Leaving Mars Hill Church. Russ Shaw's Story.
Updated and Posted August 30, 2014
This is, hard letter to write and something I never thought I would have to see myself do But with a very heavy heart I am officially resignation of my membership from Mars Hill Church. I put those words to text many weeks ago and now I'm making the public statement. The reason mainly is that I too am a public person and responding to a another public person who I love, and who's video a few weeks back of confusion, denial and heartache shook me and was a far more familiar seen that I'd like to admit.
As for me. Walking over the thin ice of heartache, confusion and denial are places familiar and even theams of my story... My wife, family and I started attending Mars Hill 8 years ago. We had recently left at church in Marysville because of a number of reasons one being my temptation to get too busy there and neglect my family. There was some theological disagreements but nothing that couldn't have been worked out. location, We live in Everett the church was in Marysville. Was looking forward to a church in our city we could call home. But the main reason, truth be told, if I'm honest for leaving AC3 'Allen Creek Community Church' in Marysville was a bomb going off and my inability to reconcile that in a timely manner with humility.
I've seen in the media and social media recently the name calling and personal attacks and while I can't totally relate to the level of public scrutiny Driscoll experiences. I can relate to his story to some extent. While the pastors at AC3 were gracious some of the people there weren't. We felt the gossip, yea people where angry and hurt and I get that. What hurts is when people only see your sin they seem to forget your even a human being with a heart and feelings.
This song by the band Seventh Day Slumber totally encompassed how I felt going through my own moral failures at that church in Marysville.
I can hear them still,
See my wife have caught me again using pornography AGAIN and she was about done. Truth be told I was about done with my behavior as well so in desperation and not having insurance that covered therapy I found myself in a pastor's office, 'because I couldn't afford a real counselor' I had told myself. And I knew because of multiple attempts to stop on my own failed and my sexual habits where ruling me. I was anxious, angry, fearfully self absorbed and out of control in my behavior. I also distrusted and even dispized Christianity. But out of contempt, desperation and a little curiosity started going to AC3 (Allen Creek Community Church) in Marysville after not attending a church for a number of years and honestly not considering myself a Christian anymore. Yes I was meeting with pastors but I would push back with questions like "Why can't you just tell me what It's gonna take to fix my behavior and stop with all this God stuff!?" In sheer frustration I would walk in pastor Rick's office, set the Bible down and show him where I saw it contradicting itself and asked him to explain to me why this isn't a book full of fairy tales and more unrealistic rules that no one if they're really honest can even come close to obeying? These guys were extremely patient with me and with my punk rock attitude and swear word laden, thirsty for truth, jacked up rock and roll kinda spirit. They showed me the hope they had in their hearts with gentleness and respect even when I wasn't being respectful.
Those men Dan and Rick helped me understand the Gospel as a guy who had grown up around Christianity and had gone to church on numerous occasions even went to Sunday school once or twice. They helped me realize why I was so heartbroken and angry about religion. I saw where I rejected the lie of therapeutic moralistic deism I had finally heard the gospel (The Good News) of Jesus Christ. Jesus changed my heart changed my mind and had me start to approach all the reasons I self medicate. And, as a result changing my behavior over time.
Being around real people and regaining a openness to christian community wasn't easy.
I got involved with the church Pastor Rick said I was like the spunky robot in the old eighties movie 'short circuit'. Number 5 is alive need input! As a believer I felt it's natural to want to push back what's dark, cold hearted and oppressive in the world. Not in a carrying a picket sign or getting all political kina of way but like Jesus demonstrated, real Christian influence is taking the narrow path of being a humble servant. Being his hands and feet to a hurting world kinda way.
I got a copy of the Purpose Driven Life on audio at the library and felt captivated and challenged. After some time realized in a men's group a had experienced some real change in my behavior as a result of a very real change that had taken place in my heart. In November of 2005 I started a podcast minisrty due to the fact through my relationship Jesus Christ getting over my religion hangups and perseverance working to actually being open and accountable about the 'heart stuff' with other men in community. I had gone a year without using pornography. This was a huge milestone that I didn't think was even possible. See a few years prior I had given up on God delivering me from this. But now it had been a year of not using pornography! Wow! Pornography was like this monkey on my back for years. I thought talking about my freedom from it publicly might help some people who might be wondering (like I did) if its realistic that there really can be freedom form this.
