This is hard for me to write. I had a great time while at Mars Hill and while on staff. I’ve a lot of friends that still call Mars Hill home. I love them. Dearly. And want them to see what is going on. That is why I’m telling my story.
I moved up here from Portland in 2001. I had heard about Mars Hill only because of the all ages music venue they ran called The Paradox. I started attending in October, and within a few weeks, I felt right at home.
One of the first things I remember is this old guy standing up. Making a joke about being the only old guy in the room. He had a strange name, but he was wanting to pair people up for mentoring. I got his contact info and emailed him as soon as I got home.
A few days later, he responded. Bent Meyer invited me to a meeting at the old Earl building. It turned out only 3 people had signed up saying they wanted a mentor. I got paired with AJ Hamilton. He and I exchanged contact info and he invited me over to his house for dinner.
Dinner was really nice, it was the first home cooked meal I had since moving up. As we were talking, he found out I had a huge passion for music. He told me he wanted to connect me with Jeff Bettger at The Paradox. That’s when everything started happening. There are so many stories to tell.
From that connection I made so many friends. I moved into the basement of one of the pastors, Gary Shavey. I met and am still friends with people that I look up to, laughed with, cried with. There was one point, a few years down the road, that 5 of us all in the same community group had children within less than a 60 day span and we all got on stage together, as a community, and dedicated our children. It’s been an amazing 13 years. I guess what I’m getting at is that it wasn’t all bad. There was so much good. So much.
One of the other things AJ and I started doing was helping me find a wife. At one point we sat in
an upper room of the Paradox talking and looking out over the people during a service. He went around the room, pointing at ladies he had seen me interacting with.
“What about her?”
“She talks too much.”
“What about her?”
“I think she has a boyfriend.”
I was clearly influenced by Jerry Seinfeld, maybe too much.
He eventually pointed to someone named Heidi that I ended up marrying.
Heidi and I started dating. Right away I knew I had to tell her that I had a problem with pornography. We started seeing a counselor from her old church. He told us to never talk to each other again (more or less). That didn’t happen.
We dated for about 6 months or so before I proposed, got married a whole 10 months later—and in the world of Mars Hill, that’s a long engagement—and were pregnant with our first kid about 10 months after that. From the time we met, to the time we had Evelyn was just over 3 years.
Shortly after Evelyn showed up in April of 2005 was when everything really started changing for us, and not in the normal first kid way.
There was sermon about pruning and how we, as Christians, had to constantly prune ourselves of our sin so that we could bear good fruit. I don’t know what it was about this one in particular, sex was often preached, but this one struck a chord. On the way home I told her how addicted I still was to pornography. We called up Bent again. He connected me with a group that was designed to help guys deal with their addiction. I was in that group for a while before moving over to a Grace Group. All the while Heidi and I were meeting with Bent. It really helped.
I turned 25 in October. For my 25th birthday I got a herniated disk in my lower back. This meant I could no longer work at the job I had as an electrician. I was given long-term disability from my employer and sent on my way. We had just had a our first baby and the cut in pay was difficult. My doctor told me I needed to get a desk job, but I had no real marketable desk job skills.
I got some job retraining assistance from the state and enrolled in a community college. I also started volunteering in the tech department at Mars Hill in the spring of 2006 since I knew a little bit about computers. Originally I was just needed for a few hours a day here and there. But as time went on, it turned into a normal 40 hour job. But it was all volunteer. I enjoyed it, so I didn’t really mind at first.
After a few months, my boss told me he was trying to get approval to hire me. He ended up being told no. A few months later he said the same thing. And I was told the same thing.
We were getting really strapped, but I didn’t know where else to go. I had applied for a few full time jobs doing similar tasks for normal companies, but nothing ever came of that. So, when the letter from the bank saying we were magically approved for a line of credit came, we jumped on that. In one of our meetings with Bent we mentioned how tough things were for us financially. He told us his department had set aside some money to help people like me. It helped, but it wasn’t fully enough for us to stop living off of credit cards.
There were people on staff; my bosses, the people I worked with, the leads of other departments, that would tell me they were fighting to get my hired, but I just kept being told I needed to wait a little longer.
After about 18 months of working 40 hours a week for free, my boss finally came to me and told me that he was able to get approval in the budget to hire me and pay me a full salary. It was so great. We had had our 2nd daughter by then and were so excited to finally not be as tight.
My job was fixing computers, setting up email accounts and things like that. At one point in time I worked on every pastor’s laptop that was on staff during that time. I set up all the new hires’ email accounts on our exchange server. There were some, myself included, that didn’t like having to use the mail client, so we set up auto-forwarding accounts to gmail (and, from what I know, some of the ex-staff members still have all those old emails). I even made house calls to Mark Driscoll’s house to help him fix his printer, run a cable from the house to the garage/office, troubleshoot one thing or another on his computer.
