As a strategic church planter, Paul focused his efforts on cities like Athens and Corinth because culture emanates from urban centers. Paul’s example is important, as Seattle is also a strategic city that desperately needs more churches who love both Jesus and the city.
18:1 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.
5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. 9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.
18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow.
Father God, thank you so much that you have sent Jesus into human history to live without sin, to die, to rise, to forgive people, and to bring them together as the church. And Jesus, as we study today about the planting of the church in Corinth, as we look at the church of Corinth in the coming months, it is my prayer that we would fall in love with the church as you love the church. That we would give ourselves for the church as you have given yourself for the church, and that we would seek to be a blessing to the city as you have called churches to be blessings to the times and places in which you have called them. To accomplish this, we ask the Holy Spirit to come and lead and guide and convict and empower and enable us to be faithful to Scripture, so that we might most effectively serve Jesus for the wellbeing of our whole city. We ask that in Jesus’ good name. Amen.
Well, as we get into it today we’re gonna start off talking a little bit about church-planting. Church-planting is where someone walks into a town; there isn’t a church and they start a church from nothing. There are about 425,000 Protestant non-Catholic churches in America. Every one of them at some point was a church plant. Somebody got the idea that there needed to be a church in that time and place for certain people, so somebody started. So the first thing I’ll tell you is before we get into Acts 18, to plant a church you need a dude, okay? You gotta have a dude, and a dude is kinda like a pastor, but more like the UFC Ultimate Fighting version. Now, in a normal church the pastor’s a really nice guy; does a lot of counseling and photocopies well and those kind of things. But to plant a church there’s no people to counsel, there’s no photocopier to use, so you gotta be a dude who can fight and preach and teach and lead and be courageous and get something done to build a church and to bring it forth out of nothing with God’ help.
Paul’s that kind of a dude. He’s not that big, but he’s a scrappy little guy. That’s what he is. Most of you have never had a pastor that if – or most of you dudes – that if somebody broke into your home – let’s say it was two guys. And you came downstairs and you thought, “I can take that one.” The last guy you’d probably usually call is your pastor to come take the other guy, right, because the pastor is usually not the toughest guy. Shows up in a Cabriolet; he’s got like a lemon-yellow sweater vest, open-toed sandals. He’s rocking out to the Spice Girls; gets out of his Cabriolet, walks in, “What’s wrong?” “These two guys wanna fight. I’ll take one, you counsel the other.” You know, talk about his childhood – he’s not a big help!
Paul’s the kind of guy who actually could take a beating. He took quite a few; he’s pretty tough. And because of that, he becomes a good church planter, and you have to be that way. When we started this church, man, it was hard; a lot of hard times. Every time a guy goes to plant a church, a lot of hard times. And the bottom line is to be the dude who plants a church – and I know some of you guys wanna be church planters – that’s why I’m saying this. But a lot of you wanna be church planters because it’s a job indoors, doesn’t require any heavy lifting, right? You’re not gonna make it, right – you gotta be a dude. And I still remember one time meeting the least dudely dude of all church planters that I’ve ever met, and his wife called me and said, “Could you please come talk to my pastor – my husband” – he was also her pastor. “He’s planting this church, but he’s really had a hard day.” “Well, what’s he doing?” “He’s crying.” “Really – what’s that look like, for a guy to cry?”
There’s no crying in church planting – you can’t cry! You get up, you take your standing ten-count, you adjust your cup, and you put your hands up and you get back in the ring, and you take your shots. You don’t cry! So I drive out to his house, and he’s literally laying – the pastor – laying on the floor in the fetal position with a blanky – a blanky. And his wife and his two teenage sons are looking at him, and he’s crying. I said, “What happened?” He said, “They were mean to me. They didn’t like me. They rejected me.” I’m like, “Maybe they didn’t respect you. You have a blanky and you cry, and you’re on the floor. This does not inspire the best men to follow you into war.” You know, this is not good. So his sons look at me, and I said, “Dude, you gotta get up. You cannot lay on the ground and cry in front of teenage sons. They’re gonna be on Dr. Phil talking about this to everybody. You gotta get up!”
So the boys look at me; they say, “Well, what do we do?” I say, “Dig a hole – we’re putting your dad in it. He’s no good; we’re done with him, you know. He’s just no good at all.” If you’re gonna plant a church, Satan, demons, weirdoes, freaks, nut jobs, heretics, the guys who read the whole Left Behind series – they’re all gonna show up. You gotta put your hands up, adjust your cup, and you gotta do your job. That’s Paul – Paul’s that kinda guy. Now so he’s the dude. Now, to plant his church he’s gonna go to a city. A dude’s gotta go to a city. After this, Paul left; went to Athens – great city. There he preached on Mars Hill – Acts 17, Acts 18. He went on to Corinth – dude goes to a city. City is important; we’re gonna talk a lot about the city. Many of you, when you think of Christianity you think of, you know, Norman Rockwell paintings, somebody out in the woods, 50 acres, 27 kids. You know, milking goats and getting your own eggs from the chicken, making your own clothes, singing the songs from The Sound of Music, homeschooling, waiting for the Rapture.
That’s not how it’s supposed to be, right? Christianity is supposed to be an urban religion. Doesn’t mean we hate people in the suburbs or the rural areas, but it does mean that Christianity is supposed to be an urban religion. I’ll prove it to you. In Genesis 1 and 2, God makes our first parents, Adam and Eve. Says, “Be fruitful, multiply and increase in number, fill the earth, subdue it.” Have a lot of kids, fill up the world – that’ll lead to cities, great density, lots of people. Then he says, “Have dominion” – make culture. Okay, this is all leading to a city and we know that because people start building cities and ultimately if you go to the last chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21 and 22, Heaven comes down and what is it? It’s a fat city. Somebody’s gonna say, “I hate the city!” Go to hell – you know – because Heaven’s a city. If you love the city, you’re gonna love Heaven. If you don’t like the city, oh boy, you’re really gonna have a hard – you’re gonna be complaining in Heaven! Because Heaven is a big city – that’s what it is. It’s a great city!
That’s why in the Old Testament Jerusalem is called the city – it’s a great city. And on the Mount was the Temple, so it was like a skyscraper with God’s house towering over the great city. And God called his people in the Old Testament to great cities like Babylon and Nineveh. Jesus comes along in Matthew 5:14, says that Christians are a city on a hill; that we’re a city within the city; what Augustine called The City of God. But Seattle’s a great city, and within that city there is another city called the church of Jesus Christ. And we are a city that uses money and sex and power and relationships and work and friendships differently than the city. Not because we hate the city, but because we love the city, and we invite the city to come in and to participate in the life of Jesus, in the life of Jesus’ church, and to experience the joy that it is to be the city within the city for the wellbeing of the whole city. Christianity is supposed to be an urban religion.
That’s why early on with Paul he went from city to city to city. If you trace his missionary journeys throughout the book of Acts, he goes from one urban center to another urban center. He doesn’t go out to the rural areas; he doesn’t go out to the suburbs. And he says things like, “Now I’ve reached the whole region and I’m moving on.” Well, he hadn’t hit the whole region, but he hit the major metropolitan area, and Christianity spread initially from city to city to city. By 300 A.D., half of all citizens in Roman cities were Christian. 90 percent of people who lived on farms and rural areas were pagans. To be a pagan literally meant you lived on a farm; that’s what a pagan was, because all the Christians were in the city, making, transforming culture. All the pagans were out on the farm making clothes and milking goats – that’s what they were doing. That’s the truth. The result is that God’s heart has always been for the city.
In 1850 there were only four cities in the world that had 1 million or more people. Cities are now a massive, exploding phenomenon. Seattle is one of those cities – 1.7 million people in the greater metro Seattle area. God loves the city. God is the God of the city. God cares for the city. I’ll tell you why: life begins and emanates from the city. There was thinking many years ago that culture came from New York on the East Coast and L.A. on the West Coast and went toward the middle of the country. That’s no longer the case. In every region of the country there are now strategic urban centers marked by universities, media outlets, sports teams, transportation hubs, international airports, and those are the culture-making centers. Which means if you wanna change your region, just hit the right city. Hit Denver, hit Atlanta, hit Houston, hit Seattle, and you’ll – hit Minneapolis and you’ll change a region.
