Jonathan - Ballard, West Seattle 2006-09

Your Name

Jonathan

Gender

Male

Which describes your role at Mars Hill?

Member

What Mars Hill location(s) did you attend?

Ballard, West Seattle

What years were you involved / attending?

2006, 2007, 2008, 2009

How did you first hear about Mars Hill?

I had just gotten out of the military and was looking for a church.  I had a friend that was attending the Ballard campus and started going with him.

What was the circumstance of your first time attending Mars HIll?

I attended the evening service.  I can't remember which one exactly, but I think it was either the 5pm or the 7pm.  I continued that routine for most of the time that I attended Mars Hill.  I think I sat somewhere near the middle.  

What were your first impressions?

I knew that Seattle was (and still is) a pretty liberal city, so it was heartening to hear a preacher speak the truth so freely about possibly sensitive subjects like sexuality, cohabitation, the emasculation of the American church, etc.  Sadly, I don't remember the exact sermon.  I grew up going to a smaller church, so the mere size of the place was a little overwhelming.  I liked the music.  I think the first band I heard was Red Letter, but can't be certain about that.  There were a lot of young people at that service.  This was a big draw for me as a young man just out of the military (I was 26 at the time).   

Why was Mars Hill your church home?

In the beginning, it was the easiest and most obvious option. I lived overseas for 3 years and the thought of going through some sort of vetting process was daunting.  My friends went there.  I went there.  Very simple.  

Once I left the Ballard campus to go to the West Seattle campus, though, I found a group of people that I cared about. Mars Hill became for me, at least for a short while, a very tight-knit community of believers.  

I stayed because of those people, even when I knew better.  

What about your time at Mars Hill has had a positive impact on you?

The thing that I remember with the most fondness are just the times I spent with my old community group just "doing life together" as they used to say.  I really hated that saying, but I really did live very closely with a bunch of other Christians for about a year and a half.

There was a period when I saw them 3-4 nights a week and it was more than just having a good time with my buddies.  There was an intimacy and a closeness that I sometimes wish I could replicate with other Christians.  I remember just playing games at people's apartments, watching the show "Lost" together every week, having picnics at Lincoln Park, etc.  It was really a very sweet part of my life and I don't regret that part, in spite of how it ended.  

What about your time at Mars Hill has had a negative impact on you?

I don't want to go on for too long about this and some of the negative things were things that you'd find in any church.  But I will mention a couple.  

1. The thing that hurt the most was the way my community group treated me when I left and the way they still look at me when I see them in West Seattle.  This is hard to put into words because nothing explicit happened.  There weren't any scenes or fights.  Their love for me just seemed to die one day, without notice.  
I walked into community group one night and there were ten or so people sitting in the living room, people that I had spent so much time with, people that I thought loved me.  Not one of them even looked up at me or acknowledged my presence.  And it wasn't that moment that did it for me; I just sensed that our sense of "community" had died.  What hurt the most wasn't that it had died.  What hurt was that they didn't seem to care that it had.  It still hurts.  Was it that easy for them to shun me?  
I still purposely don't go to certain places in West Seattle because I know that I might see one of them.  I've worked really hard to forgive them over the last few years, but part of me still hurts when I think about them.  Sometimes I get sad.  Sometimes I get angry.  But what's different is that I always bring it to Jesus.  I've only been able to forgive because of Him.  I still would like some sort of acknowledgement, though, that they were mean to me.  "Jon, we gossiped about you.  Jon, we should have been more loving to you."  I don't put my hope in getting this sort of reconciliation.  My hope is in God.  But I can't help but wish for something like this.  

2. I told my community group leader in 2008 that I wanted to leave Mars Hill.  I had prayed about the decision and really felt like God wanted me to move on to another church.  What he told me was that I needed to get approval from the campus pastor.  This was shocking.  There was this sentiment that the church had the ultimate call about all of my life decisions.  It felt like they were trying to replace the role of the Holy Spirit in my life.  I left anyway, but this was a very concerning development.  There was a definite culture of fear at MH and this is when I first realized it.  

3. The MH "brand".  They operated too much like a business.  There were moments when I was watching my pastor on a screen in front of me, recorded the week before and realized that it felt a little disingenuous.  That aspect didn't always bother me.  It just brought up the general attitude of Mark and his small group of elders that they weren't going to give up control.  What I would have liked to see is Mark give up one or two of his campuses to one of the campus pastors.  Mark talked about Jesus and seemed to say all the right things, but it really seemed like he was trying to create his own kingdom, rather than add to God's kingdom.  

4. Too much emphasis put on the numbers.  Mark was constantly beating his chest about the number of people saved in his churches, the number of members and the number of campuses.  Frankly, that kind of talk was downright unbiblical.  

What would you like to have changed about Mars Hill?

In no particular order of importance:

Mark talked about money too much.  I would have liked it if he didn't have whole sermons dedicated to the lack of tithing.  I think there were three Sundays in a row where he ranted about how people weren't giving enough money.  

The Redemption Groups had good intentions, but there wasn't enough oversight.  I heard some scary stories that sounded eerily like a cult-like meeting in a basement with some power-hungry leader filled with power on a sin hunt.  I was never involved with them personally, so my opinion here isn't as strong as others, I understand.  But from what I heard, leaders of these groups were able to do and say almost anything they wanted.  Looking back, Redemption Groups probably should have been avoided altogether.  Community groups/Bible studies should be enough.

Which describes you?

I left Mars Hill prior to closure.

Please describe why you left Mars Hill and what that experience was like.

I had been accepted to UW and after some prayer, I really felt like God wanted me to go to another church (partly because I was moving closer to the UW campus).  It took me a while because I felt pretty close to my community group and the thought of a new church was a little scary.  

How would you describe the reason for Mars Hill's closure to an outsider.

I prayed about it and felt led by the Holy Spirit to find another congregation.  

What's changed for you since your time at Mars Hill came to an end?

I'm happy to say that I'm closer to God and even though I have less relationships, the ones I do have are deep.  I'm less angry and less worried.  In the end, I saw that me leaving Mars Hill was God trying to get me in a quiet place so he could show me more of himself.  There was bad stuff at Mars Hill, but God wanted to deal with my selfishness when I left.  I'm happy to say that He is the most important person to me.  

Please write anything else you'd like to add.

For anyone who is struggling with what happened, I'd like to say that God is so good and He loves you!  Don't lose hope and don't get trapped in cycles of self-imposed guilt.  It may be painful, but God will work all of this to your benefit.  

For anyone that thinks nothing bad was happening at MH, please read these stories.  Pray about what God wants you to do.  Ask for humble hearts and ability to listen.

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