So I started talking about it. Me with my punk rock, rough around the edges, style working to point people to Jesus as a kind of voice in the digital wilderness. I started a public kind of an audio blog talking about my struggles and reaching out to others who may be struggling as well.
I wasn't really sure any one would listen. But at that time there wasn't a whole lot of material on the subject. And as far as I know, I was the first person to do a podcast on sexual addiction. I had no idea so many would listen to a jacked up former drug addict, drug dealer, pervert, pizza guy from the Seattle metro area.
Truth is I can't avoid the conflict and questions my leaving MHC raises. Like, can you really talk about sex in Christian community without freaking people out? And is it really possible to find a safe place to talk about the deep questions, like those about sexuality in private groups like Bible study we don't tend to bring up with most people in my social circles? And is there really such a thing as emotional nudity? Or do we have to continue putting on fig leaves of showing the worldly, dressed up shiny GQ, Vanity Fair or tough punk rock images of ourselves? Over the years the podcast has produced real fruit. A big part of the ASI ministry is encouraging people to seek out safe, transparent, authentic Christian community. People have confessed to me deep stubborn sin they never felt safe enough to tell anyone and my goal has been to lovingly encourage them to do the courageous act of sharing it with someone eye to eye, face to face without the electronically pixelated security blanket of a screen. Some began getting counseling, spiritual and psychological help and the Holy Spirit even used the wreckage and redemption process of my story to lead some people to Christ. I know what it's like to look at Christians and feel like "Common, Don't Christians have to fake it to be content and comfortable with their own worldview?!"
Going public about leaving MHC is going to challenge the validity of some if these arguments. That most Christians are real. Even I have been tempted with the thoughts of, "yeah, maybe organized religion is a scam and most Christians are just full of it" myself in recent months. But stick with me. The story of this misadventure isn't over yet. Christians aren't all fakers and churches can be a safe place for even jacked up broken people like me and like you.
Its funny, looking back I didn't have dreams and aspirations as a young man to be a voice for the sexually broken but by the grace of God that's the way it turned out. I don't even like the title 'ministry leader' but as my friend Piko told me whether I like it or not, I'm a Christian ministry leader. And maybe by God's providence that's the beauty of the road I'm on. I know what it's like to feel like an outsider and even an outcast. I know what it's like to feel like "maybe people like me/us don't fit into this whole social Christian being real in community thing". More than you know. So I'll continue to push back the temptingly judgmental thoughts of "people don't get us/me" that I know, can and do lead to isolation. I'll continue to work towards relevance in the light of the reality and the power of personal situations in hurting people we will and do have an impact on. And I praying my perspective has some impact and can maybe bring some clarity and relief to the hurt storm going on at Mars Hill Church. And other churches dealing with the exposed secret stubborn sin.
Back to 2004 2005ish. I stopped making money excuses and started paying for sexual addiction counseling. And as I got a little healthier I become a kind of leader in that cool willow creek church in Marysville. Got involved with mens groups hosted one at my home in my basement, and as a result of the success of the podcast and the fact I was a guest on a Christian radio show, KGNW live from Seattle on 3 different occasions talking about our church AC3 and ministering to those addicted to pornography, and my passion for reaching out to people struggling with secret stubborn sin.
Despite my energetic personality on the surface at the time I was wrestling with my own darkness. Truth was I had my own secrets I haven't confessed. See prior 'bombs going off' were due to my hiding, denial, promising to make surfacey changes and getting caught allover again with my compulsive ponography use over the course of years. At this point I had made some deeper changes and had seen some real victory over my unwanted sexual behavior but still had my fermenting secrets and honestly unable to manage the emotional roller coaster that was in me. Still I was really angry inside and continued to not be mostly at peace struggling with racing anxious thoughts. So like most red blooded Americans in the 21st century I looked to medication for emotional, psychological relief and healing. My ADHD was treated as mania and I started on a 'lets see if this works' parade of of anti-depressants, when those didn't work Adderall was one that gave me some relief. I felt I could organize my thoughts better on it but after a few weeks I realized a familiar feeling of the comforting high, like my old days. I felt like the courtship was back on with my chemical romance of anphetamine dependency.
Listen! Don't get me wrong I'm not an anti medication Guy. I know meds have work well for others but for me. Long story short I quit taking medication because A) I never found the right chemical positive relief that outweighed the negative side effects. B) They ether made me feel high, just plain didn't work at all or worse tempted me with seductive thoughts of suicide.