So the truth is if you love Everett or you love Olympia or you love Ellensburg, move to Seattle, because that’s the television stations they watch, that’s the bands they listen to. Those are the films that they watch; those are the colleges they go to. That’s where their lawyers are trained; that’s where their doctors are trained. And that’s where all the voting is done by their politicians that affect everything in their life. The problem has been that Christians have left the city, stand apart from the city and the culture-making center of influence, and then complain because they don’t like what is happening. But God wants us to be in the city, because God loves the city. And God wants to work through the opportunities that the city provides to bring transformation to the region and to the nation. I’ll give you some of the hallmarks of the city, sociologically.
First is density – there’s just more people per square mile. Some people in Seattle are freaking out, because this is pushing up housing costs, and now we have condominiums and radical environmentalists are burning down new construction saying, “This is eco-terror.” No, it’s a condo. What we’re seeing is even in our area – Ballard’s been named the hippest neighborhood in Seattle, between Ballard and Fremont – and what is happening is massive numbers of condominiums are being presently built as we speak. Thousands of young people – professional urban singles – are moving in, right into our neighborhood. God is bringing them here. Urban density – some people say, “That’s terrible!” That’s incredible, because if we were on a farm we’d have to walk like 27 miles to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a neighbor. And now in a condo there’s like 700 people. It’s great!
I mean the JWs know this; they drive us crazy going door to door, but they know the great value of density. Right? Just (knocking) – “No! No! No!” Right? But that issue of density – there’s just a lot of people. So there’s all of a sudden condos and multi-family housing. These are density issues. Also diversity – in the city you get the rich and the poor; you get the old and the young. You get the educated, the uneducated. You get the people that are sixth-generation culture builders; you get people that are first-generation immigrants that have been here for six days. All the races, colors, creeds, religions, backgrounds – great diversity in the city makes for a much more enjoyable and diverse experience of life and friendship. The result then too is the city is marked by excellence. If you wanna run a company in the city you have to be the best. You wanna have a band that gets signed and plays the club scene it has to be the best. If you’re a designer, you have to be the best. Why?
Because there is massive competition, and the density and the diversity in the city forces everyone to up their game and be better at their craft. Friends, that includes the church. But the city won’t accept a church that has not succeeded well at its technology or at its music or at its architecture. The city demands the best, and if you’re not the best the city will reject you. And Christians have complained about that for years. “Oh, it’s bias” – no, it’s competition, and that’s why I love being in the city. It forces us all to be better. It forces me to be better. It forces you at your jobs and your marriages, raising your children, whatever your vocation is, to be better. It raises the standard of quality for us all because of the competition in the city, and this is so important. And it’s amazing to me that people in the city who aren’t even Christians are seeing this.
Someone who’s a well-known business leader and very involved politically does a lot of things with our church that are community-oriented and help the whole community, social types of causes.
And I once asked that person, “Why do you like to work with us? Why do you keep wanting to work with Mars Hill?” He said, “Because you have the most condensed pool of most gifted people of any organization that I know of in Seattle. There’s more talent there – creative energy and opportunity – than anywhere I’ve ever seen.” Non-Christian looking at the church saying “talented, gifted, capable, competent, culture-making people,” because culture emanates from the city out to the suburbs and the rural areas. That’s why excellence matters. Another hallmark of the city is technology. Technology and technological change emanates from urban areas. I mean it was weird this last week. I wanted to listen to a sermon from a buddy of mine who’s a good pastor, and I wanted to learn from him. So I call his church, I said, “I was looking through your website and I couldn’t find the MP3. Is it harvested on another site? Is there something else?” They said, “No, but we’ll send you a tape.” “A tape? Sure, put it in the mouth of a pigeon and send him right over,” you know?
A tape? A tape? I don’t even have anything to play the tape on. Get a record and throw it at me, and we’ll use it like a Frisbee. What – a tape? You know, it’s amazing to me that sometimes churches don’t even speak the same language of the people. I went to a church here in Seattle to visit and they have a tape ministry. I said, “Everybody here works in the tech industry. Nobody – a tape player! You don’t have a hitching post for horses out front either,” you know? I love the fact though that technology enables us to expand our influence. Many of you came to our website before you came to our church. It allows us to kick our front door out digitally far beyond our location. Also, too, the city is the center of media – newspapers, radio stations, television stations. They are centered in the city, and they broadcast out to the region and the world, which I love. It’s been great lately listening to the radio. A lot of DJs and talk show hosts – “Hey, I know that person; they go to Mars Hill.”
Also watching television, the nightly news, the anchor – “Hey, they go to Mars Hill. Hey, I’ve seen them at Mars Hill.” Sports reporters – “Hey, they go to Mars Hill. Hey, cool!” We’re in the city. People who love Jesus are involved in the media and helping to tell the stories of the city; that’s a wonderful thing. Praise God for that! I love the fact that we’re in the city where media actually can be used as a friend. I love writing for the Seattle Times. I love the opportunity to talk about Jesus on a broader platform. It’s a wonderful opportunity. It’s also a great place for the arts. The patrons of the arts, the artistic houses, the record labels, the club scene, the galleries where they’re into high art, pop art, folk art, whatever your thing is, all emanates from the city because there is enough density and diversity for there to have significant patronage of various artists and art forms. So it increases our creativity, which is something that God absolutely encourages us to do. It’s also the center of sports. You’ve got all your sports teams and your stadiums. It was the exact same way in Corinth.
Also education – the colleges and the major educational centers are in the cities. You wanna get a good education, you’re probably gonna need to go to a major urban center to find a specialized decent degree. That’s the way that it works. Law also emanates from the city. The lawyers are trained in the city. The judges sit in the city. The courthouses are in the city. And I get frustrated with Christians who don’t have anything to do with the city and say, “We don’t like the laws. We don’t like the way things are going.” Well then, move to the city. Raise your kids, send them to law school, let them open a practice, let them get elected to a superior court bench, and let them work upstream. Don’t just sit out on the farm and complain and listen to talk radio thinking that because you call Rush Limbaugh and cuss somebody out that you’ve made a difference. You haven’t, because nobody’s listening except for the three guys that agree with you on the farm down the street.
And that’s the way it works. If you want to change the culture, you’ve gotta get into the culture. You’ve gotta get upstream in the culture. Most Christians are downstream trying to fish jump out of the river. It’s best for us to move in the city and get upstream. Be politicians, lawyers. Be people that are in the media. Be people that are teaching in the universities. Raise our children to do the same to effect cultural change downstream. It takes a while, but it’s the only way to make a lasting change. A couple other things that mark the density of a city – one is political. Do you know if Seattle votes for something everybody has to live with it, because we’ve got all the people? That’s why people in Washtucna are ticked, right? Some of you say, “Where’s Washtucna?” That’s my point, you know. They’re going, “Wash who?” If you’re in a small town you don’t have enough people to vote for something that affects the state; the city dominates.
Also the city is marked by mobility – people come and go. International airport, new people, new ideas; the average person has lived three places in the last ten years in Seattle. Only half of you are homeowners – coming and going, massive mobility, transference of people – how many have moved here in the last five years from outside the city? About half – welcome. And it provides this wonderful opportunity because the city is also marked by anonymity. Small town – “Oh, that’s Joe. I know his dad and I know his mom, his brother, his sister, his grandpa.” Here – nobody knows you. You are anonymous. You get to start your identity over from scratch; be whoever you wanna be. The problem with that is you move into the city, you say, “Where do I live? Where do I work? Who do I trust? Who are my friends? I’d like to fall in love – who do I meet? I don’t wanna end up with some stalker who had baggage and carry-ons.” You know. “I want to fall in love, maybe, and have kids, but I don’t wanna make, you know, the police blotter. Who do I – where do I go?”
