MARS HILL CHURCH TIMELINE
1970: Mark Driscoll was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
1992: Driscoll graduated from Washington State University, Pullman, Washington.
1996: Mars Hill Church was founded by Mark Driscoll, Lief Moi, and Mike Gunn.
1998: Driscoll and David Nicholas founded the Acts 29 Church Planting Network.
2003: Mars Hill Church purchased the Ballard campus.
2006: Mars Hill became a multi-site church, when they launched three new Puget Sound campuses.
2006: Driscoll founded The Resurgence.
2007: Mars Hill Church reorganized the leadership structure.
2009: Mars Hill’s first out-of-state campus opened in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
2012: Mark and Grace Driscoll’s Real Marriage spent one week as a New York Times best-seller.
2012: Driscoll resigned as President of Acts 29 and from the Council of the Gospel Coalition.
2013: Charges were brought against Driscoll by former pastor Dave Kraft.
2013: Driscoll was accused of plagiarism by radio host Janet Mefferd.
2014: Allegations of plagiarism, misappropriation of funds, and bullying were leveled at Driscoll.
2014 (July 21): Driscoll appeared in a video apology on the Mars Hill website.
2014 (July 29): “Pussified Nation,” a circa-2000 online Mars Hill thread was published online.
2014 (August 3): Driscoll was protested outside of Mars Hill’s Bellevue campus.
2014 (August 8): Acts 29 revoked Mars Hill’s and Mark Driscoll’s memberships.
2014 (August 24): Driscoll took a 6-week leave from the pulpit.
2014 (October 14): Driscoll resigned from Mars Hill Church.
2014 (October 31): Executive Elder Dave Bruskas announced that Mars Hill Church would dissolve.
2015 (January1): Eleven former Mars Hill Churches became independent churches.
2015 : Driscoll appeared at various churches and conferences throughout the year.
2016 (February 1): Driscoll announced his Trinity Church Plant in Phoenix, Arizona.
2016 (February 29): Former church members filed a civil racketeering lawsuit against former Mars Hill executive elders Driscoll and Sutton Turner.
2016 (March 27): Trinity Church launched on Easter Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona, planning to begin regular Sunday services late in the summer.
The rise and fall of Mars Hill Church is inextricably tied to charismatic founding pastor Mark Driscoll. Driscoll’s confrontational style (he was once described as the “Rush Limbaugh of Christianity”) and strict Reformed theology helped the culturally hip, but theologically conservative Seattle church, grow rapidly, claiming up to 15,000 attenders and fifteen campuses across five states over the course of the church’s eighteen -year history. Driscoll reached international notoriety primarily through his provocative sermons, which made top ten lists for religious/spiritual podcasts in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Driscoll’s prolific use of technology and social media also served to make his gaffes very public. Driscoll eventually resigned from Mars Hill during a tumultuous year that included his being accused of plagiarism, misappropriation of church funds, misogyny and abusive leadership. Two weeks after Driscoll’s resignation, church leadership announced plans for the dissolution of the church.
Mark Driscoll was born in North Dakota on October 11, 1970. His family relocated to Seattle, where he graduated from Highline High School in 1988. The son of a union dry-waller, Driscoll describes himself as being raised Catholic, but becoming a Christian during his freshman year at Washington State University, where he obtained a degree in Speech Communication. Driscoll also holds a Master’s degree in Exegetical Theology from Western Seminary (Portland, Oregon). In his pastor profile he defines himself as “grateful to be a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody.”
Driscoll [Image at right] founded Mars Hill Church in Seattle in 1996 with Mike Gunn and Lief Moi. The church began as a small bible study meeting in the living room of Mark and Grace Driscoll’s rented home. In Confessions of a Reformission Rev., Driscoll (2006:39) writes that he founded Mars Hill because God had told him to start a church and since he was “scared of God” he wanted “to do what [God] says.” The bible study soon outgrew the living room and moved into various spaces across Seattle, with Driscoll shuttling between three locations at one point to deliver three Sunday services (a morning service at a church building in the University District, a 5:00 P.M. service at a mainline church building downtown, and a 7:00 P.M. service at the Paradox, an all-ages music venue in the University District).
In 2003, as Mars Hill grew to a church of 800, they found permanent meeting space in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, purchasing a 40,000 square-foot former auto-parts warehouse. The first service in March hosted 1,600 people. Over the next year , the church’s two Sunday services averaged 1,200 people a week (Driscoll 2006). Driscoll’s popularity and the church’s attendance soared. Mars Hill became known as the place where “twentysomething girls in glittering half-sweaters, sloppy emo boys with tattooed arms and disheveled hair” (Barnett 2006) could find a church home.
As they celebrated their tenth anniversary in 2006, Mars Hill was averaging 4,000 weekly attenders and had six paid elders on staff (Driscoll 2006). The church had roughly doubled its membership every year (Wellman 2008), becoming the largest church in Washington State, as well as one of the fastest growing churches in the nation. Mars Hill was listed by The Church Report as one of the top fifty most influential churches in the country. The church also reached a milestone with over one million sermons downloaded from iTunes, becoming the fourth most downloaded spiritual podcast on the site (Wellman 2008). With their Ballard building beyond capacity , their anniversary celebration was billed as a “million-dollar” Sunday to help finance their move to a multi-site church with three new campuses established in Shoreline (WA), West Seattle and Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood (Mars Hill Church 2006).
