Mark Driscoll: Good for Christians bad for Churches?

29 01 2009

picture-1Let me say from the outset this is not an attack piece on Mark Driscoll.  I like Mark and I’m very glad he is on our team (believes in the authority of the Bible, loves Jesus etc.).  But it is important  for us who study church practices to admit and grapple with the fact that Driscoll presents a way of doing church that is unrealistic, impractical and extra-biblical.

Mark has hit upon a church growth strategy that is a grand slam for attracting young men both Christian and non-Christian – two parts sex one part rebel Jesus (see latest news piece on Mars Hill).  Mark is going from being the Rush Limbaugh of Indy Christianity to being the Howard Stern of Indy Christianity.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being either but let me ask this, if Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern were to become Christians today and church planters tomorrow what would their churches look like?  After 10 years I have no doubt both men would have mega-churches with satellite campuses and an explosive podcast subscription rate.

But let me take a step back and ask should these men plant local churches?  Should these men become stay-at-home pastors?  Should their talk show host personality become the center of a one massive church?  Let’s take this to its logical conclusion.

I’m more of strategist than a pastor so if I wanted to plant a church in Cincinnati and I felt Driscoll’s model was effective and biblical I would start a satellite congregation of Mars Hill here.  Why not?  I’ll never be a Christian shock jock with my personality and its already proven to work in seven satellite congregations around Seattle.  If he’s the best Indy Christian preacher why try to compete?

Ugh…but do you see and can you feel what “the church” is turning into?  This is NOT Mark Driscoll’s fault at all but is the inevitable result of a modern Christianity being celebrity obsessed and entirely without a biblical ecclesiology (understanding of church).

The church needs to be rescued.  Today it exists as a formless and void container ready to be filled with any strong personality wanting to shape it in his image.  But the Bible does define for us what the church is and that it exists in three forms – body (a house-sized group the lives life together), city (a disciple-making movement that worships as one) and universal (the bride of Christ on his mission to make disciples of all nations).

I continually return to these three church identities because embracing these biblical concepts will both rescue the church from being anything and everything anyone wants to make it into and it will release the Mark Driscolls of the Christian world from being pastors to being teachers and communicators with world-wide ministries.

The church (universal) needs Mark Driscoll but churches (body and city) must not form themselves around the gifting of any single person.  A massive restructuring is needed and Paul’s strategy still remains untried and ignored by modern Western Christians.



22 responses

29 01 2009
Mike Edwards

I cannot put words in Driscoll’s mouth (probably not even necessary) but for the sake of furthering the conversation about the church as body, city, universal, perhaps Driscoll and those engaging in that particular model would argue:

1. The Body church is lived out in “community groups” where the day to day living out of the Christian life, including eating meals, praying and singing together, accountability, discussion of biblical texts, hospitality, serving, etc. takes place.

2. The City Church happens as they partner with other congregations, sometimes even joining in name. Mars Hill has partnered with a couple of congregations in this way, as they’ve become “satellite” congregations.

3. Obviously, they are as much of the universal church as anyone else who is a member of the believing community.

In Driscoll’s case, in particular, perhaps it could be said that he is using his apostolic gift in a modern context via things like podcasting and vodcasting and conference speaking, where he is able to travel around and encourage and equip the saints. Further, by pioneering the A29 network, he’s engaging in planting more local congregations that are not dependent upon him for continuing the work, etc..including stepping back from the “lead pastor” role at his own church.

Again, I don’t want this to be about Driscoll any more than you intend it to, just an ecclesiological conversation.

Good stuff!

4 10 2012
Kima Fanai

You are Star-struck dude!

29 01 2009

generally speaking, i like the idea of churches reproducing rather than setting up satelite churches run by someone from somewhere else.

29 01 2009
Mike Edwards

I think that in the case of Mars HIll, the elders (city church perspective) lead the congregations but each “campus” also has pastor(s)/teachers to continue to shepherd in the immediate senses too. Maybe someone from there will comment here and give a more accurate depiction of how they structure it.

29 01 2009

I agree with what Edwards says Driscoll would say. I think the biggest point of contention that they would structurally have to deal with is how they can justify building an entire model around one man, intentional or not. Imagine if Driscoll came down with cancer tomorrow. It’s like Apple losing Steve Job. The stock goes through floor. But this time peoples spiritual lives are at stake. Can you imagine one man impacting 1000+ plus body churches and at least multiple City churches (If Edwards was right about how Driscoll would define it). 10,000 are one car accident away from having no spiritual direction. That doesn’t seem like a good system.