And this is the wonderful opportunity for the church to be the city within the city that welcomes new people, practices hospitality, opens our homes literally for community groups to welcome friends, family, neighbors, connect people. We’ll help you find a job, friends will help you fall in love, people will help you to get your feet under you, because otherwise the city can be a really dark and cold and hard place. And all of this is important, and Paul strategically knew this, this series of facts about the city. And that’s why he went from city to city to city, and he went to the great city of Corinth, and here’s where we’re going. Mars Hill is in the biggest transition in the history of the church. 2006 is a cataclysmic adjustment of everything we do. We’re taking the biggest financial leadership risks we ever have. So I need you all to be on mission, all to see the vision, all to love the city, all to love Jesus, all to love the church, to know what we are doing.
And so I picked the book of 1 Corinthians because that city was a lot like Seattle, and that church wrestled with a lot of things that we wrestle with. Here’s some of the commonalities. One, they were a port city with lots of trade and tourism; a lot of boats coming in and out with a lot of people, a lot of products, and a lot of crazy ideas. Also, a lot of educated young people; lots of educated young people in Corinth, and they were new money. This was a city on the rise, just like many of you make your money in the tech industry. It’s new money, new city on the rise. They also had the media outlets. They had farms nearby for food. Holistic medicine like we have Bastyr. They had massive numbers of singles, crazy feminism – we’re gonna get into that. It’s gonna be great – for me. It gets exciting about the 11th chapter.
They’re dealing with feminists who are fighting men and shaving their head – well, it’s good. We’ll talk about women’s hair – hoo hoo! It’s gonna be great. All you guys who want your wife to have long hair – I’m backing you up. Give me a few weeks and I’ll get there. Also they had massive issues of substance abuse and drunkenness. Guys were getting drunk at communion. Might I suggest that that is an indication of a severe alcohol problem? If you come up for communion, “Thank you, Jesus – I’ll take another round,” you have a problem. You have a problem, right? “Where’s the peanuts?” Like this is church – this is not happy hour, you know, and it’s 9:00 a.m., you’re at the morning service, you know. They also had massive sporting events and everybody was into their extreme sports and their bodies and going to the health club and working their upper body – that’s exactly like Seattle.
Massive arts scene, and also massive sexual perversion. They had transvestites, homosexuality, friends with benefits, strip clubs, cohabitating, stranger classifieds, the whole thing. The whole thing – just crazy naked people everywhere, that’s what it was, right? That’s why we’ve called the series “Christians Gone Wild.” That’s gonna be the name of the series of 1 Corinthians. It’s nuts. I mean it’s just out of control, and the problem is there’s only a few singles – excuse me, only a few Christians. They’re very proud, very arrogant, very cheap; they don’t tithe, but they think they’re holy. Welcome to Mars Hill! Drunk, naked, cheap Christians – thank you, Jesus! This is gonna be a great book, it’s just – I’m gonna feel so much better, and for the three of you that are still here, life transformation – I promise!
So that’s the dude goes to the city, a city a lot like Seattle, dealing with a lot of the same issues that we deal with. So to get his church started, he has to get a core group. You gotta start with some Christians to get your church going. You gotta start somewhere. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife, Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. It was a racist issue; he kicked a certain race out of town, but God even works through racism and sin to get his people to the right place for the work of the Gospel. That’s why some of you are here. You’re saying, “My company got downsized,” or, “I got relocated.” No, the sovereignty of God – you’re a missionary. Welcome to Seattle. God has work for you to do. Definitely, that’s why you’re here.
And what happens here is he gets his core group. Priscilla and Aquila – good Godly couple, love the Lord, good Bible teachers, male and female – both of them are good. They train Apollos, they risk their lives for Paul on multiple occasions, he declares. These are some really wonderful people. They’re not ordained, they didn’t go to seminary, they’re not licensed pastors – they’re great Christians. Some of you here today are saying, “Does my service count? Does it matter? Is it a big deal?” Yeah. You just made the Bible. Those are just faithful Christians; that’s what they are. You know how many people it takes to run this service right now? 300. Sound, light, video, security, children’s, counting the offering, parking – all clean-up, janitorial. 300 people are working here for free just so you could come to church.
Just like Priscilla and Aquila – not paid, love God, serve. Take time, money; help to expand the church of Jesus Christ because they love the church. For those of you that are like that, thank you so much! Mars Hill is built on people like Priscilla and Aquila. When we went to start this church, man, I felt God – I knew God spoke to me in college. I was 19 years of age. God spoke to me audibly. Some of you are saying, “Crazy!” Yeah, there’s evidence to convict. I’m a little nuts. But I knew God spoke to me, and what God said was, “Marry Grace” – my now lovely wife – “preach the Bible. Train men and plant a church that plants other churches.” All right, and so I knew that was God, so I married the woman, started studying the Bible, went to plant the church, moved back to Seattle, didn’t know where to start. Never been a member of a church; I’d never preached in a church, never went to seminary, Bible college. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I’m gonna start a church.
So I found two guys that I could really trust and admire. And I sat the two of them down and I said, “We’re gonna plant a church. Are you with us?” And they said, “Yes.” It was like, “We just tripled! The church exploded!” Bang! We’re at six – this is amazing! We filled up a whole Suburban with Mars Hill. It was incredible. And they had kids, so now we’re up to like 10, 12 people, so Mars Hill started with this little small group of people. Just a couple decent families, starting to get this work going, many, many, many years ago. Actually we started having this discussion ten years ago this month. We launched the church October 1996, so this October will be our tenth anniversary as officially a public church. It started with my wife and I and two other married couples. They had kids; we didn’t have kids yet. Like Priscilla and Aquila, good people; gave lots of time, energy money. Made big sacrifices because they wanted to see a church get started.
Well, the next thing Paul needs is the same thing that every church planter needs: time, which requires money to free up his time. Paul went to see them and because he was a tentmaker, worked with leather making tents out of leather. Like Jesus, he had a trade. He had calluses on his hands. He could work a job to make money as needed. He stayed and worked with them, Priscilla and Aquila. Every Sabbath – that would be Saturday – he reasoned in the synagogue where all the Jews met, trying to persuade the Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. Here’s what he’s saying: Paul was working a full-time job during the day to pay for his bills, and then he would do ministry at night and on weekends. But it got very hard, because to start a church from nothing requires a lot of time and energy, and he needed to devote himself full time.
So he worked a job until these two men showed up with money from another church in Macedonia. Philippians 4, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 talks a little bit about this. He brings in money from another church. That church pays his salary so he can quit his day job and work full time on the planting of the church. Every church starts off in a financially difficult position. We sent out one of our elders, Jesse Winkler, to plant the Vine Church over in Redmond. And he did, and for the first months of the church, six months or so, he was working a full-time job. This is his last week at his job. He’s actually quitting his job because now the church is generating enough money that he actually can go full time and work on the church.
It’s a major strain on a family. When we started my wife Grace worked full time for a media company. Between the strain of her job and the church, and wanting to get pregnant and start our family, and the fact we’re racking up credit card debt trying to pay off college debt – all of this led to massive health problems with my wife. I repeatedly took her in and out of the hospital, the doctor’s office, because she had massive stress-related health issues. I was working full-time at a Christian book store trying to get to know the Christians. Trying to gather people, trying to figure out the pastors, the facilities; trying to figure out how in the world to get this thing started. And I remember looking at her saying, “Honey, I’m sorry, because you shouldn’t be carrying the financial load.” Paul says, “If a man does not provide for the needs of his family he’s worse than an unbeliever.” This church wasn’t giving for jack squat. We had one Sunday, I counted the offering, it was 137 bucks.
