The news has come through that Driscoll, pastor and founder of the Mars Hill Church, Seattle and of the Mars Hill brand of churches, has stood down from his leadership role and severed his connection with the church.
This follows months of turmoil in which numerous staff have resigned or been laid off, attendance has halved, and many have called for Driscoll’s to put his leadership on hold.
The issues seem to be to do with leadership style, personality and manner, and the church’s governance more generally. It seems there’s a high level of control exercised over church activities from the top, and a low level of participation in decision making for the members. Also it is claimed that many leadership matters are shrouded in secrecy – such as how much the leaders get paid. Driscoll himself has been criticised for being domineering and destructive towards those he works with.
There is no suggestion of sexual sin or financial fraud.
Acts 29, the church planting movement Driscoll inspired and helped found, has lately severed ties with him and with Mars Hill.
Driscoll is known for having popularised a kind of muscular Calvinism that engaged confidently and positively with culture. Culturally progressive meets theologically ultra-traditional. The appeal of this unusual combination among young adults has produced crops of cool young big-R Reformed Christians who drink beer and love the inner city.
For those of us who see megachurches and church franchises as deeply unhealthy animals, it is no great surprise to hear claims that the leaders who built those unhealthy structures are themselves prone to unhealthy practices and relational patterns. Be surprising if they weren’t, really.
There is no doubt that Driscoll has been tireless in preaching the gospel of Jesus and growing churches. Nor that he has been an inspirational figure to many. I reckon he’s had some great things to say about mission for Jesus. His comments about our diocese when he came to Sydney were well worth listening to. He’s got a sharp mind and has thought deeply. He forms his own ideas and isn’t afraid to shock or offend. Driscoll has a lot to offer.
However, there is another side to him, as revealed in his obscene, misogynistic and unhinged-sounding online rants, which he doesn’t seem to have ever explained or repented of. Those posts have ‘mental health troubles’ written all over them.
Given Mars Hill’s culture of secrecy at the top, the details about Driscoll’s departure may never be known. Many of the staff recently laid off have had to sign non-disclosure agreements.
We sincerely hope that the Mars Hill Church can survive this crisis and move on in healthier directions.