The Mark Driscoll Effect: Size Impedes Pastoral Accountability

The Mark Driscoll Effect: Size Impedes Pastoral Accountability August 11, 2014

This was inevitable, right? I mean, seriously, one cannot be terribly surprised to hear that the Acts 29 Network gave Mark Driscoll and his Mars Hill Church of Seattle their walking papers last week. The Acts 29 Network, founded by the machismo-driven and scandal-plagued megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll is an enormous, complex, and powerful force within contemporary evangelicalism. Network leaders had to have been spending an inordinate amount time dealing with Driscoll outbursts and the accompanying backlash. The letter to Driscoll and his board reads:

“Over the past three years, our board and network have been the recipients of countless shots and dozens of fires directly linked to you and what we consider ungodly and disqualifying behavior. We have both publicly and internally tried to support and give you the benefit of the doubt, even when multiple pastors in our network confirmed this behavior.”

They are not going to take flack for Driscoll’s bad behavior anymore. He’s out.

Interestingly, these recent actions are not only aimed at Driscoll, but also at his church leadership board (BoAA). The decision was a vote of no confidence for their ability to hold Driscoll accountable.

“We no longer believe the BoAA is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out. Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming. We now have to take another course of action.”

So they cut him loose, disassociated his church, and asked him not only to resign, but also to get help:

“Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help. Consequently, we also feel that we have no alternative but to remove you and Mars Hill from membership in Acts 29. Because you are the founder of Acts 29 and a member, we are naturally associated with you and feel that this association discredits the network and is a major distraction.”

Soon after the announcement Lifeway bookstores announced they would no longer carry Driscoll’s work–a serious publishing blow. The Blogosphere erupted with commentary. My guess is that his 14,000 member church was fraught with tension yesterday. But as far as I can tell Driscoll wasn’t even there.

We haven’t heard anything from the man himself. Driscoll’s response came through his board, which is interesting. He didn’t make a statement. At this point I’m trying to think of how many times I’ve heard Driscoll use the words “man-up” and told men to take responsibility for their actions. This is by far the most important moment in Driscoll’s career as a church leader. He’s being called out by the people closest to him, people who have the access to know the truth and the power to speak up. They are speaking up. Driscoll is silent.

For their part, the Mars Hill BoAA nearly pulled a hamstring attempting to position themselves as victims, a move dripping with irony, by the way. They claimed they were blindsided by this move, calling it a “friendly fire” attack.” I have never in my life spoken with Matt Chandler or any of the A29 board members for that matter,” their board president wrote. “No one from Acts 29 contacted Larry Osborne of our board prior to this decision… pastor Mark was not personally contacted by the A29 board prior to receiving this announcement.” My guess is that the Acts 29 leaders won’t be demonizing their “victim” the way Driscoll and the Mars Hill Leadership typically do.

Are we waiting for an apology? A change of heart from the church leadership? Do we think, they’ll just call up all of the people they’ve attacked, manipulated, smeared, and intimidated and say, “Awwww, I’m sorry… we didn’t mean to do you like that.”

Driscoll’s board seems satisfied that in a few short months their fearless leader has done all he needs to do. In their response they noted, “There is clear evidence that the attitudes and behaviors attributed to Mark in the charges are not a part and have not been a part of Mark’s life for some time now.” He’s a changed man. That’s their defense. Then they state unambiguously that their decision regarding Driscoll’s status as the senior pastor and all-powerful leader of their band of brothers is final. As far as they are concerned Driscoll is not in jeopardy.

And why is his Driscoll’s job not jeopardy? Because Mark Driscoll is an evangelical superstar who sells tons of books and has a huge following? Because the church is completely dependent upon his personality, and the whole thing feels too big to fail? Because Mars Hill church leaders are blinded by their admirable love for a leader who should have stepped down long ago? Because they cannot imagine how they could continue on without Driscoll at the helm? I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking yes, yes, yes, and obviously yes.

The Mark Driscoll Effect: size impedes pastoral accountability.

Mark Driscoll has has made one outrageous statement after another.

