Lessons from Mars Hill

In twenty years Mars Hill Church (MHCC) went from a new plant out of Antioch Bible Church to a mega church with 15,000 people in 15 locations. Thousands of completely unchurched people received forgiveness and new life from Jesus through the ministry of the church and the leadership of Pastor Mark Driscoll. Many matured amazing leaders both in MHCC and other churches. The Acts 29 church planting network facilitated establishment of many other churches. Then in three months MHCC imploded. In August Paul Tripp announced his resignation from the Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) and Acts 29 delisted MHCC. Twenty one former pastor/elders filed formal charges. They were joined by nine current pastor/elders, all calling for Pastor Mark to step down from all ministry to get help for his self-confessed sins of pride, anger and domineering spirit. Pastor Mark stepped down while the charges were investigated. In September, Pastor Sutton Turner resigned as executive elder. The board of seven elders lead by Pastor Matt Rogers, chair of the BOAA, investigated the charges. In October they presented their findings to Pastor Mark and he resigned. At the end of the month Pastor Dave Bruskas, the remaining Executive Elder, and the BOAA announced that MHCC would dissolve as of the end of the year, leaving assets and operations to the local Mars Hill churches.

What lessons are to be drawn from this astounding saga? What are lessons from the growth and power of MHCC and Pastor Mark?

Early on, Pastor Mark made the choice to distance himself from the emergent church movement, embracing a pulpit philosophy of expositional Bible teaching rather than “relevant” communication. The message of the Word continues to be powerful when taught with Spirit lead authenticity even in a most unchurced city. Those messages found receptive ears far beyond Seattle with astounding numbers of world wide sermon downloads.

Where others were affirming Mike Regele & Mark Schulz or Michael Jinkins in prophesying the death of the church, Pastor Mark and MHCC showed that the church is still the bride of Christ. He and men like Matt Chandler, Tim Keller, and Daniel Montgomery – to mention a few – are leaders of large, high impact multi-site churches. Those who are blogging the end of the mega church need to listen to this lesson. The verdict on multi-site and video venue models of church is still out. Will it prove to be a fad like bus ministries or one effective model of church organization? MHCC theologized that each campus must have its own campus pastors, ministry teams, and community life. Sites cannot be franchises to expand the brand or celebrity speakers or cheap ways to plant churches.

Many asserted that the video venue approach of MHCC replaced preachers and leaders with a video screen. But a more careful look will show that MHCC was exceptional in raising up young leaders, equipping and encouraging them to believe God could use them mightily. Ironically these same men strengthened at MHCC are the ones who refused to tolerate the centralized leadership model, the controversies, and the culture of conflict that brought about the demise of MHCC.

Capitalizing on the resources of the high tech culture of Seattle, MHCC lead the country in effective use of technology both in the church and in the cloud. They explored podcasts, vodcasts, internet resource sites as portals to vast church resources. But one must remember the proper order. Technology is a great servant, but a tyrannical master.

The encouragement of church based bands is a welcome alternative to Contemporary Christian Music and its touring professionals that often are more like Hollywood than Church. MHCC demonstrated that the message of the gospel can be effectively presented in all sorts of musical genre. They led the way in utilizing the evangelistic power of high quality music.

MHCC emphasized the role of a large church as an equipping resource for other churches. Where some built the revenue of the church by charging for downloads, everything on Resurgence was free to the user. As it turned out the donations from the users more than paid for the materials.

There are also lessons from the demise MHCC.

Every leader has a dark side to their character. Regeneration and the new heart imparted by the Spirit of the New Covenant (2 Cor. 5:17-21; Tit. 3:5-8) means that the deepest desires of a Christian are Christlike. Sanctification means that there is a growing Christlikeness and maturity of character necessary for leadership (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Tit. 1:5-9). But Paul teaches that the sarx, the sinful desires or flesh, are a persistent reality (Gal. 5:16-26; Rom. 7:14-25). The brokenness of leaders must never be excused in light of their great strengths. Leaders must know those weaknesses, flaws, and sin things in them and call a team around them to overcome those. Leaders must invite trusted colleagues into the deepest parts of their lives, the slimiest realities, to bring the healing work of the Spirit. Leaders must have people who will listen well to them and invite them to say, "No" to their most cherished ideas and proposals, to alert them to the damage their sarx is threatening.

Power, the capacity to act or get things done, the ability to execute change, is an essential part of leadership. It comes from spiritual, physical, economic, or personal sources. Power, like gasoline, is both advantageous and dangerous. It is beneficial when used biblically, in service of others (Matt. 20:25-28; Acts 20:28 Pet. 5:1-4). But power is also a seductive, addictive, delicious narcotic. The sarx in a leader wants more and more power, resisting checks and balances without which power becomes domineering and abusive in the name of efficiency and results.

