Mars Hill Downtown: There's community amid all that controversy

Pastor Tim Gaydos recently shepherded his congregation into its new downtown location, but it's his openness and community outreach that has become his trademark.

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“We want to make this a great city where everyone flourishes and that means loving everyone of different backgrounds and beliefs. Actually, we have a lot of gay people coming to the church.”

To be clear, GLBT are welcome to attend and participate at Mars Hill Downtown. They are not able to become members of the church.

There are three services each Sunday at the new Mars Hill location, 9:00, 11:00 and 5:00. At about 75 percent of the services, the sermon portion is a message — via audio on a big screen — from Mars Hill’s founding pastor, Mark Driscoll. The other 25 percent of the time the sermon is live, usually given by Gaydos.

One of the church’s strongest ministries is what they call “Community Groups.” These are groups of 12 to 14 people that meet in homes, offices and restaurants weekly for prayer, discussion of a sermon, sharing and fellowship. Overall, Mars Hill Downtown has about 65 such groups, involving over 800 people. A half-dozen of the community groups are up and running in downtown homeless shelters. These are generally led by formerly homeless people, who have gotten back on their feet and out of a shelter.

Given the numbers at Mars Hill Downtown and other Mars Hill locations, I asked, “To what do you attribute such high attendance and participation, given that many other congregations appear to be struggling to fill the pews?” “Jesus,” answered the pastor.

If the answer seems a little enigmatic or pious, Gaydos wasn’t attempting to be glib or deceptive. As we spoke, it became clear he was saying two things. First, while acknowledging, “Yeah, we work hard,” still church growth, “is a spiritual thing, it’s a God thing,” meaning that God is active here, in this ministry, in bringing the people.

Second, Gaydos enlarged upon his response by adding, “At Mars Hills, we say, ‘It’s all about Jesus.’ We find that many people don’t understand religion or find it all kinds of confusing. Or they think religion is mostly about a bunch of rules. So saying ‘It’s all about Jesus,’ cuts through that. For a lot of people Jesus, his way of life, his love, his compassion, are really appealing.” An example of the old KISS formula, or “Keep It Simple Stupid” in action.

The Mars Hill story is really a remarkable one. From its beginnings in the basement of Seattle’s First Presbyterian Church in the 1990’s (a church building that is now rumored to be for sale), Mars Hill has grown to be one of the Northwest’s and America’s largest congregations. It has pioneered the “multi-site church,” which features one church meeting in multiple locations. Today over half of all America’s mega-churches embrace the multi-site model, making use of sophisticated internet technology as they do.

Many liberal Seattlites tend toward negative views of Mars Hill, citing its more conservative positions on GLBT issues, as well as women’s issues. Gaydos acknowledges these, but says they are complex and don’t boil down well to the “sound-bites” in which they are often reported or discussed. “We believe that men and women are equal, but with different roles to play” at home and in the church. At the downtown church, the seven elders are all men, while the 70 deacons are both men and women.

My own view, as someone who has led churches and works with many as a teacher and consultant, is that Mars Hill is doing effective work. It is helping people to turn their lives around and offering spiritual meaning and community in an often confusing world. While I too disagree with Mars Hill on some particulars, and there are deeper theological questions to be engaged, the positives and accomplishments of Mars Hill, which include enthusiasm and joy in faith, commitment and hard work, and the ability to reach young people, cannot be and should not be overlooked.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 7:57 a.m. Inappropriate

Wow, what a fluff piece. I'm disappointed Crosscut. Again, The Stranger gets the real story: http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/church-or-cult/Content?oid=12172001

jkdrummer

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 4:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Agreed-thanks for the link. If Crosscut ever decides to investigate why it's had so little impact in this community it can look to it's selection of writers like Anthony Robinson and others like him for the answer.

Now for my third attempt at the captcha.

Gaylord

Posted Thu, Jan 10, 11:34 a.m. Inappropriate

I agree; Brendan Kiley's February 1, 2012 article in The Stranger is much better coverage on Mars Hill.

Any church whose leader says people who question the exercise of authority are "sinning through questioning" has serious problems. Mars Hill is infected with the psychopathology of control over others by its leaders, and 'escape from freedom' by the members. This dynamic leads to an authoritarian institution that is a danger to itself and others.

