The Impending Crash Landing of Pastor Mark Driscoll
Mark Driscoll is about to go down in flames, and the whole world will be watching.
Driscoll rose to fame in the evangelical world (and the secular world as well) in the blink of an eye. This is largely due to the rapid growth of Mars Hill Church, the church that he and a few others founded in Seattle, Washington. Mars Hill began as a Bible study in a living room and has exploded into a mega-church where roughly 15,000 people attend weekly, spread across 15 locations. Driscoll’s sermons are regularly at the top in iTunes under the category of spirituality, and his listening audience reaches in the millions annually. In addition to all of this, Driscoll has written several books, is a regular speaker at conferences, and in general is one of the most recognizable celebrity pastors in the past 50 years.
That’s all about to end.
Well, the “famous” part will never go away, but Driscoll’s wide influence is shrinking by the day, in light of repeated offenses and transgressions that are mounting up like a garbage truck on pickup day.
- Repeated criticism of his use of foul language
- Frequent accusations of sexist speech and conduct
- Outlash over controversial and degrading tweets
- Over-sexualized preaching of the Bible
- Wearing of Jesus-demeaning t-shirts
- Using church funds to buy his way onto the Bestseller List
- Regularly intimidating and mistreating fellow staff members
- Accustations of plagiarism
- Having formal charges laid against him by a former key staff member
- Evidence of misrepresenting where church funds are allocated
- Proof that in 2000 he used a fake name to crudely berate commenters on the church’s private online discussion forum
In fact, there are entire websites and Facebook pages dedicated to either exposing every one of Driscoll’s missteps or to calling him to account for them and seek help. The constant barrage of charges has led to Driscoll responding with numerous public apologies, resigning from organizations like The Gospel Coalition, and recently being removed from the Acts29 church planting network which he co-founded. In his time in the limelight, Driscoll has been nothing short of a lightning rod for controversy – some of it not warranted, some of it very much so.
And now it is all coming to a head. Friends of Driscoll’s who once supported him – men like Dave Kraft, James McDonald, Matt Chandler, and Paul Tripp – are now distancing themselves (at least in a professional sense) and calling for repentance. I know that there are countless Driscoll haters out there who would love nothing more than to see him knocked off his pedestal, and Driscoll has always fought ferociously against his critics. But when genuine friends and godly men begin to make the same assessment, the accusations can’t be taken lightly.
Mark Driscoll has a very important decision to make: continue to fight to save his platform or give it up and seek restoration. As this all unfolds in clear view of the public, let’s not forget that Mark is a real person with a real family and that Mars Hill is a church made up of real people. It’s becoming painfully obvious to outside onlookers that Driscoll can, at present, no longer be at the top of the Mars Hill mountain without destroying himself, his family, and his church. I am sincerely hoping that he sees this as well and does what is best. This whole situation should be painful – not enjoyable – even to those of us who are not close to the action. Driscoll has five children, several of whom are old enough to be aware of the controversy surrounding their father. That can’t be easy to handle. Mars Hill is packed with new Christians and young families whose faith could implode if this whole mess is not sorted out well in a healthy fashion. As a husband and father myself, and someone who deeply loves the church, I am hoping and praying for the best.
This is fairly significant to me, because Mark Driscoll has been one of the strongest influences on me. When I was in my late teens and early twenties and wondering if I wanted to follow Jesus for myself instead of simply going with what my parents taught me, listening to Mars Hill sermons online was a huge factor in my decision to follow Christ. I had never before heard anyone preach like Mark. He helped me really understand the gospel and see Jesus in a bigger light. He called out the inner manliness in me and gave me a compelling mission for my life. I went into pastoral ministry at least in part because of his influence. At the same time, I did notice back then some things I didn’t like about Driscoll’s style or emphasis, but I know that for me, the good outweighed the bad.
I’m not one of the people who want to see Mark Driscoll crash and burn, but I’m also not a blind supporter who doesn’t want to see what’s really going on. I want the best for him, and as I see it (albeit from my limited and distant vantage point) the best thing for him to do is step down until a thorough investigation is done and his name is cleared (if it ends up that way). He needs to get completely out of public view, work on restoring himself and reconciling with his detractors, and allow Mars Hill Church to heal. I think that Mars Hill can stop the bleeding if they act swiftly and wisely. There are some tremendous things happening at that church, and I would hate to see it all flushed away if it could be saved. Hopefully the church is able to put together a transition phase when this all takes place, intentionally remove their ministry from public view, and focus on fixing the problems internally.
It’s apparent that the power, the fame, or the money might be more than Mark’s character can handle. He, and his church, are consistently running around trying to put out the fires and keep moving forward simultaneously, but the time has come to reset. Everyone knows it. It’s for the good of everyone involved. I’m trusting that even those of us not directly involved in this debacle are able to learn some lessons ourselves about the danger of unrepentance and the value of humility and accountability. It’s not too late for Mark Driscoll to avoid a crash landing. He can still voluntarily decide to land the plane and sort out the mess. Jesus will ensure another pilot takes over; after all, the glory of His own name is at stake. I’m trusting for a quick resolution that prevents as much damage as possible, so that everyone can put this in the past and move on to doing the work of God and focusing on the things that matter.