Saturday, December 27, 2008

Mark Driscoll's thoughts on a low Sunday, a few thoughts on the value of proofreading for content as well as style

I consider this a great object lesson that no matter how good you think your material is or how inspired you feel you should, if you're a blogger that anyone knows or cares about, have someone proof read and copy edit your work. Don't just post without thinking through as many of the implications of what you've written as you can. Because if you don't, well, you come off as saying things you probably never even thought you'd come across as saying. If I posted at 12:37am after hours of talking in front of people I'd do worse, no doubt, but there's stuff here that reveals some logical gaps that I think wouldn't have happened had Mark waited a day or so.

After more than 12 years at Mars Hill I have found days like today are great learning opportunities and I want to share them with you before I log off and start to focus on the holidays:
1. We learn who sees Mars Hill as a calling and who sees it as a job.
Those who see it as a job are the first to call in and cancel their duties, not show up, dog it, or leave early. Those who see their service at Mars Hill as a calling go beyond the call of duty to cover for everyone else. Today, for example, we had a staff guy walk a few miles to work in the snow as his car was totaled by a drunk driver. We also had a volunteer catch a ride many miles in to serve the evening services and worked both evening services even though he had no way home and was just trusting that God would allow him to catch a ride with someone.

These sorts of snowy days in the Emerald City are great learning opportunities. Learning about waht? We seem to have learned that staff and volunteers will make big sacrifices to come do the jobs they feel called to do. A staff person and a volunteer are people who probably see Mars Hill as both a calling and a job so holding them up as a contrast to the people who didn't show up during the weekend of a snow storm seems problematic. People who don't show up to church because of snow are not dogging it, leaving early, cancelling their duties or the like to a job because church isn't a job. Because they don't HAVE to be there (which I'll get to in a moment) they don't go.

Mark is assessing the situation as a professional minister first and somewhere along the line as a shepherd, maybe. The staff guy who walked a few miles to work is walking TO WORK. He sees it as a job. That volunteer caught a ride and worked both evening services with no way to get home and was just trusting God would allow him to catch a ride with someone. I've sometimes been that guy in some settings and what happened was no one was going my way and I rode public transit. It's easy to praise someone else's sacrifices when you don't have to make any reciprocal sacrifice to make sure the guy who sacrificed gets home safely. Not saying people shouldn't make sacrifices but I am saying that it's just sloppy thinking to use staff and ministry volunteers as examples of people who DON'T see attending church as a job. Clearly they do.

2. We learn about our own heart.
If we are depressed, complaining, or secretly wishing we could be home there is something wrong with us. Days like today are opportunities for us to love our volunteers, pour extra appreciation on those who come, and make sure that we do not neglect those who join us. Charles Spurgeon once said that when you pay attention to the seat that is empty, you are paying a disservice to the one that is filled. This fall we got as high as nearly 8000 people.

Point 2 is where it is most apparent someone wasn't proofreading this for things even as simple as paragraph breaks. It's too bad because with a few paragraph breaks this would have read nicely.

This must be a message for the staff and leaders and not for the congregation or anyone who simply didn't show up. This is solid stuff for pastors and staff who might be resentful for going out to serve when the attendence isn't what they hoped it would be. Of course it should be noted that for all the people who didn't show up, they don't have any problems at all that we can presume. Mars Hill does such a great job of making it possible to download sermons and give on-line that plenty of people who could not safely drive to the services could still hear teaching, give to the ministry, and download a few songs or put on a CD and have some corporate singing and prayer where they can.

Resentment is not only a disservice to the people who ARE there it is also a disservice to the people who AREN'T there because they want to be cautious and safe for the sake of themselves and their families. If a guy's car got totalled before ths snow storm and he walked miles through the snow to get to work I hope someone offers to give that guy a ride.

With all due respect, this is the Driscoll who admitted he overworked himself to the brink of adrenal failure and had to start delegating a lot of things to other people because he was destroying his health. Driscoll is probably not the best person to consult about what a reasonable sacrifice should be for the sake of a job. He's admitted he's not so good at taking sabbaths here and there over the years. I'm glad he is grateful for the people who showed up but he also doesn't sound like he'd be all that good to work for unless you share his similarly workaholic nature. If I were married and had kids during a snow storm I'd dust off the guitar, play some songs and sing them with my family, read some Bible with them and stay home.

