Driscoll Resigns: An End and a Beginning at Mars Hill Church

Greg Strand – October 17, 2014 10 Comments

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

10 responses to Driscoll Resigns: An End and a Beginning at Mars Hill Church

  1. Mars Hill will collapse now. It will take a year or two.

    I just spent 10 minutes trying to understand this incoherent rambling, which would not pass a 10th grade composition class, and I still don’t know why he was fired. But the equivocating, feminist language about … never mind.

    Tell me that any rigorous thinker, ever, would write tripe such as this:

    “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.”

    Christ was strong, clear and occasionally unpleasant. The world is a battlefield.

    Churches want to hold hands and discuss “one would have desired that the process could have been completed.” Churchianity is not Christianity, and the fluttering churchians might ask one day, while they sing their illimitable choruses in their “praise songs”: why are there no men in our churches? Because those of us who believe do not prostrate ourselves before happy talk.

    • Take it easy champ, maybe go for a walk or something.

      The world will know us by our love for one another (John 13:35), not starting a flame war on a blog post. Secondly, we hope not for Mars Hill’s demise, rather that we should pray for wisdom for their leadership and that they would increase in their knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-13).

      Finally, we should desire restoration for Mark and Mars Hill. Galatians 6:1 says “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” It would be ironic to harshly rattle on about feministic language and praise songs, only to be guilty of the same domineering spirit that was Mark’s undoing. Gentleness brother.

      • CJ, I’m not sure your implied assessment of Buena Vista as a “domineering spirit” is spot on. More likely what you are reading are the words of someone deeply hurt. My interpretation, which could also be wrong, is that Buena Vista is expressing an appreciation for Mark who seems to be one who speaks his mind. One a very limited basis my impression is that Mark was/is a straight shooter – no hiding, dodging, dipping. He said what he believed without worrying what others might think. Again, this is a superficial analysis. I agree with E. Sorenson’s A Most Dangerous Profession: Why the Pastoral Ministry is Hazardous to Your Soul and with Paul Tripp on Family Life Today, 10.10.14 Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry.

  2. Much of what is said here is very true. I read some of Mark’s comments and was glad to hear him talk about personal growth in this process. 2 Cor 3:12-4:6 reassures us that God is transforming us from glory into increased glory. Pride and arrogance is not limited to Mark Discoll. It seems to be common among church and denominational leaders as well.

    • For all Christians, and beginning personally with me, it is important that we remember these words: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble . . . humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (Jms. 4:6, 10; cf. 1 Pet. 5:5; Prov. 3:34). C. S. Lewis, in his classic Mere Christianity, was correct to refer to pride or self-conceit as “The Great Sin.” This great sin of pride is a temptation for us all!

      • Instruction from God’s Word is our foundation and the best starting place. This is true about what God says and C.S. Lewis affirms this. What is noticeable about Mark Driscoll is that he admitted his pride. What I’ve found over and again is the lack of personal admission of pride on the part of some church and denominational leaders. That is what my first comment was intended to refer to.

  3. After 3 rounds of digital media it is easy to say too much. I do think there is another lesson so far overlooked. Have I, have you and others involved prayed for Mark and Mars Hill Church? For sure this is a core responsibility. I can’t personally imagine the load of responsibility resting on the shoulders of Pastor Mark Driscoll or on the individuals who serve on the Board of Directors. May the Lord of the Church comfort you with His presence. May you wait on Him and be renewed by Him. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Honestly praying for all involved.

    • Yes, prayer is very important. First, this is a matter of upholding and honoring the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. This is His church that is created through through faith in Him and as His people we bear His name. Second, this is also a gospel matter in that we are to live and respond in a manner worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27). Prayer for those involved, even if we don’t know them personally they are brothers and sisters in Christ, reflects a life lived in manner worthy of the gospel. How are we doing?

  4. And, sadly, Mars Hill “dissolves” according to the title of this World Mag. article:
    http://www.worldmag.com/2014/11/mars_hill_church_to_dissolve

    Praying transformation trumps dissolution for all those affected.

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