So you’re saying, “What’s the big deal?” Imagine you went to work this week and your boss said, “Well, last week was rough. We generated $137.00 revenue.” You’d be like, “I’m cleaning up my resume. This isn’t going anywhere.” Right? 137 bucks won’t get you Chateau Briand for two at El Gaucho, let alone transform the 15th largest market in the United States of America. Won’t even get you the flaming Bananas Foster and a bottle of Silver Oak at El Gaucho – you can tell it’s dinner time what I’m thinking about. But anyways, 137 bucks, so I thought, “Oh my gosh! How am I gonna do it? How am I gonna feed my family? How are we gonna have a kid? How am I gonna work 50-60 hours a week and do the church? I’m gonna die!” And then Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland sent us money. For three years they covered my salary; about an average of $30,000.00 a year.
So for the first three years of Mars Hill I never got paid. I volunteered my time, and the church, Antioch, paid my salary, just like the Macedonian church paid Paul’s salary. Without them, to be honest with you, I don’t think Mars Hill comes into existence, because I don’t think me and my family make the turn in the road. There were other churches at that time that pledged to give money. I went to one big church and got up at all the services, gave the pitch. They took a love offering – I’m not sure why they call it that. Like there’s a hate offering. They gave a love offering and they collected all the money and I waited a week and I didn’t get the money. And I called the pastor. I said, “Where’s all the money?” He said, “Well, we’re not gonna send it to you.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Honestly, because we feel like you’re a lost cause. You’re in the city. Churches don’t succeed in the city. You’re going after young, hip cool crowd. There’s no money. You don’t know what you’re doing. You’ve never been a member of a church, a pastor. This is just doomed for failure. We’re not gonna waste our money.”
Thanks Barnabas, Son of Encouragement. And I said, “Well, dude, you raised the – you took an offering, Judas! You know, it was a love offering. Love me – show me the love, Judas!” Never did. So the money we were waiting on never came in. Antioch did kick in, allowed me to go full time, and slowly – very slowly – we got the church going. Very slowly we got the church going. Well, what happens then, as soon as Paul gets to go full time, gets a little money, gets a little encouragement, immediately it gets hard because of the religious people. Man, here they go: “But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive” – we don’t know what they did, you know? Yelled at him, screamed at him, beat him up. The guy got beat up a lot. “He shook out his clothes in protest, said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads. I’m clear of my responsibility. From now on I’m gonna go to the Gentiles.’” It was all the religious folks that drove him crazy.
Religious folks drive you crazy because they argue about things that don’t matter. We started the church. I had one guy come in, he said, “I’m considering joining.” This was when we were like 15 people, so one guy’s a big deal, and if he’s got a job, he’s huge. You know, he’s huge. He’s like, “I think I wanna join.” “Great. We’d love to have you. You’re upright and bipedal and employed. This is a whole new market for us.” And here’s his question: he said, “But what’s your position on the Rapture?” I said, “The Rapture? Look, I don’t – I’m for it? I don’t know – I don’t care. You know, it’s not my thing.” He said, “Well, if you don’t have your position on the Rapture I can’t be” – I said, “I don’t know what my position is on the Rapture. I’m a new Christian. I’m teaching the Bible. I love Jesus. Everybody else here we’re just trying to get them out of rehab. The Rapture’s not in the forefront of our thinking right now.” He said, “Well, what is your position?” I said, “I want you to be Raptured – that’s my position.” Never came back.
Religious people are the stinking worst. Had another family show up – they had kids; first kids to show up at the church. Wife shows up with a doily on her head. They got like 50 kids, you know? I’m thinking, “Whoa, we reached these Mormons. This’ll be awesome!” And they all show up, and they come in. All the girls are dressed in the same hand-made dresses, and they’re all carrying Bibles with doilies. You know, they tithed – it was crazy. It was like, “Whoa, look at that!” And so then they said, “Well, we’re thinking about joining.” Well, at this point we’re at about like a whopping 20 people, and they said, “But we have one request. Our children would like to do their hand bell choir. I said, “What the heck is a hand bell choir?” I don’t know – I didn’t grow up in church. I grew up behind a strip club. I never seen a hand bell choir. I said, “Well, I don’t know what that is, so I don’t know if I can allow that or not allow that.” They said, “Well, next week we’ll bring the bells and you can see for yourself.” And mom was glowing; you know, I was like, “Okay.”
Next week they come in and all the kids got white gloves on. Open this big box, take out a bunch of little bells, and “Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.” And I’m looking for Ashton Kutcher – I mean what the heck is going on here? This can’t be happening! Because everybody in my church, all 12 of them were outside before smoking and you know. “My tattoo’s bigger than your tattoo,” playing Mars Hill’s favorite pastime. And here I got the Von Trapps with a hand bell choir. I said, “I don’t think this is going to work.” They said, “Well, you could let the band sing and then our kids could be the grand finale every week.” Oh, yeah – “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” “Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.” This is not going to work! Religious people drive you nuts, you know? It’s just crazy, some of the stuff people come in, what they want. “We have this at my church!” Well, go back, you know? Don’t bring it here.
It’s like, “My church had ebola.” Well then, go back there. We don’t wanna catch that! But I love what Paul tells the religious people. “You don’t wanna talk about Jesus. You don’t wanna learn about Jesus. You don’t wanna roll with Jesus. Fine, I’m done with you. Your blood’s on your own head. It’s between you and Jesus. I’m gonna move on, find something else to do.” Well, the result is now he needs a place to meet; he needs a facility. Facilities for an urban church are always a problem. Here’s how he deals with it. “Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door.” He’s like, “There’s a house – that’ll do.” I love Paul, you know? He gets out of the synagogue. “Well, you know, where am I gonna meet? There’s a good house right there; I’ll take that one.” Goes and knocks on the door (knocking) “Jesus loves you. That’s a big house. I’m looking for a place.” And most churches start in a house. This church started in our rental house in Wallingford. We had three couches, two chairs – that was Mars Hill. That was it – just a couple people in a living room, about a dozen; not a big deal.
You start with what you got. Usually you start in a house because it’s free. “So he went next door to the house of Titius Justus,” and I’m saying this – I know it’s in the Bible. Don’t name your son that. “He was a worshiper of God. Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord. The Jewish leader and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.” So he says, “You know what, you religious people, I’m done with you. I’m gonna go to all the freaks, nut jobs, weirdoes, the homeless kids on the Ave, the indie rockers, everybody who’s got a moped. You know, forget about it. I’m gonna go get all the people whose marriages are falling apart and they’re all jacked up, and I’m gonna go to them.”
What does he find? Some of them love Jesus. “Say, that sounds good. I need salvation. I need a relationship with God. I need my sins forgiven.” And so they start meeting in this house, which is amazing. When we started we started meeting in a house, our house, and then it outgrew the house. So we went to a youth room high up for free, because that’s all we could afford, above a church across from Woodland Park Zoo. They took us in, and I appreciate that. But the room was terrible. We had a foosball table in our sanctuary. If you came into Mars Hill and there was like a foosball table and like a Petra poster from the ‘80s rock band, and shag carpet and a couple couches you’d be like, “This is not what I was expecting.” That was Mars Hill. And we would put the couches out, and we had a bad, bad, bad sound system. We didn’t have any sound gear, so a college guy brought a home stereo system and jerry-rigged it with like duct tape and the Holy Spirit. They held the stupid thing together.
We did worship on an overhead projector with transparencies. Church filled with tech guys – not highly impressed. Probably like, “Oo! A light bulb!” Not real high-tech, and the room was so hot. There was no windows and the heater was always on. And the summer was brutal, and people would get up there and we’d just be sweating like Mike Tyson in a spelling bee. It was so hot all the time we actually had one pregnant lady get overheated and pass out, and like the three Charismatics were like, “Oh, it’s the Holy Ghost!” “No, she’s dying! She’s got a fever! She can’t breathe! Call 9-1-1. She’s gonna lose the baby. This is not the Holy Ghost.” It was just hot; it was terrible. But eventually we outgrew that room and we moved down to their sanctuary, paid them 1,000 bucks a month. We launched Mars Hill; had maybe 120 the first Sunday. Yes!
