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Mars Hill Albuquerque

The service at Mars Hill Albuquerque (MHA) opened with a short loud set (3 or 4 songs) by the band, interspersed with prayers and, because this was the Second Sunday of Advent, a candle-lighting with a reading by someone on stage. This more or less fit in with what I was expecting from a church with a mix of evangelical megachurch and Reformed elements: the rock band being the former; the candle-lighting, reading, and Advent references the latter.

A worship band faces some challenges generally: they run the risk of being gushy and fake (prayers too earnest week after week, breaking down of the fourth wall a bit too confessional, etc.) on the one hand, and being too distant, rock-show-y or wallpapery on the other. The house band at MHA ran more to the latter extreme; there were instrumental solos and the band members rarely looked at us during their performance. Also, while they had clearly taken precautions (the drums were behind a hinged perspex drum shield and the drummer used bundled dowel “cool rods”) they still packed a wallop. I’m inclined to blame the shape of the room.

One of the reasons I wanted to visit Mars Hill Albuquerque (MHA) was that I understood that they were essentially a “video church,” where they would gather every week to see a video of the previous week’s service at Mars Hill in Seattle. So imagine my surprise when the music opened with a short video featuring Mark Driscoll reminding us to give and telling us that he’d “see us next month.” The latter part meant we’d be hearing Dave Bruskas preach a sermon live; the former tied in with the morning’s handouts.

Where many (most?) churches have a bulletin or an order of service or a full copy of the morning’s liturgy, MHA handed out two items, both professional-looking, both reminders to give money to Mars Hill. The first was the Mars Hill Weekly, a six-section trifold with a short update from Chris Swan at Bellevue (WA) saying that they’d signed a lease, are running 1500 on Sunday in a space that seats 500, another from James Harleman announcing plans to open a campus in Everett (WA), a Connect Card we could use to sign up to get involved, and a single panel outline of the morning’s sermon. The bottom quarter of the outline included a banner that read “GIVE: GIVING CHEERFULLY AND SACRIFICIALLY OF OUR FINANCES IS PART OF OUR WORSHIP.”

The other handout was a letter-sized was from the Generous Campaign; its main points were these:

  • An overleaf with the word GENEROUS and a quote from Luke 12:34: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
  • A short message from Pastor Jamie Munson reminding us of what Mars Hill did with donations in 2010.
  • The three main points of the Generous Campaign: Stability, Expansion, and Legacy; these were respectively a reference to the financial base required for church operations; the plans the leaders at Bellevue and Shoreline have for opening new campuses, along with a brand new campus in Portland (OR); and a reminder that the church has commitments to children’s ministries for 1000 children a week and bands for 1300 services a week.
  • A mailer for sending a check or credit card information in the mail, along with spaces to report “evidence of God’s grace in your life in 2010” and “prayer requests for 2010.”
  • A pointer for the 2010 Annual Report, available in January.

I will eventually get to the sermon; I’ve got a lot more notes on that, but I was really surprised to look back at what I had and discover just how much of it had to do with money. The handouts really did nothing to undermine the expectation I had that Mars Hill tells itself an expansion story that, while occasionally larded with Christianese (“The Lord has grown the Bellevue Campus,” “let’s make Everett known for Jesus”), is as much (if not more) a business story as a religious story.

I was struck by the novel use of the word “generous” here; I’m accustomed to hearing it as a virtue to be modeled in treating fellow believers or one’s fellow man  (“be generous to each other”) rather than one’s organization (“be generous to Mars Hill so the leaders can expand the organization”). Or maybe I’m accustomed to hearing requests for money as pleas rather than as commands. Regardless, there’s something about the Mars Hill approach to raising money that struck me as at best direct and at worst, well, something worse.

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