A Visit To Mars…

…Hill, that is. During my recent vacation to Seattle, my wife and I worshiped at Mars Hill Church in Bellevue. Being a satellite campus (preaching is “beamed” in), we expected to watch Pastor Mark Driscoll via video feed. We were surprised when he sat down two rows in front of us. I didn’t know what to expect. If you don’t know who Mark Driscoll is, part of his claim to fame is his strong reformed theology mixed with radical contextualization. He presents himself as a real man’s man with more than a few words about recovering biblical, Jesus-fashioned masculinity. Early on in his ministry, he gained notoriety from cussing in his sermons and his brazen (some would interpret, jerkish) attitude from the pulpit. Needless to say, I didn’t know what to expect when visiting the church.

I was suprised and challenged. Let me recount the ways.

1. Surprised by the number of young families and children in the worship service. I had always assumed the Mars Hill Church movement was driven by young, single, Caucasian, neo-Calvinist, Driscoll-wannabes: complete with patterned button-up, short sleeves, trendy jeans, maybe thick-rimmed classes, ESV Study Bibles, etc. Instead, I worshiped at a church that was multi-ethnic (kinda) and inter-generational. I have been, and always will be, a big proponent of multi-generational worship. There’s something powerful about one generation modeling for another adoration, prayer, communion,  singing, meditation, and the discipline of corporate assembly. I mean this in both directions: older modeling for younger and vice versa. Growing up in an immigrant church, this was never an option for me: my parents worshiped in a different language. As hard as it is sometimes, I cherish worshiping with my wife and sons.

2. Surprised by the thoughtfulness of the liturgy. By liturgy, I don’t mean high church, lectionary-driven recitation (though that has so much value for me). Rather, every church has a liturgy, an established order of service for congregational worship. I loved the thoughtfulness and depths of the songs, and I so appreciated the way the worship leader drew us in and got out of the way. At the same time, the worship leader quoted Martin Luther in declaring our desperate need for a Savior. I love being led by men and women who can synthesize doctrine with tradition and cause something emotive within me as a response.

3. Related to this, I was challenged by Mark Driscoll’s unabashed declaration of sin. Throughout his 40-minute message, Driscoll repeatedly referred to sin and not just vaguely. He was specific, detailed, and clear. He didn’t shy away from declaring our sinful condition. He didn’t generalize about our need – we have sinned against a holy God and mucked up this world. In his preaching, he called us repeatedly to confront the fact that our lives aren’t just broken because of a nebulous condition, but rather as the result of a willful, hateful opposition to God. I was challenged to recall how much of my own preaching thoughtfully and boldly dealt with sin like this.

4. I was challenged by the Gospel-proclaiming, Jesus-glorifying nature of Driscoll’s preaching. Driscoll didn’t just preach sin. He preached grace. In boldly and clearly addressing sin, he didn’t bury us with guilt or offer the burden of moralistic, works-driven religion as a solution. Rather, Driscoll exalted and preached the glory of the cross. Driscoll’s declaration of sin drove us to our need for a Savior and our worship of Jesus as that Savior, exactly what the music and other liturgy was designed to do. Absolutely encouraging and brilliant.

At the risk of making this sound like a review of Mars Hill Church, I’ll stop there. I will add that as we visit other churches, we can break from the consumeristic tendency of modern evangelicalism by reflecting on ways that our own worship of Jesus (both individual and corporate) can be more nuanced and thoughtful. No one should try to be a Mars Hill Church or Mark Driscoll, but we’d be fools if we didn’t try to learn from one another. I pray that your worship context would be full of surprises that blow up your assumptions as well as challenges that push you to be more thoughtful and deep for the glory of the God.

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