In a recent article I mentioned the “Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcast. The Christianity Today series tells the story of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church, Seattle. Driscoll became well known as a church planter and mega-church leader succeeding in an area regarded as hard to reach. He went on to head up the Acts 29 network of church planters and plants. In 2014, Driscoll was removed from leadership of Acts 29 and investigated by his own church leading to his resignation.
In this article I want to pick up on one specific thing that comes out in the first episode. About 20 minutes in a segment of a Driscoll talk to church planters is included. Driscoll is quoted as saying
“Too many guys waste too much time trying to move stiff necked stubborn, obstinate people. I am all about blessing some traction.”
He then adds:
“There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus and by the grace of God it will be a mountain by the time we’re done. You either get on the bus or you get run over by the bus, those are the two options but the bus ain’t stopping.”
Now, one caveat here is that we don’t have the full context of the statement in terms of everything else Driscoll said. It is possible that he went on to nuance the comments. However, the broader context of the quotes was that at the time, two elders at Mars Hill had been “fired” (DRiscolls word).
The podcasters introduce the comments from Driscoll in the context of commentary on the negative impact Driscoll had. One interviewee states that there are people, including pastors who not only ended up leaving Mars Hill or other churches or ministry but out of Christian faith altogether because of their experience with Driscoll and Mars Hill.
Against the context and even allowed to stand on their own with the allowance of possible contextual nuancing we must acknowledge that the violent and harsh language is disturbing. Is the kind of language that we should be hearing from a pastor? You see, it was the language we were hearing from a pastor, and not just the pastor of one church but rather a guy who was standing on platforms around the world, writing books, being interviewed and filmed. We’re talking about a pastor who was being lauded and whose leadership style was being held as an example for others to follow.
If there was a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus, then surely that pile of bodies was also behind the Acts 29 bus and the wider conservative evangelical movement bus. Even if we hadn’t run those particular people over, we had in effect witnessed the hit and run and chosen to drive on ourselves.
The concern I have with the language apart form its violence is that it reflect a culture where a man, his mission and his brand become central so that people are there to serve his agenda and if they get in the way or are no longer useful become collateral damage. Note that this collateral damage is not merely seen as sad but necessary, it is seen as desirable.
“by the grace of God it will be a mountain by the time we’re done.”
Would we want the aim of our ministry to be to leave a pile of bodies behind. Are we in the business of causing death -even metaphorical death? Personally I find the commentary around it stark and sobering. Would I want to hear that I had been responsible for people walking out on their local church, on the church altogether and on faith?
There has been much talk about toxic church culture and abusive leaders recently. I’m not sure though whether we’ve quite got as far as thinking through how to do betternand how to encourage healthy churches. But I think that by focusing in on root cause issues we might start to get somewhere
So, a key lesson here is to start thinking about how we view the church family we have been placed in. Do we see it as a place that we’ve been called to, a people we are meant to be part of, are called by God to be at the disposal of our local church family? Or do we see the local church as being there to serve our agenda? Is it at our disposal?
Pastors and elders are meant to be using their gifts to obey Jesus by making disciples of him. If people end up being fired/quitting/falling off the metaphorical bus then it shouldn’t be a cause for joy but for sadness. I’m surprised I even need to say that!