Book Review “Church Planting in Post-Christian Soil” Introduction

I saw Christopher B. James one night on my local news station. At the time our church, VCC (now The Practicing Church) was in the process of discerning how we were to move forward. We were in a discernment process, sensing the Spirit initiating a new way to “be” the church in our post-Christian culture. Christopher was discussing completing his research of “new churches” in Seattle, a city he states in the Introduction is branded “the None Zone” because of its high percentages of the religiously nonaffiliated.

Watching Christopher on my local nightly news was just one more signpost leading our faith community toward a new birth the Spirit was brooding over. I have been waiting for this book for many reasons. First, I love the Pacific Northwest. I was born and raised in Seattle, I have raised my children here and it’s where I have been a part of the Church since birth. I care about how the message of Jesus is lived out in my city. I care because people from every walk of life are longing for meaning, how to live life to the fullest with purpose here and now not just in the afterlife. I believe there is no better path of faith than to follow Jesus.

My husband, Rich and I led a local church up until I had a serious health crisis 2 years ago this month. I have recovered beyond what the doctors told me possible. I am the Regional Leader for Vineyard USA Northwest Region and I am passionate about joining with what God is doing in our region and how churches in my care are reproducing.

My review of this book will be chapter by chapter over the next few months. As stated in the Introduction, “As a work of practical theology, this book is interdisciplinary…” This book is for researchers in congregational studies, sociologists, theologians, missiologists, practitioners on the ground, pastors and leaders, and as the Introduction reads, “to an emerging network of theologians and social scientists working in the area of “practical theology.” I hope you will follow along and a dialogue ensues regarding church planting in a post-Christian culture.

Next up: A few thoughts from the Introduction and review of Chapter 1.

Guest Post from Rich – Church & Culture Let’s Have A Conversation

I believe that the Church is God’s great plan to embody His Love and Message. To be effective the church must be contextual to its time in history and its cultural context, location. I also believe, we in North America are in the midst of a great cultural shift that must be met with a new Reformation. If you are located in a rural area, the urgency for change is not as great. However, culture change in our cities demands a new demonstration of what Christian community is intended to be. Because of the availability of rapid communication don’t be surprised when urban culture invades the small town. I hope we all can join in a conversation about how all of our church communities can be more effective in our own context. What’s making a difference in your community?

The Tragedy of Mars Hill Church

Dear Seattle,

As a Seattle pastor for over twenty years I want to publicly apologize for the way in which the entire Mars Hill Church debacle was allowed to unfold in our city.

I’m sorry that one man and the men in leadership at Mars Hill Church were allowed to treat men, women and children in the most scandalous way possible while acting as representatives of God. The fact that it went on for years and years without any intervention from the Church in Seattle is mindboggling.

Together, as a city we’ve had a front row seat on what it looks like when power is abused by a religious leader. This is not what Jesus meant when he told his church to bring “Good News”. I pray that God will forgive those of us who call ourselves pastors. I pray you will forgive us. I pray that you will give Jesus another chance.

I’m profoundly sorry that His message was so badly twisted by Mark Driscoll and the men who led Mars Hill Church.

I forgive them. But I ask for your forgiveness as well. Those of us who call ourselves pastors waited too long to speak up. Our silence makes us complicit with those we criticize today. None of which excuses the spiritual abuse that Mars Hill leadership has engaged in. I am grateful for all that have tried to intervene, especially Warren Throckmorton.

Like one of their pastors Steve Tompkins has already modeled, I pray these men will own their sin and get the help they need so that real reconciliation will be the end of this story.


Rose Madrid Swetman
Lead Pastor
Vineyard Community Church

Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, Abuse, Grace, The Church, Jesus

I don’t have the time or space to fully think this out and edit it. I want to respond so here goes…

The last time I wrote publicly about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill church on this blog was in December of 2006. That was right after a small group of us met with Mark and his then right-hand man, Leif Moi. You can read about those meetings here and here

What I wrote in my blog after meeting with Mark and Leif was the most gracious way I could describe what I discerned and learned from the meeting. I was really hoping the best and that the future would turn out very differently for Mark and the church than what is unfolding minute by minute of late and within the public square (aka social media, the papers, magazine articles, blogs and more). What I said to my husband and a few trusted friends after the meeting in private was in the same spirit but was more direct, “From what we just observed and after working with many, many addicts, if Mark does not get help he and Mars Hill Church will implode someday.”

