Driscoll’s “Confessions”: How to Grow a Church

confessionsSee my ongoing review in this series: Intro | Part 1

“I acknowledge that some readers may be turned off by my focus on numbers, even though we have a book of the Bible titled the same word. But every number is a person, so numbers do matter because people matter.” ~ Mark Driscoll

Driscoll wrote Confessions of a Reformission Rev. as a guide of sorts for other pastors to follow. So today, I want to talk about the church-growth philosophy and methods Driscoll puts forth in his book.

After the prelude, Driscoll begins his book with “Ten Curious Questions” for his pastoral audience to consider. In this chapter, he defines “reformission,” makes a distinction between the Emergent and Emerging church, and outlines the different types of churches in America: (1) traditional and institutional, (2) contemporary and evangelical, and (3) emerging and missional. He splits a few hairs and quotes a lot of church attendance statistics from George Barna.

Now, Driscoll tells pastors that the kind of church they will have will depend on the type of community they are in. Older congregations will prefer a small, traditional church; the postmodern crowd will be most comfortable in a large, emerging church (loc 272-279). No one type is superior to the others as long as the theology is sound–it’s all about who you are trying to reach (loc 279-286).

Driscoll says that, and then immediately contradicts himself. It is very clear that he thinks large churches are superior to small churches, and emergent churches are superior to all other kinds [emphasis mine]:

“If a church is truly missional, it may become a megachurch for three reasons: (1) the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful and effective, (2) a truly outward-focused missional church will experience conversion growth, and (3) a truly missional church has such a burning desire for cultural transformation that it must grow large enough to serve a whole city” (loc 436).

“Nothing is wrong with a small church,” Driscoll says, “However, I find the conversation among numerous young pastors who prefer smaller churches to be theologically troubling” (loc 450). (Hint: It’s because they believe all of the Early Church communities were small.)

“In Scripture, we see two prototypical communities: Babel/Babylon and Pentecost. […] The Babylonian version of community is godless affinity. Babylonian community does not aspire to grow except by internal births….Community is the only goal….God’s response to Babylonian community is judgment and scattering, because it is a sin…(loc 472-483).

So, according to Driscoll, you can have any style and size of church you want, but if it’s not a large, missional church, you’re probably sinning by limiting conversion growth or being hesitant to change (loc 402-409). Probably. It’s like the person who says, “Sure, the brown shirt is fine…if that’s the kind of thing you like,” while rolling their eyes.

So, how does Driscoll recommend growing a large, missional church?

Well, first you have to decide what the church’s mission is (Hint: converting the lost is the answer you’re looking for) and then make sure that every single person who fills a pew is “on mission.” If people come in talking too much about “meeting needs” or a particular program they’d like to see implemented, someone should show them the door.

“I needed to create a filter to get the wrong people out of the church and keep the right people in the church. […] I did not want anyone to hold a leadership position, teach, join a small group, or receive any training in a class until they had first completed the Gospel Class and signed a covenant agreement with the elders that was very serious and demanded a lot from the church members. Though it may sound harsh, I did not want our church to invest time and energy into people who were not on our mission” (loc 1593, emphasis added).

Driscoll also hires two young, inexperienced men, Tim and Jamie, as worship leader and church director respectively, to lead an organizational shake-up on the way to growing Mars Hill to 3,000 members. Tim and Jamie end up firing several staff members each, causing Driscoll’s phone to ring with complaints. Driscoll brushes off the critics either by claiming those let go weren’t properly “on mission” or that the sacrifices were necessary to fully develop Tim and Jamie’s leadership potential (loc 2066-2072). In fact, almost any time a Mars Hill servant, paid or volunteer, hits their limit in what Driscoll expects them to do, they are asked to step down. The process is always greater than the people involved in it.

Driscoll claims this is a biblical model, but is it? It sounds exactly like what a CEO would do to grow a company. And this is not by coincidence.

You see, Driscoll didn’t come up with these ideas on his own. He got them from paid church growth consultants.

It’s amazing how many times these consultants turn up in Confessions. John Vaughan, who runs a megachurch research center called Church Growth Today. Lyle Schaller, the “preeminent church consultant” who got a glowing write-up in Christianity Today upon his death last March. Alan Roxburgh, who runs a resource network called The Missional Network.  In fact, on Driscoll’s Wikipedia page, Roxburgh is credited with being a major influence on Driscoll’s doctrine. These men’s (and others) books, CDs, lectures and reports are cited throughout Confessions.