That is why ministry and leadership in the New Testament is always a team thing. The charges of favoritism in ministry in Acts 6 went to the Twelve, not to Peter. The huge controversy about the necessity of circumcision for salvation in Acts 15 did not go to Peter or James but to the apostles and elders with the whole church (Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23). Elder is singular only in 1 Tim. 5:19 when it is about an accusation.

MHCC categorized leaders as Prophet, Priest, or King with a clear ordering of King, Prophet and then Priest. But those are not the biblical categories of leadership qualities for the church and certainly not with this ordering. Prioritizing King, the rightly criticized "Moses model" of leadership, often results in a domineering culture where results take priority over the soul care of the Priest. It tends to define unity as loyalty and agreement with the king. If this happens the danger of "group think" increases as disagreements are not stated lest they be judged as lack of submission or cowardice.

The Bible speaks of five types of leadership gifts: apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:12-14). This APEST model is five dimensions of a team of leaders not the common misinterpretation of five offices. As I understand it, all five dimensions are equally crucial and must be mutually submissive coming together in a true team where disagreement is stated first hand, respectfully, and constructively as in Acts 15 with the whole team or even the whole church coming to unity around the decision. That doesn’t mean there is no disagreement. Real unity comes on in the context of frank constructive disagreement. The few who still disagree submit to the decision of the team, supporting it fully

Leaders must be deeply involved in the pastoral life of the church no matter how large the church. The temptation of sarx in powerful leaders of large churches is to isolate from day to day stuff in order to focus on preaching and vision. While leaders cannot be distracted from their personal responsibilities by the pile of details, isolation is deadly. If leaders cannot be pastors to every member of a large church, they must compassionately invest in pastoral realities lest they lose touch with the church Jesus calls them to shepherd. This pastoral work will be with "report to" people but also with some old and new members. Otherwise leadership becomes abstract, policy driven, and in danger of becoming fear based and abusive as decisions become for the good of the organization instead of for the good of the people.

The elder board of a large church must keep close touch with staff morale. This often gets lost in defined channels of communication where top leaders never hear the hearts of lower level staff. Because staff are closest to the life of the church, they are most sensitive to the life of the church. While outsiders see the leader ‘s greatness, the staff often see a darker, more dysfunctional side of things. Leaders must not write off their discouragement or frustrations to Satan’s attack, or simply condemn unhappiness as bad attitudes. The board must remember that the staff/infra-structure is as important as the charismatic leader for the health and effectiveness of the organization, for effective sustainable ministry. To illustrate, isn’t the server at a fine restaurant at least as important as the executive chef and the CEO? When organizational culture begins to go sour, the staff become interchangeable tools for carrying out organizational goals. But especially in a church, staff must be always be valuable persons, whom leaders bless and serve, as well as being employees serving with performance metrics.

Sound theology, effective ministry, good teaching, evangelism do not guarantee Christlike church life. They can never replace love and service, mutual submission and support. Leader must always promote a climate of trust which can only occur in personal vulnerability and compassionate care. Trust is the willingness to risk being vulnerable based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another. In a climate of distrust communication lines are sewer lines where comments are tainted by the sickness of the culture. But in a climate of trust, communication lines are power lines where even a harsh comment comes in the context of commitment. So instead of retaliating or isolating, the recipient goes graciously to the speaker to see what’s happening.

I think the temptation to virtue is much more dangerous than the temptation to vice. The Devil’s temptations of Jesus were temptations to strengths, not sinful passions. We think of leaders falling to temptation around money, sex, power, and information which are temptations to vice, to lustful passions, to sarx. Wise leaders build accountability provisions around these vices. But the temptations to misuse of virtues often go completely unrecognized and therefore without protections of accountability. I think of many stories of leaders who ended up in sinful relationships – not because they were tempted to indulge sexual lusts but because virtues of pastoral helping were used beyond boundaries of godliness. Caring is expressed in a touch, then in touches, in holding . . . and misused virtue becomes devastating sin.

There are other lessons: Even the most dynamic leader does not build a dysfunctional culture alone. Subordinates cooperate in building the culture which turns on them later. People often make the dynamic leader to BE the church rather than the servant of the church. When leaders buy into the lie, their identity becomes so intertwined with the church that all charges become personal attacks. They become an idol and the worship becomes idolatrous. A church culture based in anger and fear cannot produce life of the Spirit.

