After nearly 20 years as lead pastor of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church, Mark Driscoll has resigned. Driscoll, 44, had faced mounting criticism over church leadership and discipline within Mars Hill and how he wrote and promoted his popular books.
The decision came less than two months after Driscoll stepped down from leadership while the church investigated charges against him. Earlier in August, he had been removed from the church planting network he founded, Acts 29.
In a statement, the church's board of overseers accepted his resignation, but emphasized that they had not asked Driscoll to resign and were surprised to receive his letter.
They concluded Driscoll had “been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner," but had "never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.”
The board—composed of longtime members Michael Van Skaik and Larry Osborne as well as business leaders Jon Phelps and Matt Rogers (who were added after popular evangelical speaker Paul Tripp and Harvest Bible Chapel’s James McDonald resigned over the summer)—also added that many of the formal charges that had been levied against him were “altogether unfair or untrue.”
Dave Bruskas, an executive elder at Mars Hill Seattle will serve as the primary teaching pastor during the transition.
In his resignation letter (initially obtained and reported on by the Religion News Service), Driscoll noted that the board’s investigation into the formal charges against him had ended last Saturday, saying he “had not disqualified [himself] from ministry.”
“I readily acknowledge I am an imperfect messenger of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are many things I have confessed and repented of, privately and publicly, as you are well aware,” Driscoll wrote, alluding to themes of previous apologies. “Specifically, I have confessed to past pride, anger and a domineering spirit.” Driscoll also said the past year had not only taken a toll on his family’s health but had also left them “physically unsafe at times.”
CT has reported on Driscoll's apologies for the steady stream of controversies over the past few years, including crude, 14-year-old comments he made in a church forum that resurfaced in the blogosphere in recent months.
“In the Internet age, Mark Driscoll definitely built up the evangelical movement enormously,” Tim Keller told the NYT's Michael Paulson in an August front page article. “But the brashness and the arrogance and the rudeness in personal relationships—which he himself has confessed repeatedly—was obvious to many from the earliest days, and he has definitely now disillusioned quite a lot of people.”
Last November, Driscoll was accused of plagiarism after duplicate content was spotted in several of his books—claims which his publisher, Tyndale House, defended. In March, the pastor also admitted to paying a public relations company $200,000 to bump his books to The New York Times bestseller list, though Driscoll later apologized for the agreement and voluntarily retracted his bestseller status. Over the summer, LifeWay Christian Stores stopped selling his books.
Since starting Mars Hill in 1996, Driscoll rose quickly in one of the country’s most secular regions and later across the U.S. The outspoken Reformed pastor founded the Acts 29 church-planting network (which he led until March 2012) and the Resurgence, a well-known ministry website and conference.
Over the years, Mars Hill expanded to 15 sites across five states and enjoyed a large online platform: In 2010, more than 7 million sermons were downloaded from its website. Driscoll co-authored Real Marriage with his wife Grace and was known in Donald Miller’s spiritual memoir Blue Like Jazz as the “cussing pastor.”
His full resignation letter, dated Oct. 14, reads:
By God’s grace I have pastored Mars Hill Church for 18 years. Today, also by God’s grace, and with the full support of my wife Grace, I resign my position as a pastor and elder of Mars Hill. I do so with profound sadness, but also with complete peace.
On August 24th I announced to our Mars Hill family of churches that I had requested a leave of absence from the pulpit and the office for a minimum of six weeks while a committee of elders conducted a formal review of charges made against me by various people in recent times. Last week our Board of Overseers met for an extended period of time with Grace and me, thereby concluding the formal review of charges against me. I want to thank you for assuring Grace and me that last Saturday that I had not disqualified myself from ministry.
You have shared with us that this committee spent more than 1,000 hours reviewing documents and interviewing some of those who had presented charges against me. You have also shared with me that many of those making charges against me declined to meet with you or participate in the review process at all. Consequently, those conducting the review of charges against me began to interview people who had not even been a party to the charges.
I readily acknowledge I am an imperfect messenger of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are many things I have confessed and repented of, privately and publicly, as you are well aware. Specifically, I have confessed to past pride, anger and a domineering spirit. As I shared with our church in August, “God has broken me many times in recent years by showing me where I have fallen short, and while my journey, at age 43, is far from over, I believe He has brought me a long way from some days I am not very proud of, and is making me more like Him every day.”
Prior to and during this process there have been no charges of criminal activity, immorality or heresy, any of which could clearly be grounds for disqualification from pastoral ministry. Other issues, such as aspects of my personality and leadership style, have proven to be divisive within the Mars Hill context, and I do not want to be the source of anything that might detract from our church’s mission to lead people to a personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
That is why, after seeking the face and will of God, and seeking godly counsel from men and women across the country, we have concluded it would be best for the health of our family, and for the Mars Hill family, that we step aside from further ministry at the church we helped launch in 1996. I will gladly work with you in the coming days on any details related to our separation.
Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family—even physically unsafe at times—and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill. Grace and I pledge our full support in this process and will join you in praying for God’s best for this, His church, in the days and years ahead. Grace and I would also covet your prayers for us as we seek God’s will for the next chapter of our lives. Therefore, consider this written notice of my voluntary termination of employment.
Finally, it would be my hope to convey to the wonderful members of the Mars Hill family how deeply my family and I love them, thank them, and point them to their Senior Pastor Jesus Christ who has always been only good to us.
Pastor Mark Driscoll
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