“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.
…. wow. It never ceases to impress me how disgusting and toxic people get promoted to climb the ranks of Christian fundamentalism. The fact that people considered this man admirable even while he openly admitted these things rather than fleeing for the hills is telling of how sick and rotted American Christianity is.
April, I so enjoy your blogging. As I was reading this about Driscoll and the qualifications for elders I was wondering: Have you ever done a background study of N.T. elders? From what I’ve studied and am beginning to solidly believe is that elders, especially in Crete, were chosen from the group as examples to the rest of the believers as to what a Christian was to be like rather than some kind of CEO to look after the local church. Paul must not have spent as much time in Crete as he wanted to so he wrote Titus to complete what was unfinished. The gentiles of that day had no background in Judaism. The concepts of even right or wrong I’m sure were very blurred. The only scripture they had was locked up in the local synagogue, if they had one. Once they believed in Jesus and were born again they needed to have examples of how to live as Christians and that was the whole purpose as far as I can see of elders–to say “if you want to know how to live this Christian life then just watch them and do as they do!”
Hi April. I hope you had a nice Christmas.
Sometimes we feel without really knowing why we feel what we feel. While reading your post above, I felt a mysterious and internally growing feeling of emotional discomfort with what you were doing—but like I said—I am not sure why. A light was flashing on and off in the back of my head that said “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God—so why would one be surprised that Driscoll has a set of behavioral problems that most other Christians have too—perhaps different constellations of problems—but problems and failures nonetheless.”
Your evaluations are no doubt quite accurate and right on the money, legalistically speaking, but I have to wonder how many Christians, and even how many Christian pastors, could survive that kind of evaluation, which looks like the environmental audits we used to do at industrial facilities years ago. The environmental laws and regulations were atomized, and each legal atom was converted to a “pass” or “fail” item on a long check-off list.
I know Driscoll is a famous problem child, and your evaluation does not surprise me in the least. I am just surprised that it made me feel so uncomfortable. Maybe i realized that I could never be a pastor because of my own unique constellation of problems and failures in this life?
Finally, with regard to Driscoll’s set of problem masturbators, porn aficionados, etc. That was callous of him. I firmly believe that some people are born with a genetically predispositioned sex drive that is many, many, many times more powerful than what the average person experiences and has to cope with in their life—so powerful it is nearly impossible to control no matter how hard you honestly try. I was one of those people, and my life as a teenager was unbearable because of it. I only found relief from it when old age naturally took my male hormones ” way low.” I now lead a much more comfortable and controlled life where I do not feel compelled to have sexual relations with a door, electric toaster, or tree. It is an awful, awful, awful thing to know that God is going to burn you alive forever for sexual sin on the one hand—and to realize on the other hand that your sex drive is so powerful and compelling that you cannot meet God’s demands for sexual purity no matter how sincere you are or how hard you try. It is an internal curse that defies description—and I can totally understand why these men were camped out in Driscoll’s office with a sense of desperation in their hearts.
Hi, Dover. I had a great Christmas. I hope you did as well.
Of course, there aren’t many Christians who would meet these qualifications. That’s sort of the point. The biblical standards for ministers are much higher than those for lay believers. Pastors and elders are to be examples to other believers in how to exude the character of Christ. They are to demonstrate the greatest fruitfulness.
Certainly, no pastor is perfect. You will have some who struggle with some kind of “thorn in the flesh,” or who simply have a bad day and say an unkind word. But that is very different from the kind of behavior I’m critiquing here.
The time Driscoll exploded on his counselee was not his only outburst. Driscoll speaks of losing his temper several times in the book: cussing people from the pulpit, cussing the offering box for not having enough money in it, etc. It was an ongoing pattern of behavior. He disparages the elderly. He mocks those who are addicted and believers who hold different doctrines and traditions. He shows respect only when it is convenient to getting what he wants.
It would be one thing if Driscoll confessed to these things and then said, “But I was wrong; God convicted me; I asked for accountability; I apologized to those I hurt; I repaid the city and churches for the things I stole.” But he doesn’t. His attitude toward his own sin is flippant and dismissive. He didn’t care if he offended people. He didn’t care if he drove faithful servants away from his church. He didn’t care that because of his actions, the gospel was discredited among many in his community. Driscoll’s church failed for a reason, and that reason was his out-of-control, unchristian behavior.
Driscoll fits the description in 2 Timothy 3 more than 1 Timothy 3. That should frighten anyone concerned about church ministry.
Thanks April. I must confess that Driscoll was never on my radar screen much, and I heard just a few things here and there that sounded really outrageous and bad a couple of years ago, but I did not focus much personal attention on him at that time. I am looking forward to the rest of your critique as a learning experience. Eyes are wide open just like the owls on the Wide Awake Coffee Company boxes.
Bundle up. It is supposed to snow here in Knoxville tonight and Friday, and it is all heading your way as a major winter storm
April — well done. I’m looking forward to more in this series. 🙂
I enjoyed this post and look forward to the related upcoming posts because I think so much of Driscoll is symbolic of what I’ve experienced in the past and what continues across Christianity. I looked Driscoll up and he started Mars Hill in 1996 and resigned in 2014. The Confessions book was written about 2006 so he continued to pastor for about 8 years.
I saw that someone posted that no one can live up to those Biblical standards. And while I agree, I believe that so much of the fall out from poor church leadership can be managed if pastors stayed in the scope of their gifts and also lowered their scope of influence.
I have observed that many pastors have one to two strengths tops. For example, some are strong in preaching, others teaching, some are strong counselors. I believe someone can still pastor a church and stick to their strength and get strong Elders etc where they are weak. And to let their strategy be known. One good pastor I knew was strong in business, like our church amassed a lot of money that we used for a roof and to help members. And he he used to make it known that he didn’t like preaching. I’m serious. lol. So he always had a strong associate pastor that was all about preaching. And everything worked.
I know that because of a lack of spiritual maturity we can sometimes put pastors on pedestals that they don’t belong. But pastors also want to be more than a pastor sometimes, some like to seem Godlike and invincible. They dont’ see themselves as human vessel that should just comment on the Word. They want to show an that problems in life can be avoided or that their marriage is a prime example. Thus they go way out of the scope of their influence.
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