Truth is I wasn't really all open, acountable and transparent. I’d been trying to drown out the tic tick toc of the time bomb inside me for a while. See I had convinced myself for years that I am a big tough man and I am NOT a victim! Inter conservative business man / strong man in me hated the whole victim mentality with a passion.
I learned about the word integrity when I was working at a machine shop. I worked for a company that made control rods for aircraft. And not just any control rods but critical parts. Some of them that steered the plane, somewhere in place to keep the plane in the air and some kept the rotors on the helicopter in place. Each one of us that worked there did a different part of the manufacturing process and we each had a rubber stamp with our number on it to mark off what part of the process was completed. If a part had integrity it passes inspection. Every day people get on a plane and trust it has the integrity to get where they are going. With out integrity and/or a good safety record no one would fly anywhere.
Integrity doesn't mean you're perfect. Integrity means you don't pretend to be someone or something you're not. The parts may look complete on the surface but a control rod doesn't get installed on a plane until it's ready. It means you're honest about who you are and what part of the process God through His infinite grace and wisdom has you in. It also means we don't shun people in the process of seeking wholeness with integrity. It means we walk with them on the path of restoration through our Lord and Savior who also restores us continually as we all have our imperfections.
It wasn't until I was in my late thirties that I started to address deep wounds of the past and the lies I believed to cope with the level of damage I had done and had been done to me. As a kid I got in a lot of trouble at school, not paying attention, getting in verbal yelling matches, fist fights and skipping school. My mom after the divorce of my parents had me see professional therapists. I had sat in school counselors offices. I had been asked on a number of occasions if something had ever been done to me sexually as a kid and always my answer was "NO"! And I would bite back "Why you ask you freaky pervert? Just leave me alone"!
I was really good at keeping the gears turning on the inside, on the inside. Until my late 30s when my inner structural integrity started to deteriorate and the rusty noisy gears that had been grinding away for many years where starting to be seen and herd on the outside.
I realized 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. is so very true. Like Mark said in some of his sermons. It's not just about sins that we commit but also the sins committed against us as well. See I thought the truth of exposing the dark things that happened in my past would be more me for the people who love me could handle. And I was gripped by the fear they would just walk away. But when I finally admitted that I was a victim of sexual assault as a child. (A secret I had planned to take to my grave) This meant I no longer had to live in the shadows or emotionally react with pride and fear as a way to cope with that level of shame and personal contempt for myself. A response to that act that happened to that little boy still living in my heart. Some of the lies I was told and believed... "You got an erection you must have enjoyed yourself." And "If anyone knew what he dirty a little freak you are they would all reject you, and no one would ever love you! Especially If they knew what I know, WHO AND WHAT you really are!"
I remember a through our marriage I didn't like my wife putting up pictures of me when I was a little kid. I was still angry at that kid for not saying anything. How messed up it is that? I finally got to feel some sorrow for that kid and let my heart grieve the past rather than letting the anger that It happened overtake me and rule my heart.
I don't normally watch cop shows I remember around this time my wife and I watching Law and Order SVU. The climax of the story was in an tension filled interrogation room where two men who grew up in the same neighborhood, were around the same age (both middle-aged guys in there late forties.) Went to the same parish as kids and where molested by the same priest. They sat face to face recalling their dark history. One man was a detective the other man was arrested for sex crimes. One man's anger drove him to face and reject the lies he was taught as a boy. Even going into police work to push back the darkness he saw in this cold world. The other let the bitterness and hard heartedness he saw in this world lead him to believe and even embrace the lies they were both taught by their abuser.
I was crippled believing I signed up for what happened to me. Even concluded I wanted it to happen.
The bomb went off for my wife and I and our family and Christian community in Marysville when I confessed in the July of 2006 about how bad my sexual addiction really was.
Yes, the Bomb Went Off. Again, this time it was open confession set up in a pastor's office to help contain the blast instead of me getting caught. Or confessing alone with her out of guilt or anger. Heard the stories of people who confess in a selfish way to get the weight off of them. These would usually end up in a emotionally charged pushing shoving even violent exchanges of "it's all your fault" deflecting and I wanted no part of that. Truth be told secret stubborn sin has its weight and it will either pop up on the surface by its own exposure or we will let it go, buckling under the sheer weight of trying to keep it under the surface.
