence 07 conference in October, in which I personally heard statements made that insulted the Gospel, I did not see or hear anything like this at Mars Hill. My heart goes out to the church there and to Mark Driscoll and the team as well. It is a huge task to do what they are doing. Are they perfect? No. Do they get it right every single time? Absolutely not. Do I? Lord no! Do you?

Let’s pray for Mars Hill and the ministry there in Seattle.

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14 Comments

  1. Jim from OldTruth.com / Dec 27 2007 8 26

    Mike:

    Here’s a dilemma scenario to propose to you, and this is why I would not personally visit Driscoll’s church. Is it possible to have a ministry flaw that is negative enough to essentially cast a shadow over all of the positives of that ministry? Obviously the answer is yes, as even Ted Haggard had to step down from his ministry. But what about lesser things than Ted Haggard’s situation. Let’s assume for a moment that John MacArthur has one of the best ministries in our country. Let’s also suppose there is some pastor out there who is like MacArthur in every way, but has some significant besetting sin that he engages in publicly on a regular basis (though maybe not every single week from the pulpit).

    My point is, is there any amount of ‘good’ that can outweigh certain ‘bads’ in such a pastor or ministry? Certainly there are many stylistic differences and even some doctrinal differences that we SHOULD tolerate, so I’m not talking about those kind of things. In Driscoll’s case however, we may have more than simply stylistic or minor doctrinal differences. If Steve Camp’s assessment of Driscoll is accurate (which I believe it is), then there are more serious issues, perhaps even ministry-disqualifying factors to consider. For the sake of space, I won’t get into the specifics of those things here, but your readers can click on “Steve Camp” in your blogroll and read his point of view. I think Phil Johnson has also expressed his concerns as well.

    So having the opinion that I just described above, I don’t know what good it would do to make a visit to a church that has the type of ministry flaw that I mentioned above. Even if everything else came back positive and wonderful, the flaw may be too significant to overlook. That said, I’m sure there will be some that object to what I just said, and who view Driscoll’s flaws as simply stylistic preferences. Some will likely even say the flaws are actually positive “features” that are necessary for ministry in his area. I simply do not agree.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on that kind of dilemma Mike.

  2. Russ N. / Dec 27 2007 12 29

    Mike – nice report! Very, very good to see that you went to experience and do first-hand research instead of being critical of a person/church’s ministry through what other people have said or blogged.

    I hope more people take the time to do what you did – there would probably be much less bickering and fighting within the faith.

  3. Tim Reed / Dec 27 2007 14 12

    Mike,
    I applaud you for taking this step. I wish more of Driscoll’s critics would do that.

  4. just a mom / Dec 27 2007 17 51

    Mike – I totally agree with the statement of Steve Camp and yourself that we should pray for Mark Driscoll. I also agree with the 1st comment above from Jim about the dilemma.

    Mark may be a less offensive form of “Emergent-Lite.” Here are some red flags to consider.

    http://www.redhotbash.com/

    http://www.emergentvillage.com/weblog/emergent-photo-album

    http://www.vintagejesus.net/about_the_book.html

    Mark co-authored

    Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches: Five Perspectives

    http://www.dankimball.com/vintage_faith/2006/12/listening_to_th.html

    http://voxpopnetwork.com/westseattle/2007/06/04/emergence-2007-reflection/

    http://voxpopnetwork.com/college

    Mark has major roots in Leadership Network:

    http://www.pursuantgroup.com/leadnet/advance/oct07s1a.htm

    just do a word search for Mark Driscoll http://www.leadnet.org/error.asp

    http://www.pursuantgroup.com/leadnet/advance/jun06s1a.htm

    Mark is part of Acts 29, a training ground for future pastors, that has problems of it’s own. This is for Mark wanna-be’s. Which future pastors are going to out-do Mark?(who was once labeled the cussing pastor)

    http://www.acts29network.org/

    http://www.acts29network.org/event/2008-01-29-spiritual-formation – ties to Spiritual Formation

    http://voxpopnetwork.com/voxpop/2006/11/03/silence-and-speaking/ – “the silence” and ties to Richard Foster (keep researching… it’s the New Age Occult, the silence and solitude, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Alice Bailey, Christian mysticism, Agnes Sanford)

    Mark’s Resurgence Blog

    http://theresurgence.com/md_blog_2006-10-09_porn_again_christian

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/PrintStory.pl?document_id=2003968602&zsection_id=2003925728&slug=tabella23m&date=20071023

    Confussed???

    even this Emergent web site expresses this concern http://www.emergentvillage.com/weblog/mark-driscolls-critique-gets-mixed-response

    Emergents do love Mark though:

    http://www.ysmarko.com/?p=1404

    Mark can give a good sermon. Maybe he is trying to turn from his past ways. Acts 9 speaks of a true conversion.

