Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Importance of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Seattle

John Halton of the Boar's Head Tavern asks for some reasons to like Mark Driscoll.
I can't tell you why you should like him, but I can tell you why I like him, and moreover, why I think what he's doing is very, very important for those of us pushing reformation of the discipleship culture of the evangelical church.

First, some things that rub me the wrong way, just to demonstrate I'm not a drooling Driscoll fanboy:

1. He frequently leads with attitude. I actually like Driscoll's attitude, which I will expound upon in the next list, but too often his attitude is not merely an affectation or tone in his preaching, but becomes the context or subsuming quality of it. There is a difference between having attitude and leading with it, and I think Driscoll occasionally, if not frequently, steps over this line. (Perhaps I do also.)

For instance, I just listened to the audio of his joint presentation with Capitol Hill Baptist's Michael Lawrence in the "Mentoring Young Pastors" workshop on the Gospel Coalition website. There is a lot of good stuff in this presentation, from both pastors, lots of good meat and practical tips. But in the Q&A, one attender asked about having single men serve as elders. Lawrence said his church allowed it (although they only had one or two, I think), and Driscoll said he wasn't absolutist about being against it, but he didn't like it and Mars Hill didn't have any. But he didn't stop there; he ragged on Lawrence for having single elders. And when Lawrence began to explain the situations, to explain the single men and their qualifications, Driscoll got hung up on the fact that they were 40 and single. He asked Lawrence, "Honestly: You don't think that guy's weird?" and then said "At my church we'd make fun of him."

Nice. I felt really uncomfortable for Lawrence, who clearly wasn't interested in exchanging barbs, and if images are telling in any way at all, you can see from the photo from the workshop that the two pastors there look very different. I think Driscoll was out of line. It got some laughs. And I'll admit it was pretty funny. But I cringed too, because that is Mark Driscoll. I understand, and actually think I agree, with his stance on single elders, but "At my church we'd make fun of him" means a lot more than just getting some pastors to laugh.
Even if it is not really true for Mars Hill, it demonstrated an abrasiveness in the environment of pastoral camaraderie that should not have been there.

This relates also to Mars Hill's multi-site expansion, which features his sermons on video screen. I fear this contributes to a celebrity quotient in their growth which is only facilitated by his larger than life personality.

2. On a similar note, I think Driscoll overplays the masculinity thing. Do I think church men ought to "man up," take their responsibility, stop giving in to the feminization of the church, lead their families, lead their churches, stop making excuses, etc.? Absolutely.
I am unclear as to how becoming Ultimate Fighting-watching quasi-jerks really meets this need. It's not the need he overplays, to be clear. It is the way he characterizes meeting that need.

In my mind, it is not cultural masculinity that is needed, but biblical masculinity. Our men aren't failing us because they aren't like William Wallace enough; many of them are failing us precisely because they look to the culture for examples of manhood.
In this same vein, I think Driscoll tends to trade one caricature of Jesus for another. No, Jesus was not a gay hippie with product in his hair (an amalgamation of a few of Driscoll's favorite phrases). Neither was he Jack Bauer. I'm sorry, he just wasn't.
Jesus was a perfect man, which means he was tough when he needed to be and tender when he needed to be. Making all of Jesus about the sword-wielding asskicker of Revelation is just as narrow as making all of Jesus about being a mama's boy.

3. And on that note, I think Driscoll gets hung up on pet phrases and rhetorical tics. This is more of a style thing. If I had a magic wand, I'd cut out all those "uhhhh"'s he utters after every joke in his sermons.
This is a cheap shot, of course, because even as I listen to my own message audio, I notice, with much discomfort, I am prone to repeating the same pet phrases and concepts ("Jesus stamp" is a big one, "what Bible are these people reading?" is another).
This just occurs to me as someone who listens to him every week with enjoyment and profit. I know I am not fit to shine his homiletical shoes.

