What Everyone Might Be Missing About Mark Driscoll: It’s All Business

This past week yet another scandalous story broke having to do with the ministry of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

This story is, frankly, somewhat derivative – last month a similar one surfaced about megachurch pastor Steven Furtick. And, it follows on Driscoll’s last moment in the media rotation over questions of plagiarism. But this one could be a hell of a lot more serious than those previous blips on the evangelical media radar.

Essentially, Driscoll/Mars Hill hired a marketing company to engineer massive sales of his book Real Marriage all at one time, landing him on the New York Times bestseller list for exactly one week (Exhibit A: the actual contract with the marketing firm). Now he can market himself as a “New York Times bestselling author.” It cost him over $200,000. And it made use of his church’s nonprofit status to pay for the books. In addition to being a clear case of gaming the bestseller system (which is, in itself, dishonest and unethical), this might be a breach of nonprofit law resulting in the loss of Mars Hill’s 501(c)3 status.

The Christian Internet is obviously abuzz with condemnation of Driscoll’s actions here, as it should be. But I think all of the commentary may be missing the point somewhat. Namely, this latest story, while important, isn’t the disease. It’s just another symptom.

I’ve been following Driscoll closely for the last eight years, beginning as something of a fan (back when he and Rob Bell were somehow kinda similar relevant, emerging mega-pastors) and becoming increasingly alarmed by his both his theology and pastoral practices. But one thing has been very clear to me from the first time I came across a Driscoll church-planting bootcamp talk: When it comes to Mark Driscoll’s approach to ministry, it’s all business. [Tweet This]

Driscoll even has a famous theological formula for explaining this. He talks about leaders in the church as being either “prophets, priests, or kings.” Prophets are preachers and priests are soft-hearted pastoral types. But kings, he reasons, are those who are particularly gifted in the areas of administration and business to grow and expand the church and make use of every means to “reach” (read: assimilate) as many people as possible. Very early on in Mars Hill’s story, Driscoll used to boast about having a former Google executive on his ministry team – this put them on the cutting edge of media ministry, etc. And Mark gleefully describes one of his current executive elders (of 3) by saying, “he runs a very large company, a Harvard business guy.” And it’s very clear from the hiring, firing, church discipline, and non-disclosure methods of Mars Hill that business is the unapologetic M.O. for achieving their goals. Again, aiming to grow as large as possible seemingly by any means necessary.

Now, I understand that any organized church has to function in some capacity as a business, managing people, programs, property, and finances. However, if the primary identity of the church is ministry, then business becomes a secondary consideration, a necessity to support the work of actually serving people and meeting real needs. Further,  if ministry is primary, then the secondary business practices must be held to the highest ethical standards, with plenty of accountability and swift correction if anything unethical or corrupt takes place. In this way, when it comes to business, churches ought to function like the humblest and most honorable nonprofit corporations, highly accountable and as lean as possible in order to put ministry and service first.

But that’s not the primary identity of Mars Hill Church. Mars Hill’s primary identity is that of a mega-corporation, increasing its revenues and expanding its brand to cover more and more territory and assimilate more and more people. And its marketing practices reflect this “growth by any means necessary” guideline, even to the point of employing illicit gaming techniques to give the appearance of prestige and popularity to, again, boost the influence of the MHC corporate brand.

It’s all business.

And this should be a lesson to us, and the rest of the church, that if our fundamental identity is business, if we think we ought to operate with corporate “kings” who seek to expand our brand by any means necessary, then we are directly departing from the way of Jesus who calls us to the work of service with integrity and humility. That’s why Jesus took a whip to those who were, quite literally, trying to game the Temple system for profit, at the expense of the faithful. That’s also why Jesus lashed out at arrogant religious leaders of his day who used people for their own power and prestige and engaged in all manner of greedy, dishonest practices:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

It might not be popular to say this, but I’m beginning to believe that when this disease is present, there is a drastic disqualification.

This self-exaltation at any cost is not recognized as legitimate by the Messiah.

Simply put: if it’s all business, then it’s not church.

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About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. He blogs here at Patheos and HuffPost Religion. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter, released in 2012. Most importantly he binge-watches TV dramas and plays in the snow with his family.

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  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship Censored

    Imposters have always contradicted Jesus.

    • Call no man your father on the Earth. ~Jesus
    • You have only one spiritual father. For I became your father…when I preached to you. ~Paul

    • You have received without payment, so give without payment. ~Jesus
    • Those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. ~Paul

    “Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Corypheus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.” ~Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson’s Works, Vol. ii., p. 217)

  • Alan Christensen

    Funny, I don’t remember Jesus saying “Whoever would be great among you must be a prophet,” or “priest,” or especially, “king.” The word he used was SERVANT.

  • Leigh

    Driscoll is a snake-oil salesman, selling salvation at a price no one should even consider paying. But still, some are foolish enough to do just that.
    Had Driscoll been alive 2000 years ago, Jesus would’ve thrown him out of the temple on his butt with the rest of the “moneychangers”.

