I’d like to talk about Mars Hill Church, the public nature of the internal schisms and crises happening within it now, and why public transparency of the resolution of the Mars Hill crisis is a good thing. Long post, but it has to be, given the enormity of the situation.
First some necessary background: I used to be a big Mark Driscoll fan and a great admirer of what he and Mars Hill Church was doing, both in the Seattle area and for the broader secular American culture. It was a bold ministry reaching out to secular culture and an unchurched region in a bold, innovative way with the gospel of Jesus Christ. What wasn’t to love? I loved how Mark related the gospel to practical life in a city like Seattle, while at the same time remaining completely uncompromising with hard gospel truths. But Mars Hill is, at this moment, no longer a force for good in its region and Mark Driscoll is no longer a man above reproach, as the Scriptures mandate he be if he is to lead God’s people.
Mars Hill has gone through a mass amount of crisis these past few months. The Acts 29 Network ejected Mars Hill from it, with Matt Chandler (President of A29) calling on Mark to step down. Incidents of profoundly ungodly behaviour done by Mark have come to light, and many elders in his own church have called on him to step down. As well, the church polity of Mars Hill appears to be (and I believe it is safe to say it is) profoundly unbiblical, with only a small number of elders (4 or 5, somewhere around there), a profound minority in the body of elders of the church, having any actual voting power, and consequently, any authority whatsoever in the governance of the church. Paul Tripp, cited in a letter released by nine Mars Hill elders calling on Mark Driscoll to step down, calls Mars Hill’s ministry a largely abusive and coercive one.
Now, my stance is that, given the evidence (and if you’d like to get a basic introductory run-down of what’s going on with MHC, I’d recommend the r/marshillchurch subreddit, and for regular updates on the situation, Warren Thockmorton’s blog is great), I believe it is safe to say that Mark Driscoll has been disqualified from ministry – not recently, but a long time ago, and that the current leadership of Mars Hill Church is corrupt and there needs to be serious change and repentance at the top levels, starting with Mark.
But what am I really getting at? All of this drama that’s been happening in Mars Hill has been public. It has occurred behind closed doors, but has been made public in one way or another. Is this good? I think, in this specific case and context, yes. In this situation, transparency is vital.
Let me lay it out why the situation is serious enough for serious transparency to be necessary: there’s evidence of past incidents where it at least very much appears that Mars Hill elders have been let go for speaking out contrary to Mark. A major church-planting network, led by a close personal friend and family friend of Mark and his family, has called on Mark to step down in addition to severing ties between said network and Mars Hill. Yet little change appears to have occurred. Yes, Mark has decided to step down for six weeks, but unless there is serious change in the church polity (mainly the granting of equal voting power to each of the elders), and Mark Driscoll steps down and commits himself to unconditional accountabiliy and authority and direction under the full eldership, I think nothing fruitful will come of this. Any change short of this is insufficient. In essence, Mark and his leadership team (the ruling/voting elders) have proven themselves to be – this is a strong word, but I’m using it because it’s necessary – corrupt enough that they can no longer be trusted to properly resolve this crisis satisfactorily by themselves under their own authority.
Why is public transparency of this a good thing, even further? Because Mars Hill is, by the direction and vision of Mark, a very public ministry, with a very public outreach, and consequently its resolution of the present crisis requires public transparency. As well, up until now, Mark and the Mars Hill Church team have had it within their power to reform their system and repent privately and have failed to do so. Now, mind you, the repentance between individuals and the restoration process should have an appropriate level of privacy, as Scripture would mandate, and it must not be administered or driven by public desire/pressure, but solely by the full eldership of the local church in question – in this case, Mars Hill. I just don’t trust the current ruling eldership (a small minority of the actual eldership) of Mars Hill to properly administer such a process as they’ve demonstrated that they are not willing to properly discipline Mark or sustain a culture free of abuse or coercion within their ministry there.
Now, I know one objection to the public viewing of Mars Hill’s troubles – it may make the church look dishonorable and it may bring reproach upon the name of Christ. It may make us look bad. Understand, I do get very annoyed with how Mark’s haters will hate on him for the wrong reasons (such as unashamedly preaching the gospel), but they’re always going to be there. Jesus promised us people like that would always exist. And any dishonor brought on the name of Christ by the public viewing of this crisis is on Mark’s head and the head of those who enable him. He is the one who has brought disrepute to the name of Christ, and brings further disrepute by refusing to step down for an indefinite amount of time pending a restoration/repentance process with the full eldership of his church, refusing to properly enter into repentance and reconciliation with those he has hurt, and refusing to – yes, I’m going there – put Jesus above his own desires and ideas as to what is right and what should be done. It’s not that this crisis is public that’s a bad thing, it’s that Mark has brought it to this point that’s bad.
Now should all church crises be publicly transparent? No, I don’t believe so. But in this case, this specific situation, events and revelations have made it clear that unless there is public transparency of what’s happening, nothing will change. And things have started changing, but in ways that are tragic, and all due to the continuing intransigence of Mark and the people that enable him. Three Mars Hill sites have closed down due to lack of funds and donations. I do not celebrate this, I mourn it. Nor do I hate Mark, but rather he be restored into fellowship and right standing with God and the church. Mars Hill was at one point a blessed ministry, and Mark an amazing, astounding and godly leader, but I believe that on its present course, unless there is serious repentance and change at the top of the ladder – starting with Mark – then God will not permit Mars Hill to last even another year.
Now let’s all pray for Mark and Mars Hill that this crisis will be resolved satisfactorily while there’s still time to save that church and ministry, and pray that our churches never get to this point.