Pastor Bob O'Bannon
As many of you probably know, Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill in Seattle has agreed to step down from his position for six weeks as charges against him are being evaluated.
Driscoll has been accused of plagiarism, misuse of church funds, and abuse of authority toward staff members and others in his church. The Acts 29 Network, which Driscoll helped to start, recently dismissed Driscoll from its membership. As Driscoll himself has said, the “storm clouds seem to be swirling” around him, and are giving no signs of clearing up any time soon. You can go here to see Driscoll addressing the situation before his congregation.
Driscoll has been an enormous influence on many people who worship at New Life. He has been one of the most effective and influential leaders among the new Calvinists. He has gained national prominence because of the size of his church (about 14,000 members) and because of his popular books. More than anything, probably, Driscoll has gained a loyal following for being blunt, direct and edgy in his presentation of Scriptural truth. This approach has endeared him to young twenty-somethings in Seattle, but others have had their reservations.
I don’t know Mark Driscoll personally. I don’t even know anyone who knows Mark Driscoll. Therefore, I have no direct knowledge of his character or the circumstances for which he is under fire. The comments I offer below are not intended to address Driscoll specifically; instead, they are general truths on which all Christian leaders should reflect as we pray for healing, unity and truth to prevail at Mars Hill:
1) It is not unusual for men of God to come under attack.
Paul was under attack. Jesus was certainly under attack. Athanasius, Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield and J. Gresham Machen were under attack. So it should not surprise us when any man who has been used mightily by God to bring thousands of people into the kingdom suddenly becomes the target of criticism and accusation.
2) Pride is an insidious and blinding thing.
Sometimes the most prideful people don’t even know they are prideful. Oh sure, they might say they “struggle with pride,” because they know that godly people tend to say things like that. But that doesn’t mean they truly understand the danger of thinking more highly of themselves than they ought. “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:12).
3) Lots of words can get a person in trouble.
Preachers generally like to talk, which is natural and appropriate – it’s what they are paid to do. But this sometimes makes it hard for them to see the wisdom in keeping their mouths shut on certain occasions. The Proverbs speak to pastors as well as to other Christians: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” (10:19).
4) There is a place for blunt statements.
There is an unfortunate stereotype of preachers that suggests they should always be “nice,” as if their main responsibility is to be as mild and inoffensive as possible – always talking in a hushed tone, always smiling, always warming hearts with sentimental stories. But the Bible is filled with examples of God’s servants being quite blunt and potentially offensive, as when Paul suggests what he’d like to see happen to the circumcision party (Gal. 5:12), and when Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:25-29), and when Jesus calls the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” and “hypocrites” (Mat. 23:25-28). Sometimes you just have to be direct.
5) In spite of #4, gracious speech tends to be more persuasive.
This is exactly what the Proverbs say: “Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (16:21; see also 16:24). An impatient, curt, angry tone of voice is simply not well received, either when it comes from the pulpit or in personal relationships.
6) There is something profoundly important about making sure pastors are accountable to higher authorities.
People are sometimes skeptical about church hierarchies, or the idea that the church should function as an authoritative institution, but in the absence of proper hierarchies and authorities, things can sometimes go awry. Personally I am grateful, as a Presbyterian pastor, to know that the men of my session and presbytery will call me to account if I start abusing my authority or teaching error.
I don’t know if Mark Driscoll is guilty of violating any of these truths, nor do I know if his accusers are guilty of violating any of these truths. All I know is that Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and He always shepherds his people well.