quick note to start: I’ve never been to Mars Hill, I’ve only been a ‘member’ through podcasts. So, take that for what it’s worth.
Dear Pastor Mark,
I was gutted when I heard the news that you’d resigned from Mars Hill. I guess the top reason is that you’ve been so influential in my formation over the last few years. To put that in perspective, let me tell you just a little bit about myself…
I’m 23 now, but I was 15 when I became a Christian. I was an ambitious young man – I went back and forth between feeling the absolute delight of God’s love and the absolute terror that I’d done something to make Him angry with me. But nonetheless, I kept a zeal and a fervor for Jesus and the Gospel, and I stuck with church through high school, college, and beyond.
Over time, I think [and I say this humbly] my consistency began to speak of my character – that I was someone who was committed to my church and to the cause of the Gospel, so I was slowly entrusted with more things. I was able to speak in youth group, I joined the worship team, I participated in small groups, and eventually it got to the point at which I was able to lead worship and lead my own small group. I was doing more and more in ministry (though, it still feels pretty small.)
About 5 years ago, we had a group come to our church to hold a little workshop about church planting, and initially, I was really keen. I kept the idea in the back of my mind – after all, I was a young man, on fire for Jesus, getting experience in ministry…it just made sense for me to be interested in a church plant.
So I mentioned it to my pastor, and we kept it in mind for a few years.
At this point almost everything I did was to serve a potential church plant, so it was at this point that I started to learn to preach and prepared myself with various books and other supplies to get myself thinking about church planting.
I got as far as moving and getting a job in the city we had considered for church planting, and then all of a sudden the idea lost momentum. And I say idea because I think it was a good idea, but not necessarily a call of God.
All of a sudden I found myself in a city that was far away from my home church, somewhat alone, and now I’ve made a decision that I’m not going to try to plant a church, and in fact, I’m going to find a home church in this new city.
I could go into further detail about everything, but basically, the gist is this: I’m living out a story about failed ambitions, and about not hearing God as clearly as I’d hoped to.
I’m leaving a church where I have been entrusted with a lot of responsibility and a degree of authority – I mean, my pastor trusted me with the pulpit in his absence.
Honestly, I feel pretty expendable right now. I don’t know if you’re feeling that way, but it feels to me like a pretty inseparable feeling with leaving a church you’ve been in authority in.
That said (and don’t get me wrong, I’m a realist, this may never reach you, and that’s okay with me – it still stands,) you’ve taught me a lot: about Jesus; about the Bible, about church, about people, and about life, and I want to express my appreciation for that.
I’m a big believer that God uses people in powerful ways, and anything that people do to screw up has zero bearing on the impact they’ve had on other people’s lives. For example, anyone and everyone who got saved at one of Jimmy Swaggart’s church services, I believe, experienced a legitimate, long-lasting salvation. I think that when he preached, it was powerful. And then he slept with a prostitute, but that didn’t undo all of his previous ministry work.
I wasn’t a part of your church, so I don’t know anything about what this “spiritual abuse” was, but I know you taught me some valuable, long-lasting lessons.
The Bible is about Jesus.
I was fortunate to learn this in my church, too – but I loved hearing you preach because everything came back to Jesus and who we are in Him. I loved hearing you preach through books of the Bible because those can be the trickiest sermons – you don’t get to pick and choose your topic, but you have to just plunge into a book and plow ahead, even when it’s dry, tedious and controversial. I held onto that when I worked through 1 Timothy with my pastor and spiritual father, and had to figure out how to preach about men and women in the church, elders and deacons, and godly aspirations. It’s about Jesus. Somehow everything you read in the Bible is about Jesus. Thank you for that.
People are messed up, but Jesus is great.
I think what I gleaned perhaps more than anything in your sermons was the way that people will respond to scripture – that not everyone swallows and accepts it the way I wish they would, and people have some serious, deep-seated issues that affect how they read and hear scripture. It’s an important tool of the trade to possess. But beyond that, the Christocentric Bible is a powerful thing.
Loving Jesus is the most important part of ministry, but deeper still, life.
I loved the way you said the name of Jesus in your sermons – somehow, you encapsulated (by the grace of God) the friendship of Jesus but also His greatness. I saw how important and helpful it is to simply be a friend of Jesus. Through every controversy and issue at Mars Hill, that shone through (at least perceptibly to me.) You love Jesus. You need Him. That was/is clear to me. And now in a season of being unsure whether or not I’ll be in ministry again, I’m holding on to the fact that loving Jesus is not just for leaders and ministers, but for those of us who hold down full-time, layman’s jobs. It’s a good life, even if it’s hard at times.
God is sovereign, and God uses His church regardless.
Your dependency on Jesus and belief in His sovereignty is evident through every book, every sermon, every small group resource, etc. And it’s evident even now, as God continues to use you, in the aftermath of recent events, to encourage people. Everything you said circled back to Him – Your marriage thrived by His grace; new churches were planted by His grace; the church grew by His grace; you preaching was a gift from Him to you; your family was a gift, etc. etc. And everything God did in the church was something God did in the church. I have no doubt in my mind that the work that was started at Mars Hill will continue, even if it’s done under a different name, and without you at the helm. Your ministry still bears fruit by His grace. The gates of hell can’t and won’t prevail against His church, and you may have made mistakes, but that’s because you’re human, and that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus loves His church and He’s going to work mightily in it.
So be encouraged – you’re expendable, and I’m expendable. And it’s a good place to be: realizing that God’s mighty work in the church is dependent neither upon you nor me, but when we’re willing to be His vessels, He’ll use us in a mighty way. He still uses you, and I’m forever grateful for your ministry.