I’m a Christian largely due to the preaching ministry of Mark Driscoll.
When I was an angry atheist during my freshman year of college a lot of friends told me to listen to his preaching. I did, and God used it to bring me to faith. For the first couple of years of my faith I wanted to be Mark Driscoll. I dressed like him, I talked like him, I listened to every sermon he preached. All of that changed my junior year of college when I took a class on pastoral theology that radically reshaped how I thought about the pastorate as primarily about loving people and serving your flock, not yelling at them and only being a preacher. I began to critique the ministry of Driscoll as I saw more and more unhelpful (and, honestly, abusive) things about his ministry. I kind of stopped paying attention to him and started focusing more on my academic work as I prepared for divinity school and (hopefully) a Ph.D.
Recently, the Acts 29 Network, a church planting network that Driscoll himself founded, removed Mars Hill Church from the Network and told Driscoll that he needed to step down from ministry and seek help. This was followed by waves of allegations of abuse and unbiblical leadership at Mars Hill, with 9 then-current Mars Hill pastors signing a letter calling for Driscoll’s resignation and highlighting patterns of lies and abuse within the church. All of those pastors have now been fired, for what it’s worth. This week, news broke that Mark was leaving the church he founded, the church that he had said had him as it’s “brand” and primary drive.
All of this has led me to ask what exactly we do when our leaders fail us. Mark Driscoll failed spectacularly. He bullied and abused his people and got away with it for a very long time. But at the same time, I heard and understood and surrendered to the gospel because of his preaching. Paul tells us that God uses foolish things (1 Cor. 1:27) and I think that the foolish lifestyle and leadership of Driscoll led to salvation for some, but it also completely destroyed the faith of others. The story of Mark Driscoll is sad. He could have had — and still may have, should repentance and change come — an amazing ministry. Instead, he used his position and talent to grow his own influence and power and to bully others. While it is vitally important to hold a pastor accountable for such sins, it’s also important to remember that every single human character in the Bible besides Jesus fails in spectacular ways as well. Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife multiple times to protect himself. David slept with Bathsheba and killed her husband. Peter denied that he was a follower of Christ. Paul killed Christians.
Jesus is the only perfect human.
He is also the only person the Bible asks us to have faith in. Our faith is not in Moses or Abraham or Paul, it’s in Jesus. Humans are sinful and prone to failure. I will inevitably fail in my ministry, I will harm others in the name of Jesus even if by accident. I can only pray that when that happens, those I may lead remember that we follow Jesus. I pray that we remember that our leaders are human and imperfect and that we extend the same grace and love that we are shown. This does not mean we allow pastors to get away with anything without consequences, but it does mean that bitterness and anger are not the motivating factors in our calls to repentance. Put your faith in the loving and perfect Christ and pray for your pastor to live faithfully in the Lord.