A final lesson is being written as I write. Even as MHCC will discontinue operations in a few weeks, the Mars Hill churches are in process of replanting, many with a lot of continuity of their leadership teams and congregations. Many of those leaders have privately pondered and publicly repented. In a context of vulnerability, trust can be rebuilt and the work of the gospel go on. While bloggers continue to build their income with disparaging gossip, the people hope in the power of gospel centered transformation, hoping in the sense of the confident expectation of good based in the character of the God of Exodus 34:6-7.

53 thoughts on “Lessons from Mars Hill

  1. Thank you Gerry. Blessed by your teaching. And Mark’s. My thoughts most reflected by Brian’s post dated 11/18.

    I am struggling with sorrow on one hand and anger as well regarding attacks by Dr. Thockmorton. What is progressive Christianity? Should Warren be held responsible for his profits? What “church” does he preach at?

  2. Pingback: 2014 Church and Social Media Year In Review, Part 2 | FAITH BASED MEDIA 2.0

  3. Gerry you are correct, Mark is.

    If any of the Apostles were around today, by our standards every single one of them would be unfit as an elder. I often meditate on when Paul wrote to the Romans, specifically chapter 7. He struggled in his daily walk but was reminded that through Jesus he was saved.

    One thing I’ve learned is that when you idolize anything other than Christ, it will eventually fail/disappoint you. It’s not a matter of if but when. I think the biggest hurt from this is that to many folks stopped worshiping Jesus and started worshiping Mark. It’s easy to do, and folks would be well served to remember Mark and many others like him are simply vehicles for God, and not God himself.

  4. Thank you Gerry for the post and further insight into this whole ordeal. I got a chuckle over your closing comment about “bloggers continue to build their income with disparaging gossip”. Seems like anyone will post anything about anybody just to make pennies these days.

    I could go on and on but I won’t. Mark was a gifted teacher who allowed himself to drawn into the allure of the world. It’s easy to do, I’ve been there because of other temptations. I pray that all those affected find resolution, spiritual guidance, and wisdom from all this.

    Again, thank you Gerry for the insight.

    • Thanks Jeff. I am inclined to think a big part of what happened is that in the press to “get the job of evangelizing the world done” some key MHCC elders moved to creating a business plan which was then applied in business like ways. The outcome is well known. Mark is (not just was) a most gifted evangelist and elder whose flesh got in the way of ministry as did Peter’s in Galatians 2. Like you, I pray for healing and restoration so that good work can continue in due time. All of us need Paul’s around us to call us on our stuff and the humility to listen and learn.

  5. Gerry

    Here are some other qualifications I found for pastor/elder/overseer.
    To protect WE, His Sheep, His Bride, that have suffered Spiritual Abuse.
    From the many un-qualified pastor/elder/overseers today.

    I now recommend to wounded folks, ALL folks. If you must Go someplace, give God’s money to someone, take your time, even years, these guys are crafty. Before trusting a “Mere Fallible Human” who claims “Special Authority from God.” Who has taken a “Title/Position” pastor/leader/reverend, NOT found in the Bible for one of His Disciples – Observe Them…

    Elder/overseers, are to be “examples” to “God’s Flock.” 1 Pet 5:3.

    “Observe the example” of the pastors/elders/overseers…
    And ask yourself…

    Are these elder/overseers living examples to God’s Sheep, of…
    1 – NOT lording it over “God’s heritage?” 1 Pet 5:3 KJV
    2 – Lowliness of mind? Phil 2:3 KJV
    3 – Esteeming others “better” than themselves? Phil 2:3 KJV
    4 – Submitting “One to Another?” Eph 5:21 KJV, 1 Pet 5:5 KJV
    5 – Prefering others before themselves? Rom 12:10 KJV
    6 – NOT “Exercising Authority” like the Gentiles?” Mark 10:42-43 KJV
    7 – Being clothed with humility? 1 Pet 5:5 KJV
    7 – Humility, Dictionary, a modest or low view of ones own importance.

    And ask the elder/overseers, if they are living examples of these 7?
    And ask them face to face – If they do NOT like you asking…
    Run – Run for your life…

    If you are afraid to ask these questions face to face…
    Well… Run – Run for your life…

    In my experience, the number of pastor/elder/leader/reverends; Who actually teach, and practice these 7, Who practice “Submitting one to another,” Who are “Clothed with humility,” having “a modest or low view of ones own importance,” is quite Small… Infinitesimal… 😉

    Maybe that’s why, the only “ONE” in the Bible…
    Who called Himself, had the “Title/Position,” or was referred to as…
    Shepherd/Leader/Reverend – Is…

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  6. Gerry

    In your last paragraph you write…
    “Even as MHCC will discontinue operations in a few weeks, the Mars Hill churches are in process of replanting, many with a lot of continuity of their leadership teams and congregations.”

