Storm clouds over Mars Hill
Driscoll’s season of trouble
This article deals with the storm clouds that have gathered over Mark Driscoll’s controversial ministry during the past year or so, at an increasingly rapid pace. Hyperlinks are provided to a number of websites and articles for those who would like to examine the details of the story.
Pastor Dave Kraft files charges against Mark Driscoll
In May 2013, pastor Dave Kraft filed formal charges against pastor Mark Driscoll with the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA). Link to charges:
Kraft’s allegations are that Mark Driscoll’s behaviour violated the teachings of I Timothy 3, Titus 1 and I Peter 5. ‘I believe that Pastor Mark has a long-standing pattern of violating these leadership qualities and has done so with dozens of individuals.’ The charges concerning Driscoll’s conduct are summarised by six points:
1. Self-controlled and disciplined (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:8)
‘Pastor Mark exhibits lack of self-control by his speech and by verbally assaulting others.
He also demonstrates lack of discipline with his words and the judgmental comments he makes, and has made, about his own elders and other leaders. This may be characterized as slander.’
2. Domineering attitude
‘He domineers by viewing the people as simply a means to the achieving of his own personal ends. Ministry is reduced to exploitation. The people exist to “serve his vision” rather than he and all the people together existing to serve the vision of the entire church; he domineers by making people feel unsafe and insecure should they desire to voice an objection to his proposals and policies.’
3. Verbally violent
‘Pastor Mark exhibits anger and ungraceful ways of dealing with those with whom he disagrees and who disagree with him. He does this by (among other ways) putting people down. I believe that the way Pastor Mark leads has created a culture of fear instead of a culture of candour and safety. People are afraid to ask questions or challenge ideas.
Pastor Sutton in a Full Council Elder’s meeting on January 15, 2013 indicated that we have a culture of fear. I believe that Pastor Mark is the source and perpetuator of these widespread fears. Pastor Mark is verbally abusive to people who challenge him, disagree with him, or question him. Pastor Mark uses words to demean, attack or disparage others.’
4. Not respectable (1 Tim. 3:2)
‘I can no longer respect Pastor Mark Driscoll and submit to his leadership as a result of his persistent sinful behavior toward others. I believe we would discover that many other Mars Hill elders and leaders have also lost respect for Pastor Mark’s leadership.’
‘Pastor Mark has stated in public numerous times that he is guilty of pride. It is one thing to acknowledge sin, quite another to repent of sin and experience change through the power of the Holy Spirit’
‘Many Mars Hill elders have witnessed this on numerous occasions.’
Kraft concluded: ‘My bottom line desire in all of this is that the Holy Spirit would convict pastor Mark Driscoll of his sin and enable him to repent, demonstrated by changed biblical behaviors and attitudes so that Mars Hill Church will have a healthier leadership and a healthier culture.’
Michael Van Skaik, chairman of BOAA, chaired the committee assigned to investigate the charges. Many people provided evidence to the investigation, which reported in March 2014.
Pastor Dave Kraft resigns eldership
In September 2013, pastor Dave Kraft reported on his blog that he resigned his membership and Eldership of Mars Hill, saying, ‘because I have serious questions about the ministry and leadership philosophy/practices of the Executive Elders of MHC, [I] no longer trust them and, therefore, cannot submit to their authority.’
21 November 2013, in a phone interview with radio host Janet Mefferd to promote his new book, A Call to Resurgence, Mark Driscoll is accused of plagiarism. In the aftermath of this controversial interview, during the following months, many other examples of Driscoll’s plagiarism were identified.
Driscoll games New York Times best-seller list
In early March 2014, an article in World Magazine, under the headline, ‘Unreal sales of Driscoll’s Real Marriage’ reported: ‘Seattle’s Mars Hill Church paid a California-based marketing company at least $210,000 in 2011 and 2012 to ensure that Real Marriage, a book written by Mark Driscoll, the church’s founding pastor, and his wife Grace, made the New York Times best-seller list.’