And then – ah – and then all the cool people left. Everybody who smoked or played guitar and had a tattoo left because they got tired of hearing about Jesus. They asked questions like, “How come we don’t get to read the Koran and the bhag-vad-Gita, and how come we don’t get to read Hustler and the Tau, and we need options.” It was like, “Oh, we’re into Jesus!” They’re like, “Ah! We would like more diversity.” I said, “Well, we’re into Jesus.” They said that we’re all leaving, so the whole band left. One of our four core values was beauty, and everybody who could play guitar left. Everybody with pleats in their pants remained. It was terrible. It was terrible. I’m looking at a sea of Dockers going, “Ah – our band is not gonna rock. That is for sure.” They all left, so like half the church left. Now we’re down to like 40-50 people, and people would come and we had no music. I’d yell for an hour, close in prayer – that was it. No band, no nothing, nothing cool. We had big woofers, we finally bought some – couldn’t even use them.
But eventually we got a little band going, got a little traction, started growing. Filled it up, got up to 100 people. As we start to grow we lose our building, but a building became available over in Laurelhurst. We moved from Woodland Park over to Laurelhurst; you know where Laurelhurst is at? It’s nice, isn’t it? All the kids are named Buffy and Muffy and ride in Escalades to go to their equestrian practice after Latin class, driven by their nanny in their uniform, right? That’s Laurelhurst. I grew up in Seatac – none of the kids were like that. They knew Pig Latin – that was it. That was their education. So we pull into Laurelhurst, this church died and we still had services in the evening because there was no place to meet in the morning. And we’re loud, rocking out, start growing, people are coming and walking. Well, eventually we go to two services there. Yes, it’s going good, we’re growing. We’re gonna make it, we’re gonna survive.
So we thought, “Let’s go to the University District.” We had services at 6:00 and 8:00. “Let’s go to the” – or I think it was 5:00 and 7:00 – “Let’s go to the University District, to the Vineyard, rent their building, do a 9:00 service.” Dumbest idea – that thing was the worst church in the history of the world. The service was terrible. It failed miserably. And we had Team Strike Force – Luke, who usually plays here, he led worship. There’s only like seven people there. Two of them were drunk guys that wanted to always argue with me in the middle of the sermon about UFOs and white bread. I’m not even making that up. They’d come in: “Did you see the UFO?” “No, I did not.” “It was filled with wheat bread, and I like white bread.” I’m like, “You know, I’m in the middle of something. Jesus is the bread of life; that’s all I got. Sit down – I got nothing,” you know?
The only regular attender we had at this train wreck of a church service was a lady in her 60s – I swear to you this is the truth – she wore the color purple because the Holy Spirit told her it was the color of royalty. And she would show up with a praise flag. I’d never seen one of these things, and if I don’t, that’s okay. She would show up with a praise flag, a tambourine with ribbons on it, and dance as the Spirit led on the stage with Team Strike Force. And I didn’t know whether to kick her out, because she was the only person who came regularly. I remember literally sitting there in the seat during the service just going, “Jesus, I’m not sure I believe in the Rapture, but you can have her right now. That would be great. Just take her!” The thing failed miserably. I knew it was the end when we finally had a visitor and it was her friend – in purple. That’s it – no more! So we shut it down. It died a painful death.
We regrouped at Laurelhurst, and then on a Monday I got notified that the building got sold. We lost the building. “You can’t meet there on Sunday.” It’s Monday – we don’t even have time to tell everybody. That week somebody broke into our church, stole a bunch of our sound equipment, guitars, and our computer database. All you tech guys, we didn’t back up our data. We lost all our phone numbers, e-mails, the whole church, technologically, left. That same week the phone company went on strike. We had no phone, no computer, no e-mail addresses, nothing, and we can’t tell everybody, “We’re not there anymore.” So that Wednesday I was leaving town to go preach at a conference in Florida. Tuesday I went to a pastors’ meeting downtown. I’d never been to one. I always got invited but I never went. And so I put a suit on trying to like fit in, and I go down there and I sit with all the pastors, and they’re all giving prayer requests. Nice guys. They said, “Mark, do you have any requests?” “Yes. We are a church in need of a building on Sunday for free for an indefinite period of time, and I need an answer now.”
And they all kinda laughed like you. And one of the guys said, “What are you talking about?” I said, “You guys all have homeless ministries, right?” “Yes.” “We’ll sign up for that. We’re a homeless church. We’re gonna sign up for the homeless ministry.” So First Pres downtown – First Presbyterian Church – they actually said, “You can use our building starting Sunday as long as you want free of charge.” They were very good to us for our evening service. “Use our nursery and stuff.” So we moved the offices into my house. We had all the meetings in my house. Gospel class was in my house. Premarital class was in my house. Everything was in my house except for Sunday church. And we had it there for two years and it was really hard, and what happened then, we bought the Paradox – a theater in the University District on the Ave. It had rat poop all over it. It was destroyed, homeless kids living in it. We finally cleaned it up, opened it up as a all-ages venue, and started evening service with 40 people. Within a year it went to two services.
A church over here on Earl in Ballard died. After six months of negotiation, gave us the building for free. We did some work on it, got it open. We started our first morning service; 10:00 a.m., 35-40 people first week. Didn’t think it was gonna go anywhere, thought it was just a throwaway. Services in the U District, services in the morning in Ballard, services still downtown in the evening. That service went crazy! Next thing you know, we’re doing 9:00, 11:00, 1:00, 5:00. We’re doing five services eventually in that little building. Some of you were there – seats about 130 people. Guys were standing up outside with coats because we can’t get men physically in the building. People sitting in janitorial closets listening on speakers – it was totally out of control. Fire Marshall comes to shut us down, gets saved, buys us a little time. True story – and I’ll say this: the firemen are the easiest guys to lead to Christ. You just start talking, “Hell’s filled with fire, and there’s no hose. Jesus was a fireman – he’ll rescue you.” You know, you give it to them.
And we had one bathroom for the men, one bathroom for the women. It was terrible. We had one legal parking place. We parked all over the neighborhood. The neighborhood starts complaining. Then they start coming and getting saved – a bunch of the neighbors got saved. “This place is taking all my parking!” “Jesus does not want you to leave the house. He wants you to go to Mars Hill. That’s what he wants.” So then they come over, get saved – yes! And now things go crazy. The Paradox takes off, that takes off, we start another service in Des Moines Pastor Mike takes – becomes a church plant. Finally that thing gets so out of control crazy huge nuts that we end up getting this building. Almost three years ago we walk in with 1,200 people. Now we’re 4 ½ thousand – one of the 60 fastest-growing churches in America, one of the 25 most influential. God has been good in every way, and God has provided every time.
But for us today facilities remains one of the big problems. We’re adding services. We’ve got a $7 million project a block away we need your help on to open up 1,000 more seats. We’re starting a new service up at the campus of Crista Ministry. We are distributing as fast as we can. We don’t want the scope of our ministry to be limited by the size of our seating. It’s always been an issue; it was an issue for Paul, it’s an issue for us. I would just encourage you this year – it’s the most important year that I think we’ve ever had. Pray for this church, that God would allow us to have the capacity to accommodate as many people as he wants us to love. And right now we’re turning people away. This morning at the 11:00 people are driving away from the building because the Paradox is even full for overflow, and they’re sitting on the floor and they can’t get in the building. We’re there again.
So at this point, Paul, he’s got people getting saved and the church is starting to get traction. They’re meeting in a house. They’re outgrowing a house. It’s starting to go pretty well, but he’s got some fears. And so who shows up but Jesus to talk to him. “One night the Lord” – that’s Jesus – “spoke to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid. Keep on speaking. Do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one is going to attack or harm you because I have many people in this city.’” I love that line. “So Paul stayed for a year and a half” – which is a long time for him – “teaching them the Word of God.” God says to Paul this: first, have courage. “Do not be afraid.” You know, when you do a church in the city there’s a lot to be afraid of, isn’t there? There’s homeless guys all around here, guys living in their cars, panhandling. You’re in the city. There’s fear. There’s fear the city will reject you. There’s fear that your people you work with or friends or family would reject you, that you’re the Jesus freak. There’s a lot of fears that paralyze people.