When a bomb goes off there is a ripple effect. Even writing this down today sends an earthquake through my spirit. Reflecting on how fearfully manipulative I was, how I had arrived at there and the ripple effect of hurt and failure to be a husband, father and real honest brother to my family in the body of Christ and the people who's lives I spoke in to doing the podcast. I didn't think I would ever pick up the mic and have the integrity to speak with the same level of conviction again.
We got counseling tried our best to stay in community there at AC3. Porn addiction was more socially acceptable, understandable and marketable. Truth is I hurt a lot of people there by not being transparent and sharing whole truth of how dark my sexual addiction really was. I continue to see a counselor named Alec but was still struggling with the emotional wherewithal to handle the social impact of my decision to keep those very heavy secrets in the dark for so long.
At that time I had started listening to sermons by Pastor Mark and was intrigued and challenged by his approach to "men behaving badly", family and responsibility.
I love CS Lewis, he was a big part of my conversion back to Christianity and I loved the lion heart side he brought to the story Jesus and the gospel through the Chronicles of Narnia. I've always been attracted to Lionhearted speakers and Mark was one of those.
Pastor Mark was loud and edgy. I loved this dude! After all my podcast had been inspired by shock jocks like Tom lykis and Howard Stern because they constantly talk about sex from a secular perspective when I set out to do it from a Christian worldview. I didn't do it for shock value but as it turns out talking about sex frankly in Christian circles is pretty shocking especially to people in professional ministry. Pastor Mark was not afraid to talk about sexuality and the negative comments from his Christian critics just made me like him even more.
My wife and I started attending Mars Hill Ballard is kind of double dippers. I and we met with a couple of pastors there for counseling. And I started going to recovery in groups there led by James Noriega and started to unpeel some of the deep anger and anxiety issues in my heart. Those guys actually had the courage to lovingly get In my face, asked tough questions and yeah even raise their voice from time to time. And as a guy who was abrasively stubborn and a bit of a martial arts expert in the discipline of verbally blocking unwanted incoming messages and a black belt at deflecting to defend my fragile self image I'll be honest it was good for me.
God powerfully used Mars Hill Church and those men to help me unravel some of those deep knots and emo habits. Unraveling the deep puss oozing wounds of childhood sexual abuse. Listen, MHC's groups and leadership were not perfect. I can't speak to the anti feminism stuff my wife was always held in high regard by the church. I remember they said "if you are going to remain married to this guy we will be working to keep him transparent and hold him accountable".
Truth and transparency is refreshing I liked that people weren't professional counselors but we're honest about the brokenness in their own lives. Not educated religious therapists doling out should's and ought to's but other sinner/saints not advocating for begrudging submission but joyfully reporting good news of the freedom that comes from obeying God because he loves his kids.
I could see why some people called Mars Hill a cult I figured because its cultural impact on the city. I was never an official leader in anyway at Mars Hill Church. I never saw myself as qualified as far as the church was concerned a leader should be. That and because hosting a worldwide podcast for addicts and those fighting for sexual integrity would keep me pretty ministry / kingdom busy as it was.
There was a number of ought-oh moments. Like, avatar is the most satanic movie ever and when pillars of the church started to exit the church. Like when Leif Moi was fired. But I/we gave the church the benefit of the doubt in those days. I remember it seemed around 2007 shepherding was slowly starting to be taken over by control. Yeah, there is good stuff I took to heart and some things I saw as just bad-religion and rejected. After all churches are filled with sinful human beings and not one of them is perfect. But the answer is not to hide our imperfections but to point to and cling to Christ as our Savior, together as the body.
It's like a cloud of fear moved in as a corporate model of church was slowly starting to be embraced. But the heart people were still making a good argument for transparency and an organic Jesus > religion sheparding with approved elder and deacon and leadership. At the time I didn't understand who was "under the bus" but again I gave leadership the benefit of the doubt. At that time, for me the good outweighed the bad and today I am still a firm believer in redemption groups when they are done with humility and grace as an act of worship in community by laying our fear and pride at the foot of the cross.
Me as a result starting letting people past the inner barbed wire and brick walls I had been constructing for years. And was able to bring it out in the open and actually talk about the very grizzly bloody truth of what happened to that little boy. That 6 and 9 year old kid in me. As well as the lies I believe that helped construct the walls and arsenal I to protect myself were beginning to come down.
