This week brought to light more disturbing facts concerning Mars Hill’s leadership. By paying to put Mark Driscoll’s book on the New York Times Bestseller list, Mars Hill Executive Elders may have put the church’s 501(c)3 tax exempt status in jeopardy. That would be a multi-million dollar hole from which the church may not recover. There is growing pressure for Mark to step down from leadership as more elders accuse him of what I have personally witnessed firsthand – a bullying, angry leadership style that leaves members and staff bleeding on the sidelines. He laughed about the dead bodies under the bus of Mars Hill in 2007/2008. People have been pointing out the dead bodies for years, but apparently the pile has to be big enough to see from space before enough pressure will be raised to cause change or repentance. But I admit from personal experience that, until you are personally splattered with your own blood or the blood of someone standing beside you in ministry, it is hard to believe the problem is as big as it is.
The larger Body of Christ needs to take seriously the criteria set in Scripture for acting on such accusations – two or three witnesses.
I Tim. 5:19-20 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.
Using an informal count in my head, I can think of at least 6 ELDERS, not counting deacons, former staff, or general members, with serious claims against Mark Driscoll. The executive elders repeatedly refused to obey I Tim. 5, and now the result is this public rebuke from multiple parties. The point of the Biblical standard of two or three witnesses is clear. One person crying foul does not a foul make. But those pointing out Mark’s issues have long since passed the Biblical standard for taking this seriously and rebuking him publicly.
If Mark steps down for a season, which he will likely be forced to do, Mars Hill Church will probably wither. Leadership made a choice during the time our family was still there to move toward a Mark-centered vision of ministry. When we started at Mars Hill, several elders preached the same message at various campuses on a given day, which was a sustainable model. However, since Mark was the most popular of the speakers, leadership decided to set up expensive video equipment to live broadcast Mark to the various campuses. Leaders decided to centralize around Mark and limit the public impact of the other pastors who had previously taught with him. I believe the church took out a large life insurance policy on Mark – Mark joked about it in the early days of consolidation around him. But the financial support of a life insurance policy won’t kick in in the event of the moral failure brought about by Mark’s longstanding anger problem.
Mars Hill began hemorrhaging leaders in 2008, when it lost 1000 members in a single year after two older, long serving elders were fired. Mark’s accountability structure at the time didn’t deal with the serious problems at that point, and the loss of mature Christian leaders at Mars Hill since then has only gotten worse. During the years since I left the church, I’ve watched the branches of the Mars Hill tree grow even heavier with new believers as the root system of mature Christians desperately needed to disciple these converts continues to erode. It is only a matter of time before a wind rushes through and causes the entire tree to crash down. I perceive that these current controversies might finally be that wind, and I do not rejoice in that AT ALL.
Despite all of the controversy though, the line at the communion table will continue. I spent many sweet Sundays in the line to the communion table at Mars Hill. Some of those in line with me now walk with me in line at my church. Some still walk the line at Mars Hill. Many have scattered throughout the pacific northwest. The line going forward on Sundays in the Mars Hill buildings may continue indefinitely. But maybe it won’t. Maybe the external structure will tumble down over financial woes and the loss of the integrity of its leader. Nevertheless, the line to the communion table will continue.
The ministry of Mars Hill has brought many to Christ. But we are mistaken if we think the line to the communion table will be thwarted by such misuse of ministry resources or power. People were saved at Mars Hill. But they were saved into something much bigger than Mars Hill. Church buildings and systems are temporary tents over an eternal, immovable rock. Tents blow away in a hurricane. But not the rock.
I walked the line to the communion table long before I went to Mars Hill. And I will walk it long after. I trust that those who found their way to the communion table for the first time at Mars Hill will also find it elsewhere if that ministry falls apart. In fact, I have great confidence that they will. Because the communion of saints and the inclusion into the Body of Christ transcends our temporal, earthly structures. Mars Hill is a tent. The Rock is eternal. The line continues to the Rock, and it is unstoppable.