And then there’s the fact that Confessions itself is sponsored by the Leadership Network, another church-growth consulting organization and resource center. With only a vetting application and $6,000 per year, fledgling megachurch hopefuls (with up to two elders in tow) can go to meet-ups and rub elbows with the biggest names in Evangelical Christianity and hear all their church-growth secrets. For another $6,000, they can attend  a leadership seminar on a topic of interest, such as starting multi-site campuses,  reaching millennials, and convincing congregations to give generously. Surprisingly (or not), the course offerings on how to start mercy ministries like a drug rehab clinic or soup kitchen appear to be rather thin. Or nonexistent. Take your pick.

At the end of Confessions, there is a 2-page ad for Leadership Network, whose founder is Bob Buford. (It’s interesting to note here that Buford’s close personal friend was Peter Drucker, a management consultant and founder of the modern American corporation.) In the acknowledgements (loc 75), Driscoll thanks Buford, Linda Stanley and Dave Travis at Leadership Network for having “generously invested in me since the early days of our church.”

Indeed. Driscoll planted Mars Hill in the spring of 1995. Only one year later, when the church only had about 150 members, Driscoll was invited to speak at his first of many Leadership Network conferences.

From the way Driscoll words things in his book, he gives the impression that this investment was simply volunteered…that he was so “on mission” and unique in his church-planting abilities that everyone was eager to take him under their wing. I don’t believe that at all. In Confessions, Driscoll paints himself as a driven networker, eagerly seeking out the top people in the field for advice.

That leaves only a couple of options for consideration. Either Driscoll had a sponsor who was paying his way to all of these connections and conferences…or Driscoll was, himself, paying thousands of dollars per year to network with people who would tell him how to grow his church, invite him to conferences and promote his books. This, while Driscoll was working his wife toward a nervous breakdown just so they could make ends meet while Mars Hill took shape (loc 651-658).

I pray this isn’t true, but I fear very much that it is.

If so, that makes Driscoll’s whole purpose in writing Confessions extremely disingenuous. Driscoll claims he was guided by Jesus. In fact, he was guided by consultants. He frames church growth as a moral issue so that small church pastors with a genuine heart for community transformation will fall into dialing the consulting organizations that promise ministry success and innovation for the right price.

Lord, help us.

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17 responses to “Driscoll’s “Confessions”: How to Grow a Church

  1. “I needed to create a filter to get the wrong people out of the church and keep the right people in the church.”

    This makes me want to vomit! This is nothing about Jesus, it’s all about MD and his organisation which he calls ‘church’.

  2. I read a book by Lyle Schaller years ago and thought it offered a more balanced approach than what you are implying is found in Driscoll’s book. Now I am curious if his message changed or if Driscoll only focused on ideas that lined up with what he already believed. The book I read supported small churches and a diversity of approaches. It warned against trying to be everything to everybody and encouraged churches to find their ministry niche. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the title.

    • In reading about him, I don’t think Schaller’s message changed all that much. I think he acknowledged the rise of mega churches and their appeal to young people, but I think he maintained that small churches would always be the larger trend. That’s the impression I get from Driscoll’s book, anyway.

  3. Well, Jesus told the disciples “Many will come in my name,” and He also said “Woe to him who leads astray one of these little ones!” He knew, and He knows! Thank you for continuing to expose these lying hucksters April! You read that drivel and we don’t have to!

  4. Part of me wants to read this book, but I do not want to give one penny to Driscoll. He has long been on my list of loathsome people with his treatment of his wife and LBGT people. I have yet to find a semblance of Christ in this man.

      • LeeAnn: To help you get through it, it might be helpful to just visualize Driscoll wearing a classic, conical dunce hat. Sometimes injecting a little humor into something painful makes it a little easier to take—like the famous movie scene where Buddy Love goes after the stand-up comedian who bullies his audiences.

  5. The quote about ‘filtering’ people with a gospel class and signing a ‘covenant agreement with the elders’ is very, very troubling. There should be no talk of getting rid of the ‘wrong’ kind of people. That does not reflect the life and love of Christ – who was ALWAYS looking to engage and include the ‘wrong’ people.

    Is there any more information on this ‘covenant agreement’? The CREC requires those for membership as well, correct?

    All in all…this is control, not love. The bigger the church, the more people you wound with this attitude. Millstones, oh Lord. Millstones.

