Faith & Community: Mars Hill and Solomon
In the year 1998, when the internet was still in its beginning stages compared to its current speed, I set out on a mission. I was looking for faith-based communities that were not just following the status quo but were also embracing change and innovation. At that time, I was leading a unique college and singles group within a moderately sized church community. This group was unlike any traditional assembly; it was a rich tapestry made up of married couples, wanderers from the streets, professionals, children, and others who felt marginalized in mainstream congregational settings. During my online research, I happened upon Mars Hill Church. Located in Seattle and spearheaded by Pastor Mark Driscoll, this church differentiated itself through its robust digital offerings. Remarkably, it was the only church at the time providing freely accessible sermons and worship music for download. This put Mars Hill Church on the cutting edge of a fresh approach to ministry. Their unique methods piqued my interest and stirred a desire to understand their operations better. Motivated by this curiosity, I planned a trip to Seattle. My aim was to gather valuable insights from Mars Hill Church that would enable me to better cater to the eclectic community I was serving.
In the fall of 1999, a remarkable opportunity arose. Hosted by Mars Hill and coordinated by the Young Leaders Network, a seminal conference was held in Seattle. My wife, my brother, and I eagerly packed our luggage and traveled to this vibrant metropolis, little suspecting the profound impact the event would have on our lives. Upon entering the first session, I was immediately struck by the electric atmosphere. The air was thick with anticipation as Brad Currah’s vocals brought “Mercy Stands” to life, offering me a gateway into a community where original worship music was not just accepted but celebrated. Beyond musical innovation, the participants shared an enthusiasm for influencing modern culture and questioning traditional views on religious topics. Mark Driscoll, the keynote speaker, held the audience’s attention with an exhaustive analysis of Old Testament figures. He urged us to consider these ancient tales through the lens of contemporary life. Driscoll’s thought-provoking questions—”Do you see yourself in Abraham, called to an unfamiliar land? Or are you more akin to Joshua, tasked with leading others through dangerous landscapes?”—resonated deeply, moving me to an emotional response.
The conference went beyond mere religious observance; it acted as a stimulus for spiritual maturation and opened doors to fresh paradigms in both worship and leadership. The event prompted a critical reassessment of my relationship with faith, culture, and community at large. During the event, I had the privilege of interacting with Mark. In the conversational circles we formed, his articulate arguments made a lasting impact. His community, distinguished by its unique approach to worship music, was just as compelling. Featuring musicians who also played in local bands, the group’s incorporation of minor chords added a complex, alluring layer to their worship style. Both my wife, Susan, and I found the experience transformational. In the wake of this eye-opening gathering, Susan and I started imagining what a community—or even a church—that genuinely mirrored the spirit of Tucson might look like. Our minds inevitably turned to the restless young souls we often crossed paths with in local coffee shops and bars. We entertained the idea of establishing a spiritual sanctuary tailored for them. Fueled by these reflections, we harbored aspirations to build a community, aiming to provide a sense of belonging for those searching for something more meaningful.
In addition to our interaction with Mark Driscoll, we were fortunate to meet Doug Pagitt, the lead pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis. Unlike Mark, Doug radiates a sense of gentleness, contemplation, and inspiration. His compelling creativity and irresistible charisma were also notable traits. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with Doug at various conferences. It’s evident that his guidance has been a key factor in shaping the unique culture at the Village Church. Doug’s impact extends to specific aspects of our community, including our approach to musical performances. He encouraged us to focus on our own musical strengths rather than attempting to mimic others less skillfully. His influence also manifests in the candid discussions that ensue after sermons and the unconventional placement of our musical ensemble—strategically located off-center rather than in the spotlight. It’s crucial to acknowledge the lasting impact of both Mark Driscoll and Doug Pagitt on the Village Church. Their differing philosophies have woven themselves into the very fabric of our community, shaping its present identity.
Many who read this may be unfamiliar with the intricacies of the missional and emergent church movements that took shape between the late 1990s and early 2000s. If you are, however, the names Mark Driscoll and Doug Pagitt will likely resonate. Mark Driscoll generally espouses a traditional, Reformed theology. On the other hand, Doug Pagitt is known for his progressive theological stance. Observers of religious trends might be aware of “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Podcast,” which chronicles the downfall of Mark Driscoll’s ministry. What has received less media attention is the recent closure of Solomon’s Porch, led by Doug Pagitt.
The changing tides of the religious world have spurred a lot of personal reflection for me. When we founded the Village Church back in 2001, the notion that we’d outlive institutions like Mars Hill and Solomon’s Porch seemed absurd. But here we stand. The years have ushered in unexpected shifts, accompanied by a tinge of sadness I hadn’t anticipated. I’ve felt a sense of loss, as if I’m missing companions who truly grasped the essence of the Village Church and its mission. Mark Driscoll and Doug Pagitt have been profound influences in my life. I’ve poured over their books, tuned into their sermons, and eagerly followed their podcasts. The way their congregations tried to live out the Gospel in their distinct environments was inspiring to watch. Losing that feels like a part of me is missing, a void that’s impossible to fill. While we may not see eye to eye on every theological point, my respect for them and their church-planting endeavors remains undiminished.
What has allowed our community to persevere? Undoubtedly, the role of God’s grace is paramount in maintaining the perseverance and stability of our community. This is not merely a dormant aspect of our lives; rather, it functions as a dynamic force that instills a sense of balance. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge the concrete elements that amplify our resilience. Prominent scholars such as Dr. Larry Crabb and N.T. Wright have offered invaluable perspectives that enrich our grasp of both human nature and the bible. Their intellectual contributions have nuanced our views on sin, enhanced our understanding of the universal priesthood, and provided clarity about our individual roles in the Kingdom of God.
Our ability to withstand the shifting tides of theological thought can be attributed to our commitment to core values—Community, Authenticity, Accessibility, Truth, Creativity, and Spiritual Disciplines. These principles are so deeply internalized that they form the essence of our collective identity. This isn’t mere abstract thought; we’ve manifested these ideals in practical community living. We’re devoted to both our close-knit neighborhood and the broader city, continuously applying our values in real-world contexts. As one community member aptly put it, we’re like jagged rocks in a tumbler, gradually refining one another for the collective benefit. In short, our conviction remains that following Jesus’ path is the exclusive gateway to truth and life.
Though I mourn the loss of communities such as Mars Hill and Solomon’s Porch, their influence persists, reverberating in various ways within the Village.
Faith & Community: Mars Hill and Solomon