Repentance is Good for Christian Leaders

Repentance is good. It really, really is. Sometimes public repentance is necessary. The general principle is that the scope of the repentance should fit the scope of the sin. But people tend to respond in one of two unhelpful ways when a public sin is exposed. The first response is wicked glee – rejoicing in the public exposure, downfall, or humiliation in a way that violates the principles of I Corinthians 13 love. The other unhelpful response is sinful defensiveness – self-protection that denies the beauty and value of self-examination that leads to sincere repentance and reparation. Sometimes we are defensive of ourselves this way. Sometimes we are defensive of others, thinking we are doing them good. But if there is real sin that they need to address, our defensiveness of another is not love at all.

I think we all know the problems with wicked glee at someone’s downfall. But I want to make a case from Scripture on why the defensiveness I describe is equally, if not more, detrimental to a life of discipleship in Christ. The main issue in such defensiveness in light of allegations of sin is that it is a SECULAR COPING MECHANISM. It reflects a worldly philosophy of exultation and fall that does not acknowledge the radical change that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection have brought us. 

What if we take any discussion of public sin by Christian leaders, and I’m thinking particularly of Mark Driscoll, out of our world’s system of thought, which truly does often seek to destroy public personalities through exposure of short comings, and place it squarely in a gospel context? Could it not be that some Bible believing, Christ loving Christians call someone else to repentance because they actually think repentance is good and helpful? Here are a few verses to build that context for the purpose of this blog post.

Galatians 6:1 6 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 

Luke 17:3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 

Acts 11:18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” 

Romans 2:4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 

2 Corinthians 7:10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 

Revelation 3:19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

No matter what the world’s view of shame and condemnation, the Bible gives us a different paradigm in Christ. Repentance leads to life! In Christ, we do not steal life when we encourage others to confess, repent, and repair, even if they are big name leaders. The leaders in the history of Christianity with the greatest falls are not the ones who confessed, repented, and repaired but those who did NOT until the walls came crashing in around them. The greatest thing any ministry leader can do to AVOID being destroyed in ministry is to examine themselves and listen to their critics, doing so in Christ, in whom there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1).

We need to clearly distinguish between a call for a leader to repent in light of a public sin and a hateful longing to see someone destroyed. Sure, apart from Christ, many do delight to see the destruction of a celebrity Christian leader. But in Christ, we have a different paradigm. Repentance is life-giving. Correction is beautiful. Seeking to repair a wrong gives a glorious testimony to the Gospel. And calls to repent from one gospel believer to another are not persecution! We have a different paradigm altogether in Christ.

With all that said, despite statements this week from Tyndale publishers, there is a great deal more that Pastor Mark Driscoll has not addressed concerning plagiarism. I am particularly concerned about references in Death by Love and Real Marriage to Dan Allender’s material from Wounded Hearts, which was the primary resource used at Mars Hill in the early Grace Groups which addressed sexual abuse around 2002 – 2007. As I pointed out last year in Our Review of Real Marriage, Real Marriage talks of a time at Mars Hill when real people were involved with the Driscolls and horribly sinned against in the midst of Mark’s angry season with his wife that he recounts in the book. The way the Driscolls treat Allender’s book is tied to the way they treated the elder that organized the original groups dealing with sexual abuse in which Grace Driscoll first found her voice on the subject. They built upon both’s work while erasing them from their church history. Recognizing the plagiarism is just a drop in an already overflowing bucket. It will bless the ministry of Mars Hill to examine how that bucket got so full and what it’s cost those around Mark who were cut off by him during this angry season.

There are even bigger issues of citation in Who Do You Think You Are? These three books are published through Thomas Nelson, not Tyndale which released a statement this week. I wrote Thomas Nelson a few times privately, hoping they would address this, but I have not heard anything from them over the last 2 weeks.

