What We Learned From Mark Driscoll and What We Can Pray For Next

Image from Mars Hill Church

On Sunday Pastor Mark Driscoll announced to his Mars Hill congregation that he will be stepping back for six weeks as the elders examine the charges against Mark and determine the appropriate next steps. It’s hard for me not to see this as a good thing as I’ve discussed him on this blog a few times and he’s come up in countless conversations over the years. Too much has gone on for too long and Mark needs to be held accountable.

Being a pastor and in this space, an amateur blogger, I know how this can look. I’m another kicking a guy when he’s down, another example of the church eating their own and clearly motivated by jealousy, etc. I am also well aware of Jesus’ warning of judging others as you will be judged by the same measure (Matt 7:1-2). May the Lord judge my heart here but I hope to communicate as “Christianly” as possible of where I am coming from.

It’s actually healthy to talk about this in loving and restorative ways. It’s not only ok, it’s actually necessary because this scene in Mark Driscoll’s life is a cautionary tale for all of us. Further, hopefully some goodness can be found in the mess of all this. And lastly, should the day come when my personal behavior has become such a distraction to the Christian mission, I hope my faith community would be courageous enough to ask me to step down. May God give the Church the wisdom to discern between judging, rebuking and enabling.

In the meantime, here are three lessons learned.

Good, acceptable, conservative orthodox doctrine does not give you license to do whatever you want. In so many words, Mark has acted like a jerk. Like many, I had heard of Driscoll more than ten years ago. He was the “cussing pastor” out of Don Miller’s soul-worthy book, Blue Like Jazz. Driscoll was up and coming, saying it like it is, bold and brash, and he was love ’em or hate ’em. Well, I make an effort to avoid hating but I did not connect with Driscoll. Some of my friends assured me of our doctrinal similarities, pointed to his passion for the gospel and as the years would go on, his success and reach. I could not see past his blatant misogyny, his emasculation of the men, his inappropriate bullying stemming from his (poorly-applied) neo-reformed beliefs, his carelessness with his microphone and his abuse of his platform.

But regardless of praxis, he confessed the “correct” creeds. He was the young gun cast with respected and established preachers. He was on a winning team, selling books, setting the room abuzz at conferences. Further, he was criticized by some of his peers but because they were the “wrong people”, this actually benefitted him. They were too liberal, too progressive, too this or that. And this cast him to be an even greater champion of old-school faith of a particular tribe of powerful evangelicals. This is another example of how confessing the proper creed does not equate with being Christ-like.

Second, the Church must do a better job listening to those who have been hurt under our care. This went on for too long and that is shameful. The abuse of power is a real issue but because some of its expressions are not criminal, we have a hard time determining when to get involved. When scores of people are leaving our churches and when there is a pattern of paid staff being dismissed unceremoniously, we have some type of responsibility to examine what’s going on there, to provide healing when applicable, and to consider pursuing justice on the behalf of the hurt/attacked.

To say it another way, it would have been great had “in-house” or “in-network” action been taken long ago. Then there was the work of out of network but Christian brothers/sisters like Matthew Paul Turner, Rachel Held Evans and a few others over the years. But it’s a shame that one of the death-blows is this story making it the New York Times and it’s a bummer of all of the brilliant things Tim Keller says, The New York Times is calling him to get a quote on Driscoll’s behavior. (By the way, this isn’t the first time that Driscoll has been in the New York Times (“Who Would Jesus Smack Down?” – ouch).

Third and as mentioned above, these scenes compromised from Driscoll’s ministry is a cautionary tale. When the prior two points are added together, approved doctrine and the abuse of power regrettably do great damage. This is real as it’s done in significantly smaller scales. Fellow pastors and anyone invested in local churches would do well to take note of this. Almost weekly we come across a story about a sexual abuse scandal by a church-hired/approved minister/volunteer. To get int the door, you have to profess the “approved confession” then you receive some form of authority which creates trust which creates opportunities to serve others or serve yourself. Background checks, safety policies, and various other measures are helpful but it would do us all well to see how the abuse of power can appear in many different ways.

I am grateful that I have not heard stories of Mark involving sexual abuse or acts of physical violence in the midst of his angry tirades and fits of rage. But many have been hurt profoundly because he has been given access, authority and trust. Let us not be fooled further, emotional and verbal abuse are never to be underestimated. Further it’s one thing to hear it from the window of a nearby driver but when screamed from your appointed spiritual leader, it’s quite another. I lament of the stories of women who left Mars Hill hurt by misgny in the Bible’s name. I lament the stories of men who left MH after being told they were not man/strong/obedient enough because of some one-dimensional portrayal of the carpenter, MMA-fighting, Jesus. I lament the number of people that are asking, “Did this really happen?”

The good news is that many times the bully can be repentant. The gospel is that powerful and we believe this. Therefore, we really should be praying for Mark, his family, the current Mars Hill community and the ones who are processing their pain from the leadership/community.

In my “pastor-fantasy world” I am praying that Mark would courageously come to his own conclusions about stepping down from ministry for a prolonged season so he can reflect, seek counseling, heal, and re-discover his true God-given identity/calling. It wasn’t this. If I was in his trusted council, I’d tell him don’t wait the six weeks for their decision. Inform them that you truly are voluntarily stepping down. These statements that begin with, “Mark has decided to step down” that come from a committee that tells you to say this really contradicts the wrod “voluntarily.” We know Mark can be brave, this would the brave move.

Second, we really need to be praying for his family. I have no knowledge of what has happened in their home but I know the ones closest are not exempt from the direct or indirect forms of abuse. Mark’s wife, Grace, and children will have their own similar set of needs. The best outcome is not if Mark’s future career survives but if the people he’s closest to heal and thrive in the most Christian of ways. In my most Christian moments, I’m praying for the Driscolls’.

Third, we must continue to pray for those who have been hurt over the years by Mark and the Mars Hill. When news like this becomes mainstream, their pain is echoed and gets even more complicated. May they find some peace in the removal of the source and may they be carried to healing by the grace of God through prayer and community.

Fourth, my heart is with the current staff at Mars Hill. They even been through so much and they have been tasked to lead. May God show them the true natures of calling, Kingdom, loyalty, sacrifice, forgiveness, and serving and may He give them strength for the road ahead.

And lastly, for us as onlookers: From the ardent defender to the committed critic to all that is in between, may the next thing we do be the Christian thing. Confrontation, forgiveness, intercession, justice-seeking, and much more are all necessary and potentially loving practices in these moments. May we get as much of this as right as possible and may we lean on the Lord to guide and lead us here.

Suggested Reading:

 Mark Driscoll Steps Down While Mars Hill Investigates Charges – Christianity Today Gleanings

“Why Christians Shouldn’t Celebrate the Mark Driscoll’s Demise” by Jonathan Merritt – Religion News Services

“Mark Driscoll Is Being Urged to Leave Mars Hill Church” by Michael Paulson – New York Times

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