Lessons from Watching Mars Hill Church Burn to the Ground

Kalapana Gardens burning

Kalapana Gardens burning

Five years ago, I listened to Mark Driscoll regularly and followed Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. I’ve heard a good 2-3 dozen of his sermons and read several of his book excerpts. I thanked God for what He was doing there, and I benefited from their teaching and ministry. Unlike some, I don’t have a doctrinal axe to grind. I’m a complementarian who fully supports the Scripture MHC has often stood on to support their position (of course, the ways they have gone about that are questionable). I have lots of disagreements with them, but they are biblical, not stylistic. I’m someone who is, though from afar, a close enough watcher to know what MHC is about.

And what we’ve witnessed over the past 15 months at Mars Hill is the absolute incineration of a a local church. The charges of heresy, plagiarism, money laundering, misuse of funds, workplace bullying, and the like were bad enough – then they were found to be true! And instead of repenting, the founding pastor, Mark Driscoll, resigned. Resignation isn’t repentance.

MHC subsequently announced that they would be breaking up their separate campuses and going their separate ways, which is all for the best.

It sounds rough, but Mars Hill going down was what had to happen.

  1. Driscoll wasn’t going to and didn’t repent. He never showed signs of true repentance, like, you know, listening to other elders, naming and taking responsibility for specific sins, and remaining under the discipline of the church. No, he just left. That’s not repentance; that’s self-removal.
  2. The ongoing leadership structure was harmful, not helpful, to the church. Anytime a group of men can unilaterally make decisions and cover their own behinds, bad things tend to happen. In a local church, this is toxic. See the charges against Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD, for another illustration of what happens in a similarly governed body.
  3. Therefore, Mars Hill SHOULD CLOSE DOWN. The leaders their, Driscoll in particular, had a chokehold on their people, their precious sheep they were called to be under-shepherds for. The simple fact that so many continue to defend MHC and Driscoll after every charge has been validated just goes to show that we, like sheep, so often blindly follow even when the truth says otherwise.

Thus, several lessons are in order for local churches and their leaders particularly:

  1. Church Leadership Structure Matters. Please don’t be so naive as to think that MHC’s top-heavy leadership didn’t play a MASSIVE role in all of this. Scripture teaches that churches are to led by a plurality of elders yet governed by the entire body (Matthew 18, 1 Corinthians 5, Galatians 1, et al.). Mars Hill wildly distorted this teaching, turning the elders into various sub-groups and boards that all reported upward to Driscoll’s henchmen. How do I know? When you listen to Driscoll’s teaching enough, particularly to other pastors, you hear him lampoon congregationalism in favor of his corporate America eldership apart from Scripture.
  2. Church Leadership Character Matters. Are we really to believe that these elders, helping cover up Driscoll’s and others’ sins, were men of integrity? Are we really to believe that the warning signs were not present earlier in their lives, in their decisions, in their families? Or were these men so pliable that they had to bow to Pastor Mark? Either way, the first elder cover-up should have been grounds for discipline. Which leads us to . . .
  3. Unilateral Decision Making is a Bad Idea. Every statement out of Mars Hill seems to come from some lofty Executive Elder Board or “Board of Advisors and Accountability.” Where are the poor, lowly members? Mars Hill had no structure for the church to practice accountability and discipline, as in Scripture. What happened at Mars Hill, time and again, is that a select few elders got together and made decisions to keep their own jobs, not to shepherd their people in the gospel.
  4. Elder Idolatry is a Real Thing. Sabbaticals are healthy – take a break, guys! It doesn’t all depend on you; it depends on Jesus. Mark Driscoll, friends, is not the end-all be-all of Christianity in the Great Northwest; and shame on some of you for acting like it. Jesus will march on in Seattle – without Mars Hill Church to boot.
  5. Public Repentance is a Command, Not an Option. So many Driscoll defenders say he repented. I challenge any and all DD’s to find one place in the last two years where he specifically and publicly named his sins. It’s not possible because he didn’t do it. Vague apology letters don’t cut it. Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:19-20, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” The charges came from dozens of people, but the rebuking publicly . . . ummm, that didn’t happen.