29 01 2009
Mike Edwards

I think (again—this is from my perception, not first hand info) that the structural changes Mars Hill is undergoing, that it is for the very reason Ben is saying: they want to survive and thrive without one man.

At the same time, no one can underestimate (but probably could over-esteem) God’s use of any one man (or group) in history to have drastic influence on his people. The Apostle Paul was just one man–a very prolific one. If Driscoll is genuinely apostolic in his gifting, then he’s certainly living it out in terms of the influence level his teaching and leadership is having on the church as a whole where he is known.

29 01 2009

Edwards – I also agree with your assessment. Driscoll’s ministry to the universal church I celebrate and champion but his ministry in Seattle is leading to deep ecclesiological confusion. Even if they are able to direct the momentum Driscoll has created into body churches (community groups) and encourage the city church this is an unhelpful model for other cities that are trying to replicate it. There must be a better way. And that’s not Driscoll’s job to discover, but its what I want to discuss. To Ben’s point, no matter what they do in Seattle that church will not survive Dricoll’s demise in its current form but his universal church ministry will live on and bless many (like Paul’s to your point Mike). So if that’s the case why can’t we release Driscoll to minister on a larger stage and see his local church transform into something ultimately sustainable?

Andrew – I agree but then how would you release Driscoll if he lived in your city? The destruction of the city church has left gifted 5-fold ministers (Eph. 4 ministers) like Driscoll without a platform for ministry except planting a local church, but when they do plant a church, it cannot be reproduced because its based on their unique equipping gift. We have to have a realistic strategy for releasing these guys if we’re going to promote a sustainable ecclesiology.

29 01 2009

I’m afraid I have to disagree with the idea that Driscoll is living out any sort of Apostolic gifting, in fact I’d say that what we see at “Mark’s Hill” is the very antithesis of a healthy, multi-gifted body.

I know this wasn’t supposed to be about Driscoll himself, but from our experiences with this church, from it’s early meetings in a tiny theater to the mega-church it is now, it’s been very clear that this man has quite intentionally kept himself at the centerpiece of all that is Mars Hill. It did not happen on accident, in fact, he has removed any “elders” who don’t walk in lock-step with whatever his vision is, be it biblical or not. Mark has not remained in the place of being the leadership linchpin because nobody else has stepped up to speak for truth, on the contrary, when asked in a New York Times interview about how to respond to those who would question his authority within his church, he has been quoted as saying that he likes the idea of breaking their nose…

I think there needs to be much more than a little ecclesiological tweaking in order to bring this ship around. There would have to be a genuine repentance of heart. Maybe there are some people who are longing for a church that is less dependant on one man, the question is, is that one man interested in letting go of the spotlight…

29 01 2009
Mike Edwards

Daniel–I think the reason that this probably shouldn’t be about Driscoll personally, is because he’s not really here to speak for himself. I think we’d all have to make some pretty big assumptions about his intentions (from the beginning and now) and about the lessons he has or hasn’t learned along the way.

I, for one, probably wouldn’t have been able to humble myself and apologize for some of the things he has. I don’t know him personally, which is why I think speaking about the structures can be beneficial while speculating about his character will be fruitless.

29 01 2009

Well, in this case, the structure and the person cannot be kept in two, distinct categories, as they are so intertwined… It makes no sense to try and speak in strictly structural terms, asking the “what if” questions about someone being “released”, if they have absolutely no intention of being released in the first place!

