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Mark Driscoll and the Cult of Personality

Mark Driscoll. Former pastor of the Mars Hill mega-church in Seattle, Washington.

Mark Driscoll. Former pastor of the Mars Hill mega-church in Seattle, Washington.

I have a confession to make. I like Mark Driscoll.

Mark Driscoll is a gifted Bible teacher. I have referenced some of his material here before on Veracity. He is direct, does not pull any punches, explains things from the Bible really well, and relates to the guy on the street in a very winsome way, putting things right on the bottom shelf for people within easy reach. For years he had led one of the fastest growing mega-churches in the country, but now the mega-church run is over. Just a few weeks ago, Driscoll resigned his position as head over his multi-site congregation, where his video sermons had been displayed live via satellite over about twelve locations in Seattle, Washington.

Veracity’s blogger-in-chief, John Paine, sent me this article from the Atlantic this morning that tells the whole story. According to the article, Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church has dropped from a peak in January of 14,000 Sunday worshippers down to 6,000, less than a year later. Now the remaining congregations will become autonomous local churches and the Mars Hill infrastructure will disband completely.

For years, Mark Driscoll has had his critics. Some conservatives had complained that he was too vulgar in his public demeanor. Others dismissed his muscular, Calvinist brand of Christianity as too divisive. He has had difficulties in being charged with plagiarism. Countless progressive Christians have accused him of everything from misogyny to being horribly infatuated with his own ego, something that even historian Molly Worthen reported on several years ago. But what really brought about his downfall was the internal disputes within his church among the church leadership and elder board. It was not a sexual or drug abuse related scandal. Instead, Driscoll was apparently a control-freak, prone to bullying other church leaders, all while projecting a congeniality towards others who did not know the inside situation that well.

The really sad part is that because of the crisis of leadership at the church, dozens of church staff people will lose their jobs. A once vibrant and growing community will have to remake itself. We would do well to pray for those remaining at Mars Hill, that the unemployed staff will find jobs elsewhere soon to support their families and that the remaining congregants will rebuild the leadership in these small churches into more healthy, growing and dynamic communities of faith. We should pray for Mark Driscoll, too, as losing your job as a pastor can be a dreadfully humiliating experience, not simply for himself, but for his family, as well.

What do we learn from the Mark Driscoll saga? Well, the big thing for me is to realize that the evangelical church in general has a serious problem with cultivating cults of personality. It can happen in large churches like Mars Hill, but it can happen in much smaller churches.

It can happen in your own church.

If a church builds itself around the “charismatic” leadership of one individual, no matter how gifted or likable that person is (remember: I still like Mark Driscoll, even with his flaws), then we should have red flags go up. However, if the church instead is built around the message of the Gospel, where Jesus Christ and Him alone is the “head pastor,” and not some guy in the pulpit, then that church is doing the right thing.

If and when a church goes through a crisis of leadership, it will serve as a wake-up call to that community. Churches that survive these difficult times do so because they focus on Christ and His work, not on the work of man. If a church experiences a decline in attendance because of a cult of personality crisis, then perhaps that is actually a good thing. If people are a part of a local church simply because they want to hear one particular person preach, and then they leave because their guy is no longer there, then I would argue that this is actually a good thing. On the other hand, if someone is in a local church because they are excited by what God is doing among the community as a whole, not simply through one individual, then a community of faith built with people like that will not only survive, it will flourish.

We have much to learn from the Mark Driscoll saga, lessons we all need to learn.

HT: John Paine


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