But he says, “Don’t be afraid; have courage.” The second thing he says is, “Tell people about me. Don’t be silent. Don’t be silent.” Because he says, Jesus says, “There’s a lot of people in that city that belong to me.” I want you to hear that, that God has predestined, God has foreordained, God has chosen people in that city. And what he’s saying is, “My ends are to save them; my means are you not being afraid and having the courage to tell people that I love them and that I’ll take away their sin through my death, my burial and my resurrection.” That’s exactly what Jesus wants us to know. I want you to know this: when we went to plant the church in Seattle, everybody said – everybody said – “It cannot be done. There has not been a large church planted in Seattle in 40 or 50 years. The death rate is over 90 percent for church planting attempts. Those that make it invariably leave for the suburbs because the city is too hard.”
I believe this: I believe if we hear Jesus today in this text, we hear him say, “Do not be afraid. Don’t stop speaking about me. There are many people in the city of Seattle that belong to me. They just don’t know it yet.” And they won’t know it unless we tell them about Jesus. Do you believe, Mars Hill, that there are tens of thousands of people in Seattle that God, the Holy Spirit, is already working on their heart, their conscience, their mind, their life? That he is preparing them to receive the truth of Jesus, to have their lives transformed, and to become Christians? I do. That’s why I get up every day. I believe that there is an enormous number of people that God is already preparing to hear about Jesus, and he is going to reach them through us. I absolutely believe that with everything in me. And Paul tells his people the same thing. It’s courage – “don’t be afraid of the city.” It’s love – “the city needs you.”
Some of you say, “I don’t like the city.” Well, the city will be a better city if more people love Jesus and live like him. You won’t need as many jails. You won’t need as many divorce courts. You won’t need as many CPS workers for the beaten children. You won’t need all of the sexual abuse and rape victim counseling. If more people meet Jesus and more people live a life of love like Jesus, you will be contributing to the betterment of a great city. See, we’re not a church that hates the city. We love the city. We’re not here to fight the city. We’re here to serve the city. We’re not here to impose anything on the city. We’re here to propose a new way of life with Jesus to the city. We’re not a church that is a refuge for people who want to hide from the city. We are a church of hospitality wanting to welcome everyone from the city. We’re not here to declare war on the city. We’re here to embrace the city with the love and the transforming power of Jesus.
We are a church that is here to make this a great city, and what Seattle needs is Jesus. That’s it. They need Jesus. Now, to me this is encouraging and exciting because I’m seeing it happening. I’ll give you one weird report I didn’t tell the other services. There was a couple from Mars Hill that was in a Starbucks, and there was a gay couple that was talking about this one question: if you could do anything to make the world a better place what would you do? And apparently they’d been going to various coffee shops and sort of asking this question. It was something they were curious about. They went to this Mars Hill couple, they said, “Well, if you could do anything to make the world a better place, Seattle a better city, what would you do?” They said, “We would tell people about Jesus.” The gay couple said, “You guys go to Mars Hill?” They said, “Why?” They said, “Everybody who says that says they go to Mars Hill.” See, that’s perfect. That’s exactly what we want. It should always be on our mind.
I love my city. The best thing for my city is that people would know the love of Jesus. That’s the best thing I can do for my city. The city has a lot of needs, but that’s the biggest need, because that’s the need that begins the life transformation that takes care of all the other problems. Paul says, “Don’t be afraid. Be courageous. Love your city. Serve your city. I promise you there’s a lot of people there that are gonna love Jesus, and they’re gonna respond to the message.” Well, next thing you know, of course he gets a little encouragement from Jesus, you gotta get a little criticism from your critics. Somebody’s gotta complain. May as well be the religious folks. “While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul, brought him into court. ‘This man,’ they charged, ‘is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.’ Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews” – here’s what they’re saying.
Under Roman law, the Jewish religion was an acceptable religion. They’re saying now that they’re worshiping Jesus, they’ve broken from Judaism, they have a new religion. It’s an illegal religion; it’s not operating under the auspices of the Roman government. The truth is that Christianity is true Judaism. We love the Old Testament; they’re waiting for Jesus. He came. Jesus was a Jew, the early Christians were Jews. Judaism is not faithful unless it loves Jesus. So this is the theological debate. “If you Jews were making complaint” – the judge says – “about some misdemeanor or serious crime” – if Paul ate somebody, you know. Or if he whacked somebody, or whatever – he was a terrorist – “it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law” – theological stuff, right? It’s like Christians coming and saying to the King County Superior Court, “Well, they don’t have an orthodox position on the Trinity.”
They’d be like, “Did they eat anybody, because you know, we don’t really care. We’re backed up. We got other stuff. We got terrorists. You gotta work out the Trinity on your own. We’re sort of backlogged.” “‘Settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.’ So he had them ejected from the court. They all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler” – the one guy who converted to Jesus – “beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatsoever.” The point is this: once things start to go well people are gonna criticize. When a church starts, they ignore it. When it starts going well, they take credit for it. If it gets a little momentum, they criticize it. How many of you have heard crazy things said about me? I tell you, I love it. I entertain myself with my inbox, because they’re saying crazy stuff about Paul and his critics are undermining him and trying to ruin his reputation.
I tell you what – crazy things are gonna get said about me. Crazy things have been said about me, and I’d be lying if I said part of it wasn’t deserved because sometimes I go off and say stuff that I shouldn’t. Amen? You know, I’m gonna own that. That’s what happens when you don’t use notes and you’re hopped up on Red Bull. That’s what happens. But some of the stuff too is totally undeserved. I’ll give you some of my favorite examples of the crazy things that have been said about me. Early on in the church I had another pastor that I know and like and love, and he called me. Said, “Mark, I’m very concerned and I need to rebuke you for encouraging premarital sex.” I was like, “I didn’t know that premarital sex was down so much it needed like an endorsement.” And I said, “I don’t endorse premarital sex.” I said, “I don’t. It’s a sin. What are you talking about?” He said, “Well, I heard that the people at your church are having premarital sex.” “Yeah, they are. That’s why we have a church, you jackalope!” You know.
That’s like going to the hospital and saying, “What kind of a hospital is this? Everybody here is sick!” That’s where they go, lug nut! They come in with their pants around their ankles. We pull their pants up and hand them a Bible and tell them to knock it off. We’re working on it. Golly! I had another pastor call and say, “Is it true that you are serving alcohol at communion?” “Yeah, we have juice and we have wine.” “Well, I think that encourages people to be alcoholics.” “We serve bread too – does that make them high carb? I mean you know what?” “I need to get together and talk with you. There’s a lot of things that concern me about your church.” “Okay, great. Come on over. Sit down. Have a beer, whatever, and we’ll talk about it.” I shouldn’t have said that either. Send an e-mail. See, that’s what I’m talking about – that’s what happens. And so he comes and meets me. He’s like, “Well, a bunch of my people have been coming to your church and I don’t like what they’re getting told.”
I said, “Hey, what are your people doing in my church? How bad do you stink if they gotta come to my church?” He said, “Oh, this isn’t about me.” “Oh, it is now. It is now. If all your people are coming to my church and you don’t like what I’m telling them, tell them to stay home. You keep your people at your church, and if they hate you, fix it. Get better. Read a book. Yell. Say something funny. Do something different.” He’s like, “Oh, I can’t believe you’re offending me.” I said, “Oh, we’ve only begun.” And we went out for a walk. Just crazy stuff, you know? Criticizing me for serving alcohol at communion; there’s juice and wine. Practice conscience. We don’t encourage drunkenness; drunkenness is a sin. But we also believe the Bible, and we also do what Jesus did, and that is allow people freedom of conscience.