Dave Kraft’s charges found to be non-disqualifying
Almost a year after the Dave Kraft’s formal charges, the Chairman of the Board wrote a letter to church leaders (26 March 2014): ‘As the governing body responsible for the accountability of Mars Hill’s senior leaders, the Board took these charges extremely seriously… In an effort to substantiate the validity of the anonymous charges, we immediately sent out over one hundred letters to former elders and staff at Mars Hill Church… We received eighteen responses. While some were very positive, every response was read and reread, looking for anything that would disqualify Pastor Mark and any other Mars Hill leaders from serving, or that would require further investigation… After a thorough review, the charges were determined to be non-disqualifying… You need to know that I and the other Board members have witnessed the Holy Spirit’s work in pastors Mark, Dave and Sutton as they’ve grieved deeply over the hurts and sorrows that they’ve been the source of. Their hearts yearn for repentance and reconciliation with those that have been hurt and offended.’
Michael Van Skaik
Mike Anderson, Director of Resurgence, resigns
On 1 July 2014, Mike Anderson posted online: ‘Hello, my name is Mike, I’m a recovering True Believer. I spent the decade after high school in single-minded devotion to a church movement that started at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. I’m now very sorry for my participation… Long-held beliefs about how a church should be run were secretly changed, fear and intimidation were constant, and power was consolidated even more than it had been… I’m writing this to clearly tell everyone I ever interacted with that I was wrong to be a part of this. Religion and man-made movements are my crack. I want to burn to the ground any bridge that gives me a path back into it… It was around this time that I realized I had believed a false gospel, and that collectively Mars Hill was representing something profoundly wrong.’
Driscoll’s message to Mars Hill Church
In the Mars Hill Weekly (21 July 2014), Mark Driscoll delivered a 30 minute video message to the church family. He spoke about the difficult season that Mars Hill was going through. He mentioned a group of largely anonymous leaders who have been hurt by changes in church leadership. ‘A lot of the people we were dealing with in this season remain anonymous, and so we don’t know how to reconcile or how to work things out with people because we’re not entirely sure who they are.’ Many found this statement puzzling, for numerous people had contacted Mars Hill by name with their concerns with little response from the church.
Some people were hurt, Driscoll said, and ‘as a result there is a group of largely anonymous former leaders of our Mars Hill Church family and we want to reconcile with those men, our brothers in Christ, and so we have opened up a process that has been underway, and it is a relational reconciliation process, where an independent outside ministry, that’s part of the Peacemakers ministry is involved.’
Demonstration outside Mars Hill Church
On Sunday 3 August, in a peaceful demonstration about 65 former church members stood outside Mars Hill Church in Bellevue with a large poster declaring ‘We are not anonymous.’ The demonstration was directed at the church’s controversial, authoritarian and domineering co-founder and senior pastor, Mark Driscoll.
Ron Wheeler’s letter: ‘I am not anonymous’
On 7 August 2014, former pastor Ron Wheeler who was a regular companion of Mark Driscoll in the early days of Mars Hill Church, and responsible for planting the first Acts 29 church in Mt. Vernon, posted an open letter to Driscoll, in which he documents his perspective on the early days of Mars Hill Church and Acts 29 network and ends with a plea that Driscoll resign as pastor of Mars Hill Church.
Ron Wheeler, who has retired from the pastorate, writes: ‘You’ve destroyed people, Mark. You’ve ruined people’s reputations. Through your own perverse interpretation of “God’s grace”, you’ve cast people aside who you decided were not “on mission” spoke of “a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus.” The pragmatism backfired. What you won them with, is what you won them too, and now there are thousands who have been hurt, and who have hurt others. Beautifully, many of them are finding forgiveness and healing as they reconnect with each other and grow in grace. Please Mark. Just stop. Step down. Resign.
Acts 29 letter to Driscoll
In early August the Board of Acts 29, wrote a letter to Mark Driscoll:
‘As the Board of Acts 29, we are grateful to God for the leadership, courage, and generosity of both you and Mars Hill in not only founding the network but also sustaining it through the transition to this board three years ago… Over the past three years, our board and network have been the recipients of countless shots and dozens of fires directly linked to you and what we consider ungodly and disqualifying behaviour… Because you are the founder of Acts 29 and a member, we are naturally associated with you and feel that this association discredits the network and is a major distraction… Again, we want you to know that we are eternally thankful for what you as a man and Mars Hill as a church have meant to our network.’
Signed by Matt Chandler, Darrin Patrick, Steve Timmis and four others
Acts 29 removes Driscoll from membership
On 8 August 2014 the Board of Acts 29 Church Planting Network posted this message:
‘It is with deep sorrow that the Acts 29 Network announces its decision to remove Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from membership in the network.’ The reason given for this drastic action was Driscoll’s ungodly and disqualifying behaviour.
