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A Surprising Lesson From the Mark Driscoll Debacle

I’ve never been to a service at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. However, I do have family who attend Mars Hill and a few other friends who are involved in the church. So I’ve been watching the unfolding drama of Mark Driscoll from a far with some interest.

driscol

It’s strange how we react when a big named preacher gets himself into trouble. It’s like that fender-bender on the highway in rush hour traffic. Everyone slows down way more than they need to, just so they can catch a glimpse of the poor guy whose insurance rates are about to double! Sometimes we may even secretly think to ourselves, “I bet he wasn’t watching the road!” as we rubber neck past the scene.

Use Some Caution!

Which is why I think we need to use the uttermost caution before we jump to our keyboards and start giving our opinion of what went wrong in someone else’s church and how their leadership should respond.

If it’s not your church, then maybe you should stay out of it. Maybe you don’t know the whole story, maybe you should focus on the problems in your own church before trying to tell other churches how to fix their problems!

What I’m saying here is not a judgement on Mars Hill or on Mark Driscoll. Whether or not the accusations about Pastor Mark are true , I don’t know and it’s not mine to make the call!

Certainly Mars Hill does have problems that they are working on and I’ll let them do their thing. What I’m writing about here is a lesson that we can all learn from these recent events.

Quality in the Pulpit

I’ve listened to Mark Driscoll’s preaching and I’ve read a couple of his books like “Doctrine” and “Religion Saves.” While I certainly don’t agree with everything he teaches, I’ve found both Pastor Mark’s books and preaching helpful in the last couple of years. He’s a gifted speaker and writer and many have benefited from that.

However…

Character out of the Pulpit

Reading some of the letters written with concerns about Pastor Mark, I have noticed one common theme. Those former church members and leaders who have voiced their concerns tend to point out that they believe Pastor Mark to be abusive, controlling and angry.

Theses are serious character problems if they typify a persons day-to-day behavior behind the scenes. These are also issues that can be kept hidden from 99% of the people who listen to Pastor Mark’s sermons and read his books. If you’re like me then you don’t have a personal relationship with Pastor Mark and so there is really no way to even know whether his character matches up with what he preaches.

What You Don’t See Matters

It would be almost tempting to think that his character doesn’t really matter that much, but it does!

God’s Word clearly lays out for us the requirements of elders in the church and character plays a primary role! A brief reading through 1 Timothy 3:1-7 reveals such important qualifications as:

  • Sober-minded
  • Self-controlled
  • Respectable
  • Hospitable
  • Not violent but gentle
  • Not quarrelsome
  • Not a lover of money

Oh yes and there’s one more!

  • Able to teach

Distorted Priorities

For too long the Western Church has elevated knowledge and the ability to teach above all other qualifications. We send guys to seminary and figure if the school spits them out on the other side and slaps a degree in their hand then they’re pastoral material!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against seminaries or theological education! I’ve been to seminary and I teach theology! They are vital but they can’t stand alone! What I’m saying is this:

The character of the pastor or preacher is the framework upon which good theology and great preaching is built!

Give me a knowledgeable pastor who studies his Bible 8 hours a day and can recite large portions of the New Testament in Greek, yet lacks moral fortitude and discretion, and I will show you a man who will eventually destroy every church that so foolishly allows him to lead it!

Give me an unlearned man with a willing heart who simply understands core Biblical values and lives by them unrelentingly, and I will show you a man who despite the lack of a seminary degree will be used of God to accomplish what others could only dream of!

Character outside of the pulpit must precede and accompany quality in the pulpit!

It Hurts to Learn

This is a painful lesson that churches need to learn and that pastors and preachers need to understand. If we are not carefully aware of character, we can easily fall into the temptation that as long as the sermon is great, then that’s all that matters.

I think God said it best when he told Samuel,

“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Sam 6:7

Churches can’t look at the heart like God can but they can take careful observation of the attitudes and tendencies that typify a man’s life. Through prayer and patience these things often become clear.

On the other hand if pastors are honest, they know the problems of their own heart. As a pastor and a preacher I must daily fight with prayer and the Word to make sure that my life represents my teaching, to ensure that my character at home and in private matches my words in public!

This is constant battle for all pastors, one that we must never pull back on! Thankfully God can and does give us the strength we need.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” 1 Peter 1:3

Question: What lessons have you learned from the Mark Driscoll Debacle?

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I am a pastor, missionary, and preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Ukraine since 2007. God blessed me with a wonderful wife and 5 amazing children! My greatest passion is to teach, encourage, and exhort others to turn to Jesus, who is Savior, Lord, and God!