I think that day may be here. What is our response suppose to be? There is a mix of opinions within the Church and between followers of Christ on what is the correct response, the biblical response, the Christian response. I think if we are honest, anyone can make a case for what they think the correct response should be: silence, no social media responses that have any negativity about Mark or Mars Hill Church, don’t share links of what Mark has said in private whether years ago or recent, protect the man of God, don’t touch God’s anointed, share everything in order to get him to resign and get the help he needs, use every public space possible to uncover the abuse, sin and toxicity of the Mars Hill culture in order to be a voice for the 100’s of stories of abuse, give the victims the space to tell the truth so the public can bare witness, allow the victims to tell their stories, expose the illegal and unethical behaviors of the leaders of Mars Hill Church so that the abuse can stop, I could go on and on but you get the point.

There are many sides to this very tragic and complex story. Here is how I think about this. I am a female pastor in the Seattle area. I am the lead pastor of a Vineyard Church. I am a Regional Leader for the Northwest Vineyard Churches. I want to make it very clear that my thoughts and viewpoint in NO way represent the Northwest Vineyard or Vineyard USA.

These are my thoughts as a pastor in Seattle that has watched this up close and personal. After the 2006 meeting with Mark I have sat with and listened to countless stories of spiritual abuse laced with misogyny and twisted theology to endorse the abuse. I have listened to countless leaders from around the country and some in my own area ask me why I don’t think Mars Hill Church, its leadership and its theology are good for people, men, women and children? Some have even argued with me because Mars Hill Church is a success story! I have explained to people until I have been blue in the face that we are seriously off track in the American church when we measure success by the number of people attending any church. We have a lot of redefining what it means to be successful in our time in our context. That’s for another blog post.

The stories of abuse and unethical behavior have not just happened in the last few years, this is and has been the culture of Mars Hill Church for a very long time.

I was raised with a violent, abusive father. My mother was the victim of domestic abuse. I have born the cost of naming the truth about my story. I view Mark as a leader that had so much potential for good but went very, very wrong. I know that Mark’s twisted theology and lust for power comes out of his own story of brokenness. For that I have much compassion and grace. What I don’t think is helpful at all right now is for anyone to be told to be silent. I know of many, many people that have tried (including me) to talk to Mark about what could be in his heart and story that he would have such vitriolic rants filled with misogyny and get healing. He has never to my knowledge responded to that plea. This is evident by where he is today with all of the stories coming out of lying, cover up and continued abuse, shunning and bullying of anyone who tries to get at the truth or confronts him with truth in love. Numerous past and current elders of the church have tried to get at the truth so healing can begin for Mark, his family, those that have left and the church they love.

To tell people to be silent is in my opinion complicit with on-going abuse. That’s something to think about isn’t it? Telling victims and advocates that have been forced to public intervention to stop is abusive in its own right. These folks have gone public so the madness will stop and so Mark, Grace, his children and every victim of this tragic situation can get help.

In over eight or more years what we have learned is that there is absolutely no internal system that can hold Mark Driscoll accountable. That is why this was taken to the public sphere. Is that tragic and an embarrassment to Jesus and his Church? YES it is. But no more tragic than when Jesus walked this earth and publicly lashed out at the religious people of his day when they were abusing the people of God. I think a good case can be made that when all else failed, a public intervention is absolutely necessary for God’s sake and for the sake of everyone involved, not in the least being Mark Driscoll.

I pray for every victim of this tragic story. I pray Mark will resign and get the help he needs. May God’s mercy and justice (justice meaning putting things right) be the last word in all of this.

What is my life to be about?

From Parker Palmer:

    Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about–quite apart from what I would like it to be about–or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.