“Mars Hill Church burns to the ground” might sound tough. People were hurt, right? Sure they were, but this article and the campuses closing didn’t do it. The leaders did.

Dear Pastor, Do Your Job

What do I do with this?

What do I do with this?

According to a multiplicity of biblical texts like Mark 1:15, Ephesians 4:10-15, 2 Timothy 4:1-5, and Hebrews 13:7, the pastor’s job is to preach the Bible for the glory of God:

  • His job is not to be a community organizer; his job is to preach the gospel that might get him stoned.
  • His job is not to meet with other pastors and become well-known; his job is to teach the Bible so well that every man under his charge might well become a pastor.
  • His job is not to counsel the hurting sheep but to feed all the hungry sheep, including the hurting. Counseling may follow preaching, but it must not precede it.
  • His job is not to attract unbelievers; his job is to preach the gospel and believe that God will bring whomever He may will.
  • His job is not to manage services, though the preaching ought to well flow in congregational worship. His job is to preach the gospel as an act of worship both to the God who spoke His Word and to bring the people to worship this same God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • His job is not to manage the church like a business; His job is to lead her by speaking the Word of God to her.

Often when we see churches going astray and becoming diseased, it is simply because her pastors have forgotten these basic principles. God’s Word never changes, dear pastor, so there’s no need to innovate with bells, whistles, and rock-and-roll show tactics. As Andrew Peterson sings to his son, just “stick to the old roads.”

How to Produce Wet, Spineless, Feeble-Minded Men

Why are Western churches full of women, spineless men, and fewer and fewer children? Robbie Low, a vicar in the Church of England, investigates this trend in his Touchstone article, “The Truth about Men and Church.” After explaining a Swiss survey linking a father’s influence to his children’s church attendance, Low illumines various connections between fatherhood and the church: the church’s mission, feminism in the culture, the disintegration of the family, and the training of church leaders.

On the last connection, he drops this hammer of a quote on Western church culture:

One does not need to go very far through the procedures by which the Church of England selects its clergy or through its theological training to realize that it offers little place for genuine masculinity. The constant pressure for “flexibility,” “sensitivity,” “inclusivity,” and “collaborative ministry” is telling. There is nothing wrong with these concepts in themselves, but as they are taught and insisted upon, they bear no relation to what a man (the un-neutered man) understands them to mean.

Men are perfectly capable of being all these things without being wet, spineless, feeble-minded, or compromised, which is how these terms translate in the teaching. They will not produce men of faith or fathers of the faith communities. They will certainly not produce icons of Christ and charismatic apostles. They are very successful at producing malleable creatures of the institution, unburdened by authenticity or conviction and incapable of leading and challenging. Men, in short, who would not stand up in a draft.

The feminized church produces feminized men.

Though the characteristics named (“flexibility,” “sensitivity,” “inclusivity,” and “collaborative ministry”) don’t seem at first glance to be emasculating, Low explains what a feminized church really wants from their leaders: malleability, spinelessness, feeble faith.

In case we have forgotten, sensitivity, flexibility, inclusivity, and colloborative ministry aren’t fruits of the Spirit. Neither are they characteristics of Christian leaders. The Bible does tell us, however, of elders who “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Three of the primary jobs of the Christian leader are to hold fast the word, give sound instruction, and rebuke false teaching. Collaborating with false teachers in the name of “flexibility and inclusivity” won’t get that job done.

As Low puts it, then, the historical timeline for producing wet, spineless, feeble-minded pastors goes something like this:

  1. Fathers begin leaving families.
  2. Feminism (a “lie direct” in its name) takes hold in the culture.
  3. The Protestant church at large follows feminism as a controlling worldview.
  4. The church seeks more female leaders and more femininized male leaders.
  5. Unbelieving men leave the Protestant church en masse.
  6. Unbelieving men seek alternate views of manhood, exampled in womanizing, materialism, violence, and/or homosexuality.
  7. The Protestant church ignores these developments and continues in its unbelieving feminist ways, slightly tweaking its language to suit the culture.

