The elders at Mars Hill concluded the investigation into the concerns raised against Mark Driscoll. In the wake of this conclusion Mark Driscoll resigned. Christianity Today has also reported on Driscoll’s resignation.
I confess that is easier to sit on the outside away from the fray and to make comments on decisions made than it is to be in the midst of difficult situations seeking to make wise, God-honoring, Christ-exalting, people-serving decisions. I make this statement experientially, having been on both sides. However, because this situation has been so public, which is partly to explain why/how the church grew (remembering Christ builds His church [Matt. 16:18]!) and the influence Driscoll has had, what has now unfolded in more of a difficult and challenging manner has also been public.
With this confession and concession made, here is my brief assessment: I think they missed this one. Before explaining my rationale for this assessment, there are also a few other matters to address.
It is, on the one hand, disappointing that the full process could not have run its course. One would have desired that the process begun could have been completed. This is good and right for all. Hurts, pains, sins, misunderstandings, etc., could have been addressed through being spoken and then, in turn, listened to and then the appropriate response and follow up could have been implemented, that of repentance, discipline and restoration. The right place for this to occur is the place where it happened, the context of that local church. That is always the best course. The reason is because the gospel that was foundational to creating new life is also foundational for life together as the people of God. This new community created by the gospel lives by and manifests the gospel. This is why it is always the best course, because it is the right course as established by the gospel. It is sad that any attempt to work through these issues and manifest the fruit of the gospel in this church, the new community created by the Lord, are now aborted.
On the other hand, unless Driscoll resigned, it ultimately put the elders in a very awkward position for the ongoing well-being of the church. Rather than wait for the elders to make the decision, it was almost necessary for Driscoll to make this decision himself. As much as one would think the biblical principle would prevail, often in these settings relationship trumps principle. Although it is not often done purposefully or with the intent of compromising the gospel for the sake of relationship (as with larger matters in churches and denominations, this would be similar to unity/relationship vs. purity/truth), it does often occur. In these kinds of situations, for the pastor who is at the center of the discussion/debate, to force the congregation to decide is to divide the congregation based on the relationship with the pastor. That is not a biblical basis for making principled decisions. It then becomes more about the pastor/person than it does about Jesus Christ, His Bride, and the gospel. Better to be wronged than to tarnish any of those (cf. Phil. 1:18).
I considered in confusing and disingenuous to claim that there was no immorality, illegality or heresy. I have no reason to doubt the last two. From the outside, I have no basis to discern. Regarding the first, granted there was no sexual immorality. But his character issues of pride, arrogance, temper, domination, bullying, etc., are character issues. In fact, the report stated that they do “not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry.” These character issues which are moral issues I believe disqualified him from pastoral ministry. They don’t fit under the list of qualifications of elders found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. In accepting Driscoll’s letter of resignation, two of the five responses from the Board of Overseers were as follows:
- We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner. While we believe Mark needs to continue to address these areas in his life, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry.
- Pastor Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.
In Driscoll’s resignation letter, he notes this as one of the items of affirmation/encouragement:
Last week our Board of Overseers met for an extended period of time with Grace and me, thereby concluding the formal review of charges against me. I want to thank you for assuring Grace and me that last Saturday that I had not disqualified myself from ministry.
As noted above, I think his character issues were moral issues that did disqualify him from ministry. I do not believe it necessarily would have had to disqualify him permanently, but repentance and time would have to be the “test.” For the present, I believe they disqualify him. This is what had not been addressed for all these years, and it led to this.
This is not just an end of Mark Driscoll’s ministry as a pastor at Mars Hill, it is also a beginning to a new season, the next chapter in the life and ministry of Mars Hill Church. As they follow the Lord’s lead in this next chapter, may they – and we – remember the following seven truths:
- the church is created by the gospel and exists for the gospel (Rom. 1:16).
- Jesus Christ alone is the Head of the Church (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2:10, 19) and He authoritatively rules over the church through the Word.
- the church is about people, not a person (1 Pet. 2:9-10).
- although the church is influenced by pastors/vocational elders, it is not determined by them. There is one chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4).
- with many and varied changes, including people and pastors, the church goes on governed by its Head and guided and led by the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn. 16:13; Acts 15:28).
- we all, especially pastors/vocational elders, must watch our lives and doctrine closely for in this way we save both ourselves and our hearers (1 Tim. 4:16).
- in these situations, whether we are living it from the inside or watching it from the outside, we grieve, we pray and we hope in God.
In another response, Trevin Wax writes of four lessons gleaned from this recent course of events and now this decision, though he does so “with a heavy but hopeful heart”: leadership matters, church polity matters, character matters as much as doctrine, and the celebrity culture hinders our witness.