Lifeway Christian Stores remove Driscoll’s books
The day after Acts 29 Network dropped Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from membership, Lifeway Christian Stores, a chain of Baptist bookshops, announced that they were not going to sell Mark Driscoll’s books until Driscoll’s ministry had been assessed. Lifeway media relations manager Marty King confirmed the move to Warren Throckmorton at Patheos, saying: ‘Lifeway Stores and Lifeway.com are not selling Mark Driscoll’s books while we assess the developments regarding his ministry.’
Driscoll deleted as speaker from Christian Conferences
By mid August, Driscoll had been removed as the closing speaker at four upcoming ‘Act Like Men’ evangelical conferences. The Gateway Church Conference in Texas also removed Driscoll from the program.
Resurgence Conference Cancelled
On 14 August 2014 Mark Driscoll’s flagship Resurgence conference issued a cancellation notice: ‘The Resurgence Conference has always been born out of our love of Jesus and the church, and the desire to support efforts to grow leaders to grow churches. Unfortunately, we have decided to cancel this year’s conference due to unforeseen changes to our speaker line-up and other challenges we believe would make it difficult to provide the quality of conference people have come to expect from Resurgence.’ Christian leaders Paul Tripp and James Macdonald had been due to speak at the conference; but they recently resigned from Mars Hill’s BOAA.
Confidential letter of twenty-one former pastors
On 22 August 2014, a confidential letter sent by twenty-one former pastors of Mars Hill Church to the executive elders and Board of Advisors and Accountability comes to light through the blog of Warren Throckmorton. The letter starts by expressing gratitude for pastor Mark’s ministry: ‘He has taught us sound doctrine.’ It goes on to declare that Mark Driscoll has engaged in ‘persistent sinful behaviour toward others’ characterised by a pattern of abusive and intimidating conduct. Moreover, he has not changed his domineering behaviour. A process of mediation designed to lead to mutual repentance and reconciliation is suggested. According to former Mars Hill pastors Dave Kraft and Kyle Firstenberg, the pastors want to bring in specialists in conflict resolution to facilitate the process.
Confidential letter of nine current pastors
Nine current Mars Hill Church pastors wrote a confidential letter to their fellow elders, entitled Concerns and Critical Information for the Elders of Mars Hill Church. The letter was circulated within Mars Hill on Friday 22 August 2014, and brought to light by Warren Throckmorton.
The letter starts with a gracious greeting. ‘Fellow elders, We love you, this church, and the people that Jesus has entrusted to our care.
Pastor Mark, we love you and have been immensely blessed under your preaching, and for that we are grateful.’ The letter then expresses serious ‘concerned about the state of our church, especially the state our leadership at the highest levels and our continued lack of transparency in general’.
The letter was deeply critical of Mark Driscoll’s ministry, stating that ‘witnesses felt bullied and were afraid of the consequences of releasing their names’. Driscoll is criticised for the ‘abusive, coercive ministry culture’ his leadership has created and calls for him to step down from ministry.
‘We direct that he steps down from ministry, submitting himself under the authority of the elders of the church, who will oversee the details of his restoration plan.’
‘He must step down not only from the pulpit, but from all aspects of ministry and leadership.’
The letter also draws on quotes from Paul Tripp, a former member of the Mars Hill board of advisors, who has said: ‘This is without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.’
Mars Hill makes New York Times
An article in the New York Times, under the headline: A Brash Style That Filled Pews, Until Followers Had Their Fill, (22 August 2014), comments:
‘But now Mr. Driscoll’s empire appears to be imploding. He has been accused of creating a culture of fear at the church, of plagiarizing, of inappropriately using church funds and of consolidating power to such a degree that it has become difficult for anyone to challenge or even question him. A flood of former Mars Hill staff members and congregants have come forward, primarily on the Internet but also at a protest in front of the church, to share stories of what they describe as bullying or “spiritual abuse,” and 21 former pastors have filed a formal complaint in which they call for Mr. Driscoll’s removal as the church’s leader. Mr. Driscoll is rapidly becoming a pariah in the world that once cheered him.’
