Every time I wade into the fray of American Evangelical Drama, I feel like the little Canadian guy waving my arms wildly, shouting, “I have something to say too!”
If you keep up on Evangelical drama at all, you will regularly hear Mark Driscoll’s name come up associated with some controversy or another, from saying something offensive to or about women, plagiarizing material for his writing, buying up his own book in order to make the New York Times best seller list, revealing that he anonymously posted some truly awful stuff to a Mars Hill Church chat board 14 years ago. (For my mainline readers, Mark is the senior pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle and author of a number of books. Mark is a big Evangelical deal.)
Now, Mark Driscoll should be no concern of mine… our worlds are very far apart. And yet, as a Christian pastor, he is my colleague. And as someone trying to represent at least one progressive Lutheran Canadian millennial voice in the great sea of social media christianity, he is hard to ignore.
As the pastor of a small local church in the Canadian hinterland, it is easy to feel smug about the spiralling downfall of a “Mega Pastor” like Mark Driscoll. Each time another story breaks I can just sit back in my office chair and think, “Hah, that’s what happens when you build a church on the cult of personality! Now… how can I get more than 100 people to show up to worship on Sunday?” (Compared to Mars Hill’s 15,000+)
But the reaction to the latest controversy among Evangelicals seems more and more discombobulated. Some are outraged and aghast by Mark Driscoll’s misogyny, abuse and lack of apologizing. Some think that he should resign. Some believe that he should be shown grace because that is what Christians do. Some say this issue is for Mars Hill to deal with. And some are blogging about not blogging about it.
People seem just unsure of what to do with Mark Driscoll.
But I think Mark Driscoll is a symptom of a bigger Evangelical problem.
Specifically, institutional accountability.
Mark Driscoll is just one of many pastor/church combos adrift in the sea of loosely affiliated Evangelical congregations. Congregations and pastors that become islands of theological, doctrinal, ethical and institutional accountability.
There is no 3rd party – outside of the congregational system – to whom both congregation and pastor are accountable to.
Now, no church structure is perfect and human beings are very adept at finding ways within any system to abuse each other.
However, mainline churches have had a few hundred more years of practicing unhealthy behaviour than Evangelicals. We know our need for overseers.
We know that congregations really don’t have the mechanisms to deal with pastoral conflict. In times when pastors and congregations aren’t working together, when there is conflict and definitely when there is abuse, Bishops are 3rd parities who can come in and begin processes of reconciliation and/or discipline.
Sometimes pastors just need someone to come and say, “Your ministry is finished here.” I wonder who can say that to Mark Driscoll? Bishops are not peers, but rather pastors to pastors. They can come and speak with an authority and with concern that lets a pastor and a congregation know that they are cared for and also accountable to the whole church beyond them. With Bishops, congregations and pastors aren’t free to do as they will, but nor are they abandoned in times of need. Bishops connect the little congregation/pastor islands together to the larger Body of Christ. And they connect them in a theological, doctrinal, ethical and institutional way. Bishops are the embodied lines of accountability that we have to one another in the Body of Christ.
Now, I would love to sit down with Mark Driscoll and tell him, from my professional and pastoral perspective, all the ways in which he is failing as a pastor. I would love to tear a strip off of him for all the ways in which he is putting himself before his people. And I would have every right to do so as a colleague and fellow pastor in the Church. And he would have every right to ignore me. But a Bishop would be that person who can call a pastor and a congregation to account.
The reality is Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill don’t have these structures of accountability, and the ministry there will continue to implode and not only wound people, but perpetuate an unhealthy system that will eventually become unsustainable. I would bet real money that Mars Hill won’t exist in 50 years.
And maybe this is the underlying truth that Evangelicals who don’t know what to do with Mark Driscoll need to know.
Mark Driscoll would not be approved for minsitry in most mainline denominations. Bishops would see his drama coming a mile away.
He would never have made it through the candidacy process, he would not stand up to the academic rigour required to be ordained, he would not pass the psychological exams, and he would not have been encouraged to pursue professional, ordained ministry. Mark Driscoll ministers from an unhealthy place and is not suitable to care for a congregation.
He would not make it as a mainline pastor.
Yet, even if he did make it through the process, any one of his “controversies,” would have earned him a visit from the Bishop and likely he would have been removed from ministry.
And the reality is Mark Driscoll probably wouldn’t want to become a mainline pastor, because we don’t make celebrities of our pastors (Nadia Bolz-Weber is the one quasi-exception). Lutheran theology reminds me that is isn’t even me who is given the gifts for minsitry, but rather the office is. When I am called to serve a church, I don’t serve it as me but I inhabit the role of pastor and the role or office is the one who serves. I serve at the call of the congregation, AND by the call of the greater church, the body of Christ who has sent me to serve in a local context.
And this is why Mark Driscoll is a symptom of a greater problem. As long as Evangelicals continue to exist as congregation/pastor islands, with little or no accountability to the larger body of Christ… cults of personality will continue to pop up and invariably lead to abuse by the celebrity pastors at the centre of them.
And while mainline churches also still have our share of problems and abuse, we have built in systems of checks and balances to hopefully correct the problems before long.
In my opinion, which is in fact a professional one, Mark Driscoll should absolutely resign. The victims of his twisted minsitry at Mars Hill need to find reconciliation and healing with someone else pastoring them. But the sad reality is, another pastor just like Mark Driscoll is waiting in the wings to step onto the big stage at Mars Hill or another church like it. Mark Driscoll is not unique.
Mark Driscoll and pastors like him will continue to be symptoms of a greater problem as long as Evangelicals continue the build up churches more concerned with American individualistic values than with being accountable and connected to the rest of the Church.
But if Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill have any chance at making it through this mess… It will be with a Bishop.