    They are “replanting???” With the same “leadership teams???”

    That sounds very dangerous since, by your own words, “leadership” messed up at MHCC. And those in “leadership” do NOT?Qualify as elder/overseers as according to 1 Tim 3:1-7, and Titus 1:5-9. Must be Blameless, Just, and Holy.

    Why is it okay for these “leadership teams” to continue?
    When they did NOT Qualify as elder/overseers the first time around?

    Shouldn’t someone, themselves, remove these NOT Qualified overseers?

    For their own good? And the good of WE, His Sheep, His Ekklesia?

    Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    **THEIR shepherds** have caused them to *go astray,*

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
    BUT are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  7. So the bloggers, those “gossips”, are “building their income” by exposing Driscoll and Mars Hill. I am wondering what you would classify co-writing four books with him?

  8. Gerry

    If Jesus instructed **His Disciples** NOT to call themselves “leaders?”
    And someone calls them self a “leader?”
    Allows others to call them “leader?”

    Are they one of “His Disciples?”

    If they are NOT one of His Disciples?
    Do they Qualify to be an elder/overseer?

    Why isn’t what Jesus said important? 😉

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall **hear MY voice;**
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice – One Leader

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  9. Gerry

    Thanks for your response. And I’m glad we agree when you say, “Those who are into serving for power, profit and prestige run afoul of 1 Pet. 5 and should be disqualified as you note.”

    It seems from your post leaders, and leadership, messed up at MH. And you are suggesting ways for “leaders” to ask for help, have people who will listen, and say NO. And, to NOT?seek more and more power. etc.

    But – Jesus instructed His Disciples NOT to be called “Leaders.”
    For you have “ONE” leader – the Christ. Mat 23:10 NASB
    And – NOT one of His Disciples called themselves “Leader.”

    Mat 23:10-12 NASB – New American Standard Bible.
    Do NOT be called leaders; for “ONE” is your Leader, that is, Christ.
    But the greatest among you shall be your “Servant.”
    Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled;
    and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

    Mat 23:10-12 TM – The Message.
    And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them.
    There is only “ONE” Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
    **Do you want to stand out? – Then step down. – Be a servant.**
    If you puff yourself up,
    you’ll get the wind knocked out of you.
    But if you’re content to simply be yourself,
    your life will count for plenty.

    Seems you “leaders” at MH “puffed yourselves up…
    And got “the wind knocked out of you.”

    If those at MH take a “Title” Jesus taught His Disciples NOT to take?
    Doesn’t that “Disqualify” them from the start?
    Shouldn’t they remove themselves from being an elder/overseer?

    What about “Must be Blameless? Just? And Holy?
    Your own words say MH elders/overseers are NOT Blameless, Just, Holy. NOT above reproach, NOT innocent, faultless, guiltless. Doesn’t that “Disqualify” ALL those at MH who thought they were elder/overseers?

    But – Will they remove themselves?
    Apologize for taking a position they do NOT qualify for?
    And be a good example to the flock?

    What is popular is NOT always “Truth.”
    What is “Truth” is NOT always popular.

  10. Dear Dr. Breshears,

    Thank you for taking the time to approach this topic, and to analyze what went wrong at Mars Hill.

    Like others here, your last paragraph in this post made me pause and scratch my head a bit. I can’t help wondering, as Jason did, exactly which bloggers you have in mind.

    In your response to him, you said:

    “I personally do not believe that the blogosphere is the place to do discussion of sins of leaders of a church. That should be done by the elders and congregations.”

    And if the elders or congregations either can’t or won’t discuss those sins, what then? Who can start that discussion, and give the voiceless a voice, if not those outside the control of an overbearing leader?

    “In the case of MHCC, it was former and current elders who made the difference.”

    And would they have done so without the impetus from those outside their bubble? I get the feeling that they needed to hear those voices condemning Driscoll’s behaviour, and encouraging current and former members to speak up.

    Do you have any thoughts on this?

    • The work of the 21 former elders’ and 9 internal elders was made much more difficult by having all their material published in the blogosphere. At least that is what several of them told me. The distractions from their work to deal with the internal issues slowed processes and stirred a lot more messy controversy. The elders were discussing the issues. I wish they had discussed it with their own congregations as per Acts 15. Giving the voiceless a voice is something I strongly support. I just question if that is what the activity of the blogosphere was doing. We’ll probably disagree on that. I do want to see more courage inside the church — and not just Mars Hill. There are others where the restorative work was done internally and with a lot less collateral damage. But by the nature of their doing, most of those stories aren’t in the press.

