Note: This blog is not edited as everyone is on vacation and Pastor Mark had a few final thoughts before watching the Unit, eating chips and salsa, and passing out after the last day in a long and weary year so please forgive the poor grammar and punctuation.
After more than 12 years at Mars Hill I have found days like today are great learning opportunities and I want to share them with you before I log off and start to focus on the holidays:
1. We learn who sees Mars Hill as a calling and who sees it as a job.
Those who see it as a job are the first to call in and cancel their duties, not show up, dog it, or leave early. Those who see their service at Mars Hill as a calling go beyond the call of duty to cover for everyone else. Today, for example, we had a staff guy walk a few miles to work in the snow as his car was totaled by a drunk driver. We also had a volunteer catch a ride many miles in to serve the evening services and worked both evening services even though he had no way home and was just trusting that God would allow him to catch a ride with someone.
2. We learn about our own heart.
If we are depressed, complaining, or secretly wishing we could be home there is something wrong with us. Days like today are opportunities for us to love our volunteers, pour extra appreciation on those who come, and make sure that we do not neglect those who join us. Charles Spurgeon once said that when you pay attention to the seat that is empty, you are paying a disservice to the one that is filled. This fall we got as high as nearly 8000 people. But, today we dropped down to a few thousand for the worst snow and ice I have ever seen in Seattle. But, we were still statistically a mega-church today (around 2000 people) which only roughly 1500 churches in America are. Of that, about 2/3 of the attendance was at the video campuses and I spoke live to the campus with the greatest percentage decline. The total attendance at Ballard where I preach live was...666 people of all things. I preached to 80 people at the first service in a room that seats 1300, and the best attended of the four services today was about 250 people. But, those are people who Jesus loves and our attitude toward them says a lot about us. Even if there is one person, that one person is someone God has brought for us to minister to and if they are willing to come we must be willing to love them with Jesus love. I walked the floor acting as a greeter today, thanking the volunteers, and one kind woman asked me if days like this bummed me out. I said no and explained that I can still remember the days when even having 80 people at one service would have been a huge win. When you've pastored a church from your living room onward you learn that your job is to love everyone that God brings and search your heart if you cannot do so wholeheartedly because the attendance is not high enough for you to feel that so few people are worth your time even though Jesus considered them worthy of dying for. So, on days like this I try to get up early, have four contingency plans to get to work, work hard all day, and pray the Psalmists plea for God to search my heart. I know this can sound proud. I've failed at this for years. And, more and more this is a lesson God is teaching me. As I learn it bit by bit, I love our people more and appreciate that I get to pastor anyone.
#3. We learn about the deep love some people have for our church.
Today I met, for example, a couple who drive in nearly every week from over three hours away and they left very early in the morning before the sun was up to be at the morning service. Last week I met a couple that is from Virginia and listens online. They were coming to Portland for a Christmas break with their extended family and they so wanted to attend Mars Hill that they braved the snow and drove from Portland even though the wife was pregnant. On a good day it takes about three hours to make this trip and my guess is that it took them maybe 10-12 hours round trip to attend one Mars Hill service as they drove in, worshiped with us, and drove out. The commitment of some people is completely humbling and noble. The fact that they love Mars Hill is infectious and encourages me. Even if there are 80 instead of 1300 in a service, if they are 80 people who want to love and worship Jesus and are willing to do whatever it takes to get to church then those people are the hardcore of the hardcore and from what I heard they out sang crowds ten times their size because they were determined to fill the room with worship to Jesus.
On the worst days, we learn the best lessons. So, they are often the best days.
So, I want to thank Jesus for giving my saving my last Sunday in the pulpit for 2008 on the lowest attended day we have had in many many years. And, I want to thank the hardcore of the hardcore who made it to church, some even on sleds, and on snow shoes. You all were inspiring. I learned a lot, which made it one of the best days all year.