I do not know Mr. Driscoll on a personal basis either, but that doesn’t limit any of our abilities’ to weigh the very public actions of someone else speaking in the name of Christ. It doesn’t require very much discernment to realize that so much of what Driscoll says is purely for the sake of shock value, whether it even has any relevance to whatever point he is making. I have yet to have listened to a sermon by this guy where I didn’t cringe at some point, not because I’m super-sensitive to cussing or someone being “raw”, but because it’s so obvious he’s doing it with the simple goal of being controversial. Driscoll has made a name for himself by being the dude who ruffles people’s feathers. The problem is, it’s HIM ruffling people’s feather’s, not the hard truths of the gospel. The focus always seems to remain on him. (not surprising, when you speak for an hour+…) I would encourage anyone who thinks Driscoll is such an awesome “Paul-like” figure to go back and re-examine what his foundational teachings really are. He mocks the idea of a merciful, loving Jesus, (aka, the Jesus who let himself get nailed to a cross for our sins) preferring a Jesus who can kick ass and take names. He has pulled what is known in the sales world as a “bait-and-switch”, enticing hordes of younger people into his doors, attracted by the idea of a hip, “indie” church, where tattoos, and punk rock are cool, and then feeds them a gospel that is nothing like anything in the New Testament. Just breaks my heart every time I really stop and think about it all, just feels like such a sad thing.

I for one am glad that Jesus came as meek and mild, kneeling down to the broken, the rejected, the outcast… I’m glad because I’m one of those people, a wretched sinner who needed mercy. But in the eyes of Mark Driscoll, such a saviour is something worthy of derision. So call it character assasination if you want, but I’m already tired of seeing my Lord’s character being maligned by someone who wants to make Jesus fit into a post-modern/macho mold….

29 01 2009
Mike Edwards

Daniel–I’ll say one thing and leave it–since it’s off topic from the blog. Driscoll does NOT believe that ‘such a savior’ as you describe is worthy of derision. I’ve heard him state the contrary too many times.

To quote Will Farrel “agree to disagree…when in Rome.” or something like that.

30 01 2009

Yeah, the topic of restructuring the church has taken a back seat here, and in that regard I’m completely in agreement with Jeremy as far as restructuring the church…

“A massive restructuring is needed and Paul’s strategy still remains untried and ignored by modern Western Christians.”

Absolutely. Although, I’m not sure if it was really Paul’s strategy, or just God being allowed to work. I’m trying to learn to just have faith that God can do the “strategizing”, and we just need to love people around us, sharing the gospel with them, making disciples, etc…..

30 01 2009

The destruction of the city church has left gifted 5-fold ministers (Eph. 4 ministers) like Driscoll without a platform for ministry except planting a local church.

Yep. That’s true. There are ministries around that are not churches (e.g. Billy Graham Crusades, Campus Crusade, IVF, Kononia etc), but they have the opposite problem in that they are not integrated into city churches either.

30 01 2009

Living in Seattle, it is an interesting thing that I’ve never actually heard Mark preach. But I have friends on both sides of the fence. It’s hard for me to make any judgments either way.

But like Jeremy wrote, it’s really not about Mark. The whole point is, can that model be sustainable? Has the church been turned into a celebrity platform rather than a sustainable and reproducible model?

Yes–I have friends involved in Life Groups, and they are growing like crazy. Basically they are house churches within themselves. This is where the real life happens.

The whole celebrity thing is nothing new. Just ask Chuck Swindoll or Jack Hayford or the many other gifted preachers we have exalted. Is this a bad thing? The celebrity status, I believe yes. But has God used their ministries? Yes. Mars Hill has probably been the most effective with the multiple campuses.

No–Would those in Life Groups stick around if they didn’t have a clearly laid out study to follow based on the weekly sermon? Would they be meeting if they hadn’t been drawn to Mars Hill by Mark’s preaching? I know one family who wouldn’t. But as for the rest, I really don’t know. I think some might. From the outside, it seems that Mars Hill is attracting other Christians rather than making new disciples. I’ve interviewed some who even drive 45 minutes to an hour just to be there. I feel sick with the whole consumer Christianity thing.

I also whole-heartedly agree with Jeremy that it is not reproducible without the charismatic/apostolically gifted leader. If you read the passage in Ephesians, it says those with the 5-fold gifts have a job to do. “Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ,”–Ephesians 4:12 This means that the apostle is to equip the body to be starters–not to sit and wait for the apostle to start and lead everything. The evangelist is to equip the body to evangelize. The teacher to equip others to teacher. Etc. So in the larger church setting, is this happening effectively, especially when it is based around one with such a strong gifting? Is it possible that people are falling through the cracks of the “machine”?

My struggle is that sometimes we see these same patterns happening in simple church models as well. My husband is an amazing teacher, and he has the seminary degree and history where it is easy for us and for those on the edge of faith to naturally ask him questions even in our dialog-style Bible Study. I’ve seen this happen in other groups too. So it is not exclusive to larger churches.

