Last night I read a heartfelt testimony from Jonna Petry who is the wife of a former elder and pastor at Mars Hill Church. Why was I reading this late into the wee hours of the night you might ask? Well, my girlfriend and I occasionally listen to Mark Driscoll’s online sermons although we don’t attend there.
My girlfriend was originally the one who was drawn to him, he really comes across as an “in your face” type of preacher, blunt, yells more then any preacher I’ve ever heard. I actually couldn’t stand him initially but found some valuable teachings that benefited my relationship with my girlfriend.
Nonetheless, being the discerning and often skeptical Christian, I googled him. Up came a host of websites filled with collections of stories from people who had left Mars Hill Church, Jonna’s story being the first one I found.
I really encourage you to read the story ((http://joyfulexiles.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/jonna-mhc-story-29.pdf) not necessarily to criticize Mars Hill Church but to recognize what I think is a concern within churches today, the use of fear to control, manipulate, and oust members of a church who disagrees with a particular elder or Pastor in power.
Let me give you an example from my personal life. I was a former member at one of my local churches and was saved by Jesus Christ during a meeting with the Pastor whom I became great friends with.
I moved about an hour and a half away from the church to attend school so I couldn’t attend the church anymore but I still kept in contact with my Pastor. One day, he told me that he was resigning. I was stunned to say the least because I knew he had every intention of staying there and eventually retiring as a Pastor there.
So we got together and I found out that there was so much more than meets the eye. He told me that he had been forced to resign, that one of the members of the congregation had spoken badly about him to others because he or she felt that the Pastor had missed too much time as he was taking care of his sick wife (he missed a few services one month to take care of her).
That person was also the spouse to one of the other elders who for a long time had wanted a more prominent position in the church. The Pastor was brought in two or three times to meet with the board, told to resign or face consequences along with zero severance pay.
Well of course he resigned, how else could a Pastor of a small church support him and his wife without severance?
What was even more concerning though was the way former so called “Best friends,” “Brothers and sisters in Christ,” began to treat them. They treated them pretty much as Lepers, no goodbyes, zero communication, nothing..
The way my Pastor and his wife were treated when they left is awfully similar to Jonna and Paul Petry’s story. I highly encourage you to read their story but if you are strapped for time in a nutshell, Paul, a senior member and Pastor at Mars Hill brought some concerns to Mark over some new bylaws that Mark was trying to pass.
Paul believed (he was also a former lawyer) that the new bylaws would consolidate too much power in the hands of a few at the church..a valid concern in my humble opinion.
After Paul expressed his concerns to the elders, him and his wife were treated with fear and scare tactics instead of love and openness. After weeks of torment, pleas to Mark and the few elders in power for a valid reason as to why, Paul was forced to resign and they eventually left the church.
Whether or not you believe their story or mine isn’t important necessarily, what is most concerning to me is how people are treated who are excommunicated from the church.
I mean if a church member is constantly groping other church members sexually and after continued meetings doesn’t stop, sure, I can understand why it would be out of the best interest of that person and the church to cease communication if only to get that person help by a trained professional.
However, most of the reasons that these stories share in common are usually genuinely legitimate concerns about the health of the church and the embodiment of Christ.
To me, this is a huge concern that often happens when egos, selfish attitudes, and the sole focus of a church is all about increasing numbers.
When the intersection of sin (particularly power) and elders in the church cross one another, things can get ugly, very ugly. Instead of becoming a place where sinners are healed, redeemed, and restored, it becomes a cancerous producer of sin that spreads throughout the entire congregation.
This problem narrows our ability to remain open-minded when differences of opinion arise between church members, it corrupts our ability extend to forgiveness to those who make mistakes and instead shifts our focus to only magnify those mistakes, and it prevents people from putting aside petty differences in order to keep the common vision of Jesus Christ our first and highest priority.
At the heart of Christianity, aren’t we supposed to be the opposite? More loving, more forgiving, and more compassionate.
Whether you are a Pastor, a leader in your local church, an elder, or a congregation member, I hope we all continue to strive for and always remember the graciousness, love, forgiveness, and compassion that Jesus extended to us all.
“Translation, you better do the same to others.”
We all make mistakes, sure. but we don’t need to cast a person and his or her entire family out to the curb using fear just because they make a mistake or even worse….share a different opinion than ourselves (*Sarcasm*).
If we all have the same vision….Jesus’s vision, then we should be far less likely to go astray. Unfortunately, we have very short memories.