But, today we dropped down to a few thousand for the worst snow and ice I have ever seen in Seattle. But, we were still statistically a mega-church today (around 2000 people) which only roughly 1500 churches in America are. Of that, about 2/3 of the attendance was at the video campuses and I spoke live to the campus with the greatest percentage decline. The total attendance at Ballard where I preach live was…666 people of all things. I preached to 80 people at the first service in a room that seats 1300, and the best attended of the four services today was about 250 people. But, those are people who Jesus loves and our attitude toward them says a lot about us. Even if there is one person, that one person is someone God has brought for us to minister to and if they are willing to come we must be willing to love them with Jesus love. I walked the floor acting as a greeter today, thanking the volunteers, and one kind woman asked me if days like this bummed me out. I said no and explained that I can still remember the days when even having 80 people at one service would have been a huge win. When you’ve pastored a church from your living room onward you learn that your job is to love everyone that God brings and search your heart if you cannot do so wholeheartedly because the attendance is not high enough for you to feel that so few people are worth your time even though Jesus considered them worthy of dying for. So, on days like this I try to get up early, have four contingency plans to get to work, work hard all day, and pray the Psalmists plea for God to search my heart. I know this can sound proud. I’ve failed at this for years. And, more and more this is a lesson God is teaching me. As I learn it bit by bit, I love our people more and appreciate that I get to pastor anyone.

Since 2/3 of the attendees didn't hear you live anyway this underscores my observation that they could download sermons from home and give on-line. The thing we should be careful about is that Jesus said some things about who we are called to love. We're not just called to love the people who brave the snow among God's family. We are called to love and serve the other people, too.

Jesus said "if you only love those who love you what credit is that to you? Don't even the Gentiles do the same?" Any godless person can be thankful for the two thousand people who show up at a megachurch on Sunday after a big snow storm. Can a person be thankful for the people who have been members or attendees of the church who DIDN'T show up but are still part of God's family?

Considering the great lengths to which Mars Hill puts content on-line for people I hope that next time Mark remembers to not just thank the people who did show up but also even those wh0 didn't who are otherwise faithful participants in the community. This is progress coming from him, it really is, but I would also like to encourage Mark to be thankful for the people who were wise enough or prompted by the Lord to stay home with family and not head out in the storm. That Mark seems to feel that those who didn't show up dogged church like they dogged a job suggests that he's still got some ways to go. But he's being honest about it even if he may not be aware of how this abundance of the heart spoken from reveals he's in process.

And, not meaning to seem just nitpicky, paragraphs dude. They are handy for organizing thought. Don't post after midnight no matter how good your insights seem. If you're learning that you need to be grateful for things you wouldn't have been grateful for or struggle to be grateful for now then that's cool.

#3. We learn about the deep love some people have for our church.
Today I met, for example, a couple who drive in nearly every week from over three hours away and they left very early in the morning before the sun was up to be at the morning service. Last week I met a couple that is from Virginia and listens online. They were coming to Portland for a Christmas break with their extended family and they so wanted to attend Mars Hill that they braved the snow and drove from Portland even though the wife was pregnant. On a good day it takes about three hours to make this trip and my guess is that it took them maybe 10-12 hours round trip to attend one Mars Hill service as they drove in, worshiped with us, and drove out. The commitment of some people is completely humbling and noble. The fact that they love Mars Hill is infectious and encourages me. Even if there are 80 instead of 1300 in a service, if they are 80 people who want to love and worship Jesus and are willing to do whatever it takes to get to church then those people are the hardcore of the hardcore and from what I heard they out sang crowds ten times their size because they were determined to fill the room with worship to Jesus.

Thing about this I have to ask is about "the deep love" part. "We learn about the deep love some people have for our church." That's not necessarily a good thing. Churches can be idols, after all. Spending hours one way just to attend a service may speak of devotion but is it devotion to Christ or devotion to a church or devotion to you, Mark? Only the first of these is any good and the goodness of the others follows only from that first devotion. Any Christian knows this but it bears repeating. If people can make it to Mars Hill and they believe the Lord has called them there then that's what it is. That could be great, but we had also best not simply assume it is great.

Not too long ago, during the snow storm, in fact, I walked about twenty blocks through the snow storm to deliver things I promised I would get for a friend. This friend is disabled and couldn't get out into the snow to get things he needed and his aide had bailed on him because of weather warnings. I didn't PLAN to walk twenty blocks through the snow storm, believe me, but since I realized the bus system wasn't working as it needed to and since I knew the neighborhood like the back of my hand I hoofed it with the things I promised.

The Psalmist says that a godly man keeps a promise even to his own hurt ... so I walked through the snow storm to drop off things. I tried walking back and it was, suffice it to say, not the smartest move to try to walk back. Fortunately God was kind and had someone call me when I realized I was really stuck in the middle of the snow with no great odds for a bus ride home and I got home.