All this waffling leads me back to chapter 4 of Ephesians (the Message):
“You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, to stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift.”

Living in Seattle where all of these forms of the body (Mega, Multi-Campus, Emergent, Organic, Traditional, Saddleback-style, etc.) are happening, I’ve come to the conclusion that God will use every tool and person and style in His toolbox to pursue those He loves so deeply…humanity. What we have to find for ourselves is with our own giftings, passions and even interests, how will we best live out this beautiful relationship He is calling us to live with Him and with others.

Sorry for the the long and rambling post. Hopefully it makes sense.

30 01 2009
Bob Kuhn

Man … this is the very reason I won’t let them make me a national celebrity. 🙂

Good article, Jeremy. I hear you loud and clear.

31 01 2009
Detroit Jam

I see a bunch of jibjab about restructuring the church when the Word states that it already has it’s structure…built upon the cornerstone. Everything else is in the Pauline epistles…

Maybe the structure we seek to build is just a manifestation of our alter-egos to redefine truth when truth has already been defined.

2 02 2009
Joe Louthan

2 parts sex and 1 part Jesus? Like Mark said in the interview, “Obviously, you have never visited Mars Hill.”

What Mark preaches about is a 9.9 times out of ten Jesus Christ and 0.00000000001% sex. Seriously, he is getting a bunch of pub (rightfully so) about his Song of Solomon series and he preached about sex from a biblical standpoint (really Puritan standpoint where you are to have lots of sex with your wife and no one else) to a church in a city who is very much part of the “world”. I would say you couldn’t preach the same message in the Bible Belt but I don’t think we in the Bible Belt understand sex better than those of the world like the mostly unchurched cities like Seattle, New York or LA.

The success of Mars Hill is because Jesus Christ wanted it so and the leaders of Mars Hill, I would assume, are faithfully obedient. They, like so many New Reformed preachers like Matt Chandler & Darin Patrick, are so successfully because they exalt the name of Jesus Christ and make it all about Him, faithfully preach from the Bible (SHOCKING) and make it all about Jesus Christ and lastly and rightfully, mainly preach to men over women.

It is not a formula that we are striving after like we have in the past with Prosperity Crap Gospel or even Seeker Sensitive. Whereas, “if we do what others are doing without giving it much thought to the consequence, we can be “success” like others who are doing the same thing.

You know what I see the likes of Piper, MacArthur, Driscoll, Patrick and Chandler doing?

1. Exalt and lift the name of Jesus Christ.
2. Let Jesus Christ gather crowds
3. Watch Jesus Christ save souls
4. Watch Jesus Christ transform hearts.
5. Repeat until Jesus Christ calls you home

I have a crazy idea. Why don’t we make this all about Jesus Christ and just see what happens.

2 02 2009

Hey Joe,

Thanks for jumping in here.

A bit of clarity on my point – I didn’t say the church was 2 parts sex 1 part Jesus I said “the church growth strategy” referring to the documented growth of Mars Hill whenever he does a series on sex or Song of Songs.

I know 100+ preachers who can “exalt Jesus” as faithfully as Mark but wouldn’t have the following to spawn satellite churches all over Seattle. Mark has some other MoJo going on and building a local church around that in particular is what I want to discuss.

And again, I’m glad he’s talking about sex and Jesus. We need guys like Mark talking about these things. I’m asking what affect does Mark’s amazing gifts have on the way we do church.

I totally agree with the rest of what you wrote about making it about Jesus and I respect the other gifted guys you listed. We need them all and we need them all to talk about Jesus. This does not mean if you simply talk about Jesus you will get such an enormous following we have to create a new ecclesiology to further magnify your ministry. Perhaps there are other tools these guys should be focused on for their further releasing and, at the same time, they can attempt to use a sustainable and reproducible church model that does not center-on and require their extra-ordinary gifts.

2 02 2009

I stumbled on this blog and found your discussion about the church structure very interesting. As a fellow brother, I hope you will resist the urge (particularly “Daniel”) to criticize someone like Pastor Mark who has a deep and abiding love for Jesus, particularly when you are drawing many of your conclusions from secular interviews like the New York Times piece. Especially given that many of those quotes from Mark were taken out of context.

