As Christian Headlines previously reported, megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll announced to his Seattle-based congregation Sunday that he is taking a six-week leave of absence from his position as lead pastor of Mars Hill Church. Driscoll maintains he will take time to seek council about the next season of his life.
At the age of 25, Driscoll planted the church in 1996; Mars Hill has since grown to more than 13,000 people.
The ministry of Mars Hill has expanded since its founding and now includes 15 locations in five states: Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico, and Arizona.
Popular within evangelical circles, Driscoll’s fall from fame happened in phases.
1. Mark Driscoll Accused of Plagiarism
On Nov. 21, 2013, Christian talk show host Janet Mefferd interviewed Driscoll about his most recent book, A Call to Resurgence. In what was presumed to be a typical author interview segment, Mefferd accused Driscoll of plagiarizing the scholarship of Peter Jones, an author and adjunct professor at Westminister Seminary California.
During the interview, Mefferd accused Driscoll of not providing proper attribution of Jones’ concept on "One-ism" and "Two-ism."
In One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference, Jones states, “One-ism believes that everything that exists is of one substance and that the goal of theology, spirituality and even sexuality is to destroy all distinctions, and bring all things together. Two-ism believes that there is a God outside creation who made all that is not God and has structured creation for the good of humanity.”
About the accusation, Todd Starowitz of Tyndale provided the following statement to Religion News Service:
“Tyndale House Publishers was provided a recording of the show by representatives of Pastor Driscoll. A number of people at Tyndale reviewed the tape and were stunned, not only by the accusations, but by the belligerent tone of Ms. Mefferd’s questioning. When Ms. Mefferd asked Pastor Driscoll her first question to accuse him of plagiarism, she did not invoke Peter Jones’s name. The first person that Pastor Driscoll credited in his response was Mr. Jones. Pastor Driscoll also credits Mr. Jones in the section that Janet refers to in Mark’s book, A Call to Resurgence.
Tyndale has taken immediate steps as in the process of reviewing the section of Pastor Driscoll’s book that has been called into question. Pastor Driscoll has also reached out to Mr. Jones and we expect to be able to release some information on his reaction to the interview very soon.”
In an abrupt reversal, soon after the interview, Mefferd removed the Driscoll audio file interview link from her website and apologized to her audience for her conduct.
Dr. Warren Throckmorton, professor of psychology at Grove City College and Patheos columnist, is unaware of Driscoll’s motives or what took place in each case.
“All I know is that I have found citation errors in nine of Mark Driscoll's books,” said Throckmorton. “Publishers have validated these findings by quietly correcting many of them. Driscoll has only addressed two instances so it is not possible to know how this pattern has persisted.”
While never admitting to plagiarism, Driscoll admitted to problems with “sourcing” and “attribution.”
2. Inappropriate Use of Church Funds
In March, World Magazine reported that Mars Hill Church spent at least $210,000 with a firm that sought to get Driscoll’s Real Marriage book on the New York Times best-seller list.
According to a document obtained by World Magazine Associate Publisher Warren Smith, Mars Hill contracted with ResultSource Inc. (RSI) “to conduct a bestseller campaign for your book, Real Marriage on the week of January 2, 2012. The bestseller campaign is intended to place Real Marriage on The New York Times bestseller list for the Advice How-To list.”
Through the efforts of RSI, the book indeed, became a New York Times bestseller.
Upon the release of the World Magazine story Driscoll once again apologized and ordered the publisher to remove any mention that Real Marriage had become a New York Times bestseller.
Once the information had become public and verified that Driscoll had both plagiarized and used church funds inappropriately to promote his book, individuals begun to come forward questioning various aspects of the Mars Hill ministry.
For example, Smith claims some questioned how Mars Hill Church used donations to its global mission fund called Mars Hill Global.
“Mars Hill had to refund to some donors some funds and had to admit that money was not being used for global missions, but being used in the Seattle-based church.”
3. Claims of Bullying and Abrasive Management Styles
In what Throckmorton calls “arguably the worst week in the history of Mars Hill Church,” as of last week, Driscoll now faces charges from twenty-one former Mars Hill Church Pastors.
“Accompanied by a cover letter, briefs on workplace bullying and a summary of the powers of Mars Hill elders, the charges are being leveled by well-respected former pastors and are in the possession of the Mars Hill leadership,” wrote Throckmorton. These documents greatly expand on charges brought by former pastor Dave Kraft.”
On March 7 Kraft posted to his blog the following:
I addressed these “concerns and issues” by filing “Formal Charges” in May of 2013, which I mentioned in my March 7 Blog Post.
On September 19, 2013, I resigned my membership and Eldership, because I have serious questions about the ministry and leadership philosophy/practices of the Executive Elders of MHC, no longer trust them and, therefore, cannot submit to their authority.
Mark Driscoll’s sin(s) (for many of us who know him and have worked with him) are about clear violations of I Timothy 3, Titus 1 and I Peter 5.
1. Not being self-controlled and disciplined
2. Being domineering
3. Being verbally violent
4. Being arrogant
5. Being quick-tempered
4. Driscoll Steps Down Making Room for Review
In early August Acts 29, the church planting organization Driscoll co-founded, issued a statement announcing the removal of the controversial pastor and Mars Hill Church from its membership.
The statement reads:
“It is with deep sorrow that the Acts 29 Network announces its decision to remove Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from membership in the network. Mark and the Elders of Mars Hill have been informed of the decision, along with the reasons for removal. It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network. In taking this action, our prayer is that it will encourage the leadership of Mars Hill to respond in a distinctive and godly manner so that the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored.”
Smith maintains the culmination of issues led to a climax, which resulted in the call for Driscoll’s resignation.
On Sunday, August 24, Driscoll addressed his Seattle congregation through a pre-recorded message announcing his decision to step aside allowing for a review of the circumstances.
“I want to say to my Mars Hill family, past and present, I’m very sorry. I genuinely mean it,” said Driscoll. “I’m very sorry for the times I’ve been angry, short or insensitive. I’m very sorry for anything I’ve done to distract from our mission by inviting criticism, controversy or negative media attention.”
5. Common Thread Among Christian Leaders
Many within Christian organizations have experienced the pain and destruction of a fallen leader. Whether it is from a moral failure, abuse of power or financial issues, leaders contend there is a common thread among those who fall from grace.
Sadly, Driscoll joins a long list of fallen leaders, including the likes of Bill Gothard, Ted Haggard, James MacDonald and Steven Furtick.
Smith contends leaders of high stature place themselves in positions lacking in accountability and transparency.
“They get so powerful that no one feels they can confront them or speak into their lives for fear of losing their jobs or influence,” said Warren. “Driscoll becomes a celebrity and people think it is cool to know him. “If you are friends with a celebrity there is something perverse that makes us feel that we are accomplished ourselves, which is damaging to ourselves and to the church.”
“Mark Driscoll said he is stepping down to reflect while serious charges are examined,” said Throckmorton. “However, the same people who dismissed earlier charges will examine the new ones. There is no true elder board at Mars Hill Church to which Driscoll is accountable. There is reason to question the objectivity of the process.”
Russ Jones is co-founder of Christian News Service, a content creation and news distribution firm. He's also a media consultant to a number of cause oriented campaigns and organizations. Russ has been a guest on such programs as the Mike Gallagher Show, the Dennis Prager Show, Bill Martinez Live and Sandy Rios in the Morning. He holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master’s degree from St. Paul School of Theology. He is married to Jackie and together they have four children.
Publication date: August 26, 2014
Photo courtesy: File photo