In addition to the rapid growth of Mars Hill, Driscoll’s Acts 29 Church Planting Network [Image at right] was gaining ground. Co-founded by Driscoll and David Nicholas in 1998, Acts 29 planted churches that were theologically aligned with Mars Hill’s doctrines. At the close of 2006, Acts 29 had accepted sixty churches into the network, with 120 more applications waiting to be considered (Sandler 2006). In 2006 , Driscoll also launched The Resurgence, which served as a platform to train ministry leaders and distribute theology resources.
While recognized as one of the most influential and fastest growing churches in the country, in 2006 Mars Hill experienced a backlash to their gender doctrine and Driscoll’s controversial style. Locally, Driscoll and Mars Hill were notorious for their strict complementarian gender theology, where men lead and women submit. This doctrine garnered national exposure when Driscoll responded to the plight of Ted Haggard, the National Evangelical Association (NEA) president accused of using illicit drugs and soliciting male prostitutes:
“Most pastors I know do not have satisfying, free, sexual conversations and liberties with their wives…It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband…is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.”
Though Driscoll’s post was meant to encourage men in their ministries, it engendered outrage because of its negative portrayal of women. [Image at right] A movement called People Against Fundamentalism (PAF) organized a protest citing Driscoll’s persistence “in making demeaning and degrading comments about women from his pulpit, on his blog, and at numerous national conferences” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer 2006). PAF demanded Driscoll publicly apologize for his comments, as well as be fired from his position as a religion columnist to the Seattle Times. Driscoll and the leaders of PAF met and came to a truce resulting in the protest being called off and a public apology posted to Driscoll’s blog. Driscoll was dismissed from the Seattle Times, which reported that the decision to discontinue Driscoll had already been under review (Seattle Post-Intelligencer 2006).
While the kerfuffle over the blog post subsided, Driscoll’s brash style continued to garner adherents to Mars Hill ( locally, nationally, and internationally ). The church’s extraordinary growth led to a restructuring of the leadership in 2006-2007. The 2006 Mars Hill Muti-Site Campus Plan stated that, “the elders spent six months rewriting the entire constitution and bylaws that govern our organization…. As a result, we have literally re-architected the entire church, which means that there are many major changes forthcoming” (Mars Hill Church 2006). In the autumn of the following year, the restructure erupted in controversy when two popular elders were fired. In a members-only online forum to answer questions regarding the firing of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer, Mars Hill leaders reported that one pastor was removed for “displaying an unhealthy distrust in the senior leadership,” while another was removed for “disregarding the accepted elder protocol for the bylaw deliberation period,” as well as “verbally attacking the lead pastor” (Tu 2007). Several hundred members left the church over the firing of the two pastors. The imbroglio resulted in Mars Hill suspending all church memberships for a six-month period, with the expectation that serious members would sign the new covenant, accepting the new by-laws and the authority of the church.
Over the next few years Mars Hill continued their rapid growth, capitalizing on the breadth and creativity of their members. The church’s internal social networking site, The City, was purchased by Zondervan in 2008 and adopted by churches throughout the country. By 2009, the church added two more Puget Sound locations (Olympia and Federal Way) and launched their first out-of-state campus in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 2010, more than 7,000,000) of Driscoll’s sermons were downloaded from the Mars Hill website, and Driscoll was featured in a variety of high profile Christian and secular arenas (including the Christian Broadcasting Network, prominent national conferences like John Piper’s Desiring God Conference, television shows like The View, FOX and Friends, and on ABC’s Nightline, where Mars Hill hosted a debate between Driscoll and Deepak Chopra on the existence of Satan). This exposure continued to highlight Driscoll’s charismatic style and to grow the church, which extended to ten locations by 2011 (Puget Sound campuses in Everett, Sammamish, and the Rainier Valley neighborhood in Seattle, plus new campuses in Portland, Oregon and Orange County, California).
Ranked by Outreach magazine as the third fastest growing church in the nation, in 2012 Mars Hill averaged 12,172 weekly attenders across fourteen campuses in four states (Washington, Oregon, California, and New Mexico). The church was also ranked twenty-eighth largest church in the country and appeared on top twenty-five lists for being one of the most influential, most multiplying, and most innovative churches in America. Easter Sunday 2012 (April 11), Mars Hill hosted the largest worship service in the history of the Pacific Northwest. Held at Qwest Field (now Century Link Field), the service hosted more than 17,500 people, nearly 700 of whom were baptized that day (Mars Hill Church 2014c).
