I am not a member of MH, but like nearly everyone in this region, have been deeply impacted in endless, positive ways by the work and teaching of your church.   I am grateful for what you have brought to the Pacific Northwest, which is why these thoughts …

To My Friends at Mars Hill Church,

Jesus called His disciples fishers of men.  You and I – caught by His love and grace – now in trying times, get to ask ourselves, what “kind” of fish am I.  I pray you be Starfish.

Approximately 30 years ago I was part of a “radical”, “cutting edge”, college ministry.  After about 10 years of existence it blew apart and we formed independent churches for pretty much the same reasons your church just erupted.  Domineering front man; young, inexperienced leaders; mistakes; bad press; enemies on all fronts … especially from secular circles who hated watching so many young people find faith  … and sadly, the most hurtful enemies came from a handful within the church at large.  It was a rough time.

That ministry needed change.  Needed correction.  There were some “tweaky” doctrines and pushy ways, but I never regret my involvement.  I met Christ because of it … I grew deeply in my faith … I gained a love for people and for seeing God work in lives because of that experience.

A few years ago a Facebook page started up for past members of the ministry.  Granted, we all had varying experiences, depending on who our leaders had been and what college campus we were associated with …  but I was stunned all these years later at the depth of bitterness that loomed in a handful of people.  No matter how many times leaders had repented or what the main guy (who also repented) said or did after those years, these disgruntled few wouldn’t let go.  They hounded and hounded at everyone, trying to inject their bitterness.  I finally left the online group … I don’t have time to camp on a thirty-year-old wrong … especially since forgiveness had been sought.

I believe that when we experience a deep disappointment and shaking of our spiritual foundations, we have at least three choices which I will label:  jelly fish, bottom fish, or star fish.  I, unfortunately, have been all three in the years ensuing college, but I pray you only be “Star Fish”.  Let me start with the other two first.

Jelly Fish:  You already understand the analogy, but I pray anyway, that you not be afraid during these times.  May your courage not fade.  And if you’ve only relied on the courage of Mark Driscoll in the past (I personally have a great admiration for his courage, in spite of his brashness with fellow believers), it’s time to step into your own place of boldness.  Jesus said not to be afraid.  We’re taught that perfect love can drown out all fear.

But we’re human.  We do fear.  YOU will be tempted to fear in the days ahead. There is so much change … so much criticism … condemnation … even depression as others guilt you for being a part of the church.  There are so many decisions that you didn’t get to be a part of.  And many voices are loudly present to remind you of all of these things.

I’ve had to step back as I listen to people (especially other Christians) harpoon one church after another.  My questions to such people are, “What do you have to offer that’s better?  What do you want me to be like?  You? A bitter, mean-spirited person who doesn’t think anyone can speak for God, yet you do the same thing by telling everyone how much they aren’t doing their faith right. That’s confusing.”

Friend, don’t be afraid.  Don’t shrink back.  Be silent if needed.  Rest. Study scripture.  Listen. Recharge.  But be His light.  Seek to be a voice again. Keep praying. Laugh at your enemy’s attempts.  God does.

Be forewarned, most of your enemies won’t disappear.  They are determined.  But their real problem isn’t you or even Mark Driscoll.  Their problem is the Message and the Messenger.

Don’t jellify, friends.

Bottom Feeders.  What is it about fish that live on the bottom of the ocean that gives them such a bad rap?  I think it’s because they live isolated and so far from the light, feeding off of anything that drops their way .. much of which is refuse and garbage.

Do I need to say anything more?  Of course you have things to sort out … emotions to work through … but seek a healthy diet during this time.  Swim near the surface.  React to truth, not to assumptions.  Don’t swim alone. Don’t feed off of garbage.

Be Starfish.

Okay … Starfish (Sea Stars) are not really fish, but neither are we the same creatures as before we surrendered to Christ.  That’s important to keep in mind as you feel like your life is being ripped apart a bit.

I know the story is an old one, of fishermen who tried to rid themselves of pesky sea stars, by cutting them a part and throwing them back into the ocean.  However, as long as each piece was still attached to a part of the central disk, it created a new starfish … to the dismay of those who hated the starfish.

What can grow out of your life during this time?  Are you really done and defeated, or have you just been handed the opportunity to bring even more Light, more Wisdom, for Freedom, more Truth to the Pacific Northwest?

I’m pretty sure the credit goes to John Piper for this next thought … but never waste a good trial.   The good stuff, like diamonds and oil, comes from the rough stuff … the hard stuff … the down and dirty stuff … from pressure.

My voice doesn’t really matter, but I want you to know that there are many of us out here who are rooting for you.  You are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We hurt for what you are experiencing, but we don’t condemn you for the mistakes and challenges you have faced.

My final encouragement comes from the all-wise, most beloved sea creature of all, Dory the Fish …

Keep Swimming, Mars Hill friends, keep on swimming.