But, again, the plagiarism is just a drop in the bucket compared to the “throwing loyal friends under the bus” that Jared Wilson mentions in this article and that Mark himself jokes about during the same time he was destroying the reputation of elders that had stood beside him for years. Mark has thrown his elders, deacons, and assistants under the bus for years. It means little to the average reader until 1) either YOU have been run over by Mark’s bus or 2) you watch other dear Christians run over, while you are powerless to ease their pain.

I wasn’t thrown under the bus personally. I thank God for that, for I can then point these things out without fighting my own personal bitterness against my own personal wounds. However, I live in a city full of casualties of Mark’s bus. The sin against them is real. The need to publicly and privately repent and repair is real. And it is not gossip to draw public attention to it.

Paul writes this to the Thessalonian believers. It is what I would write to the leaders at Mars Hill who need to deal with this if they were reading.

9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:9-10 ESV)

I ministered at Mars Hill in a blameless way (purely by the grace of God). I also left Mars Hill in a blameless way, taking great care to hand off all of my responsibilities in women’s ministry to others in the church without gossip or rancor, in the hopes that Mark would repent and repair with those he had wounded without a loud public clamor calling him out. Six years later, that has not happened. Though I do not like writing this article, I am at peace in the path I’ve walked to get to this point.

15 Responses to Repentance is Good for Christian Leaders

  1. Wendy E December 20, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

    Thank you for being straightforward, truthful and gracious. A rare combination and I truly appreciate it.

  2. Adam December 20, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    I need to re-read it, but Miroslov Volf's Free of Charge was very striking in its thoughts about repentance and forgiveness when I read it about a year ago. He says some difficult things about needing to actually repent before being able to offer forgiveness. (Although he made a distinction between forgiving a person for an offence and letting go of a sin against you. Or at least that is how I understood him.)

    What seems to go on quite often is that offended parties are told they must forgive the person (not just let go of the sin) when no repentance has been offered. Volf is talking about serious sins (genocide, murder, etc) and not relatively minor not against a particular person sins like plagiarism. But the general point seemed to be true.

    We cannot restore a person back into community if they have not actually repented. And I think that is part of the problem of how we deal with sins of church leaders.

    Part of the other problem was in a good book (not Christian) called Mistakes Were Made…But not By Me. It was about cognative dissonance and the fact that current neuroscience suggests that we literally create new memories (that are false) to support our own ideas that we did not do anything wrong. And the more we do it, the more easily we can change our memories until we literally do not realize that we are lying to ourselves and/or others.

    As some that does not know Driscoll and culturally and theologically disagrees with him pretty often. I have no real role in this particular matter. But there are others that are more in my tribe that have similar blind spots to their own sin. And it is difficult to confront our own tribes. Being too confrontational too often without building enough credibility as means that you end up outside the tribe.

    Sharon Hodde Miller has some thoughts on this in regard to Duck Dynasty in a blog post today but focused on education not repentance.

    Sorry these are just a jumble of thoughts. But I have been thinking about this lately in regard to how appropriate confrontation and repentance and restoration really works. I need to re-read Volf a year later to see if I understand him differently now.

  3. timfall December 20, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

    Thank you for emphasizing the distinction between seeking the good of a fellow believer by looking for their repentance and seeking someone's downfall in the wake of their mistakes. I have been hoping that celebrity pastors would take this episode as a reminder that they are to be more pastoral than celebrity to the people they minister to (


  4. Headless Unicorn Guy December 20, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

    They built upon both's work while erasing them from their church history.

    Just like Comrade Stalin in the old Soviet Union.

  5. Anne Vyn December 20, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

    Wendy, thank you for the grace, wisdom, and patience you have demonstrated…in your words and in your deeds.

  6. Wendy December 20, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

    Thank you, all!

  7. Natalie December 21, 2013 at 2:22 am #

    Thanks, Wendy. I can appreciate how this might have been difficult for you, but I know that your love for Jesus, His Church, and Mark motivates you to speak. You have my gratitude and respect. Your voice has helped me find my own. Feliz Navidad, mi hermana!