An update from Pastor Mark
On Sunday 24 August 2014, returning from vacation Pastor Mark Driscoll addressed Mars Hill worship services through a pre-recorded message.
‘If you have attended Mars Hill Church for any period of time you know we consider the pulpit to be sacred ground. Consequently, I only like to use the pulpit to preach and teach the Word of God; I don’t like to use it to address current events or respond to controversy—even when the controversy involves me, your pastor… Thank you for being a wonderful church family…
God is not honored by conflict, strife, disunity, arguing, slander, gossip or anything else not consistent with the fruit of the Spirit, and I am deeply sorry for the times I have not done my part to living peaceably with all men.
I want to thank those who have come directly to an Elder, lead pastor or me to tell us of an offense they are carrying… Others have chosen to air their grievances with me or this church in a more public forum. As is often the case, some of what is said it true, some is partly true, and some is completely untrue…
Storm clouds seem to be whirling around me more than ever in recent months and I have given much thought and sought much counsel as to why that is and what to do about it. The current climate is not healthy for me or for this church.
Some have challenged various aspects of my personality and leadership style, and while some of these challenges seem unfair, I have no problem admitting I am deserving of some of these criticisms based on my own past actions that I am sorry for… But I’m particularly sorry that any of my past actions or decisions have brought distraction to the mission of Mars Hill Church, and therefore, to those who call this their church home… There is a well-documented list of past actions and decisions I have admitted were wrong, sought forgiveness, and apologized to those I hurt or offended…
Driscoll’s plan includes the following actions:
- I have submitted to the process prescribed by our church Bylaws as overwhelmingly approved by our entire Eldership for addressing accusations against me… A report on this process will be presented when it has been completed.
- I have requested a break for processing, healing, and growth for a minimum of six weeks while the leadership assigned by our bylaws conduct a thorough examination of accusations against me. I believe their review can best be performed without me being in the pulpit or the office, and they have agreed to this arrangement.
- I will not be doing any outside speaking for the foreseeable future.
- I have agreed to postpone the publication of my next book until a future season, to be determined.
- I have begun meeting with a professional team of mature Christians who provide wise counsel to help further my personal development and maturity before God and men…
Finally, I want to say to our Mars Hill family—past and present, I’m very sorry. I’m sorry for the times I have been angry, short, or insensitive. I’m sorry for anything I’ve done to distract from our mission by inviting criticism, controversy or negative media attention…
The gospel is powerfully at work in me, your pastor, thanks to the faithfulness of our Senior Pastor Jesus Christ, and the best thing for us each to do is look to Him and point others to Him.
Thank you Mars Hill. I love you.’
Driscoll’s PR expert
Mark DeMoss, an Atlanta public relations consultant and former adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, has been brought in to work with Mars Hill congregation. DeMoss attended the services in Seattle on Sunday 24 August at his own expense as Driscoll’s friend. DeMoss said: ‘I think he’s a gifted, biblical communicator who has done effective church work in an unchurched part of the country. I like him, I believe in him, and if I only worked with ministry leaders who were faultless, I would be out of business tonight.’
John Piper, Driscoll’s friend wrote on twitter: ‘I hope Mark Driscoll feels a tidal wave of hope-filled prayer for a new day and a new man in this season.’
In an article in Christianity Today (26 August 2014),‘Forgiving my Pastor – Mark Driscoll’ Celeste Gracey, writes: ‘For years, Mars Hill has been known as a church that cares deeply about right thinking and strong theology, but rarely do people associate it with love or grace… On Sunday, Pastor Mark Driscoll—my pastor—unrolled a statement announcing his plans to step down while he sorts through years of unresolved conflicts… The Mars Hill family—my congregation and church family—responded to Pastor Mark’s statement with a standing ovation. His vulnerability and the occasional tear demonstrated to us he no longer needed to be the fist-pounding, brash preacher that founded the church. The body was ready to forgive him.’
Mars Hill rebukes the nine elders
On 29 August 2014, an article in Seattle News under the headline ‘Mars Hill elders: News leaks to non-Christian world discredit Jesus’ reports that ‘a newly formed board of elders at Mars Hill Church, in a letter Friday, condemned news leaks, sought to reassure the flock and warned that public airing of internal “allegations and concerns” would be used by enemies of the faith. The letter seemed to carry a triple message: Keep the faith, keep quiet and we will take care of it.’ The letter was a response to the leaked confidential letter signed by nine current Mars Hill pastors mentioned above.
