Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dissin' with Driscoll

By which I mean disagreeing with him, not disrespecting somebody with him.

Posts like these make me a little uncomfortable, because I realize that in the world of pastoral wisdom and experience I am not fit to shine Mark Driscoll's shoes.
Nevertheless, a couple of points he made in the Question and Answer session with pastors in the last Resurgence conference struck me as . . . well, not right.

Let me clarify: If I understand what he's saying, I don't think they're right. And by "right," I basically mean "good" (not that he's sinning or anything like that).

The first is when he answers a question about managing his day and organizing his schedule. Now, I have no idea what it's like to lead a ginormous church. I have no idea what it's like to lead a big one or a medium sized one. I have no idea what it's like to preach several times a weekend. So as far as Driscoll is just saying, "You have to prioritize your tasks and obligations, and you have to say no to some people to protect your time for what's most important," I'm with him.

But he makes a point about people wanting to have lunch with him and people wanting him to help them move, etc., and instead of just saying, "I'm really busy so I can't say yes to everyone and I have to be protective of my time and my family's time," he essentially gets around to the point that as the pastor of the church, his responsibility is to study, preach, and manage staff. (This is in the audio of the Q&A, not the video, I don't think.)

Again, I don't know what it's like to be Mark Driscoll or anyone else in a similar position. But it appears as though he's saying that it's important for a pastor to not have to be involved in the goings-ons and daily lives of his congregation, or at least some of them (as, again, I know it's not possible to personally minister to every single person who wants/needs attention). In fact, as you listen to how his week shapes up, Driscoll appears to be either a) alone, b) with family, or c) with staff (but not even with staff as much since he's only in his office two days a week).

Last night as I was listening to this podcast for the first time, I got a call from a friend saying his planned help had bailed on him and asking if I could help him move for a couple of hours. Coincidentally, Driscoll had just made the point about people asking him to help them move their couch or something!
I cannot in good conscience get up and presume to pastor people through teaching while abdicating responsibility of pastoring them through living. As Mark Dever says, a pastor doesn't just make sure his church is well fed, but well led.

Here's my thing: Living life with the people of the church -- as one of the people of the church -- is how a pastor earns the credibility and respect to preach. Driscoll's train of thought goes to a place I cannot fathom, and it appears as though he's recommending a pastoral role that is basically divorced from congregational life.
When I read in Acts about the early church "having all things in common," I don't see it saying "except for the overseers who needed time to study." Even with my limited wisdom, I don't see it as wise for a pastor/elder to live and work hermetically sealed off from those he's supposed to be pastoring. You might as well just call yourself a teacher or speaker and be done with it.
The church should have no tolerance for pastors who don't pastor.

Don't get me wrong, I do think pastors ought to devote more and more time to study and writing, and it is a shame that many pastors don't do this and yet still preach every week, and it is a shame that too many congregations consider reading, studying, and writing as "not really work" and so expect their pastor to be busier doing other managerial things.
But there is a fine line between pastoral business and the professionalization of the ministry, which quite frankly is killing many churches, and I think that line is crossed whenever a shepherd withdraws himself from the life of the sheep.

The second disagreement I had was in Driscoll's response to a question about leading friends on staff ministry. Driscoll said don't do it. Don't do ministry with friends. Have friends and have staff.
He's not saying you shouldn't be friendly with staff or treat them as non-friends; he's saying, as far as I understand him, that you shouldn't do church ministry with close friends because it makes management difficult. What happens when you have to do performance reviews or, God forbid, let someone go? He even has a personal story about having had to do this.

I get his point, and I understand the difficulty. But, again, it speaks more to the perils of professionalizing the ministry (and when I use that phrase, I'm not saying pastors and ministers shouldn't be paid; I'm talking about a mindset, a morphing of church ministry into business and corporate models, which has inevitably resulted in churches with the values of a business or corporation).
But I can't imagine doing what I'm doing without friends. I've been on church staffs before, and I loved the people I worked with and under. But I've never done ministry with people I consider family, as I'm doing now. And in fact one of the great joys of doing what we're doing is that we're doing it with friends. We aren't coworkers or co-volunteers. We're not leaders rallying around a cause. We are brothers and sisters who would take bullets for each other.

