Seasons of Grace: The Story of Mars Hill
By Pastor Mark Driscoll
"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven..."
Mars Hill has breathed the grace of God through many seasons.
In the first season, in the fall of 1989, God was in the process of drawing me unto Himself. While attending Washington State University I began reading such classics as Augustine and Aquinas, and read through the New Testament in less than two weeks from the Bible my girlfriend Grace gave me as a high school graduation present . Aware of what God was orchestrating, but still unyielding in my heart, I had one Christian friend who asked me over a burger one late night what I was planning on doing for my career. I told him that God was going to make me a Christian and send me out to plant churches like I had read about Paul. He laughed, unsure if I was mocking him, being serious, or trying to discourage him from giving me any more goofy tracts. Within a month, my lingering struggles with the Gospel disappeared and I began teaching a Bible study and attending a solid church pastored by Doug Busby. In the spring of 1990 I attended my first retreat and after a late night of worship with a few hundred farmers and college professors I knelt down by an Idaho river and prayed. It was at that time that I quite unexpectedly received my call. God told me, "Mark, I have called you out from among many to lead men." I then began to serve in leadership for a ministry, and also became the editor for the opinions section of the campus newspaper; an adventure that included bomb threats, protests, and a handful of heated public debates. Grace transferred to WSU and we were married in the summer before my senior year. Upon graduation Grace and I moved to Seattle without a place to live, jobs to pay the bills, or a church to attend, but determined to somehow begin planting churches.
In the second season, Grace and I began attending Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland, where we volunteered our time working with their college ministry. We then located in Seattle to be closer to students and after a few months I was brought on staff as a part-time intern to oversee the college group. I served in that position for nearly two years and learned a great deal in my first position of ministry leadership in a church. At that time I met Mike Gunn [note the age of 41 and the M. Div from Talbot] who had moved from a pastorate in Southern California to begin a ministry to athletes at the University of Washington. I also met Lief Moi, a local radio show host, who came in to teach a class for us. [note the age was 37 and the real world job of construction] These two men and their wives and children became like family and together we began dreaming about the possibility of planting an urban church for an emerging postmodern generation in one of the least churched cities in the U.S. [yet in later 2013 Driscoll asserted there were no kids at the start of MH discussed over here] We began praying, studying the scriptures, reading a great deal on postmodernity, and dialoging together to formulate a philosophy of ministry appropriate for our context. Helping us formulate our launch plan was Dr. Greg Kappas, who graciously mentored us and provided wise insight and counsel.
In the third season, we began a small Bible study in graciously loaned space from Emmanuel Bible Church in Seattle. The original small core of about a dozen people was a Bible study comprised largely of twenty-somethings from the college group, the Gunn and Moi families, and Chris Knutzen who had joined the Campus Crusade for Christ staff at the U.W. We began meeting weekly in an extremely hot upstairs youth room, and after a few months outgrew the space and began meeting in the sanctuary. It was during this season that the rest of our current elders - the Browns, Currahs [note that whenever this was written Brad Currah was apparently still an elder but he had already vanished from the elder roster by the time the web crawls featured here went up] and Schlemleins [Cindy]- and some singles and families joined us. It was also during this season that Pastor Ken Hutcherson and our friends at Antioch Bible Church began their generous financial support to cover my salary to ensure that I would not be a financial strain on the young church.
In the fourth season, we launched the church in October 1996 at 6pm with an attendance around 200, which included many friends and supporters. The attendance leveled off shortly thereafter, somewhere around 100 adults, and we continued meeting until the Christmas season. [in later 2011 Driscoll said "I was carrying the burden myself ... " but in 2000 it looked like he recounted a team of elders that seemed to include Moi, Gunn, Brown, Currah and Schlemlein BEFORE the fourth season, i.e. the official launch of Mars Hill in 1996. These were, almost to a man, guys older than Driscoll and yet in later 2011 Driscoll claimed one of his problems was he had not raised up leaders to help him carry the burden.]
In the fifth season, we moved to a church building in the Laurelhurst district one mile east of the UW. We had been searching for space in the University District with no luck, but this move got us closer to our desired area. The location afforded us an opportunity to launch small groups, classes, dinners and other events throughout the week. We also opened a small office at the church and hired some office staff to begin formulating more infrastructure to organize our continued growth.
In the sixth season, I was invited to speak at a national conference in October 1997 with Leadership Network. Pastors from around the U.S. came to discuss the issues of postmodernity and emerging generations. My sermon at that session opened a great deal of national opportunities and media coverage that propelled Mars Hill into the national spotlight as a model church for emerging ministry paradigms. Since that time our church plant has been featured in such publications as Mother Jones [try this], the Washington Post, Seattle Times, Worship Leader Magazine, Current Thoughts & Trends, Arizona Republic, Vineyard Cutting Edge [here?] , Christianity Today, etc. We have also been featured on local radio programs, as well as the east coast affiliate of NPR, and on TV with the 700 Club. We now provide consultation and teaching for an enormous number of churches and denominations, a number of Christian colleges and seminaries, as well as numerous national ministry conferences. [it's fascinating how early on and how thoroughly Driscoll was attentive to press coverage of the movement he was trying to get started].