At MHC guys like James Noreaga, Kerry Michaels and Leo Schultz, not perfect men to be sure, but maybe that's the beauty of honest Christian community. That we would realize God uses real people. And the only real good guys in this life are people not afraid to leave their flaws in the light. In another words the only good guys you get are bad guys. Who are authentic enough help jacked up misfits like myself come to terms with the wounds I carried and the lies I believed. God used the voice and conviction and yes even the loud, boisterous "old Mark" to challenge and convict. After some counseling and the go-ahead from authority and my wife who bought me a new digital recording device for my birthday. I started up the podcast ministry again after nearly a years absents.
I even worked up the courage to start working to make amends and reconcile those relationships at AC3. Forgiveness is a one way street reconciliation takes two. Some of those relationships I was able to reconcile and some I was not. A big part of it was time, I regret I let so much time pass. But I did my best to reach out to people wounded by my actions. I Love my family and I love my brothers and sisters at AC3. But the truth is it was easier for me to judge and hide then to start the process of reconciliation. It was time to stop the "I guess we can't reconcile cuz they..." inner dialogue. It was time to stop passively blame shifting, start priority shifting toward walking the path of grace I was given. When we finally get to a place of openness and transparency it can be shocking a lot of people especially Christians. That's the big fear of living in the light of a confession. It's easy to live in the knowledge of what we "should and ought to do" it's hard to talk about and be real about the things that we actually have done and do, do. I was able to reconcile some of those relationships and some I was not and that's okay.
Back then I chose to stick with Mars Hill because of the relationships we had built their and impact it was having on the city. By this time I was at the shoreline campus and there was talk of a Everett Campus starting soon.
Jesus changed my life and used this organization of misfits and sinners/saints known as Mars Hill Church! In that tough season God used that intimate but challenging approach to community and redemption to help me with some healing from some nasty infectious wounds and some very deep stubborn sin.
Fast forward to 2014. The "looked on well by outsiders" impact on the culture has dried up and as far as the City of Seattle is concerned MHC is not a beacon of light attracting people like the hurt, addicted or the LGBT community people looking for answers and hope like some used to see it as.
The educated and informed hurting soles and socially marginalized now view MHC with contempt as a "right wing religious organization" something people wouldn't label the Ministry of Mars Hill when they first moved into ballard.
And now the gifted, brave truth tellers, those people who are big neon sign arrows pointing to Jesus? Most all of those heart healers that I have heard of because of the teary eyed testimonies of real life healing saints themselves, they sadly have either been fired, forced out or have resigned from Mars Hill Church.
I could say a lot more about the history of some of those men and women who are heart felt leaders in the church but I want to shift gears on to the impact Mars Hill has had on ministry. Inspired by what I've heard of the early days of MHC embracing the hurting city with the John 10:10 sheparding kind of message of love and grace. As a loud voice talking about sex and the gospel in the digital wilderness over the years of doing the podcast I have learned a few things along the way.
I few years ago I started a coaching ministry and I've been called on to consult with men, couples and churches on "bomb going off" type of sexual ethics issues. Questions like when should someone's spouse say "enough!" and file for divorce? When an adultery has taken place the offended party has a right to divorce biblically. But what about when the offending party is sorry to the point of tears and a visible distress and sorrow for the things that they've done?
Recently I've been asked what was the straw that broke the camels back for you and why did you choose to leave Mars Hill Church? Truth be told when a 'bomb goes off' and hidden secrets are brought out into the light and exposed on the surface it can be a blessing in disguise if we choose to see it that way. Much like a cancer that has been caught in the early stages.
Seeing pastor Mark's summer of 2014 reaction videos reminded me of one of the darkest situations I had to experience in the ASI ministry. I'll not share his name and I've changed the story some to make this example more of a case study in order to honer the privacy of him, his family and his church.
After about 8 months of on and off coaching of a male individual. I was called by his pastor that his wife was seeking a divorce, she had his blessing but he wanted my input on the situation someone working with as well as having the perspective of the offender.
Something Pastor Mark and the leadership of Mars Hill Church taught me about my own ministry is... Yes it's good to feel for the addicted and the guys whose behavior is out of control. They are my Christian Brothers to be sure. But if they're married or in a long term relationship, their girlfriends and wives are my Christian sisters as well. And I wouldn't want my sister in a relationship with an abusive man whose blind to the cancer thats infecting and consuming everything around him.