  11. Gerry

    Over thirty times, in your post, you mention…
    leader, leaders, leadership, leadership qualities, leadership gifts….

    Have you noticed? In the Bible?
    NOT one of His Disciples called themself “Leader?” “Leadership?”
    NOT one of His Disciples called another Disciple “Leader?”

    What did His Disciples know 2000 years ago?
    That those who call themselves leader miss today?

  12. Gerry

    You write in the eighth paragraph…
    “There are also lessons from the demise MHCC.”
    “Every “leader” has a dark side to their character.”

    If that is true – Then…
    Doesn’t that Dark Side disqualify them from being and elder/overseer?

    Seems Paul gave some very tough Qualifications for elder/overseer.
    1 – For a bishop (overseer) “Must Be” *Blameless.* 2 – Just. 3 – Holy.

    I do NOT see Paul saying, as you did, “Leaders must know those weaknesses, flaws, and sin things in them and call a team around them to overcome those.”

    Paul, in Titus 1:5,6,7, 8, KJV, says…
    5 – “…ordain elders…”
    6 – “If any be Blameless…” (unacuused, unreprovable, innocent.)
    7 – “For a bishop (overseer) “Must Be Blameles,”
    8 – “just,” (Thayers – innocent, faultless, guiltless.)
    8 – “holy” (Thayers – undefiled by sin, free from wickedness.)

    NOT “call a team…” To help overcome their sin.

    Have you noticed?
    Most who desire to be a pastor/elder/overseer usually “Ignore” or “Twist” the Qualifications in 1 Tim 3:1-7, and Titus 1:5-9, so they can obtain the Power, Profit, Prestige, that comes with that “Title/Postion,” pastor/leader/reverend?

    • Thanks for these two comments. The “dark side” is what Paul calls “sarx” or “flesh” or “sinful desires” which is something that he speaks of often as something we deal with by the power of the Spirit and the community of the Spirit (see Gal. 5:16ff for example). Those who are into serving for power, profit and prestige run afoul of 1 Pet. 5 and should be disqualified as you note. In my experience most elders are not serving for the sake of these things, but genuinely are serving for the sake of the fame of Jesus. Titles are not the heart of what they do. That’s what makes the others — the ones you describe — all the more troubling.

  13. After reading the charges levied by the Mars Hill Board of Overseers, I can’t help but wonder if Pastor Mark was taken out by “the crowd” or “herd instinct,” the same behavior that led the crowds to cry “Hosanna!” one day and “Crucify!” the next.

    Who among us could withstand the most onerous charges of “arrogance [and] a domineering manner”? At times, I’m guilty. Absolutely.

    To some extent the same thick-skinned characteristics that emboldened Pastor Mark to preach the gospel in one of the West’s most unchurched cities lead to his undoing. It’s terribly sad, for Christians and especially those involved.

    Let us be among those who are quick to forgive, and slow to follow the stampede recklessly.

  14. Dr. Breshears, Thanks for these wise words. It’s refreshing to hear a reasonable voice teaching truth in the midst of much finger-pointing and shouting concerning the Church these days. We do have serious lessons to learn from what happened at Mars Hill, and we need to learn them with humility and self-evaluation.

  15. Philip: In my case, the answer is no. I contacted Dr. Breshears about plagiarism in Death By Love and he declined to comment on that book he co-authored with Driscoll. He said:

    Mark’s statement seems well thought out and more than adequate to address the specific issues involved. His clear admission of error and taking responsibility and action as a result seems commendable. I hope it gets as much attention and appreciation as the plagiarism charges did.

  16. Thank you for this very thoughtful post. MH has been a blessing to me. It has also been a very challenging place to be a member, in good and difficult ways. Following the commentary on my church has always been a roller coaster ranging from the encouraging, to ridiculous, to blame-oriented, and ultimately destructive. The teaching and leadership at MH has always seemed to highlight the best, and worst, in people’s character. All of this stands perfectly inline with the church of the Bible. While I’m looking forward to just being a member of a small local Bible church, I don’t assume that any place teaching and living the Bible will be much less controversial. This time will prove to be significant in church history and, most importantly, I’m thankful that Jesus will sort out people’s motives and true character, sins and service, in the end — Forgiving or turning away. Both a sobering and comforting thing to remember.

  17. Unfortunately the elders didn’t seem to act until their was public pressure from the outside. For example, the william wallace writings were common knowledge among church elders at the time, and yet it wasn’t addressed till years later.