To be honest if people risk their safety or spend a huge amount of time dealing with snow just to attend a church service I don't see that as having any inherent spiritual value if it is first and foremost a reflection of a person's love for an individual church. I was willing to trudge through the snow to help a disabled brother in the Lord and that in itself is no credit to me, really. However, I would be willing to say that I believe that, of the two risks to safety, it is better to risk your possible safety to help a brother in the Lord than to just go attend a service. In truth I am sure the Lord sees Himself glorified either way but I am here merely professing my preference.

And since as I have sometimes heard "it is all about Jesus" I ask, admittedly a rhetorical question, of the things Mark Driscoll has learned from one of the "worst days" what lessons has he learned about Christ? Jesus has given Mark the primary pastoral role over a little network of churches that collectively constitute a megachurch, even on a snow day when attendence was a mere fourth of what it was earlier in the year. A church that big it would be no surprise that the attendence would drop that much and no surprise if it was still a large attendence.

But how grateful might Driscoll be if the rest of the 8,000 simply didn't come back? I hope he would be immensely grateful, not because they represent the hardcore of the hardcore but because he gets to be a pastor at all. Let's not be thankful only for the hardcore of the hardcore but also for the hardcore and even for those who aren't hardcore at all. Why? Well, a reason to note be thankful for the hardcore of the hardcore on principle is because in the days when Jesus walked among us He had his harshest words for the hardcore of the hardcore, who were often referred to as Pharisees. Doesn't mean the hardcore of the hardcore (or just the hardcore) at Mars Hill are Pharisees at all, let me be clear about that.

But substitute "Jesus" in this paragraph of Mark's with "Mars Hill" and it becomes clearer what I think needs to be a perennial concern at a church like Mars Hill. Are they coming for Jesus or are they coming to hear Driscoll? The two are unfortunately often equated by well-meaning people. I don't equate them but I don't assume the two are separate. I trust the Lord has Driscoll where He wants him but I also don't know what that means. I've read too much of the Bible to assume that just because someone is raised up to a leadership position by the Lord that that's only a good thing. The Lord raised of Pharoah, after all, to destroy him and make an example of him for future generations. In this case I think we've got a guy who loves the Lord and just needs a copy editor because he's written some things that I really think if he were to have looked at them a day or so later he wouldn't have published.

I'll admit that after helping a disabled friend by trudging through the snow last weekend I read this thing from Driscoll and it made me angry because equating people who don't show up to a church, specifically Driscoll's, with people who dog it at work suggests an attitude that is problematic. Mark, as a pastor, is not an employer first but a pastor first (or a missiologist or whatever spiritual office he considers himself to have).

But I have to keep in mind that Driscoll was not running on all cylinders and that he said things that reveal areas where he really needs to grow. There are all sorts of areas where I need to grow and I think the area where both Driscoll and I probably need to grow by our own respective accounts, is in the realm of showing gratitude. So if anything I realize that while I believe Driscoll has said some stupid stuff that he wouldn't have said if he had thought things through he and I are (I trust) on some parallel paths.

I am not a pastor so I admit that I'm not sure why just a couple thousand people could ever be construed by anyone as one of the worst days. Two thousand people is still a lot of people for a Sunday across six or seven church campuses and 2/3 of those people were people you never even saw, Mark. If just a couple thousand people the day after one of the nastier snow storms the city of Seattle has seen in a while is one of the "worst days" there must be things much worse than just a few thousand people showing up for a church like Mars Hill.

What would a better candidate for "worst day" look like? A lawsuit. Someone getting killed in an accident during a holiday paegant. A pastor getting arrested for breaking the law. A pastor being convicted of a crime to do with money or sex or property or misuse of confidential information. A while back a pastor was removed on the charge of fraudulently using another church tax ID number, a really huge level crime. Think of local church debacles like, say, Overlake from the 1990s. Think of Ted Haggard. Really, considering all the things that could happen in association with Mars Hill just a few thousand people showing up hardly constitutes a "worst day" given the circumstances at any level. Obviously Driscoll's idea of a "worst day" for Mars Hill isn't anywhere near as bad as a "worst day" I could imagine for the church. May the Lord grant that only Driscoll's idea of "worst day" is what happens to the church.

And, Mark, should you or any of your church staff read this, please do consider having someone proofread and copyedit your blogs no matter how good they seem. I'm a nobody with an unimportant blog that no one reads. You're a celebrity pastor doing a lot of pulpit teaching at a megachurch. If I write something stupid few people read it so it doesn't matter as much. If you write something when you're exhausted it doesn't read as nicely as you might think. So that's just a suggestion to anyone who blogs, too. Take it or leave it. Given the way of the blogosphere most people will leave it. :)

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