I wrote a blog post about the Mark Driscoll drama last week, and I didn’t post it. And I’m glad I didn’t. When I read it now, it was angry, frustrated and immature. I’m glad that it still sits on my computer, and that it’s not public. Because this past Sunday, Driscoll announced he was stepping down temporarily from his pastoral role at Mars Hill. I do not rejoice over what has happened for him or for his church. I cannot rejoice. I can only pray and hope for restoration--for him, his relationships and his church.
I’ve been troubled by Driscoll for a very long time (ask any of my friends how I feel about him). I had a brief stint where I listened to his sermons (based on someone’s recommendation), but even then, before I became what some would call a feminist, I was put off by his abrasiveness and his ego. It was not the heart of Jesus I was hoping to find.
The leader of the movement I’m a part of posted his thoughts earlier this week, and it was a mature, Godly, and seasoned response. In short, it was, “It’s none of my business.” And I agree, to some extent. What happens at one particular church, with one particular leader, is the business of that church and leadership.
But, Driscoll isn’t just a pastor of a church.
Because of his gifting, and the way they have built, and how he has structured his pastorate, and because of the interconnected and podcasting world we live in… he has become pastor to thousands all over the world. He is a gifted communicator, and so his messages (and its message) have traveled all over the world. His sermons aren’t just heard by the people sitting in his pews. They’re heard, every week, by the more than 500,000 people who have downloaded the Mars Hill app, or the 2.7 million people who visited their website last year. And so for better or worse, his affects go well beyond Seattle.
And so that’s when the non-response response falls apart for me. Of course, there’s not really a need to respond publicly, on a blog, or on Twitter. But, to say “it’s none of my business,” well, I think that’s a little simplistic...
I appreciated Driscoll’s lengthy apology and statement on Sunday before his congregation. It was honest and heartfelt, and if you watch the video, you can tell he was very emotional. But I found one thing very interesting. He talks (and has talked before) about how much he views his teaching pulpit as sacred ground. (This is part of why, for him, as a complementarian, women cannot occupy that pulpit). He considers the pulpit, the teaching aspect of his ministry, a very sacred place. (We could talk about how this view of the pulpit reflects contemporary evangelical thought of prizing right-thinking over right-being, but that would be another post...)
I agree that teaching from a pulpit is sacred ground. But so is pastoring and shepherding people gently through their issues.
I think that leading a group of people is a sacred trust, but so is being shaped and refined by friendship.
And I think that teaching the Bible to the whole world is a sacred task, but so is hearing and listening to what those closest to you are trying to say.
To the pastors out there who are watching this unfold: you have a generation of young leaders below you who have probably in some way been influenced by Driscoll’s teaching. And now, there is a scandal around him, and it gives you a tremendous opportunity for self-examination and perhaps teaching.
No, this isn’t a “moral failing,” as evangelicals are so fond of saying. He hasn’t had an affair, or been stuck in some horrific sin. But perhaps this “scandal” is much more insidious and much more realistic and much more tempting for a young leader to follow in.
What begins as access to a platform, surrounded by a team of co-leaders can turn in just a few years to a global audience and team of yes-men. What starts as leadership by democracy can quickly turn into leadership by bullying and coercion. What can come across well in a pulpit (biting sarcasm and harsh "truth"-telling) does not translate well into friendship. What can look or sound cool and "manly" is really just bullying, and it doesn’t belong in the pulpit, in pastoring, in family, or in friendship. And so the yes-men tell you yes, well done, and the bullying and sarcasm drive away the people who might ever tell you no, or slow down, or stop, or you’re wrong.
When we begin to measure success of our pastors or leaders by how many people are coming through the doors, or downloading our sermons, or any other metric, and not by how they are exhibiting the fruit of the spirit — gentleness, kindness, patience, among them… then we are setting our leaders up for a false success.
We are deceiving ourselves, and valuing power and wealth and rhetoric over humility and grace and truth when we look past significant flaws to point at numbers as proof of God's approval.
I’ve heard some subtle minimizing of this scandal in the last few weeks. Some unintentionally referring to Driscoll as a victim, or just talk of “why is this such a big deal? It’s not like he had an affair or anything.” But as things are coming to light, it’s becoming more apparent that the culture he helped create was abusive and coercive.
And so I will say this: Abuse is abuse.
And when abuse (whether emotional, physical, verbal, sexual or spiritual) occurs in the context of Church, it can be particularly problematic. Spiritual family should be safe and inviting, not abusive. And when Godly people are abusive, it can do oceans of harm to the victim, not least of which is distorting right views of God, His heart, and His character.
So, pastors, leaders, you don’t need to have a public reply to what is going on in Seattle. (In fact, I applaud you for not getting on a platform and shouting about it). But, I implore you: look at what’s happening, and use this to learn. You don’t have to wait for your own failures, small or large, to learn. Please, learn from Driscoll’s failure, and use it to teach those you are leading as well.
Don’t write posts lamenting or celebrating this. Just look at your life, and the churches you are pastoring, and the people you are leading.
There are introspective questions to be asked of yourself, and practical questions to be asked of your team and the people around you: Are you building in a way that deflects honor, and promotes transparency and humility? Are you letting people who aren’t like you (whether it’s age, gender, ethnicity, etc.) lead alongside you? Are you valuing the numbers and the sermons and the pulpit more than the patience and kindness and goodness -- the Christlikeness -- slowly forming inside you and your Church?