Some of you reading this blog will have never heard of Mark Driscoll before, though many of you will have. Few men have succeeded in polarising evangelical opinion quite like this guy. So when Mark Driscoll resigned as an elder and Lead Pastor of Mars Hill Church on 14th October, some wept and some celebrated.
To many, Driscoll’s was a refreshing voice – bold, brash, uncompromisingly biblical and uncomfortably prophetic. He could engage culture, especially the hard-to-reach secular 20-somethings of Seattle, like no one else. He was passionate, uncompromising and…irresistible. To others, however, Driscoll was to be avoided at all costs. He was toxic. A dangerous maverick and a tyrannical leader. For the months prior to his standing down there was all sorts being said/blogged/specualated about him. Some of it was true (he openly acknowledged that). Some it was probably untrue.
For what it’s worth – I was gutted…but believe that it was the right decision.
The reason that I haven’t written anything up to this point is that I didn’t want to add my voice (either positively or negatively) to a conversation that was fast degenerating into an online lynching. Rather than blogging I chose to pray (a lot) for Mark, his family and his church family. I continue to do so.
However, I have decided to write this post because I feel that the time is right. Before I get stuck in, however, I just want to be honest about a couple of things. Firstly, I am not going to comment on the allegations aimed at Driscoll because, frankly, it’s none of my business. Secondly, I am not the kind of man that wants to stick the boot in or stir up gossip – so if you’re expecting me to come out swinging pixelated punches then you’re gonna be disappointed!
So what’s this post about?
Quite simply, it’s to say “Thank you Mark Driscoll”.
Few, if any, men have affected my life and ministry quite like Mark Driscoll has. Is he a sinner who has made big mistakes?
As have I.
But I can’t deny the ways that God has used this man to bless, build and encourage me, and I believe that it’s still appropriate to honour and thank him for that. I mean, I still love the Psalms that David wrote even though he stuffed up big time with Bathsheba. In the same way I’m still thankful to Mark Driscoll.
Here’s 6 reasons why:
Just before me and Michelle left Cardiff to plant a church in Pontypool we were hit by 3 bomb-shells. Those bomb-shells came in the form of 3 marriages that had fallen apart in quick succession. In each case the husband was in full-time gospel ministry and in each case the wife couldn’t stick it anymore. In each case the wife left the husband, not the other way around, and in each case we were very close to each of these couples. Suffice to say we had been rocked greatly. Up until this point I had heard little, if any, biblical teaching that addressed men and women with a view to their marriages and families not only surviving, but flourishing in the pressure cooker of gospel ministry. It was at this point that I started listening to Mark Driscoll online and through this teaching I learned what it means to be a godly husband and to love my wife like Christ loved the church, not just theoretically but practically. I can honestly say that my marriage to Michelle and our ministry together has been nothing but a blessing because of the truths and principles that we gleaned from Driscoll – we’d never heard of ‘date nights’ or the novel idea of spending time ‘diary synching’ together before. However, both of these things have revolutionised our relationship (honestly!) We are both grateful to him for that.
For what it’s worth, I think it’s telling that despite the accusations, chaos and confusion that have led up to and surrounded Driscoll’s resignation, his wife, Grace, has remained resolutely at his side and his marriage remains strong.
One of the most compelling things about Driscoll’s teaching was how often he spoke about his kids and, perhaps more significantly, the way he spoke about his kids. Even Driscoll’s most venomous critics would surely have to agree that Mark Driscoll loves his family and would do anything for them. I’m not sure why, but I had always found the thought of having children to be something that would serve as a direct challenge to any ministry that I might be involved with, and that I would in some ways become distracted and therefore less fruitful once kids came along. However, I learned from Mark that my children are not a threat to my ministry, but rather they are a precious and unique ministry in their own right. They deserve the best of me, not the fag ends of my time and emotional energy. I only get one shot at being a dad so it was so helpful to learn the value of having fun, making memories, going on adventures, listening to their hopes and fears, and praying with them and for them. My sons are warriors and my daughters are princesses who are looking to me and Michelle to know what it means to be men and women who follow Jesus.
