“I have made so many mistakes as a pastor that I should be pumping gas for a living instead of preaching the gospel.” ~ Mark Driscoll
I have already read through Driscoll’s Confessions at this point–and I have to admit, I found it fascinating. I was, at turns, curious and concerned and thrilled and horrified. Rarely was I ever bored.
For me, one of the most fascinating aspects of the book is Driscoll’s profound lack of self-awareness. For example, he speaks at length about helping to develop new pastors and leaders for Mars Hill, and he repeatedly references and even quotes the biblical qualifications for leaders listed in 1 Timothy 3 & 4, Titus 1 and 1 Peter 5. Yet Driscoll never seems to realize that, by those standards, he himself isn’t qualified to lead a church.
To summarize, the scriptures say that a church overseer should be–among other things:
- above reproach
- gentle and hospitable
- an example to others in speech and conduct
- willing and eager to serve
- not overbearing or quick-tempered
- not a recent convert and a person of good reputation
So these are the qualifications I will be evaluating Driscoll by, based on what he says about himself.
Before reading on, I encourage you to click the links above and read each scripture in context. Also, I read Confessions on my Kindle, so citations for book quotes will be in Kindle locations instead of page numbers.
A recent convert
Driscoll had only been a Christian for six years when he planted Mars Hill (at age 25). His only prior experience in ministry was as an intern at a church’s ministry for college students. Driscoll says he didn’t even have his theology completely nailed down when he started Mars Hill, and admits he was “spiritually immature” (loc 1416).
“Shortly after returning home…I absolutely cracked. In one day I had around ten hours of back-to-back meetings with young single men in the church, which pushed me over the edge. Every one of them was older than me, a chronic masturbator, a porn addict…not tithing, and wanting me to hang out with them a lot to keep them accountable. By about the forth or fifth guy, something in me completely snapped. I stood up and cussed out the poor guy, losing my mind to the point that I think I actually cuffed him upside the head” (loc 1846).
I wish I could say this is the most appalling thing I read in Confessions, but it was not. If a pastor had treated me this way in a counseling session, I would have left and warned everyone I knew to never set foot in his church. This is outright abusive behavior.
“We scraped together enough money to buy some big honking speakers, and I stole an unused sound console from my old church along with a projection screen, which were sins that Jesus thankfully died to forgive” (loc 866).
I’m not sure which church Driscoll is referring to: Antioch Bible Church, where he served as an intern, or the fundamentalist church that graciously gave him free meeting space to start Mars Hill. Either way, any minister who steals, especially from another church, has zero integrity. Not only has he robbed fellow Christians in the body of Christ, he has broken one of the 10 Commandments.
And here, Driscoll doesn’t even express remorse for his actions. Nor does he say that he later compensated the church for the equipment, which was expensive and likely a significant loss for the church. This is a huge red flag that signals a calloused heart and an exploitative spirit.
And this wasn’t the only instance of theft, either. Driscoll also admits that he set up one of the church offices in an apartment building that was illegally hooked up to the city’s power grid (loc 1792).
Unwilling to serve
“Occasionally someone would call, but being a heterosexual man who hates to talk on the phone, I soon got sick of answering it. I also quickly learned that if I answered the phone, the same people would call more frequently, and I did not really want to talk to them because they were a lot like Bill Murray’s character in the movie What about Bob?” (loc 815).
Driscoll repeatedly expresses his disdain at having to serve the parishioners in his congregation. He appears to view Christians in the pews as potential energy vampires looking to suck up all of his valuable attention and resources. To Driscoll, ministry is not about who is present in his church, but about who isn’t there yet (loc 848). He is constantly seeking ways to unload his pastoral responsibilities (counseling, visiting the sick, discipleship) onto others so he can focus exclusively on getting more bodies into the pews.
Although he says at one point that “my mind was consumed with the painful hardships…of our people” (loc 959), I don’t know that I believe him. In context, it sounds more like a statement made out of obligation than sincerity.
If I had read this book while a member of Mars Hill, I would have walked out. No question.
Of good reputation?
“In our final year of the weekly all-church summer study, we had baptisms in Lake Union, which overlooks the city, and the Seattle Times came out and took photographs. […] But when we went to conduct more baptisms a few weeks later in the same location, the harbor police showed up in their patrol boat, threatened to cite us for being in city water, and made a mess of our baptism by yelling at us through their bullhorn. We just ignored them and kept baptizing the new converts” (loc 2285).
In the Bible, the Apostle Paul repeatedly admonishes believers to respect governing officials and conduct themselves as good citizens so the Word of God will not be slandered. Yet Driscoll shows outright disregard for the law–in front of new converts, no less!
Now, I have been to Lake Union myself, so I am familiar with the location. Lake Union is in the heart of Seattle and bordered by museums, docks and boat slips. Sea planes frequently take off and land on the surface. It has no beach and, therefore, no lifeguard or swimming area. If you want to be in the water at Lake Union, you have to be in a boat.
As a resident of Seattle, Driscoll likely knew this.
The police weren’t yelling at Driscoll because he was conducting baptisms, as Driscoll claims in the book. They were yelling at him because it is illegal and potentially hazardous for anyone to be in the water there.
There are six other lakes in Seattle where Driscoll could have legally and safely hosted the baptisms. Yet he chooses Lake Union based on its visibility. Indeed, he speaks glowingly of the picture that appeared in the Seattle Times: “an enormous photo of us baptizing new converts with a backdrop of the skyline of one of America’s least churched cities.” In light of Driscoll’s other confessions, I have to wonder if the baptisms at Lake Union were less about witness and more about staging.
Nevertheless, it seems Driscoll was determined to not let anything–including biblical qualifications or the rule of law–stand in his way of planting Mars Hill. And I’m left to wonder why those around him never called him out on it.