With both Mars Hill Church and Acts 29, the terms “shepherd”, “chief shepherd”, “pastor” and “elder” are spoken of with frequency. Within the strong DNA of both organizations is the prevalent expectation that the members submit to the shepherds or elders. The last line of the Mars Hill Church membership covenant states:
I understand that this covenant obligates me to the members of Mars Hill and is an acknowledgment of my submission to the elders of the church. I accept the responsibility to notify Mars Hill leadership if at any time I can no longer commit to this covenant, or if I have any questions, comments, or concerns regarding Mars Hill Church. (link1) [emphasis added]
This is not just a Mars Hill Church requirement, but also is characteristic of Acts 29 churches. The Village Church (Matt Chandler’s church – President of Acts 29) states it this way:
I covenant…to submit to the elders and other appointed leaders of the church and diligently strive for unity and peace within the church. (link2) [emphasis added]
These shepherds desire submission from the flock, but when they are questioned by a sheep, they frequently react in such a way that the sheep is then forced out of the flock. When this causes the flock to be flustered, all the attention then is focused on making the flock comfortable, while the lone sheep that has left the flock is abandoned, or worse, slandered and isolated.
This isolation comes in the form of shunning, whether formal (as in Mars Hill Church’s call to shun Paul Petry – now concluding its seventh year) – or informal, as many members of both Mars Hill Church and many Acts 29 former church members have experienced.
This is in stark contrast to what Jesus taught.
If any of you has a hundred sheep, and one of them gets lost, what will you do? Won’t you leave the ninety-nine in the field and go look for the lost sheep until you find it? And when you find it, you will be so glad that you will put it on your shoulder and carry it home. Then you will call in your friends and neighbors and say, “Let’s celebrate! I’ve found my lost sheep.” — Luke 15:4-6
While hundreds of abused ex-members are crying out, Mars Hill Church leaders are doing all they can to assure the members of the church that this “season” will pass, while ignoring the sheep that have left, injured, strayed, or been abandoned. They are ignoring the lost sheep.
Mark Driscoll, who is claiming that his “angry young prophet” days are over and now his “older spiritual father” days lie ahead, has said that he is reaching out to the sheep he has hurt. There is no evidence that he has or is doing this. In my personal case, my requests to speak with Mark Driscoll get nowhere, and BOAA chairman Michael van Skaik has refused to talk to me, despite my willingness to drive from Seattle to Bend, Oregon to see him.
Countless other hurt sheep have had the same experience.
Elders who knew me well, despite the evidence that I and my family were harmed and slandered, have simply ignored our pain, and in some cases actively spurned us. I say this not to draw attention to Merle’s and my pain, but to point out that this is the experience of most families who have been harmed through the shunning and “discipline” process at Mars Hill and other Acts 29 churches.
Rather than pursue the lost sheep and genuinely try to find reconciliation, the individual sheep is isolated through shunning, slandered through one-sided half-truths, while the perpetrators of the abuse are surrounded with love and affirmation. The remaining sheep are called to submit to these “shepherds” or face similar discipline. They are told to “trust” the shepherds and not the stories that come from the lost sheep via social media – the only means the shepherds have left the lost sheep in their effort to cry out.
There has been no reasonable attempt by Mark Driscoll to reconcile with Bent Meyer, Lief Moi or Paul Petry, not to mention many equally hurt ex-members, staff and leaders from Mars Hill Church. Michael van Skaik has been charged by his own elders of not being truthful about reaching out to victims of abuse. Sadly, the DNA of Mars Hill Church is to keep the hurting bodies “under the bus” and refuse to seek them out as Jesus sought out the one sheep that was missing.
Perhaps the shepherds at Mars Hill Church, and those at churches that carry the Acts 29 DNA, should stop emphasizing submission to the elders, and start emphasizing the true role of a shepherd – a good shepherd. That role is not to lord over the sheep, but to tend to the sheep.
Especially the one sheep who has left the flock in pain.