    I am speaking as a member who left after trying to follow the Matthew teaching of going in private and then with others and then to the church. it was hard to go to the church congregation post 2007. In the member covenant at MH there was actually a line that said you could not question your elders, so as soon as you go to the elders with a question or concern you are setting yourself up for church discipline. What do you do in that situation, especially when so many follow the teachings online? How can you bring it to the church and the congregation when you are immediately discredited for concerns?

    Honestly the fact that MH, who was known for having a sleek and savy internet presence and a huge online network of followers, were exposed by a terribly designed and sometimes poorly written blog website is interesting to say the least.

    • Your comment is on target, Michelle. The distancing of leaders from the congregation in bylaws such as you mention is a significant background to my “lessons” post. There is need to protect elders from false accusation, but there is at least as much need to open the channels for true accusation as 1 Tim. 5:19-20 makes clear and Gal. 2:11ff illustrates in practice. The bringing down had more to do with the combined action of elders than to the environment of the blogsites, I think. The key is that the congregation got involved in things rather than the world wide, very mixed audience

  18. Thanks for your work here Gerry. I know that myself and many others have learned a lot from Mars Hill Church. Some good and some bad. I appreciate that you have categorized the lessons that ought to be learned from this situation. I agree with your observations and conclusions.

  19. Gerry,
    Have you taken your accusations against the bloggers you talk about in your blog to those individual bloggers and to those bloggers’ elders? Is it okay for you to gossip and slander bloggers publicly on your blog, or are you allowed to do it because you don’t run ads on your blog? Do you make money from your blog and books in the form of notoriety and self-promotion that then leads to additional work and therefore money? If so, why do you discredit bloggers for having ads on their blogs? Also, since you say that those bloggers shouldn’t be discussing the sins of leaders why do you think it’s fine that you do it?

    • Thanks for asking, Philip. Your query is excellent. There was interaction between some of the bloggers and me. On the whole the interactions were cordial and constructive. I did urge those blog authors to do things differently.

  20. After sifting through my own aversion to religious language (not a bad thing, just not my thing 🙂 I found myself touched, and compelled to respond in affirmation.

    Dr. B, you have been given wisdom well sought and stated with grace and kindness. The following words resonated in me – thanks:

    “I think the temptation to virtue is much more dangerous than the temptation to vice. The Devil’s temptations of Jesus were temptations to strengths, not sinful passions.”

    Our friend from across the pond, Oswald Chambers, spoke of Good becoming the enemy of Great. Being Right sometimes trumps being in relationship (Thanks for saying this over and over Pastor John Bishop) -when this happens trust, grace, and growth waver. Worse, people get hurt.

    Thanks again for your years of ministry.


  21. I will third what Mary and Missy asked, especially in light of the fact that you could have modeled a response to plagiarism in your book with him Death by Love. I asked you last year if you had any comment on that issue and you referred me to his Tyndale statement which had nothing to do with Death by Love or any of the plagiarism in his other books.

  22. I second the question Mary posted which has yet to be answered.
    “Mary says: November 17, 2014 at 9:25 am
    Gerry can you speak to your responsibly to Mark as his mentor, friend, and co-author?”

  23. “While bloggers continue to build their income with disparaging gossip, the people hope in the power of gospel centered transformation, hoping in the sense of the confident expectation of good based in the character of the God of Exodus 34:6-7.”

    Gerry, I wonder if you might expand on this a bit more. Some questions I have:

    – Which bloggers do you accuse of such profiteering and sinful gossip? All of them who addressed the MH situation? Some of them? What’s the distinction?

    – What do you mean by differentiating bloggers from “the people [who] hope in the power of gospel centered transformation”? Are those two categories mutually exclusive? Would you deny that some bloggers played a role in the gospel centered transformation that has already occured at MH – namely, that the sins of the senior leadership that had been hidden for the better part of a decade were exposed to the light?

    As a former MH member and deacon I appreciate much of what you have to say here. It’s the conclusion of your article that raises questions for me.

    • Thanks for the question, Jason. I deeply appreciate bloggers as a group. I certainly believe many bloggers are also ones who hope in and participate in gospel centered transformation. However there are those in the blogosphere who are doing gossip more than commentary, some of whom profit since advertisement revenue correlates with number of hits and sensationalism sells. Some of the ads on blogs are extremely questionable though I understand that the bloggers often do not control the ads that run.

      I personally do not believe that the blogosphere is the place to do discussion of sins of leaders of a church. That should be done by the elders and congregations. In the case of MHCC, it was former and current elders who made the difference. The sensationalism of the blogosphere made their work harder, I believe. Of course many would disagree with me on this.

  24. Great read… Driscoll has been used by God in many ways, and even in this season, with articles like this, his walk is still being used. I say this to say what a great time for the church to see just how important biblical leadership and accountability is, for the security and wellness of the church.

