“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.