Point #4 is where we want to zoom in. How exactly does the Protestant church tend to seek out female leaders and feminized male leaders? In my experience at least, it looks something like this:

  1. Manhood qua manhood is devalued and quickly neutered.
  2. Church language (contrary to the Bible’s language) becomes emasculated or neutered.
  3. Men, the local church, and families are soon evaluated in women’s terms.

If that seems a little far-fetched, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why are men in the church more often lauded for flexibility rather than strength?
  • Why is conviction seen as a sign of rigid bone-headedness rather than faithful service?
  • Why are churches more concerned with the soft skills of counseling and customer service rather than the hard skills of rightly dividing the Word and refuting sound doctrine?
  • Why do more and more worship songs sound like sappy high school poetry than the marching hymns of the King of Kings?
  • Why has church discipline, the protection of Christ’s body, been so often traded for quiet conversations and the overlooking of apostasy?
  • Why do our churches feel more like coffee shops than battlefield hospitals?
  • Why do we ask pastors to rightly manage their homes but are repulsed when they actually discipline their children? (Both, after all, are in the same passages.)

When we begin to pick at the surface, we quickly see that with manhood everything is at stake. As Low puts it, rejecting God’s good order of patriarchy rejects all three persons of the Trinity. No wonder our churches are full of convictionless men when we train convictionless leaders in a convictionless gospel.

Afflicting the Unconverted

Mike McKinley’s Together for the Gospel 2012 talk about preaching to self-deceived unbelievers in our churches is full of gems. Here’s one:

“[Self-help teaching] only creates high-functioning citizens of hell.”

The whole thing is worth listening to, particularly if you don’t realize the effect of so-called “cultural Christianity.”

As McKinley reminds us, Christianity is a radical thing, not something you slide into because it’s convenient. It is our job, as believers, to help people see their true spiritual state.

Believe in Sin and Hell for Your Joy in God

Here’s a quote from John Piper, in Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, that helped me last night. Piper is talking about hell here, but I’m applying it a step before hell to our active, self-breaking sinful acts:

If I do not believe in my heart these awful truths – believe them so that they are real and stay in my feelings – then the blessed love of God in Christ will scarcely shine at all. The sweetness of the air of redemption will be hardly detectable. The infinite marvel of my new life will be commonplace. The wonder that to me, a child of hell, all things are given for an inheritance will not strike me speechless with trembling humility and lowly gratitude. The whole affair of salvation will seem ho-hum, and my entrance into paradise will seem as a matter of course. When the heart no longer feels the truth of hell [or self-murdering sin], the gospel passes from good news to simply news. The intensity of joy is blunted and the heart-spring of love is dried up.

Feel Like You’re Faking the Ministry?

Peace and War for Christians (Ministers)
Gospel ministry is the hardest, highest, most rewarding, most heartbreaking work there is. There is pressure from without and fears within. For pastors all over the world, persecution, hatred, and violence await. For all, ministry in the home is often arduous, taxing, and emotional as well.

It makes sense, then, that many pastors struggle with discouragement, despair, and guilt over “faking it.” Many pastors secretly think they are hypocrites, teaching one thing while doing another. They probably think of Romans 2:3, “Do you suppose, O man — you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself — that you will escape the judgment of God?”

Yet we must also remember that all Christians are ministers (Eph. 4), and all ministers ought to first be Christians.

War: We’re Not Sinless Now
Scripture says that being a Christian doesn’t mean we should lie about our sin. We still sin! 1 John 1:8-10 is helpful here:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

People who lie about their own sin are self-deceivers and Jesus-haters, but people who confess them to Jesus receive His forgiveness and His cleansing.

The Bible’s view is that Christians still sin, so Christians should be honest about it.

