Occasionally, Mark Driscoll would make a comment from the stage on a given Sunday that I recall. He would say (my paraphrase), “if I had to do this all over again, I would have called this church- Jesus’ Church”. As largely irrelevant history would unfold, the church was named Mars Hill and now is infamous, not only in the Christian community but a little bit beyond that, for being controversial (and that is putting it nicely). Not only is Driscoll’s comment ironic, it is tragic.
Leaving Mars Hill Church in the beginning part of 2011, my attendance lasted a little over two years. A low level volunteer, I led a community group (a Bible study) group during that time. Without a doubt, I encountered a lot of really great people. Many of these people are still friends of mine to this day and I was plugged into a solid community after I moved from the eastern part of Washington state to Seattle.
I have hesitated to write or comment much on Mars Hill since my departure. I realize now that this was a mistake. Talking bad about other churches, ministries or pastors is not something that I want to do frequently. Occasionally, I crack jokes about Joel Osteen’s hokey books and spineless theology. I point out how much of a charlatan Benny Hinn and his counterparts are. There are churches who have radically departed from the few core essentials of Christianity and to them, I should ask penetrating questions. Finally, I (and really we) should be involved in questioning, doubting and even criticizing the contemporary version of American church which treats the ministry as an ever expanding corporation where numerical growth is the primary, ultimate consideration. One of the major reasons I left in 2011 was the latter consideration. I did not think that running a church akin to a corporation where a figurehead, Christian celebrity pastor becomes a “brand” (allegedly Driscoll’s own words, by the way) was healthy to the gospel.
There are wonderful people working at Mars Hill. There are pastors who really care about people and love Jesus. Caring people, that I still know, work as editors and writers for blog sites run by the church. Good hearted volunteers pour time and effort into the carrying out of the organization’s mission. My criticism is not directed at them in any way. Instead, I reserve my personal rebuke to the very senior leadership up to and including Mark Driscoll.
Mark Driscoll (and other senior leadership including executive pastors Sutton Turner) have been at the center of multiple scandals for the past 5 months. I will aggregate these scandals below:
-Driscoll shows up uninvited to John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference. He starts handing out and signing copies of his latest book. Security asks him not to do that. He states (on video) that they can have his books as a gift. Later, he tweets, “Security confiscated my books. #strangefire” (http://www.christianpost.com/news/mark-driscolls-books-confiscated-at-strange-fire-conference-video-shows-mars-hill-church-pastor-offering-resurgence-copies-as-gift-107230/)
-Prior to the now infamous Janet Mefferd radio interview on November 21, 2013: there were bloggers (such as Wenatchee the Hatchet) who were comparing passages of Driscoll’s books to other authors and/or commentaries. Mefferd broke the plagiarism scandal to the larger press. (http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/11/flunking-mark-driscoll-for-plagiarism/)
-Driscoll and Mars Hill church pay at least $210,000 in a marketing contract to ResultSource, Inc in order to conduct a bestseller campaign for the book written by him and his wife, Grace Driscoll. The money to pay the marketing firm came from tithe money within the church. The tactics that ResultSource uses are deceptive to the controls in place by the New York Times Bestseller list. (http://www.worldmag.com/2014/03/unreal_sales_for_driscoll_s_real_marriage)
Beyond these scandals, which merit very serious consideration, are the testimonies of former pastors, elders, leaders, and laypeople being hurt by leadership in Mars Hill Church. The various blogs and public outcries that have risen to the surface the last few years are not the efforts of a few people looking to merely throw stones. They are a chorus of voices, many of them coming to terms with experiencing a sort of spiritual abuse and emotional abuse (generally, through manipulating their commitment to the Christian faith in order to follow a pastoral figurehead leader who demands their absolute allegiance).
One can find some of the testimonies and stories in these places:
Former Pastor Dave Kraft – http://davekraft.squarespace.com/posts/2014/3/21/dave-kraft-mars-hill-church-and-mark-driscoll.html
Former Pastor Kyle Firstenberg – http://sinrepentancegraceforgiveness.blogspot.com/
Former Pastor Paul Petry (fired in 2007 with Bent Meyer over their objections to the new bylaws) – http://joyfulexiles.com
Former Mars Hill Member Jessica Abrams-http://jessicapades.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/on-this-womens-day/
Jeff Bettger- http://www.locustnhoney.com/?p=1201
Blogger Matthew Paul Turner on the Andrew Lamb situation- http://matthewpaulturner.com/2012/01/24/jesus-needs-new-prmark-driscolls-church-discipline-contract-looking-for-true-repentance-at-mars-hill-church-sign-on-the-dotted-line/
Wenatchee the Hatchet- http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2014/03/mark-driscoll-on-ordinary-demonic-not.html
The most compelling testimony about the tragedy that Mars Hill Church has become is from the people who have been deeply hurt, staff that has been fired/laid off/or forced to resign. What seems clear is that all of these allegations and the scandals lead to a big general conclusion: the senior leadership at Mars Hill, including Driscoll and Sutton Turner, have built an organization that is a far cry from being about the gospel.
Mars Hill exudes a culture of intimidation, striking fear in both employees and members who attend, and manipulating people’s genuine faiths for the exorbitant gain of the top officials. People saying that Mars Hill is not a healthy church are not saying enough. Mars Hill is a destructive church and for all the talk on legacy, this is the work of the very senior leaders at the expense of the staff that are or have worked for the church.
Let me be clear about my own situation. I was never hurt by any pastor or leader at Mars Hill. I left on my own accord and because of my conscience based on the issues I mentioned previously. However, I have many friends that have been hurt and are facing (or have faced) extreme hardship as a direct result of the culture the executive pastors have created. By writing this, in my own way, I’m saying enough by whatever measure I can.
When we look at the Biblical qualifications for being an elder, there are pretty clear principles laid out for Christian shepherds. The vital question raised by these principles (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) is how they line up with the current senior leadership of Mars Hill, Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner. My friend came up with this scale of the qualities and applied them to the allegations against Driscoll supported by overwhelming testimony and evidence:
As many have stated, no leader is perfect and no leader is without sin. My contention is that Driscoll has engaged in systemic patterns of abuse of staff, established a culture that has been hostile to members/attendees, participated in scandals to inflate his book sales based on dishonest tactics, has stolen intellectual property from other authors without proper citation, and potentially illegally used 501c3 funds (from his own church) to market his book (“Real Marriage”) which is owned by an LLC. As a result, he should be disqualified from Christian leadership and ministry. There is no excuse for why things like the above should happen (some of which over a course of years) at a church.
The sad endgame is that the foundation of the gospel has been removed. It is not all about Jesus but about someone else who desires his own personal gain beyond the very core things that matter. This is the tragedy.