    America is a culture that submits to a mans platform, rather than the leading of God’s Spirit, which in large has become the biggest distraction to the call and beauty of Christs Bride on display.

  25. Gerry, great article. As a pastor in the Seattle area, I challenge this statement: “Thousands of completely unchurched people received forgiveness and new life from Jesus” – I know a lot of folks who were simply attracted to MH from other churches because of Marks larger than life persona and the coolness of the slick media and great music. The fallout in the Seattle area is one huge black eye for the church in the eyes of the media and culture.

  26. you a couple of the theological aspects that lead to the Mars Hill decline, but what is striking is not only how many more there are but also how early they appeared. Mars Hill was sowing the seeds of its destruction as early as 2002. There was a lot of false teaching and theology behind the scenes and not in the Sunday sermons.

  27. Gerry, I have always appreciated your wisdom and grace-filled insight. A couple things stand out to me: first is the “temptation to virtue.” I don’t think I have ever heard that phrase or the idea it expresses, but it ought to be engraved in every would-be pastor’s mind. It would make a good title for a sermon on the temptation of Jesus; in fact, I may (with your permission) borrow it for just that purpose some day.

    Second, your statement that “Even the most dynamic leader does not build a dysfunctional culture alone” is an important one for pastors and other church leaders to keep in mind. Elizabeta’s comments affirm this in the case of Mars Hill. In spite of our best efforts, I expect that we will always tend toward hiring people similar to us, with the parallel tendency of magnifying our dysfunctions. Your call for a balance of gifting across the APEST spectrum within our leadership teams is an important one.

    You have addressed well many of the spiritual issues and lessons from Mars Hill. One of my big concerns is in the practical realm: Do the fifteen churches that made up the MH family have the structures in place to effectively become independent churches on the timetable that MHCC has dictated? Not only assets but also liabilities must be distributed; business structures including both incorporation and IRS tax exempt status may be required; operational technology—Church Management Software, bookkeeping, etc.—must be converted from a multi-site platform to individual sites. (Having worked with such conversions on several occasions, I know those are not quick processes.) I wonder if, perhaps, a wiser plan would have been to turn over the operations of MHCC to an independent board of overseers that would guide a slower, more planned out process over 9-15 months?

  28. I don’t see any reference here to the enablers. Mark Driscoll (MD) was launched into his celebrity status beginning with his appearance on James Dobson, followed a long list of luminaries who at least tolerated him, some gave him approval. When he appear MD was invited to “Desiring God” conference there was some dissent voiced over this decision. After MD gave his speech and went home, David Wells said “I am glad he is gone” (or something to that effect). At that point David Wells probably didn’t know that MD had devoured all of D. Well’s books and was quoting him (personal communication). Even though Michael Bird called MD a “stupid yank” he also put his stamp of approval on certain dubious modes of expression MD was using in his Christology. All along the way to super-stardom MD had big-name enablers who with a little discernment could have shut him down. It was left to Phil Johnson to sound the alarm and everyone (almost) turned on him.

  29. I resinate with Elixabeta’s comments. While there is a mistake in the King Prophet and Priest model, Mark and Sutton were not the only leaders participating in this, and its seems unwise to continue on with the same leadership at the local level.

    Also this seems like an inappropriate way to end the article.

    “While bloggers continue to build their income with disparaging gossip, the people hope in the power of gospel centered transformation, hoping in the sense of the confident expectation of good based in the character of the God of Exodus 34:6-7.”

    While some bloggers have probably made some money, its nothing in comparison to the Money that Mars Hill Global was raising for overseas and spending on building remodels. With out some bloggers bringing it up I think the same fundraising misuses would be happening still.

    Yes I hope in the power of the gospel to transform people, Yes I belive it can happen, but I find it unwise to “plant” the local churches without addressing the personal abuses at the local level, and looking at qualifications of elders at the local level, otherwise it just seems like a “rebrand”

  30. Gerry,
    Thank you very much for posting your reflections. I believe your conclusions are accurate and helpful. Jesus will continue to build his church, and in the demise of MH there is an opportunity for thousands to learn, hearing what the Spirit says to the churches, that each church community (with its leadership culture) might be healthy, fruitful and life-giving. Thank you for articulating some of those helpful lessons.

    • Thanks, Steve. It was funny that in the approval queue, it asked “do you want to do this” as if trying to articulate and live lessons would be a risky thing. Well I suppose that is true!

