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I am a founding pastor.
Jesus, Our Offering Was $137 and I Want to Use It to Buy Bullets
The upstairs room at the fundamentalist church was so hot that everyone was sweating like Mike Tyson in a spelling bee. During one service, a pregnant lady simply passed out and fell off her chair. This would not have been so traumatic if I were trying to plant one of those shake-and-bake, holy-roller churches where I smacked people on the nugget in Jesus' name so they could lie on the floor and twitch like a freshly caught trout on a dock and call it the work of the Holy Ghost.
It was the first half of 1996 and I was twenty-five years of age chronologically, six years of age spiritually, and trying to gather enough people to launch Mars Hill Church in the city of Seattle. About ten to twenty people a week were showing up for our Sunday service, which had outgrown the living room of my rental home and was now being held in one of those epically awful youth rooms, complete with golden shag carpet on the floor and Christian rock posters on the wall for the poor kids forced toride the short bus of Christian culture. Our weekly service would start sometime around 6:00 p.m., whenever the college students and indie rockers would show up, because it was apparently very difficult to get up by the crack of dinner. Fortunately, the room was free, which was nearly more than we could afford.
I had spent the previous two years as the college ministry intern plankton at the bottom of the food chain at a multiracial mega-church and had used the youth room to run a college group in Seattle. College ministry soon started to feel like hanging out with an ex-girlfriend, so I hit the eject button because life-stage ministry was a vocational dead end.
What my college students needed was to mentor high school students and hang out with singles who had phased from college into the work world and married couples who had learned what kind of person to be and to marry to make a family work. What they did not need was to hang out with the same immature yahoos they spent all of their time playing "pull my finger" with anyway and going to a free event that was like day care for twenty-one-year-old hormonally enraged porn addicts and video-game aficionados trying to stretch junior high into the retirement years.
So I decided to start a church, for three reasons. First, I hated going to church and wanted one I liked, so I thought I would just start my own. Second, God had spoken to me in one of those weird charismatic moments and told me to start a church. Third, I am scared of God and try to do what he says.
My wife, Grace, and I did not yet have any children, were both working jobs to make ends meet, and spent all our free time changing diapers on our baby church in its infancy phase. Our church was a dysfunctional small group of Christian college kids and chain-smoking indie rockers who all shared the clueless look of a wide-eyed basset hound that just heard a high-pitched whistle.
In retrospect, our church services were, quite frankly, painful. My preaching was like a combination of boring systematic theology and uninspiring motivational talk from a cranky junior high gym teacher. Our rotating cast of worship leader tryouts ranged from screaming punk rockers-to this day, I have no idea why they were so dramatically depressed-to the kind of happy-clappy Christian praise musicians that you would expect to find playing on a karaoke machine at a Christian homeschool co-op reunion for kids whose moms made their clothes. Our sound system included speakers from a home stereo that were muddy and faint, except when pumping out feedback, of course, since we could not afford real speakers. We used a moody overhead projector for worship that another church had thrown out because it only worked when it felt like it. If I were Hindu, I would guess that the projector was a junior high kid or a union laborer in a former life.
In my imagination, however, I saw an entirely different church, one that did not have a beat-up old couch or a foosball table in the sanctuary. I envisioned a large church that hosted concerts for non-Christian bands and fans on a phat sound system, embraced the arts, trained young men to be godly husbands and fathers, planted other churches, and led people to work with Jesus Christ as missionaries to our city.
Sadly, that church only existed in my mind, and the hard part was figuring out how to get my vision into the minds of other people so that together we could build the church God had put in my imagination. I started to wrestle with some very basic questions that, although I had read widely, I had apparently not connected in a practical way for ministry. These questions continue to drive our ministry so that it remains missional, and I believe they are vitally important for every Christian and Christian leader to continually ask because they keep the person and mission of Jesus as the most important factor in the church and Christian life.
The Missional Ministry Matrix
Priority 1: Christology-Who is Jesus, what has he accomplished, and what has he sent us to do?
Since our little church was meeting in the evening, I spent a lot of time visiting other churches in our area on Sunday mornings to see how things were going, why they were succeeding or failing, and what kinds of people were going to various churches. I can honestly say that visiting many churches was worse than being a vegetarian chef employed at a steak house.
