My Story

By Jonna Petry

This past summer I saw the movie, “The Help”, and a seed of courage was planted in my soul. One of the last lines of the movie:

God says we need to love our enemies. It hard to do. But it can start by telling the truth. No one had ever asked me what it feel like to be me.     Once I told the truth about that, I felt free.

This story is an earnest attempt to speak the truth in love that freedom and new life may flourish.

My husband Paul and I started visiting Mars Hill Church back in the summer of 2001. I had recently read and loved J.I. Packer’s classic, Knowing God, and was finding great solace and security in a deeper understanding of God’s sovereignty. In those days, Mars Hill Church was about 400 members. There were not many families with children. And we came with five – our oldest 12 and our baby just turned one. We were very warmly embraced. Our family was rather ooo’ed and ahh’ed over. We seemed to have found a place where we were wanted and where we could lovingly serve (even if the music was completely unfamiliar to our ears). And, what we didn’t realize, where our pride would be amply fed as well.

We were not without caution or discernment. We had seen enough upheaval in churches to know you’d better look closely at who’s in charge, how the leadership is structured and where the money goes. A year earlier, we had come across Alexander Strauch’s fine book, Biblical Eldership where he instructs about church government:

“By definition, the elder structure of government is a collective leadership in which each elder shares equally the position, authority, and responsibility of the office.”

In comparing this structure to what we had experienced previously, it was easy to embrace the premise that shared leadership, authority, and accountability are necessary for the healthy functioning of the church. For us, this became an essential for any future commitment to a church. And, our first Sunday at Mars Hill, there on the book table was a copy of Strauch’s book.

So we started attending regularly, heard a number of the pastors preach (because in those days they took turns preaching), listened carefully to what was said and mostly delighted in what we experienced. Mark Driscoll stood out then, as a persuasive speaker with a strong attitude but, we had confidence the leadership team, Mark included, was committed to the distinctive of biblical eldership. Though Mark was young, he was surrounded by a group of godly older men – Bent Meyer being one who also had years of pastoral experience behind him. This was very reassuring to us.

The church was growing and we became completely immersed in loving, serving and teaching. My father (who had not been in church for almost 40 years) and my sweet stepmother joined us monthly and then weekly for worship services – ferrying over from Poulsbo, Washington, to spend the day with us. Mark often used the expression that our church was “family” and we rather believed it – so effective in building a sense of belonging.

These were happy fulfilling years for us. My husband and I hosted a weekly home fellowship group that quickly grew to be the largest in the church. We had the space to welcome people in and hospitality was ministry for us. We hoped to demonstrate to the best of our ability the sacrificial love of Jesus because we believe this is the foundation of our lives as Christians. We were delighted to find a church home and thought we’d be there always. We loved and gave our very lives to the people in this church. Strong bonds of commitment and love were made and reciprocated. (We thought.)

After two years had passed, in the spring of 2004, Mark approached my husband, Paul, and asked him to consider serving as a pastor/elder. Mark at this time had become the primary preaching pastor in Ballard and Lief Moi, who bought an old theater for the church in Seattle’s University District, became the primary preacher at that venue – the Paradox Theater – which featured concerts by local bands on weeknights and was active in street ministry. Each venue had its own feel and crowd and we were blessed to see the diversity and unity in the Body of Christ.

After much consideration and prayer, Paul started the elder process and was confirmed a pastor/elder – before the entire church with the laying on of hands by the eldership. How excited we were, I was. I was so proud of my husband and the ways God was moving in our lives. Paul served as a pastor, unpaid, almost full-time, while he continued to work as an attorney in private practice to support our family. It was a big commitment, a lot of work, but we loved it. We loved the people we were with. It was a great season for awhile…

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