This came to mind last week as I had a pretty strong disagreement with another guy on the Element leadership team. I was thinking even then, "Would this be easier if we weren't friends?" I actually think it would be more tempting to abuse if we weren't friends. The temptation would be greater to say, "Why are we even having this discussion? I'm in charge, do what I'm telling you."
Now, I don't think I'd do that to even a "mere" ministerial subordinate, but I certainly would never do that to a friend, especially a friend who is eating, sleeping, and breathing this ministry with me. Instead we talk. A decision gets made because a) we both realize a decision has to be made in this situation, and b) we're both friends and realize we don't want this to be hanging over us indefinitely.

(As it happened, we agreed that the thing had to be done, we just disagreed on the importance of the thing.)
Driscoll says, "If you're best friends and someone works for you, that changes the relationship."
Well, sure. Relationships change anyways. But the point he's making (he speaks of having to put on the "boss hat" and the "pastor hat" and the "friend hat") smacks of more a business than of the Body of Christ. I can understand that when a group of friends is doing ministry, the lines of authority can get blurred and feelings can get sore, so it is a situation that must be handled sensitively and wisely when conflict arises.
But since when is that new? In what situation in church life should we handle conflict insensitively and abruptly?

This is longer than I intended. No doubt someone will say I've misunderstood or overreacted to Driscoll's remarks.
But I trust I can be forgiven, as a guy still wet behind the ears, for holding on to the optimism and ideals of a pastoral ministry undiluted by professionalization. In reading invaluable books like David Hansen's The Art of Pastoring and Eugene Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor, I believe it is possible to preach and lead with authority and integrity, to embrace the sweet solitude of research and study, and to do so without practically disconnecting from the body to a "special" place of elevation and separation.

I want to be a part; I don't want to be apart.


Rob said...

With respect to his first point, I don't have any personal experience either--I've yet to serve a church with over 100 in either membership or attendance--but I know what I've heard large-church colleagues, including some of my professors, say. From what they've told me (and this makes sense to me), once a church gets beyond a certain size, it simply isn't possible to be directly involved in a meaningful way in the lives of a meaningful percentage of the people in the church, because most human beings can't track more than about 70 relationships at one time. (Which is one of the reasons I prefer small-church ministry.) At that point, aside from preaching, you essentially have to move from a direct-ministry model to a distributive-ministry model: you pastor the staff and the chief lay leaders, and they pastor the people. (Or, if it gets big enough, they pastor the people under them, who pastor the people under them, and so on.)

Which makes sense when you consider that in the really big churches, that first level of people--staff, governing elders, etc.--is the size of a small congregation in and of itself . . .

Jared said...

I get that.
And as I said, I'm not saying that you have to be involved in everyone's life or even in the lives of everyone who wants you to be. I guarantee you our little thing is littler than your church and even now I have neither the time nor the energy to be directly involved in every Element person's life, meet with them, hang out with them, even talk on the phone, etc.

So I'm not saying you say yes to everyone or even most.
But surely "some"? Surely not "none," which is what it seems he's saying.

And even if your congregation basically becomes your staff, Driscoll's stated schedule doesn't much allow for that either.

Bif said...

I really like what you have to say here, Jared. I pretty much agree with you. I do think that Driscoll's church is far too large and should be split into several smaller churches in several locations.

I've seen pretty small churches do some really great stuff in being Jesus to their neighbors. By that I mean serving, assisting, and loving.

I really like what Moses' Father-in-Law said to him in Exodus 18 or 19. That Moses couldn't do it all and everyone was suffering because of it. He proposed a hierarchal system with him being the leader.

I think the Exodus is an excellent example of the problems of a huge church too.

Keep it up, my brother.

Brian said...

At the very least, it seems like Driscoll(or whoever) could be involved in the lives of those on staff that he ministers with. But with his distinction of "staff or friends", it seems like he doesn't even get that.

So where exactly does the mega-church pastor find and give the kind of support that we need as brothers and sisters?

Jared said...

Brian, that's an important connection between the two disagreements I had that I didn't make in the post. Good insight.