Pastor Dustin Kensrue resigns
On 1st September 2014, worship leader pastor Dustin Kensrue, one of the nine pastors who sent the confidential letter to Mars Hill elders, resigned from Mars Hill because of the hostile reaction towards the nine. On 3rd September, Kensrue made his letter of resignation public knowledge.
‘To the elders and members of Mars Hill,
On Monday [1 September2014] I submitted my resignation from staff and eldership at Mars Hill… I love the people of Mars Hill and have been so blessed all of you, so I want you to know that the reason I have resigned is because I am convinced that at this point it is the most helpful and loving thing I can do for you. After writing and signing the letter that I wrote to the Full Council of Elders my options were to essentially do nothing and keep my mouth closed, to keep pressing internally until they were forced to fire me, or to resign.’
Kensrue refers to ‘an unhealthy, fear-driven, self-protective leadership culture at MH’. He says that what the leaked letter ‘has done is to pull back the curtain on the misleading nature and spin that has characterized our communication… The people will no longer tolerate diversions and deceptions. If trust is to be re-established, a pattern of plain talk and humble repentance will be necessary.’
Kensrue makes the important point that ‘Power is consolidated in such a way that the government of MH can only be described as an oligarchy which does not reflect the mutually submissive view of elder governance provided in the Bible.’
He concludes: ‘If Mars Hill is to survive even another six months it needs to be a place of radical repentance: repentance of pride, deception, domineering attitudes, lazy and self-serving hermeneutics, and a slew of other sins.’
Warren Throckmorton, who has reported on the Mars Hill saga in careful detail, comments: ‘After having read the letter, I want to punctuate it with several segments. Kensrue essentially validates the concerns I have expressed repeatedly as have others. The Mars Hill Church Full Council of Elders has almost no authority and cannot bring accountability to the situation.’
The above provides a record of the Mars Hill debacle.
A veritable cloud of witnesses have attested to Driscoll’s shameful behaviour. The charges against Driscoll include: lack of self-control, verbal abuse, slander, domineering attitude, anger, cultivating a culture of fear, pride, quick tempered, ruining peoples reputations, destroying people, bullying. Scripture wants us to understand that in the last days people will be ‘covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.’ (2 Timothy 3.2b-4). The works of the flesh described in Galatians 5, include: ‘enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy’ (Galatians 5.20-21).
Fruit of the Spirit
True believers, who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.’ (Galatians 5.22-26). So the fruit of the Spirit includes patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.
Characteristics of church leaders
Driscoll’s conduct disqualifies him from the role of a church leader. The Apostle Paul teaches that a church leader ‘must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money’ (1 Timothy 3.2-4). Note that Driscoll is not above reproach, not sober-minded, not self-controlled, and not respectable; but is violent and quarrelsome. In other words, Driscoll’s behaviour is the opposite of that expected by of a church elder by Scripture. Such a man cannot lead the Church of Jesus Christ. We must conclude that Driscoll’s behaviour is not that of a Christian gentleman. He has proved himself to be a vindictive bully, who is controlled by desires of the flesh.
Darren Kensure’s point that Mars Hill is governed by an oligarchy and not a biblical ordained eldership is highly significant, for one of the essential characteristics of a true church is that it is governed by a godly eldership, as described in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
Remarkably, former Mars Hill pastors actually believe that Driscoll taught sound doctrine. This surely explains much about the Mars Hill debacle. Church elders apparently saw no problem with Driscoll’s trivialisation of Scripture, his jokes about biblical characters, his promotion of tattoos, his claim that he had the supernatural gift to see things, and his outrageous teaching on sexual conduct. Driscoll’s false doctrine is described on this website.
A Christian Church or a pseudo-Christian cult?
All the evidence in this article shows that Mars Hill is led by a pastor whose behaviour disqualifies him as a church leader. Moreover, Mars Hill is governed by a powerful oligarchy, not a godly eldership as prescribed in Scripture. So the inevitable question is this: Is Mars Hill a true Christian Church, or is Mars Hill a pseudo-Christian cult?
You can learn more about Mark Driscoll’s ministry in the book, The New Calvinists (2014), published by The Wakeman Trust and Belmont House Publishing. The book is available from belmonthousebooks.com/