***If you haven’t heard Mark Driscoll’s interview with Brian Houston, it will provide a glimpse into Driscoll’s heart nearly a year after he stepped away from Mars Hill Church. You can see that lengthy interview here.***
Flash back to 2011. In evangelical Christian circles, there were few pastors in America who held a more successful resume than Mark Driscoll. He was lead pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, a booming church of around 14,000 in a city famous for having more dogs than Christians. He was a prolific author featured on New York Times best seller list. He was a gifted preacher who was consistently featured on podcasts and in national conferences and seminaries. He founded the para-church organization The Resurgence as well as helping to co-found the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and The Gospel Coalition. The roster of evangelical pastors in his corner was stunning: Francis Chan, John Piper, Matt Chandler, Darrin Patrick. He was the face of the post-Emergent movement and was now the poster child for Reformed Theology. He was a legitimate Reformed rock star.
By 2012, as this burgeoning evangelical empire rapidly grew, so also was a growing concern over Driscoll’s leadership practices and accusations of plagiarism. Then came accounts of him being a pastoral bully against Mars Hill staff and church members. He had bought his way on to the New York Times best seller list. While this empire grew, cracks of ego and arrogance had started to form in Driscoll’s heart. By 2014, Driscoll was removed from Acts 29 and stepped down as pastor of Mars Hill. Driscoll’s attempts to reconcile and repent were too late in view of the damage done. Overnight he went from rock star to the most polarizing figure in evangelical Christianity.
The tale of Mark Driscoll is a sad one, but is is not unique. From Ashley Madison revelations to affairs to deep hidden sin – pastors across the US are falling at alarming rates. If Driscoll, one of the most influential pastors of the last 25 years, can wander – we all can. So what can we learn from the fallout?
Every pastor needs bold love
If you were to take a stroll through the Twitter profiles of the best and brightest in Reformed Theology you’d see a whole lot of boldness: bold beards, bold book quotes and (for some) bold choices in beer. Driscoll’s boldness make him celebrated and hated. He was fearless to feed the sheep and shoot the wolves. Yet while boldness abounded – by Driscoll’s own admission – empathy was lacking. His bold stances began to hurt those closest to him. At times, the pulpit shifted from feeding the sheep to hunting heretics.
There lies the extreme difficulty for the pastor. We are to lead in such a way that brings the body of Christ together underneath His headship while not damaging the brotherhood of the church.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped,when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. ~ Ephesians 4:15-16
We have the call to speak truth in love that the saints may be equipped and we have the call in Ephesians 5 to expose those who hinder the gospel. We are called to be both boldly truthful and deeply loving in beautiful harmony. Truth without love makes you a Pharisee. Love without truth makes you a hippie. Love with bold truth makes the pastor a useful tool in the hands of a Faithful Father, both to feed sheep and shoot wolves.
Every pastor needs accountability
Driscoll’s inner circle consisted of pastors from other churches in other states and lifetime term elders appointed by Driscoll. He had unchecked power to the degree that it was difficult to remove him from leadership at Mars Hill and even when he was removed, his presence and Mars Hill were so intertwined that the church folded once he stepped away. An entourage of “yes-men” allowed his pride to ruin his ministry.
For many pastors, accountability is lacking due to fear not pride. They lack those around themselves who they can confess sin and struggles to. They fear word will spread and that their jobs could be on the line simply because they are transparent. A church culture that lacks an element of confession is one that will turn toxic. A leader that does not have anywhere to turn with their burdens will be one to eventually cave under the weight of their own sin.
For all of us in ministry, there must come checks and balances in our lives and ministries. Having brothers to go to for confession and encouragement is vital in the life of every single believer. Beyond that, the pastor needs co-laborers to save him from his own flesh at times and to ask hard but simple questions:
When was the last time you took a Sabbath?
When was the last time you took your wife on a date?
Why aren’t you taking any of your vacation?
Are you in the Word just to know the Father more?
For many a type-A pastor, his worst enemy is himself. As Paul says in Romans 7, “what a wretched man that I am.” We all need loving brothers to remind that it is Jesus who saves us from this body of death and that it is Jesus’ kingdom we are building and not our own.
Every pastor needs community
Toward the end of Driscoll’s time at Mars Hill, he was mostly isolated from the people he was called to shepherd. Much of it was by his own doing and fractures were created in church relationships. The picture of the unified body of Christ had become skewed.
To go back to Ephesians 4, the whole church is gathered under the headship of Christ – from youth praise band drummer to lead pastor. A loving, relational, Trintarian God created us in His image to relate with Him. Yet, as Adam related to God, He saw it was good for man to have a helper to be in relationship with. We were made by a God in community and saved by the Son who came to sympathize with us. The Father bridged the horrific gap in our holiness by sending His Son to fulfill the Law we couldn’t. The gospel is God’s pursuit of His glory in relationship with man. The reality of gospel truth one that is seen in community. May we all as the bride of Christ seek to laugh together, cry together, pursue Him together, be on mission together.
May every single shepherd know that you are not alone. Your co-laborers in the gospel are facing the same struggle you are. The same temptations. The same frustrations. The same pressures. Yet, we get to preach the same gospel. Stand in the same gospel. Rest in the same gospel. That’s our hope – that we preach the same gospel to ourselves that we preach to our sheep every Sunday.
Put down your kingdom and your glory. Take up His gospel, stand on it and rest in it.
Feed His sheep. Shoot the wolves. Follow the Shepherd.