After months of phone conversations with him and conversations with his pastor. Realizing his continued parade of excuses on the reason for his lack of transparency and his bullying, disconnected, angry way of leading his home. I agreed with this woman's pastor that she should seek a divorce. Even though these were people I never met face to face, that I talk to online and over the phone. The decision was incredibly difficult I was busted up and tears flowed over the situation.
Mark said things in the first video like "We don't know what happened." And the churches response in using Scripture to justify a continued lack of transparency seems frightfully familiar.
If we look at the controversies at Mars Hill Church. We could continue to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all it's a fast growing church led and administrated by flawed human beings, I could point to a lot of troubles in recent years. But let's face it, the New York Times best seller, hack controversy. That was indeed "a bomb going off" to use that metaphorical emotional word picture. It made world wide news and was a black eye on the American evangelical reputation of the church.
The first response from the church when the story broke? We didn't do it! As more evidence came out and more news affiliates picked up the story. Then the response was, ok we did do it! But a lot of other people do it and it's not illegal. As more church members left and the story went viral Then, 'Okay we did it it was misleading, unwise and we're sorry.'
The by product of this exploitation shook a lot of people's faith and trust in their church leaders. Had people have to reprocess what spiritual authority and trust in a church really looks like.
I have heard a lot of guys caught compulsive progressive porn habits or the guy who goes out and buys an expensive item like a fishing boat, BMW or trip Vegas without telling his wife, react the same way. Like "wow she's really mad, I don't get why she's so mad and hurt by all this."
They see the hurt caused. The pain these guys feel is real. The visual attributes are one of someone who is hurt by their actions, yes. But do they get the extent of the damage that a break of trust has done? This is part of their process and points to whether or not they actually have integrity, or just think they do.
When trust has been broken the knee-jerk reaction is to make some surface changes like I won't visit those web sites anymore I'll get accountability and blocking software. Those are great charted nuts and bolts exercises of repentance but my question is always what are you doing to get under the behavior on the surface?
In the case of a married guy "what are you doing to build trust and gain a new understanding of intimacy?" is a far better question then what surface changes are you making. Like "I'll stay off social media" and "I'll not use that title" for example. Disconnection, isolation and bullying for example are all symptoms under the surface that fuel intimacy dysfunction in a relationship. They are also symptoms of bad religious leadership and corporate thugary.
Being above reproach doesn't mean you're perfect either but it does mean you have some integrity. Being above reproach means you practice what you preach and if you make a mistake there's no putting on a mask, fakeing or putting your best self forward.
In my experience, over time if reconciliation isn't made a real priority the cancer spreads as self righteous indignation continues over pursuing the path of real heart felt repentance and reconciliation.
People don't stay with progressively worsening, abusive philandering spouses because of love. People don't put their head in the sand and pretend everything's okay because they want reconciliation and a better relationship. People stay in that level of worsening relationships because of crippling fear. It's easy to have a lukewarm conscience. It takes hard, heart work to realize staying in an abusive relationship is sending a message. To our family, to our community and to our city.
After a lot waiting and praying, ultimately the decision to leave Mars Hill Church came down to one of conscience and integrity.
The feeling of walking into a church seeing people you know and walked with as well as the sense of belonging are very real. I don't take attendance at a church or being part of a community organization under the name of Jesus as his bride the church, lightly.
Being a member of a church is not like joining a club or starting at a job, for me it's deeply intimate. Listen, with my words on intimacy I'm not accusing Mark or the elders of having a bad marriage. I don't know their marriages. And I won't guess or be a gossipy speculator here. As far as Mark Driscoll goes honestly I liked the book real marriage. It's still a recommended book on my book list.
I used to end a lot of the podcast by saying life is 20% what happens and 80% how we deal with the 20%. Worship isn't just the music at church. Worship is as Romans 12 says pouring our lives out as a living sacrifice.
Again forgiveness is something we do to release someone a spiritual kind of debt. It is a one way act of faith. Reconciliation however takes the offended and the offender and restores relationship. Reconciliation takes cooperation getting to a more and more solid foundation of trust.
Mark Said in his apology letter himself and the executive Elders where trying to reconcile those hurt by his "Angry young profit" days. Then the bullying continued...
