Mark Driscoll & The Road of Repentance

Pastor Mark Driscoll announces that he is taking a leave of absence. Photo credit:

Pastor Mark Driscoll announces that he is taking a leave of absence.
Photo credit:

This is a re-post from my article over at Made for More.  Made for More is a great forum for exploring the intersection of life and faith and wrestling with the tough questions that are posed by both.  Head on over to their website and check them out.

This past Sunday Mark Driscoll, lead pastor of the Seattle megachurch Mars Hill, shocked the evangelical world once again when he announced that he is stepping down for at least the next month and a half while the leadership of his church investigates the charges brought against him by 21 former elders. For those who have not been following this story, Pastor Driscoll has come under increasing scrutiny over the past year as he has faced charges of creating a culture of fear among the church’s leadership, plagiarism, and using ministry funds to advance his own book sales.   In one of the more shocking developments of the past few weeks, Driscoll and Mars Hill were removed from the Acts 29 Network, a church-planting organization that he helped start, by its leadership board.

Reactions to Pastor Driscoll’s remarks have been mixed. Some are shocked and saddened by the news. Others have rejoiced. However, in all of these reactions there seems to be an overwhelming sense that this is the end of the road for Driscoll as a leader in American Christianity. Words like “demise” and “the end of a career” have popped up again and again. Even in his well-balanced post on the issue, Jonathan Merritt of the Religion News Service concluded by writing that “I grieve that the story did not have a happier ending.”

But while I agree with many that stepping down is the right move for Mark Driscoll, I honestly hope that this is not the end for Pastor Mark. In fact, my prayer for both Mark and for Mars Hill is that they would take this time to demonstrate what real repentance looks like. We’ve seen far too many Christian leaders fall over the years and few who have actually been reconciled to their accusers and return to healthy ministry.

The truth is that Mark Driscoll is a gifted leader. You don’t plant a church that goes on to include over 14,000 people and launch one of America’s most successful church-planting networks without being gifted. Furthermore, Mark is an incredibly skilled communicator whose sermons and books have reached countless people around the world. He is young, talented, and whether you agree with him or not, he takes Scripture seriously. To lose such a leader is a loss not only for Mars Hill, but also for the church at large.

That being said, it is clear from recent events that Pastor Driscoll needs to take some time away from leadership, “for processing, healing, and growth”. The accusations against him are serious and many people have been hurt. His decision to step down and allow Mars Hill’s leadership the time and space to investigate these charges is a responsible step, but it is only a first step. Much more will be needed in order to restore him to ministry leadership.

But hear me clearly. I did say “restore”. The goal of all church discipline is ultimately the restoration of the individual person and the healing of relationships that have been broken. Too many, in the wake of Mark’s announcement, have rejoiced and celebrated Mark’s “demise”. But such an attitude is not in keeping with what we, as Christians, should be pursuing in circumstances like these. So what does the road of repentance look like in circumstances like these?

It is clear that a lot must be done in Pastor Mark’s own life for him to be restored to leadership. This is something that he has verbally acknowledged. But what is clear is that much more is needed that verbal apologies. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said the following:

“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

As such, Mark’s personal road of repentance is going to have to bring him face-to-face with those he has wronged as well as involve wrestling with his own struggles as a leader. Here is what that might look like:

  1. Directly addressing his accusers & their accusations.
    In order to live out Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5, Pastor Mark is going to have to address his accusers and their accusations face-to-face. He is going to need time to talk with those who have felt injured or hurt by his leadership. But more than this, he will need to take concrete steps to address the ways in which he has caused harm. This may mean spending time working with and learning from an organization that builds healthy team cultures and equips pastors to do the same. Learning from leaders like Pete Scazzero, author of The Emotionally Healthy Church, could be a starting point.
  2. Learning to live in humble submission.
    One of the major themes of Mark’s own ministry is learning to submit to your church’s elders and those in authority. In the face of these accusations, now may be a good time for Pastor Driscoll to spend some time humbly serving under the leadership of others for a season. This will, perhaps, be one of the most difficult steps. It is hard because anyone who has been in leadership naturally has a hard time taking a back seat, especially when you have led at the level and to the caliber that Pastor Mark has led.This will also be difficult on the person under whose leadership he serves, as it is not easy to lead and direct someone as gifted, talented, and, yes, stubborn as Mark. Yet, I think this will be vital for his own growth and healing, as he learns to truly serve selflessly and obediently under the leadership of another. My one piece of advice here would be that Pastor Mark serve under someone who is truly his elder brother, both in years and in spiritual maturity, who can care for him and guide him in a way that is both authoritative and pastoral.
  3. Receiving long-term counseling.
    It is never easy to handle change, especially one as difficult and painful as stepping down from ministry. As such, I believe counseling is a must for Pastor Driscoll. This would need to go well beyond one or two sessions to include ongoing guidance and support as he processes his thoughts and feelings during this season. However, as someone who has personally benefited from the care of a professional counselor, I know that this will be vital in terms of restoring Mark to healthy leadership.

If it isn’t clear already from this brief list, this will certainly take longer than the minimum six weeks that Pastor Mark and the elders have given for his time away. As such, I think that Pastor Mark and his leadership team should seriously consider a 12-month Sabbatical, if not longer, to give proper time and space for this process to take place.

While this may seem like a long time, I think it is essential to ensure healthy, long-term ministry on the other side. Martin Luther once said that, “When our Lord and master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed that the whole life of believers should be one of repentance.” This journey for Mark will take the whole of his life, as it does for all of us, but it will need a season to take root and it will be necessary for the church to support him in these first steps.

