By Patrick Scriven, Director of Communications & Young People’s Ministries
I remember being disappointed the first time I visited Mars Hill Church in Seattle. You see, I wasn’t supposed to like it. I find the church’s theology, and the rhetoric of its pastor Mark Driscoll, troubling, to say it nicely. For one, Driscoll promotes a slick form of sexism referred to as complementarianism. Under this theological framework, Driscoll’s wife can only teach under his authority and with his permission. In my world, my wife is my pastor. But that isn’t the point of this post.
I was disappointed because I liked Mars Hill. It is a church that does a lot of things really well. The three young children I dragged to service with me were well taken care of. The worship service itself was excellent with clear, deliberate thought given to the entire experience. Even the sermon offered little to offend. Driscoll is a gifted orator and kept me engaged and for 30+ minutes. This is no small feat.
To be honest, the thing that bothered me the most was also the most impressive. During the service, a young family was commissioned to move down to California to start a new church. Not only were they sending off this young couple, but there were other families that were going along with them – leaving behind jobs solely for the purpose of starting a new church. I wasn’t bothered by this because I thought it was too much for a church to ask, I was jealous.
It’s hard to ignore the signs of a movement.
I was reminded of this experience this past week when I read a blog post by Rev. Jen Stuart, who is currently an Associate Pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas. I’d encourage you to read her post as she explains her reasoning quite well. I don’t know Stuart at all, but I am wholly impressed by her family’s decision to risk much and leave behind the places and people they love because they recognize that something needs to change.
This is movement behavior. We are so desperately in need of movement behavior in The United Methodist Church.
We often look at churches like Mars Hill and imagine that if we can mimic their worship or marketing we’ll succeed like them. And it never seems to work for us because it isn’t the real secret sauce.
Mars Hill succeeds because they define the problem(s) they see in world today and invite people to be part of the solution. They are clear and refuse to equivocate on every issue under the sun. People may visit Mars Hill because of the slick marketing and solid worship experience, but people join Mars Hill because of the straightforward vision they are presented. They are proof that you can be terribly wrong and still find a following.
There are two paths towards vitality for The United Methodist Church; two paths that can sustain and energize the kinds of movements that draw people in. One path is filled with graceful autonomy for congregations who seek to serve their mission fields with integrity and a unique vision of the Kin(g)dom. The second path is one where we decide to go our separate ways, recognizing that our theological diversity is not accompanied by the requisite reservoirs of generosity and humility.
Even the pain of this second path is better than standing still.
Today I’m praying for Rev. Stuart and her family that they may find a new community in the Pacific Northwest that will complement their passions and their gifts. I’m also praying for friends and colleagues who are finding the strength to reconcile their public and private beliefs and lives. And finally I’m praying for The United Methodist Church. May we all find the boldness to choose a path that leads towards life.
Photo Credit: “Two Paths Through the Tangled Japanese Forest” by Flickr user Stuck in Customs.