  31. Doctor Bershears,
    Thank you for your thoughts and teaching. We must keep Mark and his family as well as all our brothers and sister within the Mars Hill family in prayer. We must pray that we also don’t fall into sin. Let us all humble ourselves so that God may raise us up; but let us humble ourselves confess our wicked ways. May we all learn and grow closer to our Lord’s image from this.

  32. Gerry, I know this wasn’t an easy post to write. Your assessment is helpful and I hope it will lead to healing for the hurting who will read it. Also, I think the public nature of Mark Driscoll’s fall has provided a 1 Timothy 5 opportunity for us all.

    The most sobering takeaway for me is this insight: “I think the temptation to virtue is much more dangerous than the temptation to vice. The Devil’s temptations of Jesus were temptations to strengths, not sinful passions.”

    Those words stood up on the page and slapped me in the face.

  33. I’ve always appreciated your insight Dr. Breshears. Our family has been members at Marshill Olympia through the implosion and are very sad about what has transpired. We are definitely encouraged by the various locations replanting independently. This shows me on some level that the people who came to faith in Christ under Pastor Mark’s preaching do understand as we were constantly reminded by him that Jesus is the true Senior Pastor whom we should fix our gaze. Thanks for the post!

  34. Very well written article Gerry. Fair, concise, revealing lots of wisdom and understanding about the function and roles that church leaders should demonstrate. I read many of the complaints of Mark’s fellow elders and pastors this morning — some of them calling for Mark’s resignation YEARS ago — the pleas falling on deaf ears! Lots of other church leaders were bringing many of Mark’s bizarre antics to light and the elders failed to act appropriately or quickly in my opinion. Some of the things that Mark said about Jesus and His character were simply outrageous. I personally lost interest in anything that he was saying several years ago. We are often fooled into thinking that success is flesh driven. Again, thanks for the point of view. We as the church of God still have a long way to go.

    • There were many who were working to shape the system and the culture. Their stories won’t be heard since they aren’t looking for credit. Many of them will be working quietly, out of the media glare, to shape the next generation.

    • Did you see Steve Tompkins’ letter of apology? A number of others confessed from the platforms in their churches but it was not recorded or distributed since it was very personal and for the local body. Of course repentance takes time to see.

  35. Gerry, I am choosing to go by another name on my comment here just due to the controversial nature of this subject. I had reached out to you earlier to share my experience. This is a very thoughtful post; thank you for it. However, it still does not address that the culture of spiritual abuse wS pervasive throughout the church. I personally experienced it from multiple pastors as well as from community group leaders (the leaders of the weekly small groups they have.) I also experienced it from one of the women’s ministry leaders. I also have experienced it multiple times from just church members. What sits ill with me is that I see a bunch of fingerprinting to Mark Driscoll, and although I have read some pseudo-repentance from maybe a couple leaders regarding how they played along with Mark Driscoll, I haven’t come across any genuine, heartbroken repentance of how serious hurt was done by the leaders on a regular basis in their domineering, quick-to-condemn, non-Spirit-led spiritually abusive behavior towards the regular church member. I was haunted by the abuse for years and received the abuse over a spread of 5 years. Those who were involved in leadership at Mars Hill need to repent for their spiritual abuse all the way down the hierarchy. Many, many regular churchgoers also need to repent of the abuse and how they too dished it out to their fellow church members. What is genuinely scary to me is that all those self-identifying Christians will now attend other churches in the Seattle area without any repentance or even acknowledgment on their part of their behavior. That’s a lot of people with spiritually abusive tendencies being let loose, so to speak, to affect other churches and other Christians. Without any confession of their own spiritually abusive behavior and genuine repentance and the choosing to do the work through regarding how they respond in situations, those are Christians I would consider spiritually/emotionally unsafe people. I am not saying every person who attended Mars Hill was that way. I am saying very, very many people who attended Mars Hill were that way. Gerry, the overwhelming majority of students I know who attended Multnomah Bible College refused to attend Mars Hill. They were very disturbed by what they saw going on there. In short, the “demise” of Mark Driscoll, if we would call it that, is only a bandaid solution to a much bigger, pervasive problem, of spiritual abuse that was happening on a large scale on multiple campuses. If we want to ask why the need for repentance was not addressed by the elders at Mars Hill in this way in a large-scale way, calling for leadership across the board to repent of widespread spiritual abuse, before leading the congregation into repentance, we need only look at the fact that I can never recall one entire sermon addressing the issue of spiritual abuse, or sexual abuse, or physical abuse, ever, and why rates of abuse are just as higher and often higher in the Christian and evangelical church. I apologize for any typos.

    • Thanks for this very powerful response. Yes, the abuse was much larger than Mark. I do believe there is a genuine repentance in many and pray that will become clear as the story plays out.

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