March 6, 2008
Truth be told, the preaching pastor of America’s 15th fastest growing church probably likes all the attention. Lord knows, he doesn’t do much to discourage the bloggers who frequently attack his unorthodox approach to fulfilling The Great Commission.
In fact, Mark Driscoll encourages his critics to come by any of the six Seattle area campuses Mars Hill Church calls home.
Blessed with a disarming—but often irreverent—sense of humor, Driscoll has wondered aloud during a sermon if all bloggers live in their mom’s basement, and he’s insisted that any guy who uses doodled hearts to dot his i’s must be gay.
Such off-beat jokes sometimes saturate his Sunday sermons and his exceptionally edgy humor plays well with the worshippers he covets most: the “lost” demographic of church goers who are women and men between the ages of 18 and 35.
About half of Mars Hill’s congregation is young and single in the least churched region of the country, which means the future is fertile for this church of almost 9,000 members and non-members.
“I’ve given my whole life to this place,” Driscoll has said of the church he founded 11 years ago with his wife, Grace, and eight others. “God willing, I will die as pastor of this church.”
Driscoll, just 37 years old and the son of a blue-collar worker, was not quite 26 when Mars Hill became the answer to prayer after he says God spoke to him audibly.
“I was at Washington State when God told me to move back home, start up a family and plant a church in Seattle,” Driscoll says, sounding convinced that no one will doubt it. “Dude, when God speaks to you, it’s the sort of thing you’re just not going to forget.”
When the Lord isn’t talking to this man, kiddingly called a short-fused drama queen by his wife, his critics are blogging about him. Some of the sharper barbs make it difficult for Driscoll to hide the hurt.
When asked why a few of his pastoral peers got worked up over his recent series of sermons on the joy of sex within marriage, Driscoll popped back “because they’re looking at porn.”
No laughter. No chuckle. Not even a smirk. Just a stunned radio host and a few thousand listeners who probably couldn’t believe what they’d just heard from this very misunderstood father of five.
Straight shooters are a dying breed, particularly from the pulpit on Sunday mornings.
Ask Driscoll why alcohol—even consumed responsibly—has become so taboo in the church, he explains how pastors have confused Born Again believers “becoming free in Jesus” with a warped sense of legalism.
Ask Driscoll why the reality of hell isn’t mentioned much anymore by men of the cloth, he first jokes about his faded blue jeans, tennis shoes and untucked shirt disqualifying him as a “man of the cloth,” then points out that too many pastors are afraid to speak the unbridled truth.
In his fifth book, “Vintage Jesus,” the very first page is vintage Driscoll.
“Jesus was born,” he wrote, “in a dumpy, rural, hick town, not unlike those today where guys change their own oil, think pro wrestling is real (and) find women who chew tobacco sexy.
“Most people thought [Mary] concocted a crazy story to cover the ‘fact’ she was knocking boots with some guy in the backseat of a car at the prom.”
It’s the sort of smarmy style that drives a few folks up the proverbial wall. Nationally known contemporary Christian musician Steve Camp is quite possibly Driscoll’s harshest online critic.
Perhaps coincidentally, within a couple weeks of Camp’s claim that Driscoll had blasphemously used Jesus as the punch line to a joke while quoting from the Song of Solomon, Grace Driscoll picked up a ringing phone at home.
“It’s Rick Warren calling,” she said. Mark was so surprised that he asked his wife if she knew what he’d done wrong. Turns out the senior pastor of Saddleback Church just wanted to encourage him.
Rick has a lot of time on his hands, Driscoll joked from the stage last Sunday. All he’s doing is “funding a cure for AIDS” across Africa.
About a thousand laughs went up all at once in Ballard. You almost got the sense somebody, somewhere, was hoping to hack into Warren’s phone records to see if Driscoll was telling the truth.
The young man with more than 201,000 Google hits wasn’t fibbing. The dude one pastor calls a “name-dropping narcissist” had a confident smile on his face.
Thor Tolo is the host of “Live From Seattle.” His program is heard daily on KGNW-AM 820 in Seattle and at KGNW.com. Contact Thor at [email protected]