So basically, if your flock is your staff, and yet your staff aren't your friends, where does that leave you?

gene said...

enjoyed the post.


Jamie Steele said...

Good blog.
The first point:
Most ginormous churches are the same when it comes to interaction with lay people. Most of the conferences I have been to the pastors say about the same thing as Mark in point one.
They just don't have time to give to the sheep. Most of their draw is the sermon. So they feel the need to spend 20 to 30hrs on the sermon.

I pastor a church with about 1,600 members and I preach 3 times a week and that alone is difficult.
So I am a bit tempted to feel like Mark. I am interrupted all the time with "sheep stuff". But for me, God as called me to be a preaching, teaching shepherd.
As hard as it is, I wouldn't change that for anything. I do hospital visits, weddings, funerals ...ect. And I have made a bigger impact there, than I do in the pulpit most of the time.
Some of my best friends are members of my church. We became that way thru pastoral care.

Bill Streger said...

Just read the Art of Pastoring last week, and am a big fan of all of Peterson's pastoral books. Great stuff.

The thing I found lacking in both of them was a strong sense of mission in the church... and I'm trying to figure out what it looks like to pastor in the way they describe (vs. becoming some CEO type) while at the same time moving the church forward to engage culture, love the city, and live on mission.

I don't think the two are mutually exclusive, but there are few examples of those that seem to do both well. Any ideas?

Jared said...

Gene, thank you.

Jamie, that is awesome. Would that more big-church guys pastored as intentionally as you.

Bill, there are two ways we try to do it:

a) we have our small group(s) in third places, so we're not sequestered in a home but out in public

b) service projects.

The service projects do so much in just a few short hours it's amazing. Not only are we helping those in need, we're fellowshipping with each other while we do it, getting to know each other while we do it.

A pastor out serving with his flock, as one of his flock, goes a long way for both leading and ministering to the flock while leading them into missional ministry outside the flock.

Rob said...

And even if your congregation basically becomes your staff, Driscoll's stated schedule doesn't much allow for that either.

Agreed--that's where he's clearly taken it a bridge too far; I think you and Brian are right. All I'm saying is, if you want to survive in large-church ministry, the environment pushes you in that direction. I have tremendous respect for those who can keep the balance in that kind of setting (and what a witness Jamie Steele offers with that comment) but it seems to me it would have to take constant vigilance, even aggressiveness (with a nod to Ray Ortlund), to do that. I don't say large churches are bad; but from my experience (I've belonged to a few) their pastors aren't often pastors.

Michael said...

As an aside to the other comments that have been left, don't sell yourself short.
And remember it's not about numbers. You guys (pastors) always get too tied up in the numbers. I wish there were some way for us to stop using that as a barometer for how good a pastor is. I know that I'd give 10 Mark Driscoll's to keep our pastor and our 350 member congregation. My guy can name every person who walks in the door including the kids and usually recognizes your relatives who are visiting at Easter and Christmas. It's not the numbers, it's the relationships that you develop.
The barometer should be how many of your congregation do you know? If you don't know 70-80 percent of them, then either you need to get out with them more or your church is too big.
Of course this is just my overly opinionated feelings on the matter. And now I'll step off my soap box. :-)

Jared said...

Michael, yup.

Marc Backes said...


The session you were referring to was at Text & Context and I was in the room about ten rows away as it was taking place...

Driscoll prefaced his comments, and Matt Chandler had already said it during the week as well, that as your church grows, there are complexities that are faced and have to be dealt with. When Mars Hill was just a Bible study MD gave everyone his cell phone and they had free reign to his house...he was more instrumental in the day to day growth and implementation of the church...

Now, at 7K+ and growing, his role has changed and his importance to the church has shifted. He's no longer needed as much if at all to do the pastoral and service work of the church. He is needed however to chart the theological and teaching course and that's what his strength is and Mars Hill has allowed him to play to his strengths.

Does that make him a bad pastor? Not in my eyes...I doubt Tim Keller, John Piper, John MacArthur, or any of those guys are on the weekly hospital rotation list...unless it's a really important or drastically unique situation...

I think that's a dynamic of a large and growing church not a desire of Driscoll's to no reach people...

