DRISCOLL’S FALL AND THE DEATH OF MARS HILL CHURCH

dRISCOLL FALL Perhaps the news with the greater repercussion in the gospel media, in 2014, was the departure of Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill mega church and the announcement of the closure of all the satellites churches. What strikes me is the fact that these headlines had already been predicted by Driscoll a while before. In 2012, Driscoll published an article entitled, The 9 Seasons of the Church’s Life (9 Stations of The Life of a church), where he presented the death of the local church as a natural part of their life cycle:

When a church is unhealthy, it dies. A church isn’t healthy when they no longer experience conversion growth or attract young leaders. At this point a church faces a critical dilemma. One, they can deny their impending death, sell off their assets to prolong their death, redefine their mission to defend their death, and simply survive as they slowly and painfully die and rewrite the best years of their history to feel significant and successful. Two, they can embrace their impending death as an opportunity to resurrect.[1]

What can our churches and leaders learn from this experience? Is there a way to prevent the fall of a pastor and the closing of a local church? I would like to answer these questions by highlighting two great lessons of what had just happened through Driscoll’s teaching. The first lesson is that when a church or its leadership is ill it will eventually die.

The disease that led to Driscoll’s fall, according to Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, was: “But the brashness and the arrogance and the rudeness in personal relationships — which he himself has confessed repeatedly — was obvious to many from the earliest days, and he has definitely now disillusioned quite a lot of people.”[2]

Mars Hill Church also recognized arrogance as Driscoll’s main problem saying: “We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner”.[3]

Of course several other accusations were made in relation to Mark Driscoll’s ministry, but it is obvious that the root of his downfall and consequently of his church was arrogance, in other word, pride. Wasn’t that the same evil that drove Satan and Adam to rebel against God and consequently fall? The issue is that we are all participants in the fall, for we are sinners, and just as guilty as Driscoll after all, we are all proud, even when we do not admit it.

If we ask several leaders what the purpose of their ministry or their churches is, the will certainly give a biblical answer, right? But when we observe their attitudes we come to the conclusion that some churches and leaders nowadays have as their mission their own glory.

We cannot deny that a multitude of churches and pastors evangelize to increase the number of members of their churches and not to see more people reflecting the attributes of God. There are also many churches that just want to make disciples of their own and not of Christ. There are even some churches involved in social justice issues simply because they want to attract the spotlight to themselves and not to glorify God through good deeds. These churches follow the same church growth model, the self glorification purpose driven church.

The second lesson is related to time. Many churches forget that there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heaven. In other words, they eventually die and do not fulfill their real mission.[4] Mars Hill, for example, is one of the 4,000 churches that, according to the statistics, die every year in the United States.[5] The problem is that many leaders seek immortality of their churches ignoring the natural life cycle. Several churches and leaders, for instance, in order to prolong their ministries and the life of their churches, dedicate time and financial resources in their sumptuous buildings or ministries, rather than focusing on the Great Commission of Jesus.

When we realize that we are limited by time and space, we change our perspectives and attitudes. We began to face the local church’s life with a sense of urgency to its real mission, because the certainty of the imminent death makes us rethink the reason of our existence as a church on Earth and raises questions such as: what would I do if today was my last day of life?

The letters to the seven churches of Asia were not written with the promise of eternity for them, but a reminder that they had a mission to accomplish while alive. Steve Timmis, current executive director of the Acts 29 Network (Church Plant Network founded by Mark Driscoll) view the decline of the churches differently:

It is easy for Christians to feel discouraged when we read about declining church attendance or see the growing secularization of our culture, but we are excited about the future. In many ways the opposite of secularism is actually nominalism, so growing secularism is an opportunity to develop witness to Christ unclouded by nominal faith. Much of the decline in the church in the West has been the falling off of nominal Christians. As a result, what remains may be more healthy. We have the opportunity to become communities focused on Jesus and his mission. The number of true Christians may not be falling so steeply—if at all. What is fast disappearing is the opportunity to reach notionally religious people through church activities. To seize these new opportunities, we first need to recognize that the Christian gospel has moved from the center of our culture to the margins.[6]

We as a church have a great opportunity that need to be put into practice. It is our actions that will open the door for the Holy Spirit. John Piper says that: “Our mission must never be just a mission of ‘come and see’. It has to be a mission of ‘Go and talk’.”[7] God is not worried about your congregation’s death, but how healthy your church is while it is alive.

I hope that Driscoll embraces the apparent death of the Mars Hill and his ministry in anticipation of a rebirth because there is no resurrection without death. I also hope that many of us leaders and churches do not have an arrogant attitude towards Jesus’ purpose for His church but may we have our days prolonged by a humble attitude that seeks only the glory of God.  

[1] http://theresurgence.com/2012/06/11/the-9-seasons-of-a-churchs-life

[2]http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/23/us/mark-driscoll-is-being-urged-to-leave-mars-hill-church.html?smid=tw-share&_r=3

[3] https://marshill.com/2014/10/15/pastor-mark-driscolls-resignation

[4] Ecclesiastes 3.1,2

[5] WIN Arn, The Pastor’s Manual for Effective Ministry. Monrovia, CA, Church Growth, 1988, p.16

[6] CHESTER, Tim; TIMMIS, Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission. Nottingham, UK: IVP, 2011, p.13

[7] PIPER, John Evangelização e Missões: Proclamando o Evangelho para a Alegria das Nações. São José dos Campos: Editora Fiel, 2011, p. 77

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