Phil and Diane Poier are people I know and trusted to let in the the scared and still wounded healing mess of this heart of mine. When my friend Phil Poier was let go for not signing and no-compete clause. That was the straw that broke the camels back for me.
They call it a "unity agreement" it's a very unhealthy intimidation tactic at a time when the Church was under scrutiny for having abusive leadership. As a ministry leader myself I'm also an advocate for openness and transparency in Christian leadership. If leadership can't be themselves flaws and all, what is the message they're sending to repentant sinners in a fallen world?
I realize openness and transparency means every one doesn't have to know everything. One of the things I really respected about MHC is the pastoral and elder-ship process is rigorous. Not just any one with drive and motivation to be one of the "higher up's" in leadership makes it there. I saw this as a way of protecting the flock from the unqualified power driven wolves. But when the "higher up's" in back rooms decide to use church funds to manipulate the New York Times best seller list trust is broken. And truth be told, trust is broken quickly and, with openness and transparency is earned back slowly over time.
Now a pastor in Portland is fired for seeking transparency and integrity. Why does it appear MHC is declaring war on itself?
Is this a safe place for confession and being honest about where you're at without worrying about being fired?
We live in a reality show culture. People may attend and continue consuming church. But if you're not authentic people can and do sense it. And good luck getting those discerning people "on board" with any kind of wise confidence.
Some may get caught up in being a part of community. But in this day and age if you're not building a culture of openness and confession it's not a matter of, if but when, there will be scandals or "a bomb going off" in any organization. Yes, even and especially a church. It's been my experience that over time compulsive, habitual, secret stubborn sin will progress and be exposed one day.
Church should be a place where it's okay to not be ok and if your leadership, it should be a place where if your not OK, you're encouraged and loved in to walk in the light and sin will be dealt with in a process of being restored (Galatians 6). Not people tossed "Under a bus" or thrown aside like pawns in a game. People with different gifts learn to cooperate. And learn from past mistakes. Ask yourself, All the letters at MHC where someone was removed ("Not for overt Sin" but with no real explanation) from the church and Jimmy Hoffa-ed off the web site, in the midst of onlookers in the church and outsiders (looking in asking can I trust this place?) is that shepherding? The Volume of Mark's voice is not the issue here. Where his Heart and the Hearts of the executive Elders is in this season is the issue.
We were warned as members to not read the blogs. And yes there are a lot of Mars Hill haters out there and people in this town who don't like Christianity at all. Something I've learned in recent months tho if it weren't for for guys like Warren T. I wouldn't have known what's going on at my own church. Rick Warren said "people are down on what they're not up on". That's very true and I would say a tight lipped lack of transparency is another symptom a deeper problem.
Over time the stories from past members and leaders about MHC's leadership have been given more credibility. And condescending, brow beating bullies who lack integrity because of past behavior do not breed trust.
"But Russ, the fate of "the Phil's" was part of the old corporate structure. It's going to take some time to change some of that." These are not people who got laid off from stocking shelves at some cold branded multi million dollar retail Corporation. These are members of a church with families, who are also members of that church family and who all have Kingdom impact. If that's really how they reason it out, their actions speak so loud we are supposed to hear a word they say?
Giving is down because of "due to the increase in negative media attention surrounding our church" seriously!?
Then after Phil P. was like go a letter by our campus pastor with "Check your hearts?!" Like, Your for us or against us?! God forbid they would leave Mars Hill and serve at another church!? Don't tell us your trying to reconcile! Don't tell us your trying to "be more Biblical"! Show me where recently 'letting go' of pastor Phil Poier, Or Pastor Phil Schmidt, Men who have made an impact with Christ like love on hearts and minds. Men who have proven themselves faithful year after year as a men qualified for eldership, Godly man of integrity. Told they can no longer be in leadership for not signing this predatory, business minded legal document or simply asking questions to elevate pain and distrust in hurting tempted to stray sheep, is anywhere rooted in Scripture? Then to make matters worse, after they said "We are trying to mend relationships" their actions spoke by saying, we are also gonna work to keep them out of ministry with bullying legal "better sign this or els" documents.
All Mark's rants about Wolves and sheep... Ask yourself, what spirit is in authority here? Is that a Wolf or a Shepherd thing? Again, I'm not a Mark Driscoll or Mars hill Hater here! I have been there, blind to my own angry heart and as an observer I really think they are blind to there own wolf like practices.