    • There are apparently a couple of different versions, but one copy has been archived at Joyful Exiles. Just google Mars Hill membership covenant. It should be the second link.

  6. In the world famous job hunting manual entitled “What Color is Your Parachute?,” author Richard Nelson Bolles indicates that church pastors, far more often than not, exhibit the same natural inclinations, interests, and skill profiles (talking ability and aptitudes testing here) as corporate CEOs. He goes on to say that many pastors who grow tired of the church and want to leave pastoring behind end up in corporate management positions—and he recommends that former pastors looking for new jobs try to do that because most are best suited to doing CEO kinds of work. In short, many of our pastors are “empire builders” by nature. If building a cheese and yogurt empire is not appealing, then maybe building a “Jesus empire” could be done just as well.

    To the best of my recollection, the Bible does not call for CEO pastors. My impression has always been, and forgive me if I missed something, that the best pastors are instead “good shepherd” types who can connect logically, sensibly, spiritually, and emotionally with their church members in an atmosphere of grace and love that edifies people, lifts them up, and brings out the best in them for whatever Christian service the person feels called to do with their own natural talents and inclinations. That is what I would want in a pastor. That is what I would expect of myself if I were to become a pastor. (Caution: A famous test used by major corporations around the world indicates that I am a rare 1 to 2 people out of every 100 ideally suited for corporate CEO work. Yikes!!!)

    We sometimes miss an important fact that struck me immediately near the beginning of April’s post:

    “Yeah. Grow the church. Grow the church really big. I mean really, really, really BIG. And remember, you do not have to go after poor people to get new church members because upper middle class people, upper class people, and filthy rich people NEED JESUS TOO!!!!” Go after them—(whisper) and their big buck$. Meanwhile, as your pastor, I will be increasing my salary and perks to ever more wonderful levels of personal gratification. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s the ticket!!! Let’s grow this church.”

    I am not trying to imply that all or even most pastors do this. However, the thing I am saying directly is that pastors with natural CEO inclinations and drives may see empire building in the church as a temptation too great to pass up. I think we, as church members, need to bear this problem in mind during the process of hiring any new pastor for our churches. Shepherds are best.

  7. Even if Driscoll wasn’t disingenuous with his intentions for writing this book he’s at least ludicrous. He clearly thinks in a ethnocentric and narrow bubble. How could the diverse populous of all U.S. cities have a megachurch? For example I went to undergrad in VT. According to 2014 statistics there are 600K+ people in VT and most are probably concentrated in Burlington. Megachurch concept doesn’t really work there. Also, why does Driscoll assume that a small church of 100+ consistent members isn’t meeting the specific needs of their members?

    • I know the answer to that last question. One hundred people is insufficient to, how shall I say it: “Put on an enormous Rodgers and Hammerstein production (religious script) for the congregation.” They will all be in the play—-leaving no one in the pews to watch and say, “Wow, this church has been blessed with the highest quality of member entertainment.” Yeah. I am more than a little cynical, and i like small churches. Every little part does its work in its own little place and contributes to the whole—just as every dot of paint does in a pointillism masterpiece. God knows what He is doing. Let him do it. And always remember. Jesus did not need a $67,000,000 airplane to do his work, and his little part within a few miles of where He was born tuned out to be the biggest part and changed the world.

  8. Pingback: Driscoll’s “Confessions”: The Gospel of Masculinity | Revolutionary Faith

  9. April, I originally read Driscoll’s book a few years ago when it first came out. I remember, that although I had misgivings about some of the elements (it seemed like he was using similar business techniques as Rick Warren and i’m not into the church being like a business) but that overall I was impressed with how much more “real” (for lack of a better word) he seemed to be in his attitude toward church.

    I followed Driscoll (A LOT) over the next few years and then as Mars Hill unraveled, Driscoll’s failings as a pastor really make me question that book. I ask myself; “What was the true spirit in which he was writing the book?”

    I thought he was writing it in a spirit of being more real and down to earth as a pastor….now as all the S**T comes out from his parishioners, the massive misuse of money, and the way he has conducted himself in interviews with other Christians….it makes me wonder if he was (to borrow the colloquium) pulling the wool over my eyes as i read it.

    At the time I was reading it, I think I was still leading a number of different groups in the local county jail (i worked as a counselor and also did bible studies) and used the book as an example of an alternative way of looking at church. A lot of the inmates were burned out christians……now in retrospect, I wonder if i interpreted Mark Driscoll incorrectly.