Peace: We Are Sinless in Christ
At the same time, the Bible plainly teaches that through Jesus we are made sinless in God’s sight now and sinless forever in the next life. These facts are our hope and power for fighting our sin now! Hebrews 10:14 says:

For by a single offering [Christ] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Christ’s offering is finished, once-for-all-time, and it singly perfected His set-apart people. This sin-killing work has been finished on the cross:

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

So Romans 6 says that Christ finished the work of putting away our sin, He will never die again, and He is now alive forever to God. And all of this is our power to fight sin.

How to Fight the Peace-Armed War
The twin realities of sin and Christ affect our hearts in profound ways. Christ’s death and resurrection mean that sin no longer has ultimate power over us. Jesus has already won the victory.

But our sin nature still has some power. It fights against the Spirit in us, and a war must ensue. We must not be at peace with out sin, but at war with it because we desperately want peace with Christ. It sounds odd, but the peace of Christ puts us into direct violence against all enemies of our pure devotion to Him.

We fight then, because we are saints who still sin, but we’re not finally sinners. We fight because we strive to lay hold of that for which Christ also laid hold of us, but we have not yet attained the prize.

Keep fighting the good fight, my brothers in Christ.

Don’t Fake It: Teaching the Peace-Armed War
The way, then, to avoid “faking it” in the ministry is to be honest about your struggles and honest about the gospel. The way to be honest is to be a Christian first – not mainly a Christian minister, but a Christian. Yes, you’re called to be a leader for the gospel, but not before you’re called to be a Christian.

A few tips:

  1. Don’t teach something you haven’t learned. Beginning to learn also counts. If we’re learning at all, we’re still in process.
  2. Don’t give any impression that you have it all figured out. We know you don’t.
  3. Meditate over your text before you jubilate over it. John Owen said that the Word has to dwell within us in power before it will go out from us in power. But don’t just do it for your ministry. Meditate on the Word for yourself.
  4. Be honest when the passage has broken you. Your people will appreciate your transparency and humility before the might Word of God.

Psalm 101: The Grace of Faithful Friends

Psalm 101:6 caught my eye the other day:

I will look with favor on the faithful in the land,
that they may dwell with me;
he who walks in the way that is blameless
shall minister to me.

Following the previous section’s slam on evil and evildoers, notice the emphasis here on “the faithful” and the one who “walks in the way that is blameless.” The psalmist speaks of his friends (“I will look with favor upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me,” v. 6) over against his enemies (“I hate the work of those who fall away,” v. 3).

Often, when we read passages like this, we are tempted to ask, “Why don’t I have friends who help me faithfully?” But this passage isn’t first about us or how others ought to be faithful to us.

The Faithful Friend
First, we must remember that Jesus is the one who displayed His faithfulness, to God, for His friends:

  • “He loved them to the end,” John 13:1.
  • “Whoever comes to Me I will never cast out,” John 6:37.
  • “I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep,” John 10:11.
  • “Greater love has no man than this: that someone lays down his life for his friends . . . but I have called you friends,” John 15:13-15.

Christ’s love for His friends is faithful, eternal, sacrificial, and ultimate. Any time the Bible speaks of those who are “faithful and true” or “holy and blameless,” it points ultimately to Christ Jesus, innocent but executed as a criminal, risen from the dead.

Point It Back to You
Second, once we have seen in the gospel Christ’s perfect, sacrificial friendship, we must point Psalm 101 back on ourselves. Do I, in the power of Jesus’ blood and righteousness, live before God and others as a faithful friend?

  1. Do I live as a husband, father, church member, and friend as someone whose walk with God is worth following? This is the essential element of any godly friendship. “I will sing . . . to you, O LORD,” (Ps. 101:1). Do I have anything of God’s grace in me to offer others?
  2. Do I have a mental thought-life that ponders God’s ways of holiness? The godly friend will spend time “ponder[ing] the way that is blameless,” (Ps. 101:2). Have I thought over God’s word and world enough to help a friend in need?
  3. Do I hate what is evil and cling to what is good? Over and again, the psalmist speaks of his hatred for evil. He promises to keep worthless things from his eyes (v. 3a), hate the work of apostates (v. 3b), keep perversion far from himself (v. 4a), know nothing of evil (v. 4b), destroy the slanderer (v. 5a), walk away from the proud (v. 5b), and cast the deceiver and liar out of his house (v. 7).
  4. Am therefore I a faithful and blameless friend? This goes back to verse 6 – am I the kind of friend who others want to live around be served by? Can I be a blameless minister to them? When someone needs a hand, am I faithful by God’s grace to provide it?