What kept nagging me about each church I visited was that no matter what the tradition or theological persuasion was, they generally had a crooked Christology. What I mean is this: in visiting numerous churches scattered across the city and throughout the surrounding suburbs, rarely did I hear a clear declaration of the person of Jesus Christ. He was never presented as the eternal God who incarnated as a man in culture to live without sin, die as a substitute for sinners, and resurrect in triumphant victory over Satan, sin, and death; who is now exalted as King of Kings and Lord of Lords; and who is coming again to judge the living and the dead, sending the repentant to his heavenly kingdom and sentencing the unrepentant to his fiery hell.
In the more mainline liberal churches, I heard about the halo-diaper Christ. He was presented as little more than a marginalized Galilean peasant who took a beating as an example for the little guys of the world who get pushed around by bullies and cry a lot. In the more mainstream evangelical churches, Jesus was presented as a sort of buddy Christ, who was a motivational life coach who could help you lose weight and make more money with his pithy acronyms and cheerleader enthusiasm.
In both cases, Jesus was shown only in the selective partial portrait that best suited the agenda of the church, which ranged from gay rights to environmentalism, financial prosperity, and emotional euphoria, depending on the church. What I did not witness was an understanding of exactly who Jesus was and is and what he had accomplished through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and exaltation.
It was not so much that the various churches were wrong per se but that they were incomplete in their selective presentations of Jesus. In the more modern churches, the triumph of the resurrected Jesus was stressed to emphasize victory, so that being a Christian basically meant you were on the winning team with Jesus and, therefore, you were a real winner. What they overlooked was the incarnation of Jesus. Simply, they ignored the fact that Jesus humbly entered into culture to identify with and effectively reach lost people steeped in various kinds of sin. This oversight allowed people to triumphantly parade their victory over sin and sinners but failed to call them to humbly incarnate as missionaries in culture to effectively reach lost people. Christians with this mindset can easily come to see themselves as winners and lost people as losers and consequently are often despised by lost people, who find them smug.
Conversely, many other churches more akin to the so-called postmodern churches focused almost exclusively on vegetable-munching hippie Christ's humble incarnation in culture to hang out with sinful lost people, particularly the poor and marginalized. In this mindset, being a Christian means being a nice person who loves people no matter what their lives are like by trying to identify with their cultural experiences and perspectives in a nonjudgmental and empathetic manner. What is lacking, however, is the understanding that when we next see Jesus, he will not appear as a humble, marginalized Galilean peasant. Rather, we will see the exalted, tattooed King of Kings coming with fire blazing in his eyes and a sword launching from his mouth, with which to make war upon the unrepentant. Until the day of Jesus' second coming, we are not merely to relate to people but also to command them to repent of sin and bend their knee to the King before they are grapes crushed under his foot in the winepress of his fury.
We need both portraits, the humble, incarnated Christ and the triumphant, exalted Christ, to truly understand Jesus Christ. As we get to know the humble, incarnated Christ, we learn how to be missional and lovingly relate to people in their culture. As we get to know the glorified, exalted Christ, we learn to be confident and bold because we proclaim his victory over Satan, sin, death, and hell.
It took a lot of hours reading my Bible, especially the incarnational gospel of John and the exaltational Revelation of John, to sort this out in my mind theologically. In the end, I realized that we labor with the exalted Christ, which gives us authority to proclaim the gospel of freedom. And we labor like the incarnated Christ, which gives us humility and grace to creatively demonstrate and proclaim the love of Christ to fellow sinners in our culture. And though I needed to be like Jesus and lead our people in kind, I also needed to remember that there is one way in which a Christian should not be like Jesus. Jesus never sinned and, therefore, never repented, but because we sin, we must continually repent if we are to be faithful missionaries. This simple point is important because, while the many emerging pastors I speak with have rightly focused on following the example of Jesus, if they fail to recognize this vital difference between us and Jesus, they will diminish the acknowledgment of sin and the urgency of repentance.