It was shortly after coming on staff that Paul Petry and Bent Meyer were fired. I found out about it after chewing out Bent’s assistant for messing with his email account without asking the tech team to help. I can’t exactly remember why it bothered me so much, but when I found out why a few hours later, I went back to her and apologized. She was clearly in shock. The whole air of the office for the next few weeks was thick with unasked questions.
I went to my boss and asked if he could tell me the story. He told me that I needed to trust the leadership was doing the right thing. Again, I had a fear that my skills were unmarketable and so I had to take his word for it and stick around or lose my job. (In the last few months he has repented publicly and privately to me.)
A lot of people left. A lot of those people were our friends. My best friend Dwayne and I had countless hours of arguing over the whole thing. I remember one night sitting in a driveway until 4 or 5 in the morning shouting at each other. He and his family (and so many others) ended up leaving. I lost contact with most of them, but was able to stay in contact a little bit with Dwayne.
While working with the tech team, my boss, Zack Hubert, built The City, which was designed as a social network for the people that attend Mars Hill to communicate privately. It was very successful and was eventually purchased by an outside company in 2009. I took the opportunity to go with him and help spread the technology to the whole Church. And, hopefully, to get a bigger paycheck and start paying off some of the debt.
That’s when I started hearing from people all over the globe. It started to feel really strange that so many people didn’t see things the Mars Hill way. As I dug in with them, I realized that it wasn’t that Mars Hill was right and their church was wrong, they were just different. But that’s not what I learned while at Mars Hill. Mark Driscoll clearly taught that his version of theology was the right way and all others were jacked up.
But these were really nice people that also clearly loved Jesus. Something didn’t add up.
Around this time, we were invited by a friend to join him and his family for a weekly breakfast he hosted for his neighbors. We showed up and it was jam packed with people just hanging out and enjoying each other’s company.
I sat down with him and asked why he did this. It turns out that he understood the Bible to say that it was our responsibility as Christians to love our neighbors. Huh, interesting. And the best way to do that is over food.
As we hung out more and more, it became obvious to me that the giant, multi-million dollar building and infrastructure wasn’t the best way to do things. In fact, it started to seem more like a giant show to get people in the doors instead of in their neighborhoods.
When it was announced that the campus I was going to, Lake City, was being closed so they could use the money for a different building, we left. This was the summer of 2011.
Now we get to the pain.
While all of this was going on, I had chosen to be blinded by everything. I had people I loved tell me it felt strange. It was wrong. But I picked my job over the truth.
After we left, those blinders started coming off. I saw things a little more clearly.
The attitude of finding a wife seems strange to me now. It seemed more like hunting than pursuing. Heidi always jokes that I stalked her.
While I was dealing with my addiction and being told in counseling that I needed to own my sin (true, and I do) and no blame should fall on my wife, Heidi was being told from the pulpit that it was her fault (or, at least, lead to believe that).
In fact, a lot of the stuff preached about honor and chivalry turns out to be chauvinistic and misogynistic.
There had been many sermons preached on the dangers of debt, enough so that both of us had a lot of shame and felt sinful for needing to. And we both still do. To this day, we still have that line of credit, and it’s never really gone down. It’s just been so hard for us to climb out of that hole we dug.
After coming on staff and starting to be paid for my normal 40 hour work week, people started asking and pressuring me to serve in some way. I never really did because of how much I had done already. But I always felt guilty watching everyone else work 60 hour weeks.
Mars Hill wasn’t the only church. Isn’t the only church. But that is what we were lead to believe. And it’s been very difficult trying to come to a right understanding of that.
Last year, around the beginning of spring 2013, I started going through a deep depression. There were some physical issues and some psychological issues hitting me at the same time. I didn’t care about church at all. I didn’t want to hear all the people with their bullshit smiles tell me about Jesus. Heidi and I spent a lot of time fighting. My great friend and business partner Bryan Zug and I spent a lot of time fighting. I almost drove the company that he and I built into the ground. I’m sure I scared my kids quite a few times. I know I scared myself.
I’m out of that depression now. But I’m still not sure what I think of having to go to church on a Sunday. I had a friend recently (who was on staff at the same time but for longer) tell me that he goes because he knows he’s supposed to and hopes that someday he’ll want to. To me, that feels close to right, although I’m not sure that I’m supposed to.
But, luckily, I’m in a community of friends and connected to a church (Anchor Church here in Seattle) that doesn’t require anything of me. I was told, and have been told over and over by my pastors and friends that I don’t need to serve in any way. One leader told me I’m not allowed to, but not as a punishment. His heart was for me to just be and let others do the work for a little bit.
I don’t know where that leaves me. I guess I’ll just keep moving forward like I’ve always done and trust that if God wants me to do something, I’ll look back and see that I already did it.