Full disclosure — I have always appreciated Mark Driscoll. I haven’t always liked him, but I have always appreciated him. His words have encouraged me, challenged me, and made me a better minister. More importantly, in some ways they’ve also helped make me a better man — either by doing what he said or by hearing what he said and doing the opposite.

But this isn’t a blog defending him, because I don’t know the whole story about his leadership antics and alleged pompous attitude. Plenty have chimed in on that. This morning it was announced he would step down and seek counsel for a minimum of six weeks, so we’ll see. But this isn’t a blog describing what his problems are. It’s a blog telling you what his problem isn’t.


(Photo Credit to Relevent MagazineImage links to letter of apology from Driscoll)

Mark Driscoll isn’t a jerk (if he is a jerk, that is) just because he’s a big deal. Much has been made recently of the fact that Mark Driscoll’s whole issue is being famous. Fame is an unfortunate consequence for doing any job well, and ministry is no exception. In circles I run in, because it’s not Taylor Swift or Kanye fame, we call it being “Christian Famous.” Driscoll has achieved that spiritual celebrity status, with nearly 500,000 Twitter followers (though he swore off Twitter earlier this year and tweets from his account now originate from other church staff members). The dude must be good at something. If nothing else he’s good at hiring, because the church Driscoll serves (Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA) is doing good things.

Are there personal behaviors, theological perspectives, or ministry practice to be critical of? I’m sure. But again, I’m not writing about what Pastor Mark’s problems areI just know that the problem isn’t that he is famous.

In a recent online piece I saw on this whole thing, I noticed that his “issues” were directly attributed to his fame. He’s famous, so he’s a jerk. He’s popular, so he’s a bully. He’s aggressive, so he’s not to be trusted. “The most popular pastor in Seattle” was dodging complaints from disgruntled staff that had moved on. Reports from the formal complaint documents filed by former subordinates listed the following issues:

  • That Driscoll is dismissive and diminishing of people with whom he disagrees or that disagree with him.
  • That Driscoll reportedly only ever asked for input to be nice, and had no actual intent of taking advice or counsel. In other words, his mind was made up before the meeting.
  • That Driscoll has created a working culture built on fear and dissent instead of one of openness and trust.
  • That Driscoll’s apologies concerning these attitudes are arms-length and ultimately insincere.

Imagine that — a senior leader who doesn’t like being disagreed with! An executive-level leader with a strong personality? Never! A senior minister who had his mind made up before the meeting — it’s a real shocker, I know!

I don’t approve of bullying behavior, but I’ve got some news for you — Mark Driscoll isn’t a jerk (if he is, in fact, a jerk) because he’s famous. I have known — heck, I have been — a less than stellar leader at moments, and my public profile begins and ends with this blog and a couple small publicationsArrogant pieces of trash come in all shapes and sizes. Like my size, for instance.

There are tons of jerks in the ministry, and the vast majority of them are people you’ll never know the name of. They dot the map of midwestern congregations, too — not just the young, hip, urban coastal city churches. Driscoll did not fall victim to his fame, he fell victim to temptation. These are failures he has recognized, if not yet repented of. But the chorus of people claiming that the problem with the whole modern evangelical pastorate is that the Christian Famous are too prominent are way off in their assessment, in my view. Most people who are famous jerks used to be un-famous jerks. The spotlight illuminated what was there to begin with.

You don’t have to have a New York Times Bestseller to your credit (although Driscoll has asked for that designation to be taken off all his books) to be an incompetent, selfish, arrogant leader. You can pile on Pastor Mark all you want, I suppose, but what do the size of his church or the amount of podcast downloads he has have to do with anything? He didn’t (or doesn’t, I don’t know which) have a spotlight problem, he has a sin problem. That is a problem he had long before anyone knew his name.

And it’s one you and I will have regardless of whether or not anyone ever knows ours. So let’s cool it with the friendly fire, shall we? Mark Driscoll may be a big, easy, jerk of a target, but the guy we’re shooting at is still one of our own.


3 thoughts on “What Pastor Mark’s Problem Isn’t

  1. Hey Titus – I want to respond thoroughly, not because I care about the Driscoll debate but because I care about the discussion of fame within Christian circles. I also learned as often from Driscoll as I was wounded by his violent rhetoric – if he wasn’t a jerk to me through his message, then he was a jerk at least to many of my friends through his violent claims and crass humor. I’m also not mad, even if what follows sounds formal, so interpret the tone as if we’re talking about this while eating Tammy’s cheesy potatoes:

    >> “Fame is an unfortunate consequence for doing any job well.”

    Then why isn’t my cable installer, my barber, and the real live man who masquerades as “Banksy” famous? No, fame is the unfortunate consequence of living in a society that values fame above renown, and praises a big name over great service. We self-promote before we promote the other, the collective, or the forms and virtues that lie behind this veil called “service.” The last shall be first, as the Master said. I make this claim about self-promotion and fame in our culture acknowledging myself as the worst of sinners – I’m terrible at serving, but my wife and community keep showing me the way.

    Driscoll is suffering the natural consequences of spending a decade making public his belligerent attitude. He built a church around his name and his name, as a human name, is bound to fail. It has nothing to do with his particular peccadilloes – his sins have their particular flavor not because meanness accompanies all fame, but because fame works as an amplifier and magnifying glass for what’s already there and for Driscoll, this looks like meanness. For a lustful man, the amplification might look like adultery. For a greedy man, it might look like a giant mansion on a lake built on the backs of those worshiping at a health-and-wealth congregation.

    Jesus was •more• than famous. He had renown. Other saints whose work echoes into our age lived their lives in relative anonymity, such as the Antioch believers who are known to us as being called Christians first. They were more concerned about being known as the first Christians than they were about making their names known.

    You’re right to question the logic of those statements, because they parse out similarly to David Bently Hart’s parsing of New Atheist logic:

    1. (major premise omited)
    2. Mark Driscoll is famous
    3. Therefore Mark Driscoll is a jerk.

    But that doesn’t necessarily make the conclusion false. A proper reworking goes like this:

    1. Fame without renown leads to an amplifying of the sins that exist within the famous.
    2. Our culture values fame above renown and greatness, choosing fame regardless of whether it is accompanied by renown and greatness.
    3. Mark Driscoll is merely famous and struggles with dominion, meanness, etc.
    4. Therefore it is easier for Mark Driscoll to publicly fall into an obsession with dominion, meanness, etc.

    No fame doesn’t lead to bullying, but fame from something other than the greatness and renown derived from a servant doing their job well will render an anemic fame, a fragile fame, a fame that trends towards exposing the sins within themselves and thus leading to implosion. Fame without renown creates divas, male and female alike.

    And when we build churches around divas, we should expect them to collapse in idolatry, for that’s the very meaning of the word. “Diva” comes from the 19th century Italian and Latin for ‘goddess.’ If Mark was anything, he was the god of Mars Hill.

      1. MMmmmm, soooo good.

        It might be better to summarize:

        “We must practice an uncommon more-than-service if we seek to share in Jesus’ uncommon more-than-fame.”

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