By the autumn of 2013 Mars Hill Church was operating fifteen campuses across five states, with an average attendance of 12,329. All indicators promised that 2013-20 14 would be a good year. The church’s website had almost 7,500,000 visits and more than 2,000,000 views of Mars Hill music videos. Half a million people had downloaded the church’s app, and the Mars Hill Podcast was ranked in the top ten Religion & Spiritual podcasts in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The church had sixty elders and fifty-seven elder candidates. Church assets came to nearly $35 ,000,000. Three campuses were scheduled to open in January 2014 (Huntington Beach, CA; Phoenix, AZ; and Tacoma, WA) with plans to develop campuses in Los Angeles and Spokane, as well as developing a Bible college at the Bellevue campus in conjunction with Corban University (for a one-year certificate in Biblical Studies) and Western Seminary (Driscoll’s alma mater) to offer Master of Arts and Master of Divinity degrees. The church was also seeking to acquire at least 200,000 square feet of space in Bellevue, in order to create one large flagship campus. The fortunes of Driscoll and Mars Hill, however, were about to change.
2013 was the beginning of the end. In that year, former pastor Dave Kraft filed charges against Driscoll with the church’s Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA). Kraft accused Driscoll of a longstanding pattern of being domineering, arrogant, quick tempered and verbally abusive (Throckmorton 2014a). Kraft’s controversial charges were followed later that year with Driscoll accused of lying about an incident at a rival church. In California to speak at the Act Like Men conference, Driscoll says he took copies of his new book, A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future, to John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church during the Strange Fire Conference. Driscoll stood outside of the conference distributing the free books, when he claims church security came and confiscated them. Grace Community’s outreach pastor contradicted Driscoll’s account, saying it was “nothing short of lying, absolutely shameful, and unbefitting of one who would take upon himself the calling of preaching the Truth” (MacKenzie 2013).
A month following the Strange Fire Conference Driscoll appeared on radio host Janet Mefferd’s show, where she accused him of plagiarizing portions of A Call to Resurgence. Driscoll denied the charges. Further investigation by Mefferd and others, however, found examples of plagiarism in many of Driscoll’s books. While Tyndale (publisher of Call to Resurgence ) stood by Driscoll, they later posted a letter on their website from Driscoll, who admitted that “mistakes were made” by a research assistant, who had inadvertently plagiarized the passages (Relevant Magazine 2013). In January 2014, World Magazine reported that two more publishers, Crossway and NavPress, were investigating allegations of Driscoll’s plagiarizing (Smith 2014).
Another controversy erupted when Warren Cole Smith published a story in World Magazine revealing that Mars Hill had spent money to hire public relations firm ResultSource to get Driscoll’s book, Real Marriage, onto the New York Times best-seller list (which was accomplished for one week on January 22, 2012). Church executives had “used church money to pay a marketing firm to game the system. For $210,000 in tithing funds, the company purchased thousands of copies of the book, lending it the false appearance of influential popularity” (Solie 2014). Driscoll apologized for the book-buying scheme in March of 2014 and pledged to stay off of social media for the rest of the year.
When current and former church members pressed church leadership for how they had funded ResultSource, yet another question came to light, what had happened to the money designated for the church’s Global Fund? The Mars Hill Global Fund was dedicated to international missions, yet very little of the money raised by the fund actually went to missions. An internal church memo stated that a percentage of the Global Fund would be used for some “highly visible” projects overseas, but that the “percentage should be flexible” and “not communicated to the public” (Shapiro 2016). A former Mars Hill staffer reported to Warren Throckmorton that the Global Fund had been restricted and was a separate account in the books, which should not have co-mingled with general funds: “Without a doubt in my mind, Mars Hill leadership knew what they were doing,” when they redirected the Global Fund monies into the general fund (Throckmorton 2014d). Responding to inquiries Mars Hill spokesman Justin Dean stated that, “Since donations given by the Mars Hill Global family were never intended to be designated solely for international efforts, we don’t provide an itemized accounted of those funds” (Throckmorton 2014d). Eventually, Mars Hill issued an apology for any lack of clarity on their part and offered to redirect any previous donations to international missions.
Throughout the summer, the turmoil caused by so many scandals continued to play out in the national and local media. Increasing criticism, indignation, and speculation from current and former church members resulted in significant declines in attendance and giving at the church throughout June and July. In late July, Mars Hill responded by posting a thirty -minute video apology from Driscoll, who was on sabbatical from the pulpit. In the apology Driscoll referred to his process of reconciling with members and former members as difficult because “a lot of the people that we are dealing with in this season remain anonymous,” adding, “and so we don’t know how to reconcile or how to work things out with people because we’re not entirely sure who they are” (Mars Hill Church 2014b). Former Mars Hill deacon Rob Smith rallied critics and created the Facebook group“Dear Pastor Mark & Mars Hill: We Are Not Anonymous.” [Image at right] Members of the group planned to protest Driscoll at the Mars Hill Bellevue location in order to “have a quiet, strong message for Mark Driscoll, that people he has harmed over the years are not unknown to him as he has claimed” (Connelly 2014a). Though Driscoll was on vacation, approximately sixty-five protesters picketed the Bellevue campus, carrying signs reading, “We are not anonymous” and “Question Mark” (Connelly 2014a).