  • Avatar is the “most demonic, satanic film” he’s ever seen.
  • Stay-at-home dads are “worse than unbelievers.”
  • Women shouldn’t hold leadership positions in the church since they are “more gullible and easier to deceive than men.
  • Fallen pastor Ted Haggard’s wife may be to blame for his infidelity if she didn’t keep herself up.
  • Biblical wives should give their husbands frequent blowjobs and perhaps allow their husbands to have anal sex during menstruation.
  • If a man masturbates without a woman present, it is “a form of homosexuality.”
  • When it comes to non-Protestants, Driscoll has joked thusly: about Jews / Catholics: “I don’t get the hats.”
  • About a Jew: “I saw a man that I will now refer to as Mr. Goldilocks because he had these sideburns that were Goldilock-esque.”
  • About Catholics: “there are weird rules like priests cannot get married, which has not worked out so well
  • On LDS and Muslims: “The Muslims. It got so quiet. Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, man. Can’t we do the Mormons and the under britches, can’t we do anything else?’ No, that’s too easy. We won’t talk about the burkas.”
  • On students in religious schools trying to keep the rules: “And you know there was some little Nazi walking around checking. That kid, like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna be a deacon, that’s what I’m gonna be.’”

It’s an incomplete list, but you get the picture. Anyone else would’ve been fired. Driscoll hasn’t been fired. And even after a vote of no confidence from, let’s face it, a bunch of pretty stand up guys who have a lot to lose by publicly reprimanding one of their own… even then it seems his board is going to stand by their man. How can this be?

Over the years Driscoll has moved to consolidate his own power and insulate himself from accountability. In 2007 he reorganized the Mars Hill Church leadership structure. Claiming to want to share power, many believed the changes actually served to consolidate power within the loyal board stocked with Driscoll apologists. When they dared to challenge the power grab, Driscoll removed two pastors from staff and threatened them. If even part of their story is true, these people were abused and intimidated by Driscoll and the leaders of Mars Hill. (You can read an interesting account and a full timeline of the moves here.)

What Driscoll has created is simply too big. His board seems afraid that the whole thing will go to pieces if they fire him. They’ve been hand picked by Driscoll for just this occasion. Does anyone really believe they’ll have a failure of nerve at this hour? I really don’t think so. I could be wrong, but my guess is that Driscoll will continue to keep his head down. Everything we hear for the next year or two will be humble and contrite. He’ll continue to lead his church and they’ll make many subtle, mostly superficial changes. It’ll be all PR, and he’ll keep his job. Because for him, the job is everything. Without his post as senior pastor of a huge megachurch, Driscoll has no platform, and no career. His board will not take all of that away from him… that’s my guess.

A year or two from now he’ll write his book. He’ll call this the darkest time in his life. He’ll call it a life-changing event, and thank the leaders who called him on the carpet. “They saved my life,” he’ll say. But it will end up being what Malcolm Gladwell calls a “remote miss.” A direct hit kills. A near miss traumatizes. A remote miss only serves to embolden. That’s what it’ll be like with Driscoll. He’ll claim to be a changed man and the abuse and control will go on unimpeded, only now it will be smoothed out a little bit.

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  • Sarcasm_101

    I don’t think that Mars Hill was surprised by Acts 29’s move at all. I’d frankly be surprised if Driscoll didn’t arrange it so that he could play the martyr card and gain sympathy in the eyes of his faithful followers.

  • jackie alfirevic

    It should be noted that long time friend and former Board of
    “Accountability” member Mega-Pastor James MacDonald of Harvest Bible
    Chapel has had many of the same allegations made against him as
    chronicled in theelephantsdebt.com. I believe that this similarity is
    due to the size of the church as your article suggests. MacDonald is
    too big to fail (or be held accountable) if he went down then Harvest
    could not rake in cash to pay off its
    its HUGE debt that MacDonald
    allowed to be incurred. Even the former 25 yr chairman of the Harvest
    elder board, Dave Corning bore witness against MacDonald, but alas,
    Harvest Bible Chapel ex-communicated elders that tried to reign in
    MacDonald.(Sound familiar?) Please dig a bit into these relationships.
    These mega pastors are cross marketing with each other’s churches and
    getting rich. They all have vested interests and should NOT be allowed
    to serve on each others boards due to conflict of interest. Paul Tripp
    also works for Harvest and he also left the MARS HILL board when there
    was need to hold Mark accountable. He admits that he has left the board
    so that he can do more work ($$$$)for Mars Hill. It is all about the
    money. PLEASE continue to try to expose this wrong doing. It is
    dishonoring to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
    Jackie (former 19 year member Harvest Bible)