And on that note, here's why what Driscoll and his church do are very important:

Firstly, he's proof it works. This is what the not-yet-convinced want to know. "Does it work?" It's not the best question one can ask about worship and ministry, but, you know, baby steps. In calling a pragmatic church culture to reformation, they are naturally going to want to know if what we're calling for works, and Mars Hill Seattle is proof that it does.
Now, obviously you can't clone it, any more than a Willow Creek or Saddleback can't be cloned for other metro cultures exactly and work the same way. People are still trying, but the ones that "work" are the ones that use those churches as models and then adapt for their surrounding communities. Same deal for Mars Hill.

Here's a church that went to a majority unchurched area (a very unchurched area, hostile perhaps even to the notion of church) and with a clear, blunt approach to preaching Jesus and the Gospel has grown tremendously.

Now obviously this has as much to do with the community of the church, the missionality of their approach to ministry, and of course it all is dependent upon God's unique blessing and anointing upon them to be who they are. But if you want proof that you can preach expositionally a Jesus-heavy, gospel-centered message about sin and hell and grace and blood for close to an hour and actually attract people in heavily unchurched areas, Mars Hill Seattle is the proof.

They also do communion every week.
They also do the sermon before the music.
Driscoll routinely takes upwards to 15 minutes to update on church business and announcements, announcing firings and hirings, expansions and withdrawals.
And they are planting more of the same sort of churches like crazy.

None of this is very seeker sensitive. None of this is stuff you'd plan to do to reach unchurched people if you are coming out of the culture of consumer-driven evangelicalism from the past 20 years.

And so here's why I like Mark Driscoll: Not just because he's a good preacher I learn and profit from who preaches Christ crucified, raised, and glorified, who teaches theology to the biblically illiterate, who is honest about sin and grace, but because he is doing what few non-denominational, attractional churches do and proving that God's Word faithfully taught and lived will not return void.


Marc Backes said...


Great post. He's just like anyone else. You take the good, leave the bad, and ask if he's Biblical..

Overall, his pluses far outweigh his minuses and he has a view of The Father, Scripture, Jesus, and manhood. How can you not like that?

He also was influenced by his upbringing as a brawler in a rough neighborhood...just has that as his influence...

I, like you, wish he'd drop some ranting and ravings he does, but that's his schitck...

Other wannabees just need to realize that Mark gets away with it, they won't at their church, and I wouldn't at mine...

I listen to his podcast weekly...and have learned a ton from him...

For the record, I'm a stay at home dad right now as I get a church plant rolling..and I know I'm not a homo, so I'm pretty sure you're not either...



I see a great weakness when a ministry is built on one man. What if Mark has a moral failure? Would his whole ministry collapse? Does he have an umbrella of accountability? I also am uncomfortable with the cheap shots.

Anonymous said...

I just started reading your blog and I find it very refreshing. As to Mark Driscoll though, I guess somebody has to like him :)

Daniel said...

The big thing I have to give Driscoll is that I've learned more Bible from him in a year and a half of podcasts than I did most of my 'growing up in the church' time.

And, yeah, you're not a homer-secksual, I'm sure of that. ;-)

The "uhhs" after a joke are kinda his stand-up lessons coming to the forefront I think.

Driscoll was one of the first people I ever heard talk about Ultimate Fighter Jesus, but I agree with you that he's traded one for another.

Jared said...

Rod, agree with you on cheap shots. (If we're defining them the same way.)
I think when Mark "rants" well, which is to say, against a false gospel and an accommodation of sin, I tend to like it a lot. That probably makes sense, given the stuff I've written here.

I also share your concern about ministry around one man. That's my concern about the satellite campuses.
But I am encouraged, actually, that he appears to be stepping back somewhat. They are restructuring their organization -- it was a big announcement a few weeks back -- and I have heard that he is moving more toward speaking/writing and letting other pastors direct the operations and take over more direct pastoring and some teaching.

I think that bodes well.
I am a fan of point-man leadership, with the caveat that, absolutely, the temptation to idolize a personality is ever-present.

Mark, I'm with you, man.
Cant' throw the baby out with the bathwater.