Between the release of Driscoll’s apology and the August 3 protest, another controversy exploded when blogger Wenatchee the Hatchet published a 140-page document from a 2000-2001 online thread created by Driscoll posting under the pseudonym, William Wallace II (a nod to Mel Gibson’s character in the movie Braveheart). The documented thread, referred to as “Pussified Nation,” was characterized by the Seattle Post Intelligencer as a “vulgar…proclamation from Driscoll” (Connelly 2014a). The first two lines read: “We live in a completely Pussified Nation. We could get every man, real man as opposed to pussified James Dobson knock-off crying Promise Keeping homoerotic, worship loving mama’s boy sensitive emasculated neutered exact male replica evagangellyfish, and have a conference in a phone book.” Driscoll was embarrassed and apologized for the document. He pointed to Confessions of a Reformist Rev, where he explained his creation of the thread was to counter the “emerging church-type feminists and liberals” that were infiltrating the conversation (Connelly 2014a).
Following the August 3 protest at the Bellevue campus and the backlash to “Pussified Nation,” controversy continued roil the church for their alleged misappropriating of funds. The church had scheduled a “Jesus Festival” as a reward for having raised more than $2,000,000 over and above the previous years’ tithes. The festival was billed as an evangelistic celebration at a Seattle-area park, but it had disappeared from the Mars Hill calendar without an explanation (Connelly 2014b). Also disappearing from the calendar were a number of Driscoll’s speaking engagements, including four Act Like a Man conferences, Driscoll being closing speaker at the Gateway Church Conference, and the church’s high profile Resurgence Conference; Driscoll’s new book, The Problem with Christianity, originally slated for release in the spring, had also been put off indefinitely (Connelly 2014c).
Yet another blow came when Matt Chandler, president of Acts 29, sent Driscoll and Mars Hill a letter stating that the church planting network could no longer be associated with Driscoll because his behavior discredited the organization. Chandler wrote that Acts 29 had “no alternative but to remove [Driscoll] and Mars Hill from membership” (Throckmorton 2014c). The Acts 29 letter referenced the charges from Kraft, prompting the BOAA to post a response stating that Kraft’s charges “were taken seriously and were not dismissed by the board lightly. There is clear evidence that the attitudes and behaviors attributed to Mark in the charges are not a part and have not been a part of Mark’s life for some time” (Throckmorton 2014c). The Acts 29 announcement was the last straw for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Lifeway Christian Resources, who pulled Driscoll’s books from their website and all of their stores (Bailey 2014a).
The maelstrom was unabated. Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College, a Patheos.com blogger and an avid chronicler of Driscoll and Mars Hill , wrote, “On the heels of what was arguably the worst week in the history of Mars Hill Church, twenty-one former Mars Hill church pastors brought charges late last week against lead pastor Mark Driscoll” (Throckmorton 2014e). Echoing Kraft, the former elders charged Driscoll with a lack of self-control and discipline (in his verbal abuse of others), creating a culture of fear, arrogance and quick temper, resulting in “abusive and intimidating conduct,” and “domineering behavior” (Connelly 2014d).
Driscoll was scheduled to return from his vacation to resume preaching on Sunday, August 24. Just two days before Driscoll’s anticipated return to the pulpit, a letter of concern was posted on an internal Mars Hill site. Signed by nine Mars Hill pastors from five different campuses, the letter questioned the church leadership’s transparency and “truth-telling” regarding finances, the Strange Fire Conference, plagiarism, and the book-buying scheme. The letter cited former BOAA member Paul Tripp saying, “This is without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with,” and the leadership culture at the church “was not shaped by the same grace that it says it believes” (Bailey 2014b; Throckmorton 2014f).
While Driscoll and Mars Hill had adroitly managed past controversies, the outpouring of ire from current and former church members was building. With giving and attendance down and questions regarding the state of the church, Driscoll was asked to take an extended six-week leave while church leaders reviewed the charges against him. Rather than preaching live on August 24, Driscoll addressed the church via a pre-recorded message. Apologizing for his past anger, temper, and insensitivity, Driscoll promised to postpone the publication of his next book, as well as refuse any outside speaking engagements for “the foreseeable future” (Bailey 2014b). The besieged pastor also noted that he was meeting with a “professional team of mature Christians” to provide him counsel and further his development and maturity (Bailey 2014b; Paulson 8-24 2014).
On August 29 Mars Hill leaders sent church members a financial update stating that an increase in “negative media attention surrounding our church” had caused a significant decline in attendance and giving, particularly over June-August (Throckmorton 2014g). On September 6, the church announced that three Mars Hill locations would be closing, with a fourth remaining open pending giving increases (Throckmorton 2014h; Welch 2014). The church also announced that thirty – forty percent of their paid staff would be cut (Welch 2014). These failing finances were the reason given for executive elder Sutton Turner’s resignation the following week (Connelly 2014e).
Driscoll’s charismatic persona significantly contributed to the success of Mars Hill; his confrontational leadership style, brashness, and seeming complicity in the myriad scandals rocking the church, however, significantly contributed to its demise. In a surprise move, Driscoll submitted his resignation to Mars Hill on October 14, 2014. The resignation letter stated that Driscoll knew he was “an imperfect messenger of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” and the Mars Hill investigation of the charges against him had shown no “criminal activity, immorality or heresy” that would disqualify him from ministry (Bailey 2014c). Driscoll voluntarily stepped down from Mars Hill after “recent months have proven unhealthy for our family—even physically unsafe at times” (Bailey 2014c). The following day the Mars Hill board of overseers released a statement reiterating that Driscoll had not been found guilty of any crime, heresy, or immorality, but that he had been found guilty of “arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner” (Bailey 2014e).