  • Eric Harrison

    The fruit of Pastor Driscoll’s church is evident. He is reaching people with Jesus Christ, bottom line. Are the same people condemning him rejoicing in people’s salvation, repentance, and life change? For those scoffing at his business decisions, mind your own business. It’s not your place. Mark Driscoll is accountable to God and those overseeing his ministry for his decisions. Take your judgements, opinions, and insight, and try to utilize them for God’s glory and people’s good in the areas where God has given you authority. And if your criticizing Mark Driscoll, I can guarantee you that your area of God-given authority is smaller than his.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    Eric, are you implying that the number of people attending Mars Hill justifies any unethical behavior and shields Mark from any critique? Seems like empire-logic to me. Jesus stood in the prophetic tradition of being in the minority and confronting the majority religious establishment and the empire itself. If I’m called to stand beside him there sometimes, I consider it an honor.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    “But he $aved lot$ of $oul$!” was also what Mike Warnke’s fanboys shot back when Cornerstone exposed Warnke as a complete fraud.
    -
    Another incarnation of “I’mRich! I Can Do No Wrong!” except the currency used is “Souls(TM)” instead of Benjamins.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    P.S. And Driscoll is an amateur.
    -
    The all-time master of “juicing a book” onto the best-seller lists was L Ron Hubbard.

  • Eric Harrison

    You can diminish the impact of his ministry all you want, and I imagine you are the most qualified to do so (cough cough).

  • Eric Harrison

    Attendance and fruit don’t necessarily go hand in hand. The fruit of Mars Hill I am talking about is true life change, repentance, and holy living in the lives of real people. That is what fruit is, and fruit is accompanied by growth and multiplication at some level (spiritual, maturity, numerical).

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    But the same thing could be said of any leader caught in a scandal. If the ministry has produced the fruit you speak of, that doesn’t in any way mean the leader is blameless. I’d challenge you to come up with any example of a leadership scandal that wasn’t first justified by the same logic you are using here – souls, numbers, life change, etc.

  • Scott Gallagher

    This guy is reaching God too…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bYLDAc9BuM

  • Eric Harrison

    Paying for book promotion is not a scandal. Really I don’t see any compromise in how they handled the book promotion. No dishonesty, no financial compromise. In the end, it’s his decision how he stewards the money he is in charge of, not yours. Instead of propagating mud-slinging and tongue lashing, you could add value in other ways with your writing. I really don’t see how this article is edifying or guiding anyone here. To me it feels like your trying to lead me on a witch hunt.

    You’re not the authority on righteousness in other’s personal lives without being intimately involved, and I would be really careful treading the line that you’re walking.

  • http://www.allthingstruthful.wordpress.com/ Bethany Grace Paget

    He’s not reaching people for Jesus. He’s reaching people for himself. Have you listened to his sermons where he berates men and chastises women or is that something you’re ok with. Did you read his book Real Marriage which he wrote with his wife where he states that Jesus condones blow jobs. Tell that to an abuse victim coming to his church off the streets looking for healing.
    Have you read his church’s policy on discipline where if you break “the code” and choose not to follow through with their ridiculous discipline standards than you are excommunicated. Which also means that no member of the church, even your dearest friends is allowed to contact you for fear you may infect then with your sin.
    Is that Jesus or the Gospel or anything praiseworthy? FUCK NO Mark does nothing but damage and abuse people.

  • http://www.allthingstruthful.wordpress.com/ Bethany Grace Paget

    How about saying Jesus condones blow jobs. Why don’t you tell that to a victim of sexual assault who walks in his church and reads his shit for a book Real Marriage. Mark Driscoll is dangerous and anyone who can’t see it is blind. Blind by his charisma which wait isn’t the anti Christ FULL OF?

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    Eric, thanks for the warning/threat, but I’m just fine :). If buying a “bestseller” isn’t at least dishonest, at worst scandalous, then I don’t know what warped perspective you are looking at this with. (Even Mars Hill said it was a mistake in their official statement.) Further, please see the most recent post on the blog for evidence of some of the deeper issues at play.

  • Becka Jarvis

    I hear Joel Osteen also has a lot of followers. Benny Hinn too. See where I’m going with this? Although, seemingly, with Mark Driscoll & his Driscollites, size does matter.

  • Jason

    It is naive to think that the ‘fruit is evident’ in any ministry. Every one of these shining monuments to God has all manner of steam-rolled bodies left along the way to greatness.

    It is also errant to think that the end justifies the means. The means… the ‘how’ you get it done… is what really counts. If you don’t get that right, you didn’t any of it right.

    This article nails it as far as I am concerned. These guys who are on the ‘bleeding edge’ of modern ministry have all bought-in to a model and methods that are not at all what the Church was ever meant to be. Christ likens the Church to the wind… its over there, its over here… its fluid, living, uncontainable, hard to understand… and that’s why we prefer what these hot-shot pastors dish out, ’cause we ‘get it’. We get brand – we get entertainment – we get celebrity. We’re consumers, and its just a lot easier for us to go along if we’ve got a calf made of gold we can all oooo and ahhhhh at.

    Well I’m tired of it – I’ve had enough. And btw… I’m a professional marketing and branding executive, who lives in Seattle, and who attended Mars Hill for a number of years. I know what I’m talking about when I say Mars Hill is surely something to behold – its impressive… but it ain’t the Church. At least, not the the ‘wind’ variety that Christ was talking about.


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