Read an Excerpt
Confessions of a Reformission Rev.
I was not a Christian when
I came to the church.
Today I am a pastor.
God saved me while I was living with my lesbian mom and my dad was in prison for murder.
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.1 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 to ride 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 mega0
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.2 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.
Infancy is the season of dreaming and envisioning the future, gathering people,
raising money, and making plans. The ministry at this stage exists only in the mind of the leader, who seeks to effectively communicate the vision and compel people to help make it a reality. In the infancy phase,
the church and the leader are one and the same because the leader is essentially the only person holding the church together and doing most of the work.
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.3
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.
How does Jesus want me to help serve his mission in our culture through my church?
Who is Jesus, what has he accomplished, and what has he sent us to do?
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?
How can we most effectively expand God's kingdom where we are sent?