Two weeks after Driscoll’s resignation executive elder Dave Bruskas announced the dissolution of the church effective December 31, 2014. Each campus had the option to dissolve, merge, or become an independent church. Mars Hill properties were to be sold, central staff were to be compensated, and any remaining funds given to the newly organized churches. Mars Hill Church’s last sermon was delivered via video by Saddleback Church’s Rick Warren. On January 1, 2014, the church that had planted fifteen campuses across five states, reaching an average weekly attendance of more than 12,000, no longer existed. In its place were eleven independent congregations.
Just days after his resignation (October 20), Driscoll appeared at the Gateway Conference in Texas. Rather than giving the previously scheduled formal address at the conference, organizers and Gateway Church pastor Robert Morris asked Driscoll to speak briefly as a conference attendee (Bailey 2014d). Describing the previous months as a “rough season,” Driscoll told the audience that he was “just healin’ up, and praying” (Constant 2014). Driscoll continued to appear or formally speak at a number of churches through the end of the year. In December, he launched MarkDriscoll.org, which regularly updated his preaching schedule. Most churches or pastors hosting Driscoll encountered resistance in the form of online petitions and/or protests (for example, see Shapiro 2015 on the May 17, 2015 appearance of Driscoll at Seattle-area Gold Creek Community Church).
In June 2015 , backlash to Driscoll’s public appearances hit a tipping point. Before the implosion of Mars Hill, Driscoll had been one of the featured speakers for the summer 2015 Hillsong conferences in Sydney and London. Online petitions garnered more than 3,000 signatures to stop Driscoll from appearing at the conferences. The Australian media picked up the story of Driscoll’s misogyny, stating that he was under “increasing fire for statements including preaching that women were created to house a man’s penis” (Barlass and Aubusson June 7, 2015). The backlash had its desired effect, at least initially; Hillsong pastor Brian Huston dropped Driscoll from the program. In a surprise move, however, Huston aired an interview with Mark and Grace Driscoll during the Sydney conference, disappointing protestors. The interview spawned a Change.org petition and protest for the Hillsong Europe Conference in London (Throckmorton 2015).
On February 1, 2016 Driscoll he announced plans for his new church plant, the Trinity Church, in Phoenix, Arizona. [Image at right] The Religion News Service ‘s Laura Turner (2016) responded to the announcement by describing Driscoll as having “left a wake of destruction so severe that the entire network of churches he founded had to shutter its doors…. But he’s back again, like a whack-a-mole.” Within a matter of weeks former members of Mars Hill Church filed a civil racketeering lawsuit against Driscoll and former executive elder Sutton Turner, charging the men with raising money for specific purposes, then redirecting the money for “other things, including a ‘scam’ designed to make Driscoll a best-selling author” (Shapiro 2016).
Roughly eighteen months after his departure from Mars Hill Church, on Easter Sunday (March 27, 2016), Driscoll preached the first service at his new Trinity Church. At least four protesters attended the inaugural service, waving placards and being interviewed by an Arizona television news station. In response to the protester’s claims of Driscoll’s domineering behavior and financial misdeeds, Driscoll told reporters that he was unaware of a lawsuit, which seemed “false and malicious” (Porter 2016). In mid-April Driscoll announced that Trinity Church would begin offering Sunday services by late summer. In the interim, his leadership team was meeting for weekly bible study.
Mars Hill Church had two doctrinal distinctives: being Reformed and complementarian. In his book Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists, Collin Hansen (2008) describes the theology that undergirded Mars Hill’s doctrine as “unflinching Calvinism,” with a focus on inerrancy, penal substitutionary atonement, heaven and hell, and homosexuality; in Driscoll’s words, “people suck and God saves us from ourselves.” Like John Piper and Tim Keller, as part of the Calvinist revival, Driscoll’s teaching focused on a doctrine of grace, but emphasized sinfulness and predestination; total depravity of a man coupled with unconditional election, or “God has already decided who will be saved, without regard to any condition in them, or anything they can do to earn their salvation” (Oppenheimer 2014). A full treatise on Driscoll’s Reformed theology can be found in Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, co-authored with Gary Breshears.
A complementarian gender theology is one of the most notorious elements of Driscoll and Mars Hill Church. In Confessions, Driscoll wrote, “I am an intense biblical literalist who believes that the man is the head of the home, that the man should provide for his family, that children are a blessing, and that we would not have so many deceived feminists running around if men were better husbands and fathers because the natural reaction of godly women to godly men is trust and respect. For some, this theological instruction was as popular as a fart in an elevator” (Driscoll 2006:66-67). Mars Hill’s gender doctrine places complementarianism as the moderate option between egalitarianism (the liberal perspective where gender is not relevant for holding church office) and hierarchy (the conservative perspective where women can only focus on ministries for other women and children) (Driscoll 2008). While women and men were said to be valued equally, they had very different roles. Women were eligible for leadership at Mars Hill as deacons, but not as elders.