In the seventh season, we began to organize the church by adding elders, deacons and members. This step was an attempt to identify the core and heart of our church by distinguishing those committed to us as a family versus those coming to consume goods and services. [so "our current" may have been when they were added in the aforementioned "third season" paragraph, though by 2000, as noted, Currah wasn't listed as an elder].
In the eighth season, our worship ministry was in great disarray and I had a dream that Brad Currah, who had been a member of our core group before the launch, was leading worship. I repeatedly informed Brad that he was to be our worship leader and after numerous conversations he began volunteering time overseeing the worship and arts ministries. Brad had spent a few years playing the club scene with his band Springchamber, but was quickly overwhelmed with the demands of his first time pastorate and quit his job at Microsoft to free up time for ministry and hoped to live off of his wife Devonna's salary. But, she soon became pregnant and needed to quit her job. I then got a call from a pastor in Florida who had a network that funded church plants. Grace and I met with Pastor David Nicholas at Spanish River Church, and his church planting network agreed to help us financially. This gift allowed us to bring Brad on full-time, which has culminated in a fantastic independent worship album, multiple worship teams, and an aggressive set of new songs written by some of our many gifted artists. [it wouldn't be long before Tim Smith would arrive and Currah would be let go. Driscoll opted to leave chaos to see who would rise up to lead the music scene and by mutual account of Driscoll and Tim Smith, Tim Smith lobbied to take the reins, though whether this was before, during or after Currah's dismissal has not been clear]
In our ninth season in the beginning of 1999 we were forced to move from our Laurelhurst location. Five days before the end of our lease we still did not have a location to meet in and were dreading the move. Then, pastor Rick Hull and First Presbyterian Church in downtown Seattle graciously welcomed us in. So, we shut down the 7pm service, and ran the 5pm service in their 1300 seat sanctuary. The move was nothing new, in three years we have had services in four locations and at four different times, and the office has had six different phone numbers due to all the moves. It was also during this season that we launched our first daughter church, The Gathering, one hour north of Seattle in Mount Vernon. A family, the Tackels, I had met while teaching at a conference purchased an RV to begin taking their children and their friends to our church. Their 23 year old son Ron Wheeler [who has a blog post over here] had returned from a one year missions trip in Africa and resonated with much of our ministry philosophy. He began a Bible study in his community that continued to grow until they launched their church at 6pm on Easter of 1999 in a beautiful old brick church in downtown Mount Vernon. Funding for Ron was generously given by Dr. David Nicholas and our Acts 29 church planting network, and funding for his worship leader Micah Kelly was given from Ken Hutcherson and Antioch Bible Church. It was also at this time that we hired Janet Sawyer and Eric Brown, both members of our church, to come on staff full-time as administrators who have very much helped organize and stabilize our chaos.
In our tenth season, amidst the chaos of our homeless wanderings, I was approached by Stan Scholl, transitional pastor of Christ's Bible Church in the Ballard district of Seattle. Serving under the auspices of Northwest Independent Church Extension, he was helping the church of aging but faithful saints to contemplate options for their declining ministry. The CBC congregation adopted a plan whereby we were able to inherit their 8,000 square foot church building as a base of operations, and location for a young, new Bible church to serve the Ballard area. After six months of negotiations, the deal was closed. When basic renovations were completed, we moved in. We plan to launch a morning church in the building in October of 2000.
We are now upon our eleventh season as we begin to realize a dream we have been praying for over the past three years. One of our elders, Lief Moi, purchased an old theater on 55th and University Way (walking distance to the University of Washington) that we are currently renovating. The 200-seat theater is now host to a 7pm Sunday night church plant, a Wednesday night church service run by interns preparing to plant churches, and the only all-ages concert venue in the city of Seattle. Lief is also building out a broadcast booth for the national radio show, Street Talk, that we host on Saturday nights from 9 to midnight. Live bands will be performing while we broadcast the show around the U.S. and dialogue with people in their teens and twenties about the Gospel. [for truly local coverage of the closure of The Paradox described in this paragraph go over here.]
In our twelfth season, we are seeking to press forward with church planting in hopes of planting 1000 churches in conjunction with the Acts 29 Network. Pastor Bill Keogh launched Harbor Fellowship in Kirkland at 6pm Sunday, September 19. We launched our 7pm University District church on Sunday, November 7. Pastor Rick McKinley will launch his Portland church on Easter 2000, and we hope to launch our Sunday morning Ballard church in the spring of 2000 [this would have been at the Paradox site, if memory serves, and must not be confused with the recently closed/closing Mars Hill U-District]