I would also encourage you to take a deeper look at his foundational teachings. This quote in particular:

“He mocks the idea of a merciful, loving Jesus, (aka, the Jesus who let himself get nailed to a cross for our sins) preferring a Jesus who can kick ass and take names. He has pulled what is known in the sales world as a “bait-and-switch”, enticing hordes of younger people into his doors, attracted by the idea of a hip, “indie” church, where tattoos, and punk rock are cool, and then feeds them a gospel that is nothing like anything in the New Testament. Just breaks my heart every time I really stop and think about it all, just feels like such a sad thing.”

…makes you sound vindictive and angry and betrays that you haven’t spent much time at MH and haven’t heard Pastor Mark teach much. This is not at all the Jesus Mark teaches. To further hear you say that Mark tries to make it much about himself (based on long sermons, and based on quotes taken out of context in a NY Times article?) also betrays that you don’t know much about the church, its structures and accountabilities, and the many godly men who make up its eldership and who love Jesus and very much want the Gospel spread throughout the city of Seattle and beyond.

2 02 2009

JC – Just to quickly clarify….

I have spent time at Mars Hill, and I have heard Mark preach, in person, on many occasions. I attended when it was first starting out, in the U-district, and have also returned after it’s explosion into multi-campused mega-church. My perceptions are not based on that NY Times article, or any other secondary source. I merely was quite surprised at how aptly the writer of that particular article summed up what Mark is doing.

My point was not to question the sincerity of Mr. Driscoll, or any of the thousands who call Mars Hill their church home. My only real point was that it’s not as simple as “freeing people up” to go and minister in a more expanded, apostolic way, if they have no interest in doing so in the first place…

I’m wondering at this point, how such ministers, who expect a regular salary, (which is based directly on the fact that throngs of people come expecting to hear these people preach), would adjust to a role like we see Paul having in the New Testatment. The fact is he did not serve in a manner that at all resembles the modern professional pastor….

And as far as being vindictive, perhaps I am a bit angry. I’m not going to pretend like I revere the guy. According to him, not only am I not saved, but I’m worse than an unbeliever. I guess it’s hard to maintain a courteous stance when you’ve basically been declared a heretic by the official stance of a church/pastor. I apologize for my condemning attitude. There are many, many things I have heard, first-hand, come out of Driscoll’s mouth that simply do not connect with the Jesus I find in scripture… I don’t expect people to change their views based on my ramblings on a blog, I was just being honest…

Also not sure why you put “Daniel” in quotes, that is my real name….

5 02 2009

Hi Jeremy, I’ve only heard your name in passing so I thought I’d stop by and say “ello”, this is Heather, Daniel’s wife….
Not sure that I have much to add to this conversation (i will refrain from speaking about mark as it appears my husband has filled you in some on our experience(s) with Mars Hill & mark personally), other than to respond to what you’ve said here:

“The church needs to be rescued. Today it exists as a formless and void container ready to be filled with any strong personality wanting to shape it in his image. But the Bible does define for us what the church is and that it exists in three forms – body (a house-sized group the lives life together), city (a disciple-making movement that worships as one) and universal (the bride of Christ on his mission to make disciples of all nations).”

I’d say that I agree with most of what you’re saying here, except that the head of the church is Christ (he is that missing void when engaging in church fellowship/leaders in my opinion, which is why there is this celebrity-ism if you wil in the modern church and even trying to branch out of it, at least that’s what we’ve seen). I know that you know that, but when we’re speaking about the church and the current problems with it, I think it’s important to also mention that the church lacks an understanding of the holy spirit’s role (i think that freaks out most evangelicals to even say these 2 words)…but i’d say that a key element to an understanding of how the church is “supposed” to live and breathe would include allowing the spirit to lead, and a place that encourages growth and the gifts to be shared so that the body is build up, strengthened and sharpened.

I look forward to talking with you more and hearing about some of your experiences and also when you came to understand and know the truth. it’s always encouraging (to me anyway) to hear about someone’s testimony…


Furthermore, there was something you mentioned that kind of didn’t make sense either, where you’re saying that it’s not a problem that

5 02 2009

the end portion was referring to something w/in your post that I went back and read and understood, but had spaced it down too far and couldn’t see that I didn’t delete that portion. oops…. i hate it when i hit publish and haven’t fully proofread. 🙂 late, hc

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