  • Suzy Ketterling

    I really appreciate this post. I have been very frustrated with the attitudes and bashing of Mark Driscoll by MacArthur followers. I think that there are also people in the church who get disgruntled with their church and leaders and can allow them selves to stir up strife in the church for their own selfish motives. I feel like many MacArthurites have almost participated in the spreading of gossip about Mark Driscoll with their posting of all these articles and blog posts about him. Once again the ” worship” of any man is the issue wether it’s Driscoll or MacArthur.

    • Yes, we have to be really careful when we start treading on other churches. It’s one thing to make an observation about their theology and it’s quite another thing when we say, “I told you so!” when something like this happens to a church leader with whom we have a disagreement.

      • Suzy Ketterling

        Yes, I read that post too! Great stuff. Our leaders need prayer as well as accountability. The way we handle accountibility has the ability to ruin our testimony.

  • P.s. you missed the r in surprising. 🙂

    • Thanks! Spell check in WordPress doesn’t check the post titles I guess!

  • Anna Bachinsky

    I have enjoyed many sermons from Mark Driscoll both live and through podcasts and have personally witnessed many lives of friends change for the better by attending Mars Hill and grow from the teaching and fellowship they have, but I do agree with you, it’s just as important who you are behind closed doors to the people nearest you as it is when you are on stage in the spotlight before a multitude of people who know nothing about your character and your personal walk with Christ.

    It’s a temptation that many leaders can fall into (and people in general) to be great preachers and teachers of the Word and poor reflectors of it in our personal daily lives when no one keeps us accountable. (I’m not saying this is the case for Mark), but in the end it doesn’t matter how many people we can impress with our personality and knowledge if we don’t glorify God with our character when we are alone.

    Thank you for this post. Be blessed!

    • In the end what matters is not how well we preached but how well we lived and did what we preached. It’s honestly a bit of a scary thought for me.

  • I really appreciate this post too, Caleb. I agree with your thoughts on the necessity of character and also how it’s not very kind to be bashing a fellow believer. You said, “For too long the Western Church has elevated knowledge and the ability to teach above all other qualifications.” I would add in addition to that, that we’ve also elevated charisma, a magnetic personality, and a certain macho male type of leadership style. I’m not knocking that style – but sometimes we so emphasize that male leadership role that we define it more as a certain type of personality (choleric with a touch of sanguine maybe), rather than a spirit controlled person who exhibits the fruit of the Spirit. My heart goes out to Mark Driscoll and his wife and family and also to other church leaders who have been hurt and to their church. I know how difficult it must be for everyone involved.

    • Seems to me the macho leadership style is more of a new thing although certainly people love charisma, it makes it easy to overlook problems that need to be addressed.

  • Thanks for the link Rosalie, I’ll check it out.

  • Jens Vogel

    Hi Caleb,

    thank you for your post. In Germany I am not involved in the Story of Mark Driscoll. As far as I understood, he is/was? a Pastor of a big church and that´s why a Person of public interest.

    My Statement is that persons like him are easy to blame for their failures/sins. But the sin of bad reactions like to judge or to slander are not so obvious and often anonym.

    Jesus said in Mt 7,12: ” So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” This is the final golden rule of what he said about judging in Mt.7, 1-5. We should teach that in our churches. So if there is a fall, church will react in a way like Jesus does: with truth an love, with correction and mercy. I am not a friend of corrupting the truth with the Argument of love. But if somone repents, he/she should get an other Chance, like Jesus does with each of us.

    I absolutly agree with you about the character discussion. But in a short job application time of an new Pastor it is not possible to see the whole Person. We Need to listen to the Holy Spirit. And yet people change. So you can not rule out that something is Happening. And than the question is again how we react.

    So we must prepare for good decisions in finding leaders and in good reactions, if they fail, whether it is a pastor, an elder or a housegroup leader. The effect is more important as more we are in public.

    • You’re right Jens, the more public a figure is the more the problems tend to get magnified. We need to exhibit grace and wisdom as we deal with these situations.

  • I don’t have too much to comment on the Mark Driscoll issue. I’m not a fan of reading/hearing others criticize and condemn what they don’t know enough about, and the idea of doing that myself (knowing all the flaws that I still have and how God continues to graciously work with me on them) just isn’t appealing, and, to be frank, is a bit scary. But I will say this. Of all the things I’ve read from your writing, this paragraph from above may be my favourite.

    ‘Give me an unlearned man with a willing heart who simply understands core Biblical values and lives by them unrelentingly, and I will show you a man who despite the lack of a seminary degree will be used of God
    to accomplish what others could only dream of!’

    I just think this is so true, and needs to be a fundamental part of our understanding of who God is and how he builds things. But if there is one thing that the Mark Driscoll situation does highlight for me, it’s simply how important it is to pray for leaders.

    • That’s another good point Micah! I have to say that I am often tempted to criticize my leaders when I should be praying for them. What a good reminder.