The more I read the Bible, the more deeply the Holy Spirit convicted me that I had grievously erred by trying to figure out how to do church successfully by reading a lot of books, visiting a lot of churches, and copying whatever was working. Instead, I needed to first wrestle with Jesus like Jacob wrestled with Jesus and then discover what Jesus' mission was for Seattle and repent of everything I thought and did that was not congruent with his mission for our city. Only then could I faithfully lead our church to follow our Senior Pastor, Jesus, on his mission in our culture, with the humility of his incarnation and the strength of his exaltation.
Priority 2: Ecclesiology-How does the Bible tell us to structure our church leadership so that our church can most effectively be God's missionary to our culture?
Before God rebuked me, my primary mission was to get a lot of people to show up on Sundays to listen to me preach. But once I realized that the mission of the church was not simply to see how many people would come to listen to my pithy insights, I saw that I had to spread the workload so that we could scatter for mission and not just gather for Mark.
Even though our church was no bigger than some Mormon families, it was wearing me out. Like most pastors of small churches, I was doing a lot of deacon work. I would unlock the building, photocopy my sermon notes, help set up our cutting-edge Fisher Price sound system, set up chairs, welcome visitors, hand out the sermon notes, run the service, and clean up the room when everyone left. During the week, I would answer the phone, answer email, go through the mail, and do whatever else needed to be done, including driving around frantically before the service to pick people up.
Thankfully, a handful of faithful servants picked up the slack, so the church was more than just one highly motivated young guy without any real skills in management. I learned that in a small church, ministry is generally something the pastor does for his people and that the people chip in if and when they feel like it. I feared that if this mindset remained in my church, it would either fail to grow or grow and bury me in work for lazy and ungrateful church people.
As our church continued to meet, it became clear that three basic types of people were showing up. Observers were happy to do and give nothing but just came to watch the show each week, not unlike the people who hit the brakes when driving past a nasty car wreck to gaze and grin. Consumers likewise gave and did nothing but were always wanting more and making demands for more goods and services from me. Participants were the handful of people who had bought into the idea of the church being a missionary to our city. They came to church seeking a way to serve a greater mission and were enormously encouraging.
I soon tried to spend most of my time with the participants in our mission rather than with the observers or consumers of our church. I continually repeated our mission each Sunday from the pulpit-to honor God through the gospel as a church transforming the city-so that the people who stayed in the church understood that they were not welcome to bring any other agenda. The problem was that many of the people who came to the church had been sucking the life out of various program-driven, seeker-sensitive churches for years and ended up being basically worthless for mission. Week after week, they would walk in to see that we did not have the program they wanted and then walk back out, never thinking that perhaps they should serve Christ and build a ministry.
The college kids and singles who had sucked resources from youth groups and parachurch ministries for their entire life without serving or giving were generally just more dead weight to drag around. The young arty types were more willing to serve, providing it was something cool and up-front like playing worship music or speaking to the group in eccentric bohemian fashion, which would be tough to organize because if they all were on the stage, we'd have no one else left to sit in the room and watch them be cool.
Excerpted from Confessions of a Reformission Rev. by Mark Driscoll Copyright ©2006 by Mark Driscoll. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted March 12, 2010
My copy is nearly worn out. The stories grab you and pull you in, the "coaching corner" inserts provide much-needed insight, and the reflective questions at the end help you to tailor the information to your particular context.
Overall the book outlines how Mars Hill church in Seattle came to exist, and moved from a pathetic band of misfits to the cultural force that it is today. The book is carried along by the compelling and entertaining narrative that is Driscoll's experiences. The church planting statistics and insightful observations make it doubly valuable to anyone involved in church planting or renewal. Perhaps most valuable is the frank acknowledgement that Mark makes over and over in his book concerning his own mistakes and frailties,clearly he gives Jesus all the credit for anything successful at Mars Hill - for example - from the prelude: "In saying this, I am not boasting but rather pointing out the obvious miracle of God that we are a part of. In fact, my previous ministry experience would not fill up a three-by-five-inch notecard. Basically, we are a kite in God's hurricane, which is an absolute joke for reasons that will become apparent as you read through the book."
Buy the book. Give it to your pastor. Where else would you find a chapter title like this? "Jesus our offering was $137 and I want to use it to buy bullets."
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Posted July 8, 2011
Personally, I did not like this book. It was filled with many things I did not want to read about and I do not understand what much of the book has to do with the "reformation" of the church.
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