Mark Driscoll Is Already Back In Church Leadership – But Is He Ready?

Mark Driscoll was an influential but edgy pastor within conservative evangelical circles for several years. (Photo courtesy of Mars Hill Church)
Mark Driscoll was an influential but edgy pastor within conservative evangelical circles for several years. (Photo courtesy of Mars Hill Church)

So Mark Driscoll is back. The former leader of Seattle megachurch Mars Hill, who resigned in 2014 amid accusations of bullying, plagiarism and manipulation, will launch his new church on Easter Sunday – a somewhat theatrical bit of timing that attaches extra significance to his own personal resurrection. Driscoll is now the Senior and Founding Pastor of The Trinity Church, Scottsdale, Arizona, and while the first service won’t immediately lead to regular weekly meetings, these should follow soon afterwards. Mark Driscoll will be Pastor Mark again, returned from the wilderness to rebuild his ministry and his reputation.

If you’re thinking this all sounds a little too soon, you’re not alone. Barely 18 months have passed since Driscoll stepped down as pastor of Mars Hill, after years of controversy and public criticism escalated into formal complaints from former staff and congregants. Acts 29 – the church-planting network he founded – removed him from ministry and asked him to resign; he stepped down from his role at Mars Hill in October 2014; his church dissolved itself at the end of that year.

Driscoll’s transgressions were varied and manifold. He’d been able to weather criticism for perceived misogyny (he described women as ‘penis homes’) and homophobic (he criticised ‘effeminate, anatomically male worship leaders’); he’d simply become divisive with his trashy, testosterone-fuelled approach to public discourse. However, when 21 former Mars Hill pastors brought accusations of workplace bullying and other ‘disqualifying behaviour’ to the church’s elders, one of America’s most high-profile celebrity pastors could no longer just shrug off the complaints.

For several months, a storm escalated around Driscoll. It emerged that his church engineered the presence of his own book on the New York Times bestseller list by paying a marketing company to manipulate sales numbers (they got Mars Hill Church to purchase 11,000 copies, at an estimated cost of $210,000). He was accused of various counts of plagiarism in his books. A blog written by four of Mars Hill’s former elders appeared, in which they publicly repented for how they’d hurt people under Driscoll’s leadership. Petitions arose and gathered momentum. Even the conservative voices who’d turned a blind eye to Driscoll’s past indiscretions disowned him. Eventually his position became untenable.

For the past 18 months, Driscoll has kept a relatively low profile as the furore around him naturally died down and the world moved on. His invitation to appear at Hillsong’s UK and Australia conferences in 2015 was downgraded to an taped on-screen interview; Driscoll mainly restricted his ministry activity to online resources. Many of the people profoundly hurt by the man and his church came forward tell their stories, but in a culture with an increasingly short memory, they were soon forgotten. The announcement of his Arizona relocation barely caused a ripple of dissent, and the launch of the church was even sponsored by several megachurch pastors, including Perry Noble, who said he was going to “choose to believe in Pastor Mark and Grace as they set out on this endeavour,” before adding “I just want to say that I support him 100 percent.”

Not everyone is so convinced. Gender equality campaigner Natalie Collins organised a petition against Driscoll’s proposed Hillsong London appearance which gathered over 3,000 online signatures. She says it’s of “great concern” that Driscoll is launching a new church, and moreover that the new venture is being supported by high profile Christian leaders. “In the church we love a redemption narrative,” she says, “even though this narrative often prioritises the offender over the person or people they have hurt. The Gospel insists that Mark Driscoll can be forgiven by God for his bullying and abusive behaviour, it does not state that his life will continue unaltered, or that he should continue as a leader.”

Collins points to Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 3, in a passage commonly titled ‘qualifications for overseers’. Verses 2 and 3 of that passage say that a church leader should be “above reproach”, “self-controlled”, “respectable”, “gentle” and “not quarrelsome”, all tests which arguably Driscoll did not pass during his time at Mars Hill. “Though we are forgiven by Jesus for our sins,” Collins adds, “the Bible never suggests we will be immune from the earthly consequences of our hurtful and damaging behaviour.”

As he returns to church leadership then, I think there are three key questions we need to ask:

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SOURCE: Christian Today
Martin Saunders

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