Which brings me to my last point: what should the role of the church be in helping restore Pastor Mark? I think that this is a vital question that we, as Christians, need to ask ourselves, because the truth is that none of us is immune from sin. We all fail and mess up. Yet Scripture calls on us to bear one another’s burdens in love, and that extends to walking with Pastor Driscoll in this season of change. So what does that look like for us? Here are a couple of thoughts:

  1. Stop gossiping and start praying.
    We need to stop attacking Pastor Mark and Mars Hill and, instead, start earnestly praying for them. We should ask God to bring them comfort and guidance as they move forward together.
  2. The leaders who have disciplined Pastor Driscoll should now be a part of his restoration.
    There have been many pastors and church leaders who have brought accusations and calls to step down to Pastor Driscoll. Now that these calls have been heeded, it is time for those same leaders to love, support, and walk with Mark as he grows. I’m thinking specifically of the Acts 29 Network and the Gospel Coalition leadership. These men include some of Mark’s friends, allies, and protégés from the past, and he needs their love and insight now more than ever. So there should be an earnest attempt to heal any wounds that exist between them and walk with Pastor Driscoll in this time of growth and discernment.
  3. Thank Pastor Mark and encourage him in his walk with Christ.
    The truth is that many of us have benefited from Mark’s ministry. Whatever his faults and imperfections, God has used him to bless and encourage countless people in their walks with Christ. As such, he needs to hear stories from those people about how God has used him in their lives. Over the next weeks and months Pastor Driscoll is going to hear a lot of criticisms and get a lot of hate mail. So what he needs are godly people who will also send him messages of hope and love. He needs to hear that God has and will continue to use him. He needs to be reminded that when he has been faithful to Christ, God has used him to bless others. Rather than calling out the wrong in him, let’s be a part of calling out what is right and good in him, and encourage him to develop those healthy and fruitful aspects of who he is. So write him an email, send him a letter, or just give him an encouraging Twitter shout-out. It will mean more than you know.
  4. Finally, defend him against the haters.
    The truth is that there are those who will never be happy, no matter how far Mark goes in his walk of repentance. Mark needs people who will back him up and defend him from the haters. He has already been humbled. He doesn’t need to get kicked while he is down. Let’s protect our brother in Christ as he learns and grows.

My hope is that we will indeed see Mark return to ministry and, yes, leadership in ministry. Furthermore, I hope that the process leading to that day will be healthy for Mark and for the Church as a whole. I pray that the road of repentance would not only bring about healing for Mark and for those involved in these conflicts, but would also speak powerfully to our culture at large about the grace of the God we worship. I pray that through this, Christ would be glorified and I echo Mark Driscoll’s words in saying that “the best thing for us each to do is look to Him and point others to Him.”

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2 thoughts on “Mark Driscoll & The Road of Repentance

  1. Michael Eller says:

    Thank you for this post. What a truly Biblical and thought out writing. If only more people were looking for the Bible in all of this instead of the “justice” that we all deserve but nobody wants for themselves. Repentance will take time.

  2. Ralph Jesperson says:

    While I do agree that restoration is the end goal and that we Christians should not keep beating up on some leader who has truly repented, I keep running across posts like this one that wants to fast-forward past the true repentance part. The thing that bugs me the most about the current news is the hiring of a PR firm. From what I have read concerning the charges made against Mark, these are not small issues. Jesus said that what you do onto the least of these, my brethren, you have done onto Me. There is also 1 John 4:20, “The one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love the God whom he has not seen. If anyone says “I love God” and yet hates his fellow Christian, he is a liar, because the one who does not love his fellow Christian whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
    From what I have read on, there has been serious paranoid control issues and a whole lot of pride in Mark’s life! The reality is that Mark has a serious relationship issue with Jesus Christ Himself, if what is being said is true. And Mark has publicly admitted to enough that I believe that they are true. The most important thing for Mark is not his ministry which he himself has corrupted, but his true state of relationship with God. According to the Scriptures, Mark is in a dire place with God Himself. The news of the PR firm is clear evidence that the “repentance” is not towards God but merely a worldly attempt at damage control. That attitude is a sin for we are not supposed to fear men or try to please them. Let your yes be simply yes and your no be simply no. All else if from the evil one according to Jesus Himself. To me all that PR firms do falls into this grey category that Christ condemns. Also I am mindful of the warning listed in Rick Joyner’s book “the Final Quest.” towards the end Rick encounters men just like Mark who lived and died in previous centuries. They were famous leaders that we put on pedestals but they were at the judgment listed as those who were absolutely least in heaven because they treated there brothers with the same kind of paranoid, control freak behavior that Mark is accused of. Without true repentance from Mark I believe this is where he is heading. Abusing the power that one receives from his spiritual gifting is a horrible sin of becoming a stumbling block. Modeling Christ’s behavior and following in His footsteps is the only way to properly handle the spiritual gifts. Without love they just become annoying noise.
    As I have grown older I have come to the conclusion that what is big in the American Church is usually what is blessed not by God, but by Satan. I do not deny that Mark is gifted but the abuse of authority is a very serious sin. Churches can grow huge with proud leaders making everyone feel good by puffing up their pride. Humility and brokenness before God has the tendency to turn people off and to shrink things in a good way. We cannot judge according to the flesh or culture. In our culture bigger is better, but Jesus did not model this attitude in his ministry. And he is the ultimate standard for truth not American Culture. The culture of pride that prevails there means that according to the Scriptures that God is actively resisting the ministry of Mars Hill. The bigger the place gets the farther away from God it tends to drift in my opinion. There is also a bigger problem that the men who are reviewing the case against Mark are likely guilty of the same sins themselves. Instead of PR, perhaps they should all step down and go through the same process that you have suggested. The whole culture of the Church needs to change to look like Christ. There is much more here then just one man who is in the process of falling. Until I see signs of true repentance, I am not going to focus on restoration to a place of authority again. Without that repentance, it will just lead to the same old, same old all over again.

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