Robb S. - Ballard 2003-07

Your Name

Robb S.



Which describes your role at Mars Hill?


What Mars Hill location(s) did you attend?


What years were you involved / attending?

2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007

How did you first hear about Mars Hill?

From a friend at Antioch Bible Church who said it was a place where "everyone cool" was going to church.

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

I was a college freshman and had just moved to Seattle from Redmond.  I rode the bus from U-District to Ballard with my neighbor (it was also her first time).  

What were your first impressions?

I loved the atmosphere, silent and dark.  I loved how simple everything was—just some music, a sermon that felt more like an engaging lecture, and communion.  Everything was so introspective and thoughtful, and because of the simplicity, what stood out were the words from the sermon and the songs.

Why was Mars Hill your church home?

Mars Hill felt like home to me because it felt like a church without all the cultural cruft of previous generations of American Christianity.  The music of a much higher caliber than any other church I had seen, and so disconnected from the manufactured Christian contemporary genre.  I felt like I was learning so much about the Bible from the sermons that I had never heard in my years growing up in the church and attending Christian schools.  I had a strong Christian community that ended up mostly joining the church after me so all of my close friends became my core community at the church.

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

Mars Hill introduced me to Reformed thinking which I still feel is a helpful framework to work in, even though I have some heterodox beliefs that would probably be shocking to those who are strictly Reformed.  Mars Hill showed me the potential for what "Christian" art and music could be at its best.

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

Around the time I left Seattle, I noticed that the sermons began to become more and more devoid of scriptural content, and more and more filled with anecdotes and stories from Mark Driscoll's life.  The worship service started integrating strange things like live video of the musicians performing as background for the lyrics, extensive and colorful stage lighting, and moving picture backdrops.  The aesthetic of the service had gradually pushed in a new direction that was displeasing to me and felt commercialized.  The firing of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer left a sour taste in my mouth since I had worked with Paul Petry praying for people after the services, and Bent was a close friend of a friend.  I was going to ask Paul if he would officiate my wedding.  When the 100+ page document answering everyone's questions about Paul, Bent, and the bylaws came out, I was impressed with the church's response.  Only later did I find out it was very deceitful.  This combined with a couple of close friends having extremely negative interactions with church leadership led to me having a very poor impression of the church after the fact.  At the time I attended, I didn't see much wrong, but in the years after I left Seattle, I realized the many problems that had been lurking in the background all along.

What would you like to have changed about Mars Hill?

Mars Hill before 2008 was in a relatively good place though some in the leadership were willing to lie and make moves to gain tighter control.  The bylaws dispute was obviously the major turning point where there was no going back.  The only thing that could have prevented the long slow demise would be the leadership being held to a greater level of accountability by the congregation.  This also would have required greater openness to the congregation, not the half-truths that were spun out by the leadership whenever they were caught doing something that was a PR disaster.

Which describes you?

I left Mars Hill prior to closure.

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

I left Mars Hill because I decided to go to grad school in the Midwest.  I had been in my new city for a couple months when I called the church office to tell whoever was there to put in their records that I lived in a different state and was resigning my membership.  It felt extremely anticlimactic at the time.  It was right before the membership "re-up" so they would have taken me off the rolls regardless shortly after.

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

Mars Hill's senior leaders were abusive to their employees and volunteers.  They made selfish decisions regarding their own compensation, branding, marketing, etc. They ran the church less like a church and more like a corporation, using things like non-disclosure agreements, non-compete agreements for pastors, unethical bestseller list campaigns for book sales, etc.  After all these things enough people had had enough and the senior leaders were called to account.  Rather than admit they were in the wrong, they walked away.

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

I have become very liberal politically, but my religious beliefs are only slightly more progressive than before.  By all accounts I would still be considered a theological conservative and I am a member of a church that has a similar theological framework as Mars Hill did.  The church is much smaller though and I don't think I would ever attend a megachurch again.  I'm glad to give up "better" music and "better" teaching to be in a place where I can know others and be known.