What Pastor Mark’s Problem Isn’t

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.