Such are faithful friends, but we will never be those until we know Jesus as Savior-Friend.

Such Friends are God’s Grace
Third, do we have such friends as Christ is and as we want to be? If so, they are a happy gift of God. They are tangible evidence of His grace to us in Christ Jesus.

God could have left us alone in this world (as too many think He does), without friends in a gospel church, but He has not! He has given us the grace of faithful friends through the Faithful Friend. The fact of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection creates holy brothers and sisters in the local church.

  • Do you know Jesus? If so, He is your faithful friend.
  • Do you know Jesus? If so, believe that He can make you such a friend.
  • Do you know Jesus? If so, seek such friends who love Him (the local church) and be thankful when God makes them faithful.

***

Do you see faithfulness in your friends through the love of Jesus? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!

Looking for Elders in Your Church

Over at the 9Marks blog, Pastor Brian Croft offers three signs that a man in your church is ready to become an elder:

  1. Find men who function as a pastor without the title or recognition. 
  2. Find men who assume the pastoral burden, although it has not yet been placed on them. 
  3. Find men who shepherd their family the way a pastor should shepherd God’s people. 

In other words, look for men who pastor before they’re pastors.

The Pastor’s Holiness

“The life of the minister should be a walking Bible.”

Thomas Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture, p. 155 in Banner of Truth paperback.

The Main Difference Between Planting New Churches and Planting New Campuses

The main difference between planting new churches and planting new campuses, as far as I can tell, is this: churches that plant new churches want to spread the gospel in the name of Jesus Christ, while churches that plant new campuses want to spread their own name.

I know, I know, lots of “church health”-type folks have said it before, but a recent video from a related church got me thinking – why are they planting another campus instead of another church?”

The answer from the video is, “Because our name is well-known in this new area.”

Hmm. It seems that if this particular church was known for the gospel, they would have no problem just planting a church with any old Christ-centered name. Instead, they must plant a new campus with the same church name. Instead of planting something like “Westside Presbyterian Church” won’t do, it has to be, “Eastside Presbyterian Church, West Campus.”

So, the planting church’s stated priority is not multiplying churches in Christ’s name but multiplying campuses in their own name. And maybe they’ll get to multiplying Jesus’ name later.

Maybe.

So, dear brother-churches and church members, care not for your own church’s name! Care for Christ’s name! Plant churches in His name, whatever the cost! Pray and work and teach for healthy congregations that function as their own bodies, not as some parody of some other church down the road.

When you care more about His name, you’ll plant churches in His name, not your own.

Linger Until They Burn

You must go to the Word and think about it until it burns in you. You must become meditators on the Bible. You must become students of the Bible. You must think over the things of the Lord, texts, and you must think, think, think over them until they burn in you.

You must take the most familiar phrases, and, instead of blowing over them, and linger over them for an hour until they burn! You must come at them from every angle . . . you must do that in the Word, or you’re going to be boring on Sunday morning.

And you know when you’re boring, and that’s when you start doing “cute” things – and it will not make them burn! So you can’t be boring, and you won’t be boring if you stay with the Bible until it burns!

The problem is: we’re lazy. We think only a a certain little teeny, weeny layer of teachers can be exciting about the Bible. “The Bible is basically boring, a few people have the gift to make it exciting, but we do cute things.”

Look, the Bible is the most radical, wild, crazy, unbelievable book in the world! All you need to do is believe it! Believe it with all your might!

From “Imparting a Passion: A Challenge to Youth Workers,” by John Piper.

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