Mark Driscoll resigns as pastor of Mars Hill Church

Religion | The embattled co-founder of the Seattle megachurch steps down from his ministry post
by Warren Cole Smith
Posted 10/15/14, 05:35 pm

After years of controversy and months of intense scrutiny and accusations of wrongdoing, Mark Driscoll, the co-founder of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church, has submitted his resignation.

Earlier this year, Driscoll admitted to using church funds to promote his books. Late last year credible accusations of plagiarism forced his publisher to make alterations to his books and issue a statement admitting that “mistakes were made.”

Nonetheless, the Mars Hill Board of Overseers, a group formed to examine the charges against Driscoll, concluded, “Pastor Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.”

The statement from the Board of Overseers added, “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. While we believe Mark needs to continue to address these areas in his life, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry.”

But the question remains, if Driscoll is not guilty of actions that disqualify him from ministry, then why did he resign? In the resignation letter he sent to Michael Van Skaik, chairman of the church’s Board of Advisors and Accountability, on Tuesday and posted by the Religion News Service earlier today, Driscoll wrote, “Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family—even physically unsafe at times—and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill.” (See the end of this article for Driscoll’s resignation letter and the complete Board of Overseers statement.)

Driscoll’s tenure at Mars Hill Church has been controversial almost from its beginning 18 years ago. His use of profanity, sometimes from the pulpit, won attention and some fans who found him to be genuine and authentic. His conservative theology at first caused many evangelical leaders to overlook the controversy. Driscoll was a regular speaker at Christian conferences and a digital star, with his sermons attracting hundreds of thousands of online viewers and listeners.

But in 2007, the church changed its bylaws to concentrate power in the hands of Driscoll and a small group of senior leaders. Church co-founder Leif Moi was forced to resign, as were former pastors Paul Petry, Bent Meyer, and others who objected to the new leadership structure. Some of these former Mars Hill leaders began speaking out online, but the church dismissed the critics and weathered the charges of bullying and autocratic leadership as mere conflicts of style.

But when credible charges of plagiarism emerged late last year, the allegations against Driscoll began to be less about style and more about substance. Former staff members who had evidence began speaking out. Earlier this year, for example, WORLD obtained a copy of a contract between Mars Hill Church and a California company called ResultSource that promised to put Driscoll’s book Real Marriage on the New York Times best-seller list. The church spent more than $200,000 on that effort.

The straw that seemed to break Driscoll’s back was a call by the leadership of Acts 29 for Driscoll to step aside from pastoral ministry and “seek help.” This rebuke was especially powerful because Driscoll had been a co-founder of Acts 29 and many of the men in leadership there had been close to Driscoll.

On Aug. 24 Driscoll said he would step aside for at least six weeks so that a Board of Overseers could investigate the charges against him. That group presented its findings to Driscoll and his wife, Grace, on Saturday.

Driscoll said he and his wife “pledge our full support in this process” of transition. He did not say what he would be doing next, only that he “would also covet your prayers for us as we seek God’s will for the next chapter of our lives.”

The church would not release details of Driscoll’s severance compensation, if any. Mars Hill Church forced other deacons and elders to sign disparage or non-compete agreements in order to receive compensation. Church spokesman Justin Dean would not comment on whether Driscoll would receive similar treatment.

“At this time we don’t have any additional details, but we ask that everyone please join us in praying for our church as we care for the people of Mars Hill Church during this time,” Dean said.

Mark Driscoll’s resignation letter

October 14, 2014

Michael Van Skaik

Chairman, Board of Advisors and Accountability

Mars Hill Church

Dear Michael:

By God’s grace I have pastored Mars Hill Church for 18 years. Today, also by God’s grace, and with the full support of my wife Grace, I resign my position as a pastor and elder of Mars Hill. I do so with profound sadness, but also with complete peace.

On August 24th I announced to our Mars Hill family of churches that I had requested a leave of absence from the pulpit and the office for a minimum of six weeks while a committee of elders conducted a formal review of charges made against me by various people in recent times. Last week our Board of Overseers met for an extended period of time with Grace and me, thereby concluding the formal review of charges against me. I want to thank you for assuring Grace and me that last Saturday that I had not disqualified myself from ministry.