His points on friends on staff were very well thought out and I think once again reflect the complexity of a large church...but I didn't hear anything that struck me wrong at the time...

Sorry for the long comment...

Jared said...

Mark, no problem on the length.

I am not calling and will not call Mark Driscoll a bad pastor. He's one of my favorites to listen to and read, and I profit from him continuously and immensely. I hand out "Radical Reformission" and "Confessions" to many and see in the formation of Mars Hill much of what we're trying to do with Element.

I guess my question is this: Nowadays, who does he personally pastor?

I have acknowledged and don't deny the complexities of the large church, and I don't think I've said a large church pastor should open up his house to whoever wants in and hand out his cell phone, etc. Or that he should do all weddings and funerals and hospital visits.

But surely "none" is not the right answer either, is it?
Surely not walking side by side with anybody in his congregation is not the right answer, is it?

If the complexities involve embracing corporate structure to the point of embracing values, I don't think they're worth it.

Jared said...

embracing "corporate" values, I meant to say

Anonymous said...

INteresting that a Catholic priest doesn't really have that option (maybe if he gets to be bishop, but other than that), because priests are needed to be with the dying (to give the Sacrament of the Sick) and to hear confessions. Not that some of them don't try to avoid that, as well. But the sacramental element of Catholic (and maybe other liturigical churches) ministry makes it almost impossible for a minister to totally separate himself from pastoral care.

Brian said...

Surely not walking side by side with anybody in his congregation is not the right answer, is it?

I think this is a crucial point. I'm not sure how Jared meant this exactly but I think everyone needs to be walking "side by side" with someone else. In other words, it isn't that mega-church pastors have to personally pastor everyone in their congregation and I don't know of anyone who actually thinks that. But, the pastor should be in relationship with other believers such that he is able to be ministered to.

Does that make sense? A pastor needs people that he can share his struggles with and that have his back. And in those relationships, I'm sure he'll minister to them as well. If the system is set up in such a way that makes that hard or impossible then the system needs to go.

Brett Maxwell said...

Brian, have you heard about his relationships with Piper, Mahaney, etc? They're not in his congregation, but based on the rarity of being an evangelical household name I doubt he could really find someone in his congregation who could understand much of his life.

About the original post, I listened to that session before reading this and did not get the impression that he ministers to no one and doesn't help move anyone's couch. I've seen this up close, being on staff in a church of 2000+. I see that you understand his basic point, but I think you are reading too much into what Driscoll said.

I also think you do the same with the friend/staff issue. I think is only making the basic point(as you agreed)that being a close friend's employer changes the friendship. His practical advice is to put your close friend directly under someone else rather than yourself, which I think makes sense.

Finally, for those critiquing large churches, I wonder what you would say to the Jerusalem church in the few years after Jesus ascended? One of my pastors had a good post recently wrestling with his desire not to have a big church.

Jared said...

Brett, I've got nothing against large churches, and I think the structure and operation of the Jerusalem church is a good example of "megachurch" done well.

In fact, I think one thing (the one thing? :-) Osteen's Lakewood has right is the large gathering of everyone at once for corporate worship. If a church is able to do that, I believe that is preferable to eight services (or whatever) with preacher on video. Mark Dever has some good stuff to say on that also.

Provided a church can continue to grow "small" through community groups led by competent teachers/shepherds and through missional evangelism in the culture, I think a church can grow nearly as big as God will let it.

I do have a concern, however, about churches franchising satellites as opposed to planting new churches. If a church is big enough to launch a new campus but not big enough to launch it with suitable teachers/pastors, I think it may speak to a discipleship imbalance and be a warning sign about the spiritual health of the congregation (despite numeric "health").

Hope that makes sense.

Jared said...

Brett, more directly to your questions, I am aware of Mark's relationship with pastors Piper, Mahaney,
I do not think such a relationship would really qualify as "doing life together," do you? I'm not trying to deny the importance and the influence of such relationships, but I'd no sooner try to be married to my wife in two different states as I would try to walk alongside brothers and sisters in Christ from two different states.

