For those who know me even slightly, it is no surprise that the main event of going to Seattle was always going to be a visit with Mars Hill Church at the Ballard campus. In the last 18 months, teaching pastor Mark Driscoll has become a major influence on my life and thought, and the life of the church he first planted is something beautiful and engaging that I often look to for encouragement.
So when my wonderful wife and best friend surprised me with a trip to Seattle as an early birthday gift, Sunday morning’s activities were squareley placed on the agenda. We opted for the 11.15am service, giving us time for breakfast as a family. Staying in the Eastlake district of Seattle, our trusty GPS navigated us around the shore of Lake Union to bring us neatly to the Ballard campus. It’s an unassuming building in a commercial/industrial area. Since they are running a video series called “This Is Mars Hill” and the latest was about Ballard, how about we take a little break to watch the campus history in their own words?
It’s been a while since we’ve visited another church, so there was certainly some apprehension. How does the children’s ministry work? How do they do communion? What’s the corporate atmosphere for worship like, and what is considered appropriate? We’d read about the children’s ministry on MHC’s website, and when we arrived found a spot in the family parking area immediately. Walking into the building, it was obvious where we should go to register Charlie for nursery (David had clearly expressed his desire to come with Mummy and Daddy to “sing songs to Jesus” instead of going to the kids ministry). We were early and were asked to come back in a few minutes since the children’s ministry workers were currently praying in that area so we had fun with the kids outside, met a man named John sitting on the sofas inside and generally hung out.
When the time came to check Charlie in, one of the pastors was present and they had volunteers helping with the check-in process. They use an online system called The City which was developed in-house at Mars Hill Church and is now sold by Zondervan. It’s a full church management system and certainly worth a look if budget allows. Charlie was assigned a number for a buzzer in case they needed Sarah or me to return, we dropped him off in the nursery with three very welcoming, friendly ladies and headed to the main sanctuary with David for a time of worship, Word and communion.
I love the atmosphere of the Ballard campus. It’s all exposed industrial ceiling, but with great lighting, and has a relaxed vibe that is almost exactly what Cornerstone would/will be shooting for if we ever move locations. Sarah and I are brave souls and, rather than hiding at the back to better suss our the way things work, we headed up front and found a place to sit. Service began with a song lead by new band Kenosis. Pastor Joel Brown leads the band, and I have to say they were brilliant. Musically tight and interesting, and totally focussed on Jesus. I am a big fan of the current trend to revive old hymns and that’s most of the body of songs we experienced on Sunday. Prayer and greeting was followed by another song then Campus Pastor Bill Clem brought us to another mode of worship as the offering was received. During that time three guys were on the stage sharing testimony of what Jesus has done in their lives and what He is currently doing in and through them. This was really good to hear directly from members of the church and to get witness of the impact Jesus is having through Mars Hill Church in the lives of people in Seattle.
Thus far I hadn’t even spotted Pastor Mark, and was beginning to wonder if this was a) the wrong campus or b) he was taking some rest after the Acts 29 conference that had run the previous week. Ultimately, this all pointed to one thing – Mars Hill Church is categorically not the Mark Driscoll Show. Once we’d watched the video from above about the history of the Ballard Campus, Pastor Mark walked up the few steps (the stage is a lot lower than the podcasts seem to suggest in my mind) and preached from Luke 11:14-28 with a sermon called “Jesus vs. Satan.”
As I’ve come to expect from being a regular subscriber to the teaching podcast that comes out from MHC, the sermon was guided by the text, featured lots of reminders about the Lordship of Jesus and the authority we have as His followers, and had many practical applications to take away. Most notably, Driscoll reminded us of our desperate need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We are indeed at war, and the devil has power, so we must not try to enter this battle with our own ability. Instead, we need the Holy Spirit, faith in Jesus and obedience to His commands.
When Pastor Mark was finished and had prayed, we then received communion during a longer time of corporate worship in song. Communion was served at the front and people came to get bread and dip in either juice or wine, before returning to their seats to receive it with family, friends or privately.
One of my overarching impressions of visiting Mars Hill Church was how normal it was. There wasn’t some glitzy show, there weren’t lots of new things that nobody has done before and now we have to figure out how to copy them to be successful. The church gathered. That was basically what happened. The church gathered around Jesus, worshiped Him and received nourishment by His Word proclaimed and the sacrament of communion being received.Sure, the band was tight, the sound was powerful, the computers were iMacs, the preaching was well crafted and so forth, but it wasn’t all that original. What it was, however, was faithful. And because of that it was easy to visit with the church. It was easy to be a part of the saints coming together to worship our King Jesus, even though we aren’t members of Mars Hill Church.
I wonder if ours is a typical experience for visiting Mars Hill Church? As a very visible local body, I know there are always people taking pot-shots at them, but I left there knowing that whenever we get the chance to be in Seattle, we’ll be looking for an opportunity to gather with them and meet Jesus there.