    Here is a good audio about Mark Driscoll from Todd Friel:

    http://www.wayofthemasterradio.com/podcast/2006/10/10/october-10-2006-hour-1/

    red flags from above audio though would include:

    “Contextualization” is a New Age Leonard Sweet term
    “Missional” is an Allelon term that “contextualizes” God’s word.
    for futher research- just do google searches for the above terms.
    “Kingdom building” – is part of “dominionism”

    In God’s word we are warned not to be double minded.

    I can’t help but remember that we have all gone astray like a lost sheep. We have all be deceived at one time.

    As a pastor, Mark is accountable.

    The Lord has a way of humbling the proud. Rev. 3:19 speaks of those I love, I reprove, and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. So pray for Mark. Pray for us all. Pray for those he leads, that they may have discernment in all teaching. 2 Peter 3:17

    Psalms 119 speaks loud and clear…. God’s true word.

    All of us need more reverence and fear of the Lord. Proverbs 1

  5. strammel / Dec 28 2007 6 42

    Mike,

    What do you think about the New Year’s Eve party Mars Hill is sponsoring this year.

    Shane

  6. devinyaheard / Dec 28 2007 16 10

    i didnt hear about driscoll until he spoke at the legendary postmodernism conference with piper, and in that conference i really saw the huge difference in practice, but not so much of a huge difference in message

    me, being 23, can really relate to driscoll’s approach, when it comes to music, media, and terminology

    something that i have thought a lot about living in a town that is a mini seattle (asheville, nc) it seems like older folks who are more traditional need the teachings about how to reach todays youth culture, or whatever, but i find myself fastforwarding thru the instructional aspect of how to reach my culture… when…. its my culture

    so i have a big love for mars hill, and acts 29, but i can see where tension can arise, and how it could be easy to be so focused on techniques rather than the simple gospel message, but with a good balance (which i know is marks goal) the gospel dominates, and it is communicated in the right way, at the right place, and at the right time

    i think everyone should praise God for mars hill, they are certainly a breath of fresh air, and people are getting converted, nobody can rightly deny that,

    they are getting converted.

    alright, well thats enough of me!

    you got a fine blog here sir!!

    in Him alone,
    Devin Murphy of http://www.livekite.com , and http://www.christianbuzz.blogspot.com

  7. Mike Messerli / Dec 28 2007 17 51

    Mike,

    thanks for you words, and especially for finding out for yourself. As a pastor myself I’m careful about what I teach and alert to what I hear. I have been listening to Mark’s podcasts and have enjoyed his teaching. As you noted he is passionate and teaches clearly from the word. I have not seen or heard any of the negatives others note about Marrs Hill. Thanks for th post.

  8. sam stilley / Dec 28 2007 22 22

    Jim,
    I would love to know what Driscoll’s supposed besetting sin that disqualifies him.

    Also, do you think that being drammatically overweight (which presupposes habitual gluttony) would also be a ministry disqualifyer? If so, Camp and many others need to step down, or begin to push away from the table and repent.

    When will you TR’s get a clue?

  9. Brendt / Dec 28 2007 23 24

    Jim said: If Steve Camp’s assessment of Driscoll is accurate (which I believe it is)…

    Oh, you mean this?

    … for the most part, Mark is orthodox and is certainly not to be placed in the Emergent camp with men like McLaren, Jones, Padgett, etc.

  10. Tim Reed / Dec 29 2007 19 50

    Unbelievable. Mike has something positive to say about MH and Mark Driscoll, and immediately the watchkitties show up to beat him back into line.

  11. Brendt / Dec 29 2007 20 01

    sam, gluttony is not a disqualifier. Only sins that others do that you (and those you admire) don’t do qualify.

    If gluttony disqualified one for ministry, then whose altar would we bow down to without Spurgeon being there?

  12. theexpositor / Dec 31 2007 3 12

    LISTEN UP EVERYONE!!

    The comments section here for this post has turned toward a back and forth between persons and not staying on topic, thoughts opinions and comments on Mars Hills Church, Mark Driscoll and our visit there. So, I am removing comments that have moved off topic. I suggest you email one another directly to continue the conversations. Thanks.

  13. stephanie / Feb 14 2009 4 16

    I’ve visited the church too. Thanks for writing about it. (I haven’t ever gone back after two visits, for many reasons.)

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