By Dan Wooding, Special to ASSIST News Service
ANAHEIM, CA (ANS – September 7, 2015) – After a year of scandals centered around controversial pastor Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, the Seattle megachurch, was dissolved at the end of 2014, and split into 12 smaller churches.
Warren Throckmorton, writing in the Daily Beast said that interim preaching pastor Dave Bruskas told the congregation that the church leaders had decided that “the best future for each of our existing local churches is for them to become autonomous, self-governed entities.”
In a November 2, 2014 story, Throckmorton said, “The dramatic move comes just over two weeks after the church’s co-founder and lead preaching pastor Mark Driscoll resigned his position. Prior to his resignation, Driscoll had been on leave pending an investigation of charges against him lodged by 21 former Mars Hill Church pastors and other unnamed witnesses. Just days before his resignation, Driscoll had been confronted with the results of the investigation by church elders.
“As a result of numerous interviews with aggrieved parties, the elders found that Driscoll had engaged in persistent sin’ relating to arrogance and a harsh, domineering style of leadership. The elders recommended that Driscoll step down as preaching pastor and only return when the elders believed he was ready. In the face of those conditions, Driscoll resigned.
“The decision to cease operations at the multi-site church is the culmination of a tumultuous year. Since late in 2013, Mark Driscoll has been embroiled in serial controversies. In October that year, Driscoll crashed a conference at fellow megachurch pastor John MacArthur’s with copies of his latest book. While there, he tweeted that church security had confiscated his books. Video taken of those events instead demonstrated that Driscoll gave his books to the church.
“In November 2013, Driscoll was accused of plagiarism by radio talk show host Janet Mefferd. Those allegations and subsequent evidence for their validity dogged Driscoll throughout 2014.
“In March, it was revealed that the Mars Hill had spent over $200,000 of church money to secure the services of a consulting firm to buy copies of Driscoll’s book Real Marriage with the purpose of elevating the book to a spot on The New York Times bestseller list.
“Then in June, Driscoll’s publisher, Tyndale House, sent mixed messages about the future of their relationship with Driscoll. They claimed they backed him but had put his newest book on hold for an undisclosed future publication date.”
As this was all this drama was taking place, one of the church’s worship bands, Citizens & Saints, found itself caught up in the middle of controversy, but once the church closed, they decided to spread their wings and continue.
I caught up with the band recently on the first night of Greg Laurie’s 2015 SoCal Harvest Crusade at Angel Stadium in Anaheim and I began by asking them to identify themselves and they did: There was Spencer Abbott, guitar; Zach Bolen, lead singer and guitarist; Nate Furtado, bass; Brian Eichelberger, keyboards, and Adam Skatula, the drummer.
I began by asking how the band started and got its name and Zach Bolen, replied, “We started up in Seattle at Mars Hill when a couple of us got together. We started taking hymns and writing new musical arrangements for them. Then, we became one of the bands at the church. A lot of us probably played in different bands along the way. But as far as this band goes, that’s how it started. We just began out of those hymn arrangements for the church members to sing.”
How did you get your name?
Zach Bolen said, “That comes from Ephesians 2:19. Originally, we wanted a name that was less focused on us and more focused on the body of Christ, and that verse speaks of us being ‘Citizens & Saints’ and being built on a foundation of the apostles and the household and Kingdom of God. Our hope is that we’d have a name that invites participation and brothers and sisters to sing praises to God.”
I then asked how the problems at the church had affected them and caused them to go independent.
Brian Eichelberger replied, “So since our church closed down, we’d all individually started attending different churches, but really, through that season, we realized that God really was leading us to continue doing a band together. So it’s been really amazing to see how it has worked out.
“It started out as part of a local church, and our hope now is to continue encouraging the local church. So we’ve been spending our time mostly visiting with different churches and getting to meet all sorts of types of denominations, worship leaders and high school kids, and just want to encourage everybody to be singing about the love of God and the gospel in that way.”
I wondered how the church closure had affected the individual band members, and Adam Skatula jumped in and said, “I think it’s impossible not to be affected by everything that happened, but at the same time Romans 8 has just totally been shown to be true — that He works all things for good and there’s just countless ways, both for me personally in my life, but also for so many people that we went to church with and still do go to church, that it’s just been awesome to see how God has used something that didn’t seem like an ideal situation to teach us about Himself and about ourselves, and just pull us through that, and sanctify us in that. So it’s actually been a really encouraging time even though it was a really hard time a lot of last year.”
I then asked if there had been any highlights or lowlights during this difficult time at the Mars Hill Church, and Nate Furtado, said, “I wouldn’t say there was really a highlight for us when it was closing down, but rather a lowlight when it did close down and everything ended that way. But I think the highlight was probably after that occurred when we saw so much restoration and healing that came out of that and we saw communities being bolstered by all these different people who had attended the church and who had gone to other communities.
“The whole thing opened up opportunities for other churches in the community to really just fill that void and love the surrounding neighborhoods and stuff.”
What about the decision to continue with the band? Did you first split up?
Spencer Abbott took that question and said: “We didn’t split up, but we definitely had a sober assessment of what we were doing in light of the church closing down. We had to ask what our identity was as a band and also what God was calling us to do in this next season.
“We all had to kind of individually assess if this was something that we felt we were called to keep pouring into, and if we should keep on doing this. Eventually, it was really neat to feel that even though we weren’t leading worship in a specific church anymore, we could still serve the Global Church together and that’s really been our mission fulltime. So it’s really cool to see God further and continue that same mission that He had planted in our hearts.”
Zach Bolen then said, “There were certainly lows for sure. We were just a lot of the pain as this was all doing on. You don’t expect to experience something like that when you are part of a church. You expect it to be more of a haven and a place where there’s safety. But you also realize that the hope of the church is not put in men or women, but it’s put in Jesus.
“So when you come to grips with that, it’s a bit easier to accept that there will be failure and there will be sin. But you also see this and I think this is the biggest high that came out of it is that God is a God of grace, but we also experience earthly consequences. So we don’t just get to do things that are sometimes hurt people or also ourselves, and expect that we won’t experience the affects of those things. So I think really through the consequence of some of those things, like some of these guys have said, brought fruit that we never anticipated and has produced a pretty beautiful thing in Seattle.”
Zach admitted they would have probably stayed at the Mars Hill Church if the closure hadn’t occurred, adding, “While we were there, we weren’t looking at other churches as a global body. We were kind of zoned in on this one place, and I think that is one of the biggest things when you see the organization crumble and you’re left to look out and see that there’s a lot of really wonderful gospel preaching, Jesus loving communities in Seattle, and also there is a lot of churches all over the world that are doing incredible things and we are brothers and sisters and we need to be united and do this stuff together.”
With that, the Citizens & Saints were off to play before the huge audience in Anaheim, which was probably an audience they would never have played for if Mars Hill Church closure hadn’t occurred.
Note: I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing these interviews.
Photo: 1) Citizens & Saints band members. 2) A band performance. 3) Dan Wooding interviewing the band members. 4) Dan Wooding.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 74, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is also the author of some 45 books.
** You may republish this or any of our ANS stories with attribution to the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)