I have been praying too and I've seen God do miracles in moving stubborn stoney hearts. But I've also seen the wreckage in those that find it more tempting to choose their will over a healthy direction of humility. I have been praying for Mars Hill Church daily. Please don't let your hearts get Bitter, lets all keep praying as Mars Hill and the groups it has entrusted as authority and accountability to model repentance and reconciliation as an evangelical body in the United States in this new millenium. Pray for the new sheep. The hundreds if not thousands of first generation Christians. And especially the injured ones having a hard time trusting being in the safety a flock.
Exposed stubborn secrets sin has the power to blow apart relationships. It also has the power to strengthen them.
And when it does an opportunity presents itself. In this case a church has been exposed for lacking integrity.
God is not up in heaven wondering "What's gonna happen to Mars Hill?" He knows and this could be the beginning of a beautiful redemption story.
I implore you, Continue Praying in the serenity and discernment of where Christ's bride the church and Mars Hill's place in it at this point in history, is as we are all headed in to the future.
Years ago Mark Driscoll wrote a great book called Radical Reformission. Did that young zealous wild eyed preacher make some mistakes? Yes he did, he's human and he was young. Mark was/is a dudes, dude! I think his vision for the city and his heart we're in the right place. And while I may disagree about his views on women in leadership. In Pastor Mark, underneath what may have been years of neglect still beats a Lions heart.
I pray that somewhere that now older brain lives that hopeful, faithful pastor who still belives in the Reformission and would understand and would agree with this statement...
The Church is not a cold corporate copyrighted brand.
The Church is...
God's People. Different personalities comeing together. Pouring out time, experinces, joys and tragedies like an artist's welder and cutting tools. Forging out in a metal to metal spark showering spectacular grinding out of humility and humanity contouring and sculpting off the sharp edges of ego, fear and pride to bring together people. Some with very little in common on the surface. But underneath people with open hands and hearts to make together the mysterious, beautiful mosaic that is the body of Christ.
For those like me who may be struggling with their faith in this season I am praying that you mindfully take this one day at a time. Loving your church in your community is so much bigger than being a member or congregate of MHC. Communities like re:connect exist and the sheep aren't all as scattered as you think. Again one day at a time like Jesus said "tomorrow has enough trouble of its own". (Matt 6:34) Pray and be mindful of the impact of God given love you will have on today. John 10 it's all about our Good Shepherd working something out for our good. I'ts like this movie quote I used to sign a lot of my old emails off with. Its from the film The Matrix. "I don't know the future. I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it's going to begin."
I like many of you have been sick over this whole thing. Grieving the loss of an influential christian leadership in our culture gone astray. But today I am grateful and encouraged by John 10 that Jesus is looking out for his sheep and reminding us there are shepherds and there are hired hands. Proverbs 29:23 the proud will be humbled but the humble will be honored. I'm praying for MHC that the humbling process continues and I'm praying for us that we, with humble hearts would embrace God's call for the church in our cities. Following Jesus with his loving Lionhearted compassion for his people.
John 10:10 "The devil comes to kill, steal and destroy. I come that you would have life and have it abundantly" - Jesus. Again I'm working to be mindful of this Scripture. There's hope in the word.
All this MHC stuff is so emotionally and spirituality heavy. I feel like I should just "move on" but my heart don't work like that. It's like watching a friend slowly being seduced by some horrible addiction. I've been Pharoah, people would feel my wrath for trying to uncover my lies and get to the raw nerve to help me.
Another song that resonates with my soul.
("I'm Not Okay (I Promise) by My Chemical Romance
What will it take to show you that it's not the life it seems?
I'm familiar with the slow suicide of an unmanageable life. My story is finally getting past the point of "I'm okay I promise" to ok, "I'm not Okay" I need some help and to admit that, that's my weakness, and when I finally admitted my weakness Jesus became my strength.
I would be lieing if I said I'm not still hurting and haveing a hard time trusting Christians. I'm Tempted to stay away and keep away but I know now where that voice comes from. I'm working hard to stay in community. I still talk to Jesus read my bible and I'm still Praying for my friend MHC and clinging to this piece of Scripture.
Matthew 11:28 (NIV)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest...
My Name is Charles Russell "Russ" Shaw. I love MHC and I am NOT anonymous.