The Evangelical Celebrity Machine (or, My Pastor)

My wife has been out of town, so I spent the weekend at my friend Jonathan's house, and we dubbed it Bachelor Weekend. Jonathan is a second year med student who studies big words all day, so "Bachelor Weekend" actually consisted of a lot of his nose in his books and me taking advantage of Brandi's absence so that I can work on Christmas projects.  

At any rate, I got home from church yesterday after having attended the service with Jonathan, and two of our other friends, Caleb and Zephan. Ironically, the service was about singles and married couples (topping off "Bachelor Weekend" with a bang for our miniature posse). We're in the middle of a series on Malachi, and have been studying much of what it looks like to leave a good legacy. I had a thought near the end of the sermon, and thought I'd share it with you:

The Evangelical Celebrity Machine (or, My Pastor)

I attend and am a member of a church called Mars Hill. Our preaching pastor's name is Mark Driscoll. Lately, Pastor Mark has been in the press a lot. This isn't another blog contributing to that conversation, other than to say that I am not oblivious to it, nor am I unaffected by it. There are things that I see and love, and, respectfully, there are things that I see and don't - wouldn't that be the case for anyone at any church? - much like any any son would in appropriate relationship to his father (which is a significant distinction, by the way - "son to spiritual father" - as opposed to "blind mule for the celebrity machine"). There are also things that I see and have absolutely no clue about, and I guess I'd just rather trust the Lord and take some of those thoughts captive than speculate the world away about it. 

Being as how I travel and participate in a lot of conversations with people across the country who hold various beliefs in the spectrum of evangelical Christianity, rarely a day goes by that I've not gotten to experience the joys (if you'd like to call them that) of having Mark Driscoll as my pastor. Ever since bands starting printing "Don't Go To Church, Be The Church" on their t-shirts, I knew I was in for a rough go of things if I were going to stand by the ecclesiological convictions the Holy Spirit was producing in my heart at the time that I began attending Mars Hill, let alone whatever other unacceptable doctrine that a wealth of YouTube clips will happily provide you. 

Most of my conversations go one of two ways when people find out I go to Mars Hill. Route #1 is excitement, because the person has been blessed through the church's ministry in some way. Perhaps through podcasts that help people (including touring artists like myself) stay connected to the Word in a consistent way when they're unable to attend, or through Resurgence literature that has been used for training curriculum, or something like that. Route #2 is… "Oh." And then the conversation (and the potential friendship) ends as quickly as it began. I appreciate the dialogues that I am able to have with those who go beyond "Oh…" and are at least able to practice some sort of respect toward me, as a person, who would otherwise be tainted by mere association with that man, were it not for agreeing to disagree with a maturity and objectivity that is disappointingly few and far between. 

This all affected me in weird ways, especially when it came to conversations among friends, who had seen the fruit of the Spirit increasing in my life. If Paul says that we are, ourselves, letters of recommendation to be known and read by all, then I couldn't understand why others could so comfortably slander my church while seeing evidence of the work Jesus was doing through it in the life of their attending friends. (Obviously, I understand that 2 Corinthians 3 is not a chapter written about Mars Hill Church, though principally, the Lord was writing letters on the tablet of my human heart through the ministry.) I will admit that my responses, circumstantially and generally, often reflected the very same sin which I claimed to hate (revealing the planks). I became prideful, upholding Mark's teaching with a type of ultimacy by which I criticized everyone else's. I became cynical and skeptical of other pulpits. I was the epitome of young, restless, and reformed, taking up offense and thinking I knew everything because I started reading books. I guess a lot of people think of Pastor Mark in that way, or did. Who knows, maybe Pastor Mark looks back at seasons in his life and sees the same thing. If the grace of God is truly changing us, then I hope we are all doing that. 

Yesterday though, as I was sitting in church, listening to my "spiritual dad" talk about family, and the love of Jesus, I saw a man who reminded me of my own father, who burnt with love and compassion for his kids. There have been particular moments over the years, in Mark's teachings, where he will readdress something that he has taught in the past. It will be the same principle with a vastly different delivery a few years removed, and I will find myself overwhelmed at the sanctification that I see in him, and it gives me hope and encouragement that the grace of God can be as noticeably effective in my life as it is in his. I mentioned it to my friend as we were leaving, and he said that that is exactly what you'd want to see in a pastor who grows with his congregation: repentance, and sanctification in the man that our family follows as we are all transformed from one degree of glory to another. 

I'm thankful for Pastor Mark Driscoll. I'm thankful for Mars Hill Church. My dad always used to say that when he became a Christian, God gave him the church as a second chance at having a real family. Maybe I feel the same, at times. Not that my family was never real, but that this church has been here with us through all of our brokenness, and it feels like home. 

This isn't a defense letter. I was simply inspired to say "thank you", and it happened to come in the midst of a storm. Call it providence. (Wink, wink.) Nor will this be a place where the witch hunt continues and we all go searching for places that haven't been repented of. Comments are disabled. Frankly, I'd just love to see people as devoted to their own pastors and churches as they are to dismantling mine. It's always easier to stand outside of something and criticize it than it is to put in the hard work of cultivating the changes you'd like to see (although, this can be your formal invitation to move to Albuquerque and participate, if you'd like). 

I've had a decent amount of arguments with myself about how closely I want to associate Levi The Poet's content with posts like this. Is it better to just keep the art and my commentary out of it? But this informs the art. And how do I separate "Levi The Poet" from Levi the person, anyway? That's the opposite of what I've always tried to do. This is who I am. This is the person who writes the poems, and I don't want to quench the spirit by separating myself from my family because of dissension outside of it. 

Pastor Mark, thank you for preaching the Word faithfully. Thank you for modeling the repentance that you preach. If there do exist areas that have not been brought to light, then I trust Jesus to faithfully pursue you in the same ways that I have seen him do so over the years that I have attended Mars Hill. Thank you for your humility. Your example has blessed my life and, seeing as how we're trying to leave a good legacy, let me thank you for your fatherly affection, your service, your love, your conviction, and the legacy that you and Grace have begun. I hope that as I grow in maturity, I will be able to confidently trust and submit to you and the leaders who keep watch over us. I pray for you often. Thank you for presenting life in such a way that, as you said yesterday, clearly articulates our need for a savior. 

Thanks for being my pastor. Truly, it is a joy.