Regular readers will know that I have many questions about Mark Driscoll’s approach to leadership. I recently put out a tweet as a kind of peace offering. Encouraging Pastor Mark for committing to the steps as he “resets his life.”
Pastor Mark had written a letter to Mars Hill stating:
To reset my life, I will not be on social media for at least the remainder of the year. The distractions it can cause for my family and our church family are not fruitful or helpful at this time. At the end of the year, I will consider if and when to reappear on social media, and I will seek the counsel of my pastors on this matter. In the meantime, Mars Hill and Resurgence will continue to post blogs, sermons, and podcasts on my social media accounts, but otherwise I’m going offline.
I will also be doing much less travel and speaking in the next season. In recent years, I have cut back significantly, but I will now cut back even more. I have cancelled some speaking events, and I am still determining the best course of action for a few that I’ve committed to, as they are evangelistic opportunities to invite people to salvation in Jesus Christ, which is something I care about deeply. I will be doing very few media interviews, if any. Also, I’m communicating with my publisher to determine how to meet my existing obligations and have a much less intense writing schedule.
I wanted to encourage these first steps of apology. But as I reflect on my tweet I am wondering if this really is the beginning of a process for Driscoll or if he feels he has done all that is necessary now to put things straight. The challenges that Driscoll and Mars Hill are facing seem to warrant more than just a fasting from social media and less travel…
1. Create a healthy leadership culture
Here are some clips from sermons where Pastor Mark talks about leadership. I think they date back to 2007. They are controversial in themselves, but some senior members of the Mars Hill team Brent Meyer and Paul Petry were apparently fired and threatened straight after this talk.
I recognise that Pastor Mark has apologised for being “an angry young prophet” but this week some 20 former leaders of Mars Hill are asking for more than an internal letter to the church, they want a mediation process to begin.
The approach to criticism that is talked about in these clips demonstrates a pattern of behaviour we have seen over the years. Some readers will remember the way Driscoll criticised every preacher in the UK… and then his apology was basically a defence of what he had said.
I have experienced a style of leadership very similar to what we seem to be seeing here in Driscoll. In my situation I saw a cult of personality being built around one gifted individual. There was a sycophantic corporate culture that sought the total affirmation of the leader. There was such a high degree of idolisation that gracious critique was not welcome. It lead to a very toxic situation with lots of casualties . The accountability structures that were in place completely failed.
Lesson 1: we need to ensure we have accountability structures that actually ask the critical questions. Accountability structures that don’t allow a person to become the brand but instead that we follow in the footsteps of John the Baptist who declared of Jesus “He must increase, I must decrease” John 3:30. We need accountability structures that recognise we are all fallible therefore we need good governance. We need accountability structures that recognise we are all equally in the image of God and therefore operate with grace at the centre. We need accountability structures to create and preserve a healthy leadership culture.
2. Learn how to deal with criticism
I am guessing a big challenge to Mars Hill was distinguishing the haters from the genuine victims. There are a whole group of people who feel they have been wounded or damaged by their experiences with Mars Hill. The tone of their writing; in my opinion, does not reflect a group of people who are simply seeking to defame or deride Pastor Mark but instead these men and women who are trying to do the right thing, they speak in a measured and graceful manner and are looking for positive ways forward rather than just trying to sling mud.
There are of course other people out there who are just looking for a way to take down evangelicals or even conservative evangelicals that want to take down ‘successful’ innovative approaches to church life. In defending yourself against the haters one reaction is to ignore all criticism.
Lesson 2: a wise friend of mine used to urge me to listen to the grain of truth in every criticism. This is a difficult lesson to learn as it is far easier to ignore people that disagree with you and to surround yourself with people that will applaud you.
3. Take special note when even your close friends are raising issues
This article came from the Gospel Coalition website.
Pastor Mark has, in my estimation, been distancing himself from the so-called “neo-Reformed” movement or the gospel-centered tribe for a few years. Stepping down from the council of The Gospel Coalition and from the presidency of the Acts29 Network and aligning more and more with voices in the “attractional” or “church growth” crowd, he has been communicating his shift away from one tribe and into another (perhaps a new one of his own cultivation) for quite some time. I am not insinuating sin in any of that at all; the attractional guys are our brothers in Christ. We tend to do ministry differently, of course, and I won’t lie in saying I think they largely approach church – or preaching specifically and the worship gathering generally, at least – in a distinctly wrong way, but it is certainly Pastor Mark’s right to partner with whom he wants and find his ministry kinship wherever God leads him.
Lesson 3: the old proverb comes to mind: “An enemy multiplies kisses but the wounds of a friend are trustworthy.” Sycophants don’t help, real friends love you enough to point out your weaknesses and your sins. Strangely we live in such a tribalised world that I know very few Christians who have friends outside of their tribe. It leaves us susceptible to the same blindspots. I am grateful to my friends who have different views to me on everything from gay marriage, to the role of women or to politics. We disagree often but we can do so and maintain genuine friendship. They are a very patient bunch to put up with me.
4. Build discerning congregations
There’s a style of teaching that produces clones. Here’s the truth. It’s my way or the high way. In every sermon I have heard Driscoll give – and there are a lot. I have never heard Driscoll equivocate. He speaks in a direct and often very engaging way. But in all the times I have heard him he leaves no room for dissent. For Driscoll scripture is clear-cut on everything whether it was the role of women, caring for the environment, sexual conduct in marriage, watching Avatar or dealing with negative people in the church. Driscoll was adamant that he had a clear word from God on the subject.
The problem is that sometimes Driscoll is not preaching scripture. As we all do; without recognising it sometimes, he is injecting into the Bible his own worldview and his theological presuppositions. Stylistically the impression is given that if you disagree with Driscoll on a subject then you are on the wrong side of orthodoxy. Sadly this kind of Bible teaching doesn’t actually develop discernment, it just clones the opinions and presuppositions of the preacher onto the congregation.
How do we model to a congregation that scripture alone is infallible not the preacher? It is Catholicism that argues for an infallible Pope. Reformed Christians believe in the concept of being “reformed and always reforming.” If our theology and practice was infallible then nothing would need reforming. We need to demonstrate hermeneutical humility when it is appropriate. There are things that are very clear in scripture and there are things that are harder to understand and Christians can come to different opinions on. Over the years evangelicals have agreed to disagree on a whole range of issues from baptism, age of the earth, styles of worship and leadership and even the leadership roles of women. Rather than anathematising one another we have learned to be humble about these things whilst being crystal clear on the core doctrines of our faith. There is room for humility. There is room for being open that Christians disagree on things and we can help skill up the congregation to understand scripture to come to different conclusions to us on secondary issues. We can help Christians hear both sides of an argument and conclude for themselves.
I am hoping to learn and make changes in my life as I reflect on these issues. I recognise in Mark Driscoll huge gifts and skills and passion and I pray that his plans to reset his life will bear the fruit he hopes for.