Crazy stuff gets said about me. All right, somebody asked a while ago, “Is it true that you make your wife have dinner on the table by 5:30 every night or else?” “No – we eat at 6:00.” Just crazy, like who’s living in my house with a watch, you know? Like, “Oh, I see a turkey pot pie at 5:30 – he’s a chauvinist pig!” No, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I had a dad call recently and say, “I’m encouraging my daughter not to attend your church because I heard that you discourage women from going to college.” I’m like, “Half the women in my church go to college. A college that doesn’t like me – but they go to that college.” Aw, come on – you know it’s true! So anyways, I said, “No, we encourage women.” I said, “I married my wife in college. I paid for the rest of her college. I got two daughters that got college funds. The gal who does all the research for my sermons and theology is a college graduate. We’re pro-reading. We like reading.” Just like who can – and like I asked somebody, I said, “If this were true, how could I enforce it? Like there’s 3,000 women that call this church home. Like I’m walking around, ‘Are you reading again? Don’t even think about going to a class.’”
Like how am I gonna enforce that? Just dumb, crazy, stupid, inane stuff, and people continue to say crazy stuff about me. And you know what? I love it, because they’re talking about me, and then everybody else is like, “Mars Hill is crazy – let’s go check it out.” How many of you got here that way? Right? “He’s nuts, that guy, I don’t – he’s” – how many of you showed up because you were told this place is nuts, and you’re like, “I’m gonna go check it out.” Like you’re driving down I-5 and there’s a wreck, and you’re like, “I gotta peek – maybe there’s a body or something.” You know, you just gotta look. I’m cool with that. So here’s the deal: when people say bad things about me or Mars Hill, what do you do? Ah, let it ride – it’s no big deal. If they start messing with Jesus, load the gun, right? Load the gun. If they’re gonna say, “We don’t like Jesus,” well, that’s a big one right there. That’s a hill we die on. If they say, “We don’t like Mark,” say, “We don’t either. So cool – welcome to Mars Hill. You’ll be in the majority.”
If people don’t like our church, that’s okay. That’s okay if they don’t like our church. That’s okay if they don’t like me. Our whole goal is we just want people to fall in love with Jesus. That’s all that matters. At the end of the day, ah, Mars Hill’s gonna go away. I’m gonna get hit by a bus or have a nervous breakdown or heart attack because all I eat is red meat. But Jesus will still be on his throne; Jesus will still be doing his job. That’s the thing we’re into. Gee, that’s all you gotta worry about. Some people say, “I wanna argue about your pastor.” “My pastor’s name is Jesus.” “I wanna argue about the church.” “Ah, let’s talk about the Kingdom. Mars Hill’s where I serve, but Heaven is where my King resides. That’s where my citizenship is. Mars Hill’s about Jesus.” We have a lot of fun. I’m not gonna lie to you. I have a good time. But at the end of the day, don’t worry about the critics.
Because what he does, he ignores the critics. Paul moves on, and you’ll see it. He could’ve argued forever. Christians can argue forever. I mean, it’s unbelievable. People can argue about nothing forever, and what you do is just, “Look, we love Jesus. We’re gonna roll. We’re here to serve the city. You wanna roll with us, that’s cool. If not, that’s cool. We’re just trying to get something done.” So Paul packs up, rolls on. He “stayed in Corinth for some time, left the brothers, sailed for Syria accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila.” Simply this: after he’d been there a year and a half, he went on to plant another church. There was a time that I thought God was calling me to do this, to start the church, be here a couple years, and move. The whole thing fell apart. We were an absolute disaster, being homeless and broke. I remember going for a walk in the Arboretum asking Jesus, “Jesus, you’re the senior pastor. What do you want me to do? Do you want me to shut it down, hand it off, move on – what do you want?” And I believe God has clearly called me to give my life to Seattle and Mars Hill.
The average pastor is in a church three to four years. Average youth pastor, nine to ten months. Massive turnover means that the church never gets a lot of good traction with philosophy, administration, and programming to really continue to do a good job of reaching its city. I believe with a church of our nature in a city of our size that it will take a whole lifetime of work plus our kids to really make a dent in the city. So we’re thinking long-term multi-generational. What that means is I’m 35; statistically I’ll live to be mid-70s, so the band’s about ready to come on the field for halftime for Pastor Mark. We’re about halfway to the goal line with life here. But I’m gonna give my life to you, and I’m gonna give my life to the city, and this is what I’m doing. Unlike Paul, I’m not moving on. But like Paul, I wanna be involved in lots of church plants and helping things get started, so we have strategically organized Mars Hill in such a way to do lots of other church plants, help lots of other places, without me having to leave this church and go start another one, because I don’t feel called to.
So let me tell you a little bit about Seattle and our mission in closing. Seattle is now one of the 15th largest markets in the country. It’s struggling with a lot of the growing urban issues that happen when a town goes from a nice city to a world-class first-rate city. Transportation, taxes, cost of living, housing expenses, education, accommodating families. The city is wrestling with all of those issues. Right now, statistically Seattle is number five on the creative class list, meaning hip, cool, young, arty, world-changing, culture-making, entrepreneurial, innovative types – number five. Between 1990 and the year 2000, 27,201 25-to-34-year-olds, college educated, moved to Seattle. Massive input of new talent, new people, some of them new Christians, some of them Christian leaders; massively gifted talented people pouring into Seattle. We’re now the fifth largest market of college-educated singles in the United States of America. Massive talent pool. Massive competency. Massive ability.
Same thing they had at the church at Corinth. The problem at the Church of Corinth was they didn’t have a lot of maturity, so they had to take all of their giftedness – it needs to be matched with maturity for Kingdom effectiveness. That’s why the book will be good for us. Our city metro area is about 1.7 million people. It grew by about a quarter million people in the last decade. People are coming here in droves. What that means is this: Seattle is at the strategic point where it’s transitioning from a city to a world-class first-rate major urban center. It means it’s a city on the rise, just like Corinth was. Corinth was this exact same kind of town. That means that God in Acts 17 when he says that God determines the times and places in which we live, that God has put us all here today. God has put us in Seattle today; talented, gifted, competent people, together to grow in maturity so that we can help shape the future of the city.
I’m simply saying this: that what Seattle looks like in a generation in large part depends upon the people who pass through these doors today, absolutely. The judges, the lawyers, the professors, the mothers, the fathers, they are in this church. The future of the city is in this church. And wouldn’t it be great if Seattle was no longer one of the least churched cities in the United States of America, and one in the least-churched region in the United States of America? Only 7.8 percent evangelical Christian. Wouldn’t it be great if the future of the city had in its DNA a deep love for Jesus, a deep love for the church, and a church that loved Jesus and deeply loved the city and helped to plant other churches that love Jesus and love the city? And were there not to fight the city, but to serve the city to make it the best city it could be, knowing that the soul is the place from which culture comes, and the soul belongs to Jesus. And unless the soul is connected to Jesus, the culture that comes out can’t be healthy or necessarily good for people because it’s disconnected from God.
So we are a church that is committed to continuing to grow. Some have asked, “Is it all about the numbers?” Of course it is. It’s about the number of people who meet and love Jesus. We would like more people to meet and love Jesus. We have a book of the Bible called Numbers. It’s in there. It’s good to have more people love Jesus. And if God would have 30,000 people love Jesus, then that would be great. We want to have as many people fall in love with Jesus, connect with his church, get in Bible studies, get their lives changed, as we possibly can. Here’s where we’re going: January 22nd, pray. 8:30, 10:30, 12:30, 5:00 and 7:00. If you can go to the 7:00, if you can go to the 12:30, please do. The 5:00 and the 10:30 are gonna get crushed. If you can go to some other service, do it. The 10:30 and the 5:00 are gonna get crushed. Then we’re opening on January 22nd a site up in Shoreline at Crista Ministry campus, 10:45 a.m., me on video.