Mars Hill focused intently on the weekly worship service and building community. The Sunday worship service was a roughly two-hour production containing the four elements Driscoll believed to be key to a holistic service: music, communion, prayer, and preaching. Mars Hill’s worship music was original, popular, and loud. In a 2003 profile of Driscoll and Mars Hill, Janet Tu observes, “When a band takes the stage to begin the service, playing moody chords evocative of indie rock, the sound is enveloping.” Mars Hill created their own recording label to showcase their worship bands. The church’s guide for “What to Expect” at a service put one sentence in bold: “There are earplugs in the back should you need them” (Mars Hill Church 2014d).
The true draw to Mars Hill, however, was Driscoll and his sermons. Flanked by security guards and speaking from an elevated stage, Driscoll was projected onto big-screen video monitors in each venue. Driscoll’s engaging sermons averaged sixty-plus minutes each week. People from across the country and around the world who could not attend Mars Hill in person had access to Driscoll’s weekly sermons via podcast. An estimated 250,000 people listed to Driscoll’s sermons each week via podcast/website (Lee 2014), with15,000,000 accessed each year (Woods 2014).
When Mars Hill’s became a multi-site church, Driscoll preached live at the 9:00 A.M., 5:00 P.M., and 7:00 P.M. Ballard services and the 10:30 A.M. West Seattle service. Both Shoreline (9:15 and 11:15 A.M.) and the 11:00 A.M. Ballard services were video broadcasts. As the church grew, Mars Hill tried a satellite model where Driscoll was broadcast live from Ballard. This was often problematic when the feed was lost, so the church began recording Driscoll preaching at Ballard (and eventually Bellevue) and sending that week’s sermon to the other campuses (thus the other campuses were a week behind the live sermon). Each Mars Hill campus had a pastor and worship band, who would begin each service, then cut to the video for Driscoll’s sermon.
Building community was primarily accomplished through the weekly Community Groups. Community Groups averaged twelve members per group and met to fellowship and discuss the most recent Mars Hill sermon. In 2013, Mars Hill had 584 community groups across all campuses with approximately 7,000 total participants. Community Groups also served as the first line of church discipline. The church offered Redemption Groups, a counseling ministry for people struggling with a variety of issues. True to his focus on men, Driscoll created Boot Camps described as “how to get a wife, have sex with that wife, get a job, budget money, buy a house, father a child, study the Bible, stop looking at porn, and brew decent beer” (Driscoll 2006:131). The church encouraged members to volunteer with a multitude of other ministries and opportunities, as well.
In response to the church’s explosive growth, Driscoll (2006) wrote that he spent “hundreds of hours studying both Scripture and church history” to find the best model for church governance. In 2007, Mars Hill transitioned to a leadership model Driscoll described as Emerging and Missional Ecclesiology. This model created a “kingdom” focus, with Father, Son, and Spirit as the ultimate heads of the church, and a cultural focus, with an authority structure of elders leading deacons, deacons leading rank-and-file members.
As leaders holding the rank and authority to govern the church, elders had to meet Mars Hill’s seventeen qualifications, which encompassed a man’s relation to God (requiring him to be “a masculine leader” and “dudely dude”), family, self, and others (Driscoll 2008:15-16). Potential elders embarked on a year-long (or longer) study and time of testing, when their family life, financial giving to the church, work performance, gifts, passions, attitude toward authority, work ethic, and leadership qualities were evaluated. As church leaders, elders primarily trained other church leaders and headed all areas of church ministry. Each campus had an elder team to lead local missions. There were no term limits for elders at Mars Hill, and many Mars Hill elders were paid as full-time elders.
As the second highest position of leadership at the church, Mars Hill deacons were considered “pastoral assistants.” When elders became “overburdened,” deacons were appointed to assist them. The qualifications for deacons followed the qualifications for elders quite closely; deacons, however, were exempted from teaching and preaching. Deacons served as administrators, Community Group leaders, and as general support to the church. Women were eligible to become deacons.
Membership at Mars Hill was explicitly encouraged. Driscoll describes church members as “Christians whose eyes are capable of seeing beyond their own navels. They realize that God died not just for them but for their church. They also realize that he commands them to selflessly give of their money and abilities in order to build up their church” (2008:57). The requirements for membership at Mars Hill included being baptized, completing the church’s Doctrine Series, and signing a church covenant with the elders. The covenant asked members to pledge their service, prayer, and financial support to the church (often referred to as sharing their time, treasure, and talents).
The obligation to tithe was taken very seriously by the church. Members completed an annual financial pledge and received quarterly updates regarding their giving. Elders regularly evaluated members’ progress in providing for their annual pledges. Members received full access to The City, the church’s online network, as well as exclusive opportunities to serve in particular areas of ministry (e.g., children’s ministry, playing in the worship bands, teaching), and the ability to receive answers to “reasonable” questions regarding the church’s finances (Driscoll 2008:58-59).