You have shared with us that this committee spent more than 1,000 hours reviewing documents and interviewing some of those who had presented charges against me. You have also shared with me that many of those making charges against me declined to meet with you or participate in the review process at all. Consequently, those conducting the review of charges against me began to interview people who had not even been a party to the charges.

I readily acknowledge I am an imperfect messenger of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are many things I have confessed and repented of, privately and publicly, as you are well aware. Specifically, I have confessed to past pride, anger and a domineering spirit. As I shared with our church in August, “God has broken me many times in recent years by showing me where I have fallen short, and while my journey, at age 43, is far from over, I believe He has brought me a long way from some days I am not very proud of, and is making me more like Him every day.”

Prior to and during this process there have been no charges of criminal activity, immorality or heresy, any of which could clearly be grounds for disqualification from pastoral ministry. Other issues, such as aspects of my personality and leadership style, have proven to be divisive within the Mars Hill context, and I do not want to be the source of anything that might detract from our church’s mission to lead people to a personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

That is why, after seeking the face and will of God, and seeking godly counsel from men and women across the country, we have concluded it would be best for the health of our family, and for the Mars Hill family, that we step aside from further ministry at the church we helped launch in 1996. I will gladly work with you in the coming days on any details related to our separation.

Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family—even physically unsafe at times—and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill. Grace and I pledge our full support in this process and will join you in praying for God’s best for this, His church, in the days and years ahead. Grace and I would also covet your prayers for us as we seek God’s will for the next chapter of our lives. Therefore, consider this written notice of my voluntary termination of employment.

Finally, it would be my hope to convey to the wonderful members of the Mars Hill family how deeply my family and I love them, thank them, and point them to their Senior Pastor Jesus Christ who has always been only good to us.

Sincerely,

Pastor Mark Driscoll

Mars Hill Board of Overseers letter

On Tuesday, October 14, Pastor Mark Driscoll submitted his resignation as an elder and lead pastor of Mars Hill Church. The Board of Overseers has accepted that resignation and is moving forward with planning for pastoral transition, recognizing the challenge of such a task in a church that has only known one pastor since its founding. We ask for prayer for the journey ahead.

As is well known, inside and outside of Mars Hill, Pastor Mark has been on a leave of absence for nearly two months while a group of elders investigated a series of formal charges brought against him. This investigation had only recently been concluded, following some 1,000 hours of research, interviewing more than 50 people and preparing 200 pages of information. This process was conducted in accordance with our church Bylaws and with Pastor Mark’s support and cooperation.

While a group of seven elders plus one member of the Board of Overseers was charged with conducting this investigation, the full Board of Overseers is charged with reaching any conclusions and issuing any findings. In that capacity, we believe it appropriate to publicly mention the following:

  1. 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. While we believe Mark needs to continue to address these areas in his life, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry.
  2. Pastor Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.
  3. We found some of the accusations against Pastor Mark to be altogether unfair or untrue.
  4. Other charges had been previously been addressed by Pastor Mark, privately and publicly. Indeed, he had publicly confessed and apologized for a number of the charges against him, some of which occurred as long as 14 years ago.
  5. We commend Mark for acting upon the vision God gave him to start Mars Hill Church and for his ministry of faithfully teaching the Word of God for the past 18 years. We commit to pray for him, for Grace, and for their children as they transition from ministry at Mars Hill Church.

We would ask for patience as we now make plans for the first transition of pastoral leadership in the history of Mars Hill Church. We have asked Pastor Dave Bruskas to serve as the primary teaching pastor while we work on long-term plans and decisions. Our elders and board members will work closely with the church staff to support the ongoing operations of Mars Hill in the days and months ahead.

Finally, Mark Driscoll was not asked to resign; indeed, we were surprised to receive his resignation letter. While he can speak to his decision as he chooses, we would point to just two things from his letter. He noted that he had concluded “it would be best for the health of our family, and for the Mars Hill family, that we step aside from further ministry at the church.” Secondly, he specifically wanted to convey “to the wonderful members of the Mars Hill family, how deeply my family and I love them, thank them, and point them to their Senior Pastor, Jesus Christ, who has always been only good to us.”

Mars Hill Board of Overseers

Michael Van Skaik

Larry Osborne

Jon Phelps

Matt Rogers

Warren Cole Smith

Warren is vice president of mission advancement for The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and the host of WORLD Radio’s Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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