  8. Anonymous December 21, 2013 at 6:43 am #

    This is a really well done article Wendy, I really thank you for your point of view. I am praying that Driscoll will come to true repentance and mend some of the bridges he burned over the years. I do think he needs to be removed from his pastoral duties for a time, and spend that time with God closely reflecting on what needs to be changed. I would really hope that could happen.

  9. Wanda Martin December 21, 2013 at 1:50 pm #


    Thanks for this important post. My heart goes out to those who have been thrown under the MH bus. It really is Mark's Hill.

  10. Barbara December 21, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    Wendy, thank you for your bold and accurate handling of this very touchy situation. As usual, you have been excruciatingly careful to honor God in your writing.I have only one small quibble, the title should be “Repentance is Good for Those Christian Leaders Who Desire to Obey Micah 6:8, The Rest of You Are Just Fooling Yourselves”.

  11. laurieg December 21, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Thanks, Wendy, for what you had to say. also, I am personally convicted by your comments about the fall of hypocritical Christian leaders. The “wicked glee” strikes home; I spend too much time reading the latest scoop on those who have fallen. I am not going to go to those sites, and will delete such sites from Feedly. I think that those sites can serve a good purpose, but it is better for me to spend my time in prayer, Blble reading, and just trying to be faithful in my various callings.

    Thank you.

  12. Barbara December 21, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    Thank you, laurieg for this reminder as well. I too am guilty of spending too much time on those sites and need to repent.

  13. Rob Smith December 21, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

    Great comments Wendy!

    What is needed is repentance. True repentance is a reflection of God's hand in the life of those that repent.

    Grieving over sin, or being sad over sin, is not the same as repentance. The rich young ruler was sad, but he continued in his ways. Zacchaeus was repentant – his actions showed his repentance.

    Mark Driscoll says he is grieved. But he has robbed many of the people he has thrown under the bus of their security in Christ, their good name in some cases (calling for a shunning of innocent men), caused great division and confusion among Christian friends and certainly causing many to stumble.

    His grief will turn to repentance when he takes action. He needs to take responsibility for trashing good men during the trial of Paul Petry and Bent Meyers, and restore the good names of these men (and the financial harm done), he needs to name his sins and make restitution to many of us that were deeply wounded by his lies, abusive methods and the ecclesiastic hijacking of what was once a church led by a plurality of elders.

    He needs to take clear action to end the abusive pursuit of celebrity status that the bylaws he forced on the church in 2007 allowed to happen. He needs to repent of the process by which he coerced and bullied the mostly young elders into accepting those destructive bylaw changes. Repentance would be demonstrated by actually submitting himself to the elders in his church. He still implies, even in his statement via Tyndale, that he is under the authority of his elders. This is simply not true and anyone close to him knows this. Rather than being honest, he has once again just word-smithed his response to mislead.

    When his grief turns to action, he will show his repentance.

    Francis Chan talks about this in an amazing sermon..

    Rob Smith

  14. Anonymous December 27, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    I don't know Mark Driscoll. I don't agree with a lot of what he has to say and agree with a lot of what he has to say. I will say this, during my time in the ministry. Every single pastor I worked with had many people he in these people's minds “threw under the bus” or angered. All of these men were good men, one who may of ran his mouth too much, but for the most part as good of men as you could have pastoring a church. In a church the size of Driscoll's there is bound to me many people who are deeply upset with him as there are many people who are upset with those in smaller churches. I guess what I am getting at is there are times I could not understand the slights people took or the angle they were coming from. I personally had many people frustrated and angered at me and 95% of the time no matter how hard I tried I could not comprehend where they were coming from or how they felt wronged. Again, I don't know Mark Driscoll & I don't know how he sinned against you or others but in my experience yes, our leaders need to repent (and there are sure a lot out there that need to) but as throughout the Bible God's people are aweful followers of his appointed leaders & we take slights and get angered when we have no business being angry. In any orginization or structure there are going to be a large percentage that get angered, whether God's church or a business. Sometimes they have a legitimate beef.