I doubt he could really find someone in his congregation who could understand much of his life

Well, this raises a more direct question: If the structure of your church is such that it creates a position that pushes you beyond "all things in common," is it really following a biblical trajectory for the office of overseer?

Even Jesus conducted his ministry at the head of but still within the community context of 12 friends he did daily life with.

Marc Backes said...


I think there is a balance...and as I understand there are two levels of eldership at Mars Hill...there is a group of elders that is comprised of about 30+ elders and then there is an executive elder team which I believe is no larger than about 6 - 8...

My guess is that MD is pouring into those guys and really building them up...

On the point about "friends" not being on staff, I didn't take what he said as meaning "don't enjoy working with those guys" or "don't hang out together"...I think what he was driving at is that sometimes the ability to put a finger in their chest and pastor them is hindered by the "buddy" syndrome and a lot of guys will use that "buddy" relationship to avoid being held accountable or avoid growing and being responsive to pastoral counsel on how they need to grow...

I think that was the issue he was addressing more than anything...

All that to say that I don't think your concerns are invalid nor do I think every church should attempt to be a Mars Hill and the great thing is that MD himself doesn't think every church should be like Mars Hill. For them, it is how they feel it will work best and what God is leading them to do...but one thing is for sure about MH...they're not afraid to change course if they see it isn't working...

Jared said...

Mark, good points. Thanks.

My only point of response would be that, while I certainly hope he's pouring into those guys, his schedule as stated doesn't really leave room for that. I'm only going by how his own outline of his days. It's possible of course he glossed over some things and left that part out, I guess.

But given his point about ministry and friendship, it would've been helpful to connect those dots at some point (as Brian wisely did).

I also think of this:
Following the biblical model, Jesus should not have ministered alongside and over the beloved disciple.

But your point about the buddy syndrome is well taken. If that's all he meant, sure.
I suppose I should account for the fact that nuance isn't exactly Driscoll's strong suit. :-)

Jess said...

Jared good post. And good comments to all. One thing was said that I have to comment on:

Marc said,

"On the point about "friends" not being on staff, I didn't take what he said as meaning "don't enjoy working with those guys" or "don't hang out together"...I think what he was driving at is that sometimes the ability to put a finger in their chest and pastor them is hindered by the "buddy" syndrome and a lot of guys will use that "buddy" relationship to avoid being held accountable or avoid growing and being responsive to pastoral counsel on how they need to grow..."

Ok. If you don't have accountability with you buddy, where do you have it? In my book, a friend is the only person who earns the credit to speak into your life in an accountability way.

On another note, a personal antidote. My best friend left the church we both attended about a year ago. The main reason she and her family left was this: At a meet and greet between the two Sunday services for our brand new lead pastor, she approached him and introduced herself. Then she asked him point blank, If I, or another member of your congregation, am really sick in the hospital will you come and visit me? I was standing right there. It was interesting to see this pastor hem and hahh a bit, then finally say, no, we have other people on staff for that. At the time, I thought it was pretty naive of her to even ask that. In a church of 1500ish, the lead pastor would always be in the hospital or at funerals etc. if he personally attended to this duty.

BUT this is my problem with his answer. He didn't say he would like to be able to "pastor" people. And in this particular church there is no set up for the people to be pastored. There is one guy on staff who you can see for counseling. And he does do hospital visits and such. There is a woman on staff who will take calls, hear prayer requests, passes on situations to a card team, and sets up delivery of meals. But unless you or someone else calls the church to let them know of a need, they will never know. There is no effective small group set-up. There are not pastors, under pastors, under the main guy. In effect, I think most people come in on the weekend hear a message and leave. Hopefully they have friends there. But they are not being pastored by anyone on staff or in lay ministry.

In this guy's defense he is always available to people following each of the services. I often see him listening and praying with people who have approached him at that time. But not everyone will do that. Yet it is far different then some other lead guys I've seen who never appear in their church except for on stage.

So I'm thinking it's ok to delegate some ministry to other staff members. But you have to make sure in a large church that the structure is actually there to accomplish real shepherding.

Also if you are in a mega-church with a teaching team. Surely you have some time when you aren't teaching to devote to spending time with people, especially if you are wisely delegating the administrative stuff.