Mars Hill Church – please drop the religious talk.

religious talk

Seeing that most of the leaders at Mars Hill Church grew up around normal churches, it should not be too difficult, now that Mark Driscoll is gone, to go back to using normal terms and drop the manipulative religious talk.

Religious talk only has one purpose and that is to bind the hearer with a false sense of duty and obligation. True gospel talk leaves the listener free and without bondage.

Let us review some of the religious talk and show why it is just that – even though it sounds so right and holy.

“We love you Mars Hill Church.”

What is wrong with this religious saying? Well, the way that Mars Hill elders have grown accustomed to using it, is typically before a confession that is in incomplete and insincere. It is uncomfortable in a strange sort of way. We know that God loves us, and he proved that love by sending His son to die for us. But we are being told by a pastor that he loves Mars Hill Church, which is usually followed by a partial admission of wrongdoing, and a continued lack of transparency.

“We love you, but will not tell what Mark Driscoll earned even though many of you members have asked. We love you, but we are not willing to show our love by answering your questions about the Global Fund. We love you, and we want to say the Global Fund that 6,000 donors gave to never was a fund. Don’t think about our dodging the issues being asked about because, after all, we love you.”

I have never, in a “normal” church, heard the pastor or elders repeatedly say that they love the church, even though they probably do. It is not common pastoral speak, at least not to the entire body as an impersonal brand name, and repeatedly. When I was sitting in the Everett campus on Sunday, the “lead pastor” told us people sitting in the pews that he loved us. What exactly did he mean? Did he mean that he loves me, Rob Smith, personally, or did he love the members as a collective whole? If the latter, what does that even mean?

Madonna loves her fans, but in reality she doesn’t even know their names or who they are. They adore her, yet have no idea who she is as person. That kind of love is infatuation and impersonal. Mark Driscoll, in a similar way loved his fans, but didn’t like individual people. He really didn’t even love the church. He used it, and then left it in perhaps the worst way possible.

In the New Testament, the encouragement to love is always “one another” in a brotherly way. It is an active love, not an emotive love, and it never is used to set the church up for a confession or rebuke.

It would be closer to the truth for the current elders to say “Mars Hill Church, we have failed to love you”.

“Jesus is our Senior Pastor.”

This saying also seems so right. It gets said in a lot of abusive churches as well as good churches. But it is not a biblical teaching. Jesus is our prophet, priest and king (sorry Sutton Turner), but he has entrusted the role of pastors to us mere mortals whom he, by the Holy Spirit, has selectively equipped. He is no more the senior pastor than he is the senior evangelist or the senior janitor. These are tasks that he has given to us as members of his church.

I do not expect Jesus, the “senior pastor” of Mars Hill Church, to knock on Pastor Paul Petry’s door and repent of the way he was treated. But I would surely expect that of any Mars Hill pastor worth his salt. I do not expect Jesus to set pay for the staff at Mars Hill Church or to suggest that the music is too loud.

So why is this term which doesn’t mean much in practical terms or understanding used by churches that end up with unhealthy and abusive cultures? It is because there is a strong undertone of hierarchy when it is emphasized that Jesus is the Senior Pastor, and then under Jesus is the next level, getting their marching orders straight from Jesus. Under those men, totally submitted to Jesus of course and totally in charge of everyone else, comes the next layer of heirarchy. So everyone else ends up being required to submit to men who are carrying out the “senior pastor’s” wishes.

This is just pure manipulation. And it is even worse when everyone must submit to the “vision” that Jesus, the “senior pastor”, gives to a select elder, like Mark Driscoll or Steven Furtick. The vision must now be served, and so must the keeper of the vision, the pastor next in line to Jesus. So buck up and submit.

“First among equals”

While I appreciate what Alexander Strauch was teaching in his excellent book, “Biblical Eldership”, there is no teaching in bible that one of the elders is “first”. I understand that Strauch said the “firstness” was in gifting, not authority, but the reality is that first is first, and the bible does not teach this firstness. Jesus taught the opposite, that the first shall be last. The whole argument between John and James was who would be first.

If there is in fact a first among equals, no matter how much you may try to argue that it does not mean that he is really first, the reality that he is. We have seen that sad end result at Mars Hill Church.

Again, I understand that not all elders are equally gifted, but in teaching about biblical leadership let’s use that terminology as its meaning is clear. Being the most gifted in a particular area just simply does not mean that you are therefore first. It is a bad term that leads to bad outcomes.

“Lead Pastor”

This seemingly benign term is also not found in the bible. In fact even the term “pastor” as we use it (“Pastor John”) is foreign as a title in the bible. Jesus suggests that we do not call each other “rabbi”, saying that we have but one teacher, and we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.” — Matthew 23:8

Paul mentioned many different people in his epistles, including men that were likely to have been pastors and leaders, but he mentions only their name. He never included a title, even when referring to the apostle Peter. He does say that he is an apostle, so I would have no issue with a pastor saying, “Hi, I am John, I am a pastor.” But that is different to expecting everyone to refer to you as “Pastor John”.

Hopefully, as we look at the factors that made Mars Hill Church a church with a problematic culture, we will learn to identify those code words that sound good, but reflect the seeds of the authoritarianism that ultimately led to the demise of the church.





4 thoughts on “Mars Hill Church – please drop the religious talk.

  1. From being in a ministry very similar to Mars Hill with the same abuse stories (and worse) terminology and language to keep everyone in line with leadership originated from the top down. Almost certainly they came from Mark Driscoll. Phrases such as “we love you Mars Hill” and “Jesus is our senior pastor” have strong rings of truth and is ingrained in the very fabric of Mars Hill. They sound so right and sincere and in one’s mind is the same as Bible, Holy Spirit lead and normal without thinking about it. It won’t be removed as its now in the DNA of the church. The leaders repeat this language even among themselves because its so often used. It will be continually repeated until the ministry finally dies. For years ex members who are trying to fit in their next church will hear “Jesus is our senior pastor” and it will make them angry and ill.

  2. RE: language and lingo

    Eons ago I checked out from an small independent church which had become very ingrown. After leaving I began to notice how my old friends were talking this in-house lingo that nobody outside the congregation understood. This sort of thing is cultish. While it doesn’t prove that a church is indeed a cult it is one of the characteristics of cultishness. BTW, the same church had similar leadership patterns as MHC. The head pastor was hired by a board of elders who were seasoned professional men with long standing and prooven track records as leaders in a protestant church. The young head pastor had disagreements with the elders, serious ones. After a decade or so the elders one by one gave up and left the church. They were all replaced with young malleable men who eventuall grew into their rolls and they too left one by one so there was the endless pattern of no mature leadership on the board of elders.

  3. “But it is not a biblical teaching. Jesus is our prophet, priest and king”. He is also the Head of the church. Eph 5:23, Col 1:18. I may not agree with the terminology of Jesus as senior pastor, but it is not like they made up the idea totally out of whole cloth.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree! I’m a follower of Jesus and a former pastor in Seattle and this language strikes me as super creepy and manipulative, especially the repeated use of “We love you, I love you, Your pastors and elders love you…”

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