Last Sunday at the Vineyard we felt like the Lord was saying to us as a congregation, “let’s all catch our breath” as I have been trying to do just that this week, I have been trying to grab moments of “silence” to just listen, to hear, to tune into the voice of God and what it means to lead in the midst of a faith community and a mission group. The truth is I get so busy I forget to listen. I am trying to intentionally practice “turning aside to look” to see God in all of my encounters, in all of life not just in church or in suffering but everywhere.

Especially listening to my life to understand what it is about rather than what I would like it to be about is more challenging and difficult than one might think. It takes courage to listen to what the voice of God might say…more later

Happy Thanksgiving!

Assisted Suicide

The Assisted Suicide bill passed in Washington State. Last night I was with 8 women. When asked how many voted pro and how many against it was equally divided, 4-pro, 4-against. A discussion ensued as to why we voted the way we did. I thought a lot about the bill before I voted “against” and thinking more about it this morning. I think this is a very complex issue but for me boils down to some issues I can’t resolve. The main issues being my belief that God is the giver and sustainer of life. I consider the sacredness of human life in all of life; i.e., war, violence, the death penalty, abortion, euthanasia and biotechnology. My fundamental belief as a follower of Christ is that the kingdom of God consists of peace with justice, of life unmarred by killing. (Kingdom Ethics, pg. 147). The good news of the gospel brings life and invites us to participate in bringing life and resisting death. Simply put, (even though without a doubt these are very complex issues) kingdom ethics resists killing, as Jesus did, and strongly affirms the value of human persons, as Jesus did.
When we talk about assisted suicide or euthanasia, I believe we are talking about the difference between “killing” and “letting die.” I believe the role of the health care professional is to cure if possible, and to care always and to never harm or hasten death. The way to meet the legitimate needs of the suffering and dying is through enhanced pain management (palliative care), hospice care and other efforts to assure, as far as possible, a good process of dying.
The fear of dying a long, agonizing death is perhaps the fundamental driving force behind the drive for euthanasia. This seems to disregard the advanced pain management treatments that help to allow a person to die well.
As a Christ follower, I believe that until Jesus returns and brings an end to illness and death at last, God’s will is that every sick human being be treated with dignity and compassion, receive needed curative treatments, benefit from pain relief and die only when their time has really come. The need to offer compassionate care that meets the need of the ill and dying, and their families is what our society needs to focus on. My conclusion is that “letting die” is the correct response, “killing” in the name of “my right” or “compassion” is the wrong response.

Holiness Revisited

Holiness isn’t a word I use often and honestly not a word I think of often because something in me could not resonate with holiness being defined only in terms of morality. The following explanation from Brueggemann’s An Introduction to the Old Testament of “holiness” from a biblical viewpoint makes much more sense to me:

    Speaking of the Book of Leviticus Mary Douglas has proposed that chapters 18 and 20 provide a deliberate framework for chapter 19 so that the whole is arranged to show that love of neighbor has become the key component of a vision of holiness. Pg. 72

    …in Douglas’s interpretation, the arrangement of the materials serves to subordinate holiness and purity to justice. Pg. 73

This view of biblical holiness makes sense to me as I reflect on the overarching Story of Scripture.

Congratulations America

Black and white, all people of color, young and old celebrating in the streets, young people activated, John McCain giving a gracious, generative concession speech–what an historical moment we are living in. I pray we will take the hope ignited and in God’s hands make the most of this moment for our world. I bet those great cloud of witnesses are cheering:

    “If this work can contribute in any way toward proving this, and at the same time arouse the conscience of the American people to a demand for justice to every citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel I have done my race a service.” Ida B. Wells
    “I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.” Harriet Tubman
    “I have a dream” “Let Justice Roll” Martin Luther King Jr.

Election Day in the U.S.

I think the majority of us would agree that today is historic in so many ways for the United States. Even so, I can’t put all my eggs for “peace and Kingdom living” into the basket of who becomes the next president. What has been amazing (and sad) to me is how divisive for Christ followers this election has been. The one thing that I hope is that however you vote (or not vote) you would be respectful of everyone’s right to their decision. Honestly I don’t think Jesus is for one side or the other. I hope you vote your values and your conscience and are not in the fray causing division. As exciting as this day is, I am looking forward to tomorrow.