Prior to the 2007 , leadership reorganization all elders voted on changes to theology, property, eldership, new church sites, budget, and other all-church issues. In the restructure, teams of elders overseeing particular ministries became the sole governors of those areas. The restructure was not universally supported, with two popular elders (Petry and Meyer) objecting to the restructure and the rewriting of the church’s bylaws, resulting in their being fired.
Following the guidelines for the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, Mars Hill later created a seven-member Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA), comprised of the three-member board of executive elders (including Driscoll) and four independent members, as explained on their website:
“For many years Mars Hill Church was led by a board of Elders, most of whom were in a vocational relationship with the church and thus not able to provide optimal objectivity. To eliminate conflicts of interest and set the church’s future on the best possible model of governance, a Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) was established to set compensation, conduct performance reviews, approve the annual budget, and hold the newly formed Executive Elders accountable in all areas of local church leadership. This model is consistent with the best practices for governance established in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability standards. Mars Hill Church joined and has been a member in good standing with the ECFA since September 2012” (Mars Hill Church 2014a).
Mars Hill faced several challenges through its history, mostly related to Driscoll’s style and activities: Driscoll’s confrontational style, explicit sexual references, centralization of power, leadership turnover, and intimidation tactics. In addition, there were allegations of financial irregularities and internal tensions over complementarian gender theology,
In one of his first national profiles, Driscoll succinctly described his style: “I’m very confrontational,” he says, “not some pansy-ass therapist” (Leibovich 1998). Driscoll’s bombastic style made him a popular target for the press, social media, and bloggers. Driscoll regularly made headlines with quips taken from his sermons (e.g., referring to the movie Avatar as “the most demonic, satanic movie I’ve ever seen ” ), interviews (“If you just sign up for a little yoga class, you’re signing up for a little demon class”), Facebook posts (asking followers for stories on “the most effeminate, anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed”), and Tweets (“If you are not a Christian, you are going to Hell. It’s not unloving to say that. It’s unloving not to say that”). Driscoll’s often outrageous statements inspired Stuff Christian Culture Likes blogger Stephanie Drury to create @FakeDriscoll to parody Driscoll on Twitter.
While Driscoll’s provocative style and penchant for talking graphically about sex made him popular with urban hipsters, as well as the media, his style offended organizations that were otherwise sympathetic to his theology. In their 2009 annual meetings, for example, the Southern Baptist Convention targeted Driscoll in five separate motions, exhorting SBC entities to refrain from inviting event speakers who “are known for publicly exhibiting unregenerate behavior…such as cursing and sexual vulgarity [and] immorality” (Hinson 2009).
Driscoll was criticized for his leadership style and his consolidating power into just three executive elders (including himself). When Paul Petry and Bent Meyer objected to the initial restructure in 2007, they were fired. When members questioned the leadership about the restructure and the firing of the pastors, Driscoll and the other elders suspended all church memberships. Driscoll did not like his authority to be challenged: “Pastors need the people in their church to obey them and respect their God-given authority so that their work does not continually resemble a series of kicks to the groin” (Driscoll 2008:26).
Between 2011-2013 , the rate of staff turnover at Mars Hill was fifteen percent, with approximately forty elders leaving (Throckmorton 2014b). The BOAA acknowledged this saying, “Pastor Mark and the other executive Elders own their part in any discord.” Dave Kraft’s May 2013 charges against Driscoll challenged his “verbally violent, arrogant and quick-tempered” leadership (Wood 2014). These charges were later reflected in the Acts 29 letter revoking Driscoll’s and Mars Hill’s membership. While the BOAA reported that they took these charges seriously, they also said they stood “unreservedly behind” Driscoll and the other executive elders: “We deeply appreciate their endurance through false accusation, their submission to authority, and their humility where regrettable decisions from the past have come to light” (Mars Hill Church 2014a).
Former and current Mars Hill leaders were not convinced that Driscoll had changed, as evidenced by the additional charges levied against Driscoll by twenty-one former elders and nine Mars Hill pastors in late-August 2014. In fact, in June and July of 2014, two of the four independent members of the BOAA, Paul Tripp and James McDonald, resigned (Throckmorton 2014b).
The allegations made by Dave Kraft, the twenty-one former elders, and nine pastors speak to a culture of fear at Mars Hill. Driscoll was colorful in explaining his idea that the people in the church needed to be “on board” the bus or be run over by it. In a sermon following the restructuring commotion, Driscoll famously “proclaimed that there would one day be a ‘mountain’ of bodies behind the metaphorical Mars Hill bus: ‘You either get on the bus or you get run over by the bus’” (Halverson 2014).
Driscoll was well-known for his bullying of staff members (Halvorson 2014). Warren Throckmorton (2014b) received an email from a former Mars Hill member afraid to use her name publicly. She wrote:
As a former [Mars Hill] employee, I experienced firsthand the culture of fear, destruction and lives affected on many levels. When I see people defending Mark Driscoll on Facebook…my heart breaks. I desire for people’s eyes to be opened – to think for themselves and take an honest look at what is being presented and said. I don’t want others to go through the same abuse that I and others went through.