As for SAHDing, I don't think it's gay either. :-)
I am in pursuit of bringing my wife home and a position that would allow me to support my family. We've been doing this since my 6 year old was 6 weeks old, and while nothing has grown me spiritually more than being on the frontlines of fatherhood, we are ready to reverse a situation we always envisioned as temporary.

Blessings on you. It's hard enough directing a ministry in a church as a SAHD; I can't imagine trying to plant a church as one.

Well, actually I can . . . ;-)

Jared said...

Bart, fair enough. :-)
And thanks.

Daniel, if anything, this post of mine doesn't convey how much I actually like and profit from him.
So I probably share your admiration.

Just wanted to make sure people knew I'm not oblivious to the man's rougher edges or that I may approve of them. People tend to get hung up on that stuff.

Like, mention adoring Luther the Gospel-devoted reformer and people will immediately say "But what about the antisemitism?"

I actually tend to think God most uses messed up people.

Anonymous said...

I guess this question kind of deals with a rabbit trail of the post.... but it's a lingering question after reading it.

On the topic of single elders.... I guess I'm just confused as to the basis for disliking single elders. Paul, who gave instructions for church leadership, was single. I'm aware that he said that an elder"should be a man of one wife", but doesn't that just mean, if married, he shouldn't have multiple wives? Paul also gives instructions for how an elder's children should be, so does that mean all elders should have children? What if he's married, but never had kids?

I assure you I am not just trying to stir up a pointless debate, but am truly curious about how this is interpreted biblically. I am single, and I'm just wondering why that would "disqualify" me for serving in the church. And I don't really know why Mark Driscoll would think I'm weird..... but that's another topic.

Jared said...

Anonymous, the biblical argument stems from the verse you cited.
The logical/practical arguments tend to deal with demonstration of previous "shepherding," responsibility, and the issue of "temptations" in ministry.

I tend to think, the arguable take on "husband of one wife" aside, the practical/logical reasons are certainly rebuttal-able. (Oo, say that ten times fast.)

To hear Driscoll expound on his church's reasons for disallowing single eldership, which sort of make sense aside from his being a jerk about it, check out that workshop audio.

Btw, Michael Lawrence brought up the very obvious point that neither Jesus nor Paul could be an elder at Driscoll's church.
Driscoll brought up the very obvious point that he doubts the two single elders at Lawrence's church are like Jesus or Paul.

I think this is certainly one of those "non-essential" things, but it also has the potential for great heat and division, a la "women in ministry."

Bill said...

I like Driscoll. My son and I recently listened to a message from him on Biblical freedom and I thought it was great! (I was installing a new door in my house, to prove I'm not a homo too :-)

I think the only thing about him I don't like, besides his unbalanced view of manhood vis a vis Jesus, is that he says things directed at real people, in a way that somewhat proves he doesn't care about them. Two examples: One, when he said that the wives of "most pastors he knows" have "let themselves go". I was spitting nails after that one. These are real people. He just called them out. And isn't Driscoll a bit overweight too? (I'm actually not sure). But these women, wives of pastors he knows, didn't deserve to be called out like that.

Same with the crack about "in my church we'd make fun of them", regarding single elders. These guys probably heard that. So have people in their church. Great. Not only do they have to deal with the stigma of being single, they have the knowledge that Driscoll was ridiculing them in public.

I think both of these examples are somewhat inexcusable. If you love people, you don't say hurtful, throwaway comments about them just to make a point or get a rise or be "provocative" or whatever.

But, other than that :-) - I think Driscoll rocks, for the same reasons you do.

MR said...

Well, I am a 48 year old never-married man and I have been visiting Mark Driscoll's church for almost 2 months. In all that time I have not heard even one sarcastic comment directed at my age and singleness. I have received lots of encouragement and respect, though!

Jared said...

To Anonymous who keeps trying to linkspam:

Not gonna host a drive by shot at Mars Hill/Driscoll.
Leave a comment in your own words if you'd like. Otherwise I'll keep deleting.
So enough with the linkspamming.