More than Mega-church Collapse, 2: On Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill and what we need to learn before it’s too late

This week, Seattle mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll was forced to resign after a investigations into his leadership. I am surprised by how much it affected me. Driscoll’s downfall should make us all renew our questions about who a Pastor is and what a church should be. Today looks at the “besieged pastor” archetype and where accountability and transparency fall apart.

In this series, I take a look at what we learned from Driscoll and Mars Hill, and what we need to change before it’s too late.

#3. JUSTIFYING POOR RELATIONAL HABITS AS BEING “VISION-MINDED” OR “EFFICIENT”.

Driscoll is most in trouble right now for his abusive treatment of his staff. I don’t have to recount those here; a simple internet search will reveal the accusations. They reveal conduct utterly unfit for an ordinary human being, let alone minister of Jesus.

And we let him get away with that. Driscoll was a new kind of pastor whose “calling” was teaching and vision, not people; whose personality type was suited for other kinds of ministry, that didn’t involve pastoral care. We believed that. Having a rude, reclusive, guarded, misanthrope was ok because that was the cost of having such a raw pulpit occupant. Driscoll introduced to my generation, or popularized it anyway, the archetype of the besieged pastor. He talked at length about how pastors have to protect themselves from their congregations, who will necessarily tear their leader down and take too much from him. It was for our own good. Sometimes rudeness was required to maintain that system, so that had to be ok. If you were offended, you just didn’t understand the burden of being a pastor.  

love one another sheep

There’s plenty I’m willing to concede here about the brutality of the pastoral office. About what is demanded of the introverts who gravitate toward a job that demands life in the spotlight. About differences in talents and giftedness. But here’s what I cannot concede: that as much as Mission—the work of introducing people to Jesus and bringing them into Christian Community—is the work of every single Christian in church, so also is pastoral care. Driscoll’s style of church was laudably mission-driven, with the intent of making culturally relevant and saavy evangelists out of ordinary people. It’s not the pastor’s job to attract people and bring them in to life in community, it’s Every. Single. Christian’s. All day. All the time.

You know what else is every single Christian’s job? Pastoral care. They will know we are Christians by our Love for one another. You don’t get a pass for being jerk because you possess the right set of ideas about the Bible and you’re on a mission. The mission of God is becoming like Him, not adding bodies to chairs at the expense of being a decent human being. If the fruit of the Spirit—the marks of God’s presence in your life—include gentleness, goodness, kindness, patience, and love, it’s safe to say that where you don’t have those, you don’t have even God in it. Regardless of personality type. Regardless of innate disposition. Regardless of agenda.

But Driscoll’s brand established that false dichotomy for us: some Christians are about truth & mission, some Christians are about love & people. And I bought it. We bought it.

  •  The truth is that, as a love-&-people-first person, I have work to do. I am to respond cheerfully when someone galvanizes my approach toward faster action, and I am to say the hard things even when I’d rather have the affection of the person I’m confronting. I have to set aside my need for approval.
  • The truth is that a “truth” and mission person has to hold back now and then out of respect for people’s readiness. He or she has to set aside a need for personal glory.
  • The truth is that a person who has to say the hard thing is not allowed to relish doing it, and especially not the shock of it. A person saying the hard thing has to do it with all the compassion they can muster, and then apologize for how they surely didn’t do it with enough of it.
  • The truth is, there is no such thing as this dichotomy. The truth is that we’re all a little of both and responsible in every direction to our Brothers and Sisters.

accountability 1


#4. AGGRESSIVELY ADVOCATING FOR ACCOUNTABILITY WITHOUT THE TRANSPARENCY TO BACK IT UP

This congregation-as-enemy mentality had nasty side-effects. Out of self-preservation, pastors aren’t, and Driscoll wasn’t, bound by the same accountability systems and standards that they hold their congregations to. Driscoll was a strong advocate for codifying and formalizing church membership. A concept that seemed passé, he justified it by saying authentic church meant sacrifice and church discipline. To do that effectively, you had to know who was actually in and who was out. Family has different rules and expectations from guests. To be a member at Mars Hill or any church like it was to submit to church leaders’ influence and direction in your life. Church membership means you give your community permission to call for a course correction in your life, and that you quickly yield. This is a beautiful thing, a powerful instrument for transformation, when it is done in love and mutuality.

Driscoll’s version, the besieged pastor’s version, the version where the congregation can’t be trusted, played out very differently. Without true mutuality, “accountability” becomes the insight of a few men with “special divine insight” into how someone should live or what should be done, a system that is ripe for confusion and abuse. True accountability requires mutual submission, and always with a much wider range of input than we’d prefer. If you’re a congregation member, your preferences for that wide range don’t count like they do if you’re the pastor. This is where the breakdown begins.

let the light in

Church accountability isn’t based on a hierarchy, contract, “covenant” (as we call Christian contracts, apparently), or system. It’s based on relationship—relationship to God and relationship to each other. I am accountable to my people and my people are accountable to me, not because we drew boundaries around who’s in and who’s out. We are accountable to each other out of love and because we are accountable to God.

Driscoll’s mess shows us that codifying holy accountability doesn’t actually save us from the pitfalls of human sin and resistance to being held accountable. No matter the “covenants” anyone has signed, de-prioritize deep and loving relationships with the Father and each other, neglect the regular time it takes to maintain those, and we’re going to make a mess of things.

WHERE WE GO FROM HERE: 

What quests are you asking about accountability and transparency in church? What are your experiences with accountability and ministry leadership? How do you think this should look?

Lord, grant me the courage to deepen my relationships, live transparently, and invite accountability. Give me, also, the courage to speak up when it isn’t working, and we pray your mercy on those who lead us. 


Take a look at the rest of the conversation, here:

Why We Care About Mars Hill, Pulpit Mistakes, and Gender Stereotypes

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