Posts Tagged ‘Mars Hill Church’

Like many Christians – and non-Christians – I’ve been following recent events at Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

Co-founder and lead pastor Mark Driscoll resigned on October 14 after a formal investigation into charges against him.

Teaching pastor Dave Bruskas just announced that Mars Hill Church will cease to exist organizationally as of January 1, 2015, and that Mars Hill’s satellite churches in four states must decide their own futures.

I have never heard Mark Driscoll speak.  I have never read any of his books.  I know little about the church, and have no special insight into its inner workings.

But from a church conflict perspective, I’d like to share four thoughts:

First, it’s always perilous to build a church around one person.

I admire visionaries … and great Bible teachers … and people who write books … and those who speak with power and forthrightness.

Sometimes, God even enfolds all those qualities into one person.

And when that person uses their gifts, God sometimes blesses them with notoriety … influence … and numbers.

That appears to be what happened with Mark Driscoll.  God seems to have given him “five talents.”

And when you’re blessed with so much, you have a responsibility to use those talents … and to experience God’s blessing.

But not long ago, I heard that Mars Hill was starting a satellite campus in a highly-churched location that I knew.

My initial thought was, “Why are they doing this?  Is there really a need for a satellite church in that community?”

But since the church would also be showing video of Driscoll preaching, I asked another question:

“What if something happens to Mark Driscoll?”

Back in the 1980s, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart produced an ad encouraging churches to buy a satellite dish … so they could watch sermons from Swaggart instead of from their own pastor.

I kid you not.  (What rhymes with Swaggart?)

The ad seemed to communicate, “Why listen to your own pastor when you can watch the charismatic, handsome, anointed, and prophetic Brother Jimmy instead?”

But it wasn’t long afterwards that Brother Jimmy fell into sexual immorality … twice.

Besides emptying out the church he pastored, he would have emptied out all those “satellite” churches as well.

Christ’s body needs hundreds of thousands of gifted teachers, but a select few operate as if we would all be better off if we just listened to them all the time.

And that should always raise a colossal red flag.

Second, it’s counterproductive to prevent churchgoers from speaking with those who have left a church.

Seven years ago at Mars Hill, church leaders fired two staff pastors who protested leadership authority being placed into the hands of Pastor Driscoll and a few close allies.

Then the pastors and elders asked the congregation to shun the two men.

What were the leaders afraid of?

They were afraid that the two staff pastors would share their mistreatment with their network inside the church … that this might make the pastors and elders look bad … and that some people might leave the church as a result.

Which, of course, is the very definition of being divisive, right?

But instituting a “gag order” never works.  It smacks of a cover-up … even if it’s designed to protect the church as an institution.

When people have been dismissed from an organization, they have the right to tell their side of things unless they forfeit that right in writing … often in exchange for a generous severance package … but their story almost always leaks out anyway.

Not long ago, I heard about a church that pushed out their senior pastor.  The church board then announced to the congregation that nobody in the church was to have any contact with the pastor whatsoever.

If I attended that congregation, I’d reach for the phone immediately to discover the pastor’s side of the story … and if he wouldn’t tell me, I’d ask his wife … relatives … friends … you name it … until I knew “the other side.”

And if the leaders told me I’d be sinning by speaking with him, I’d do it anyway and charge the leaders with sinning instead … because most of the time, leaders issue gag orders to prevent God’s people from discovering their own mistakes.

When I was a pastor, people occasionally left the church angrily over something I did or said.  From time-to-time, other churchgoers would approach me and say, “I heard So-and-So left the church.  Is that true?”

If I wanted to, I could have framed the conflict to make me look good … and to make the departing attendees look bad.

But that’s manipulation … and exercising hyper-control … and that kind of behavior is unworthy of a Christian leader.

So I would say, “Why don’t you call them and speak with them directly?”  Few ever left the church after doing so.

When people leave a church, they have the right to share their opinions and feelings … even if they’re perceived as divisive … because they are out from under church control.

And when we let God control the situation, we don’t have to control anything except our own response.

Third, godly leaders eventually admit when they’ve been wrong.

Because they unjustly dismissed those two pastors seven years ago, eighteen pastors and elders from Mars Hill have just published a confession in writing.  They wrote to their former pastors:

“We want to publicly confess our sin against you regarding events that took place at Mars Hill Church back in 2007.  We were wrong.  We harmed you.  You have lived with the pain of that for many years.  As some of us have come to each of you privately, you have extended grace and forgiveness, and for that we thank you.  Because our sin against you happened in a public way and with public consequences, we want to make our confession public as well with this letter.”

The letter continued, “We stood by as it happened, and that was wrong….  [We] put doubt about your character in the minds of church members, though you had done nothing to warrant such embarrassment and scrutiny.  By doing this, we misled the whole church, harmed your reputation, and damaged the unity of the body of Christ.”

As Howard Hendricks used to say, “May their tribe increase.”

Judas regretted betraying Jesus the very night of his treachery.  Peter repented of denying Jesus right after he did it.

But it takes some Christian leaders years before they repent of mistreating God’s leaders … in this case, seven years … but at least they finally did it.

One line stood out for me: “You have lived with the pain of that for many years.”

Truer words have never been spoken.  There are tens of thousands of innocent pastors who are no longer in ministry because of the way they were forced out of their churches … their reputations in tatters … their hearts permanently broken.

But to have those who harmed you contact you and say, “We were wrong … please forgive us” is the very best remedy for restoration.

Because the leaders who push out an innocent pastor rarely repent of their actions, we must commend these men for their humility and courage.

May they serve as examples to thousands.

Finally, conflict can surface and destroy a church at any time.

Last January, 14,000 people were attending Sunday morning worship services at Mars Hill’s main campus.

Ten months later, the church is laying off staff and selling buildings.

Some of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Pastor Driscoll, who unwisely spent more than $200,000 of church funds to promote a book he wrote.

But sometimes, it’s hard to figure out how these things can happen.

Five years ago this Saturday, I sat in two church meetings and listened to church attendees that I loved charge me publicly with things I never did or said.  My daughter sat next to me the whole time … for 3 1/2 hours.

The charges originated with people who didn’t attend the meetings, and were passed on as gospel truth, even though the charges constituted hearsay.

When the second meeting ended, a veteran pastor … now a top church consultant … walked to the front of the worship center, picked up a microphone, and told the congregation, “You have just destroyed your church.”

I remain dumbfounded as to how quickly the conflict spread throughout the church.  I honestly didn’t sense that anything was wrong until the day the conflict surfaced.

The church of Jesus Christ has specialists who can help a church in conflict: consultants … mediators … interventionists … and peacemakers.

But Jesus’ people are doing a terrible job of preventing major conflict from occurring altogether.

I recently took training from one of the top church conflict interventionists in the United States.  He is in great demand.

I asked him, “Who is trying to prevent these conflicts from happening in the first place?”

He mentioned an organization devoted to preventing conflict that had started two years before … so that’s one.

But we need hundreds more.

If major conflict can occur at a church like Mars Hill … a church that God has richly blessed for years … then it can happen in your church as well.  So remember:

Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are underdoing the same kind of sufferings.  1 Peter 5:8-9
















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