Stacey Solie (2014) reports how this culture of fear was experienced by rank-and-file members: “At first, many people feel embraced, as if by family, perhaps the family they dreamed of but never had. But somewhere along the way, the hug turns into a stranglehold, a vice-grip that tightens every time a person asks a question, voices an opinion or stands up against mistreatment or abuse.” Many Mars Hill members came forward over the years to report on the church’s practice of “shunning congregants [Driscoll] and his ministers saw as ‘unruly,’ effectively bullying them into silence and submission” (Jenkins 2014), causing them to “spend years in isolation, cut off from friends, sometimes suffering deep clinical depression, nightmares, disillusionment and shattered faith” (Solie 2014).
So many stories of shunning made the news that in 2012 Mars Hill Marketing Director Justin Dean acknowledged the practice, saying that it was not intended to harm, “but to help deliver [members] down a path of reconciliation and repentance” (Vedder 2012). The church also posted a statement reminding members that they signed a covenant agreeing to “submit to discipline by God through his Holy Spirit, to follow biblical procedures for church discipline in my relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ, to submit to righteous discipline when approached biblically by brothers and sisters in Christ, and to submit to discipline by church leadership if the need should ever arise” (Mars Hill Church 2012). Websites like JoyfulExiles.com and MarsHillRefuge.blogspot.com popped up to serve as safe spaces for former elders and members to submit their stories of abuse and shunning at Mars Hill.
By the fall of 2014 , several former pastors and elders broke their silence and created RepentantPastor.com. The site served as a clearing house of former leaders admitting their complicity to the “problematic attitudes and behaviors” at Mars Hill: “We recognize and confess that Mars Hill has hurt many people….and we want to acknowledge the hurt we may have caused. We humbly ask your forgiveness.” One of the site’s posts is a letter of apology to Paul Petry and Bent Meyer that is signed by eighteen former Mars Hill leaders.
Several events throughout the summer of 2014 highlighted concerns about Mars Hill’s stewardship of church funds: The ResultSource fiasco, where Mars Hill paid a $25,000 organizational fee plus $210,000 to purchase large quantities of Real Marriage to circumvent the reporting system used to make the book a New York Times bestseller (Throckmorton 2014i); the Mars Hill Global Fund, where money was redirected from international missions to the Mars Hill general fund; and the Jesus Festival, where $2,000,000 designated for the festival were unaccounted for when the festival disappeared from the Mars Hill calendar. These financial misdeeds served as impetus for a group of four former members to bring a civil racketeering suit against Driscoll and Sutton Turner in February of 2016. The suit alleged the fraudulent use of money raised by the church, stating that the fraud was “so deeply embedded, pervasive and continuous, that it was effectively institutionalized” (Shapiro 2016).
Driscoll’s critique of the feminization of the church and his clear complementarian gender theology consistently drew criticism. Driscoll became a touchstone for a neo-Muscular Christianity by putting men at the forefront of his movement (McKinney 2015): “A complementarian church must focus on raising up men, particularly young men, to be responsible, loving leaders in their families and churches, like Jesus” (Driscoll 2008). Driscoll was called save men from a Christian culture “that has emasculated Christ and driven men from church pews” (Worthen 2009). According to Driscoll, Jesus was a “a prizefighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in his hand, and the commitment to make someone bleed,” not some “neutered, limp-wristed, popular Sky Fairy” (Worthen 2009).
While Driscoll’s efforts to reach and teach men may have been his focus, the backlash he received regarding gender centered on his attitudes toward women and his beliefs about homosexuality. Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans writes, “Driscoll has consistently used offensive and hateful language to speak about gay and lesbian people, spoken crassly and condescendingly about women, and exhibited scary, bullying behavior toward men who fail to conform to his rigid vision of masculinity” (Jenkins 2014).
Driscoll’s hypermasculine rhetoric devalued women, as well as men who could not meet his masculine standard, as this excerpt from “Pussified Nation” illustrates:
“It all began with Adam, the first of the pussified nation, who kept his mouth shut and watched everything fall headlong down the slippery slide of hell/feminism when he shut his mouth and listened to his wife who thought Satan was a good theologian, when he should have lead [sic] her and exercised his delegated authority as king of the planet. As a result, he was cursed for listening to his wife and every man since has been his pussified, sit quietly by and watch a nation of men be raised by bitter penis envying burned feministed single mothers, who make sure that Johnny grows up to be a very nice woman who sits down to pee.”
Driscoll’s strict complementarianism left no gender or sexuality alternatives, “anything but one man, one woman, one God, one life, is sexually immoral” (Barnett 2006). Driscoll (2008) states that acceptance of homosexual relationships is a result of walking away from the scripture and what is right and wrong. In a sermon on sexual immorality, Driscoll said: “The people of the church are so confused. They think that in tolerating [homosexual] behavior, they’re being like Jesus… It’s just like letting cancer come into a body” (Barnett 2006).
Image #1: Photograph of Mark Driscoll leading a religious service.
Image #2: Visual representation of the church planting/membership growth plan of Mars Hill.
Image #3: Photograph of a protest sign illustrating the opposion to Driscoll’s objectification of women.
Image #4: Photograph of a protest sign illustrating the opposition’s claim that protesters were unknown to him were false.
Image #5: Photograph of Mark Driscoll’s Holy Trinity Church in Phoenix, Arizona.
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