Crosscut/Tony Robinson had an opportunity to report on the current status of this "church" and its impacts and potential impacts on Seattle communities and culture. The article barely touches on how Mars Hill is "being engaged and involved in the city." Very disappointing.

louploup

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 9:41 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm neither a resident of Seattle, nor a member of any of its congregations..

What I, or anyone else say, doesn't matter. Jesus himself summed it up the ill-will and hatred toward Mars Hill and its work very aptly in the 15th chapter of John:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

greglyman

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 4:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Well my lord and savior John Drabble from Mars says in the book of common sense that if many people criticize your organization as being homophobic and misogynistic you very well may be. Especially when you allow anyone but homosexuals to join and tell women their role is to service their husbands and shut the hell up.

Gaylord

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 5:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Your first paragraph misrepresents Christianity. Christ embraced those whom others did not. Liberal Christians and liberal denominations such as the UCC, the Congregationalist (NACCC) and the Metropolitan Christian churches embrace the LGBTQ community. There are other liberal churches not listed. God bless the Reconciling Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Conservative Christians are not the only Christians and do not accurately represent the teachings of Christ.

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 6:47 p.m. Inappropriate

This church just seems likely to something happen that will leave heads shaking, and we'll all say 'I thought something like this would happen'. Who knows, maybe not. But overall, they are weird. For any woman to agree to go to a church that puts them in a subservient role is one of the major reasons why so many people have discarded organized religion.

I do like the coat and shoes lunch though. Doing good deeds is still good.

Posted Sat, Jan 12, 9:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Robinson, you were certainly bamboozled by this particular pastor (one of seemingly two dozen Mars Hill pastors).

Interesting how when some organization says that men and women have different roles, it's the men who decide what the womens' roles are.

greglyman, although I'm not Christian, I've still read enough about Jesus to guess that he wouldn't have set foot in any church that claimed it was based on his teachings but refused membership to one whole group of human beings.

sarah90

Posted Thu, Jan 17, 4:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Sarah90,

Actually Jesus denied "membership" to a wide body of humanity.

"I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." John 14.6 Note the use of the definite article. "THE way, THE truth, THE life." He is making a claim of exclusivity in terms of access to God and eternal life with God.

"Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it." Matthew 7.13,14

Those are Jesus's own words and his claims. You can evaluate them and decide that he is either some kind of a liar or fraud, mentally deranged, or correct in his claims based on your own literary analysis of the literature and available history and archiology.

John would later write, "These things I have written, that you may know you have eternal life ...." The claim is being made that whether one can have eternal life is knowable. Again you have to read the writers claim, do a literary, historical, and legal analysis (what does the majority of the evidence point to as being most probable?) and decide for yourself about the validity of the claim.

Whether those that run Mars Hill are truely his followers or accurately represent Jesus's teaching is a seperate line of inquiry.

Why would a God not just have a universal club and admit everyone? Simple. A God of love, must by definition, be a God of choice. If we couldn't choose the narrow or the wide gate, we would be mere robots or automatons and God would be a slavish overlord.

The literary/historic record is there for you, or anyone, to read, evaluate, and make your own choice about. The claims made by Jesus are exclusive, but they are his claims. Evaltuate them as you will. Don't get lost in how well Mars Hill or anyone else represents those claims or live up to them. Go to the source!

Best wishes.

Posted Mon, Jan 14, 1:12 p.m. Inappropriate

"At about 75 percent of the services, the sermon portion is a message — via audio on a big screen — from Mars Hill’s founding pastor, Mark Driscoll. The other 25 percent of the time the sermon is live, usually given by Gaydos." - Sounds like something out of a George Orwell novel...

beno

Posted Mon, Jan 14, 1:43 p.m. Inappropriate

http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2013/01/14/mars-hill-church-now-conveniently-closer-to-all-the-aids

Qoute from the article:

"Being closer to Capitol Hill is a blessing as we are serving and ministering to those who are infected with AIDS on the hill,” said the email from Tim Gaydos, lead pastor of the downtown congregation, which does not allow gay people to join as members.

andy

Posted Mon, Jan 14, 7:16 p.m. Inappropriate

http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2013/01/14/mars-hill-church-not-actually-volunteering-with-lifelong-aids-alliance\

And an update. They apparently want all the AIDS sufferers on the Hill to get to know Jesus but haven't actually applied to do any actual work that AIDS sufferers would need.

sarah90

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