And it seems weird, but Paul wrote letters, and I wonder if he had video if he’d have used video. That would have been a better way to communicate, but letters is what he had. It allows the preaching to go out without me having to quit the church and go plant another one. There’s no building to house us. They won’t let us – zoning laws – build a bigger one, and even if we could, it would be $30 to $40 million, and the truth is you guys just don’t give very well. There’s no way in the world we could ever afford that. I love you, but you’re kind of a cheap bunch. There’s no way we’re gonna pull that off. That’s just the truth. So we’re trying to figure out how to work around the facility issue and expand.
Okay, some of you will ask then, “Well, but why is this necessary?” It’s necessary because you’re in the least-churched city in the country, and that the population grew by a quarter million people in the last decade but churches only grew by 134. To keep pace with population we needed 456. We’re already 300 churches behind just to keep up with population growth. Three and a half thousand churches die and close every year in America. I know of dozens of churches that are dying and closing in Seattle. There is a need for a fresh work, new churches. So here’s what we do. These are prayer requests for the next year. Many of you don’t know this. We tell you to give a tithe, 10 percent. That’s because your church also gives a tithe of 10 percent. 10 percent of all the money you give goes out of Mars Hill to other churches. You have funded dozens of church plants in India. You have bought acreage at $40,000.00 a pop for an orphanage in India that now houses a few hundred kids that were throwaways. They get introduced to Jesus, they get educated. They get raised up, brought through the Bible college, and sent out as church planters. You didn’t know that.
10 percent of your dollars goes to fund other church plants. There’s an organization called Acts 29 that I preside over as a volunteer. That organization in the last few years has planted a hundred churches in America alone, plus churches overseas. You guys fund that. This year you will give $500,000.00 to church planters like Paul. I believe in my lifetime as your pastor we will give over $20 million to church planting. We wanna be like that Macedonian church that helps out the young guy trying to get it going. That’s what we do. Ultimately our goal is the planting of 1,000 churches in the United States of America averaging 250 people, so that ¼ million people are worshiping Jesus that otherwise wouldn’t be in churches that we helped to get started. We pay salaries, we do training. We do lots of things to help church planters like Paul because we believe that it is God’s heart that churches would serve other churches, so that more churches could be planted. We are absolutely committed to that.
We have helped start 12 churches in the Puget Sound area alone, in addition to the other 90 across the country. Here’s a few things I’ll give you to pray about. In January, pray for the 22nd, five services here, video concept – we’ll see if it works. Also, this January – you can pray this Tuesday. Every quarter we bring into the Paradox pastors from the Puget Sound. It’s usually at least a hundred pastors, and we train them. You pay for their lunch, you pay for the staff, you pay for the building. You pay for the resources, you pay for my time. And we train them four times a year, a hundred plus pastors and leaders. That’ll be this week at Mars Hill as well; that’s what you’re doing. That’s why your dollars and your prayers and your service, it all counts. It all helps. Also, in February then what is happening is we’re doing something here called a boot camp. We’re bringing in – we’ve now got over 40 church planters registered plus their wives and teams. It’ll be a few hundred people. We train these church planters, assess them.
Those that are good we send out to plant churches. Most of them are going to plant churches in the Northwest to help America’s least-churched region. That’s February. In March, my next two books come out. We’re launching a website we’re calling The Resurgence. It’ll be I hope the largest missional theology portal in the world. Over a million people are downloading the sermon a year on the podcast. Dozens of nations are taking all of our materials. My goal is to have a massive free resource with training and theology for pastors and Christian leaders all around the world to resource the greater church, especially the church plant. And my next book is on our church plants, specifically targeting tools to help church planters do a good job planning their church. Those come out in March. In April, I’m speaking to about 700 church planting movement leaders in Orlando. We’re also doing a boot camp where we will be assessing 50 to 60 additional church planters just for the state of Florida to see how good those guys are.
In May we’ll have a conference here for a thousand pastors to train them. A good chunk of them will be church planters. In June we’re bringing all of our hundred and some pastors by that point together from Acts 29 and their wives for a training retreat in Colorado. For most of them, you pay for their airfare. You pay for their lodging. You pay for their food. You pay for their rental car, and you pay for their wife. And we train the planter and his wife and you pick up the tab at the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. So on their behalf, thank you, because you’re serving them, like the Macedonian church served Paul. I hope that encourages you that what you’re doing is actually helpful to many. That same month I’ll be going to a meeting with an organization called Vision USA talking about board possibilities in my role. Al Weiss is the new President and CEO of Disney; he loves Jesus. He’s decided to raise $300 million for church planting in the United States of America. $6 million to 50 strategic urban centers and it looks like I might be helping to spend that money, so I can have money to give all these great young guys to also plant their churches.
$300 million is what is possibly at stake, which would make an enormous difference in the 50 most strategic cities in America – the same thing that Paul in fact did. In September I’m gonna go teach 2,700 pastors at John Piper’s church in Minneapolis, and then in October we will do a boot camp in New York to assess another 40 or 50 church planters for the Northeast. Right now that’s the next ten months – church planting and pastoral training – that just is on my schedule, not to mention the other elders and what we’ve got going on. I want you to see that this church, we really care about Seattle, but we’re not just trying to build a massive church. We’re trying to affect as many people as we can. Help serve, lead, equip, deploy as many people as we can for the cause of the Gospel of Jesus. I want you this year to be prayerful, Mars Hill. I want you to be humble. I want you to give, serve. I want you to become members. I want you to read your Bible. I want you to pray. I want you to get in community groups. I want you to get connected.
And I want us all to give our dollars and our days and our time to the work of the Gospel so like the fishes and loaves handed to Jesus by the little boy, it gets multitude and thousands upon thousands are benefited. That’s absolutely what we’re doing. For me, I’ll be honest with you, it’s a little intimidating. I didn’t even grow up going to church. I got saved later in life. This is the first church I’ve ever been a member of and it’s the first church I ever preached in. And I’m like Paul – I hear those words from Jesus. “Don’t be afraid. Just keep preaching. There’s a big harvest. Trust me on that.” Okay, so we all come into this feeling like we’re in a little over our heads. Looking around going, “Well, this is it? This is all we’ve got to work with?” Yeah, this is it. This is it. And I just wanna ask a simple question. Are you glad that you’re here today? Are you glad that you get to be a part of what God is doing?
And it begins right here in our own hometown, and then it spreads out from there. To double even the percentage of Christians in Seattle we would need 30 churches the size of Mars Hill. 30 churches the size of Mars Hill would double the number of Christians in Seattle. That tells me we got lots of work to do; lots of work to do. But most of us are young, so we’ve got a lot of years. And we’re gonna run together, holding hands, doing the best we can to serve God, to die to stand before Jesus. And together as Mars Hill hear, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Come on in, take a day off, have a break. Enter your Sabbath.” I love you guys. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. I do believe there’s immaturity that 1 Corinthians will clean up, and I believe that will help us to be a better church at serving this city that God has called us to. I’ll pray. When you’re ready you can commit your lives to Christ if you haven’t. Tell him of your sin, that you’ve been living for yourself and not for him. Ask him to forgive you and embrace you, and he will.
If you’re a Christian that’s been living selfishly, you’re not reading your Bible, you’re not praying, you’re not in a community group, you’re not connected, you’re not giving, you’re not serving. You’re not doing jack, because you feel like the church is here for you, you’re not here for the city, repent of that attitude, please. Partake of communion, remembering Jesus’ body and blood, shed for our sin. That it’s all about Jesus; and what the city needs most and what we need most is Jesus to change our hearts and minds so we would be more like him. And then we’ll sing and we’ll celebrate and we’ll leave here as missionaries to go do our job. Father God, thanks for a opportunity to spend a lot of time studying a great section of Scripture. Please forgive us of our sins. Please cleanse us of our unrighteousness. Please make us into a holy church, a united church, a gifted church, a devoted church, a fruitful church. Please allow us to serve our city with maximum effectiveness and efficiency. And Jesus, we take you at your work that we have nothing to fear. That if we talk about you, we will see that there are a large number of people who belong to you in the city and just have not heard about you quite yet. And so we trust that, and we walk forward with love and with confidence and with gladness, in your good name. Amen.