What a daunting prospect!
What an honour!!
My home is my primary church and an even greater priority than the church I was planting. I learned that from Driscoll. I also learned that if my home life crumbled so did my ministry, but that if my ministry fell apart but the family stayed tight I’d live to fight another day! (That’s my prayer for the Driscolls right now!)
3. Church planting
One of the greatest blessings in my life is being a member of the Acts 29 church planting network. I only found out about Acts 29 and pursued involvement with them because of Mark Driscoll. I know that the same is true of many of my Acts 29 brothers. Driscoll is one of the founding members of Acts 29, so his recent removal from the network by the leaders came as a huge shock! (I have to say, however, that I love, respect and trust the current Acts 29 leadership and do not question their decision one bit, but back them all the way!) However, back in the day as a young man craving gospel adventure, Driscoll made church planting sound exciting and dangerous and nuts (cos it is all of those things!) And I was hooked. Similarly, his practical teaching on what it takes to be a church planter (the Ox) could not have been more timely or more helpful.
Church planting is now a huge passion of mine and I owe a large part of that passion to the teaching and example of Mark Driscoll.
4. Engaging culture
When I encountered Mars Hill Church they were at the cutting edge of culture and Driscoll’s book The Radical Reformission laid out a bold missional mandate to reach out without selling out. At a times when most churches were only just getting used to the idea that there was more to outreach than putting on pizza nights with alcohol-free bars, Mars Hill was all about going to where the lost were at without fear or comprise. Like many I found the idea of open-handed and closed-handed mission extremely helpful – the stuff in the closed hand was what we don’t compromise on – the Godhead, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the primacy of Scripture etc. The open-handed stuff, however, was that stuff which was not primary – music, clothing, tattoos, church styles, pubs, alcohol, sport etc. Driscoll argued compellingly that if the lost were going to be reached it was critical that we take missional risks with the open-handed stuff without letting go of the closed-handed stuff. So going to the gig or having a pint with friends as a means of reaching out to them was positively encouraged, so long as it didn’t bring about compromise.
Mars Hill Church was also incredibly cutting-edge with technology providing free high quality media, especially video content, for both outreach and discipleship. The Mars Hill app was the first church app I downloaded.
Once upon a time I would have avoided all sorts of people in all sorts of contexts because it was uncomfortable, foreign or frowned upon. Today, however, I am far more ready, willing and equipped to to reach out to the surrounding culture and take faith risks for the sake of the gospel because of Mark Driscoll.
5. Bible teaching
I love the way that Driscoll approached teaching the Bible. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t always agree with him (don’t get me started on his Peasant Princess series) but he ALWAYS preached the Bible. If there was anything that I disagreed with him on there was a biblical text to go back to because, unlike many of his contemporaries, Driscoll preached with the Word of God in his hand rather than simply using Bible verses to back-up what he wanted to say.
I also appreciate that he preached right through books of the Bible. I readily acknowledge that this is not a new or novel idea, but he was the first guy to help me understand that preaching through books in their entirety was the best way to ensure that you didn’t side-step awkward or controversial passages and to effectively preach the whole counsel of God. I’ll be honest, after the Peasant Princess series I stopped listening to Mars Hill podcasts as frequently, but I’d seen and heard enough by that point to be helped and inspired in my own Bible teaching ministry.
I don’t really think there’s a way of assessing the degree to which Mark Driscoll’s teaching has affected the way that I both study the Bible and teach it to my church family, but I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t been helped considerably.
Finally, I want to thank Mark Driscoll for having the balls to talk to men like men. Now I want to be careful here because I know that much has been said about his macho approach having done as much damage as it has good. So what I’m going to write here is based on the way the content and manner of his teaching has affected me as a man on the other side of the Atlantic, rather than as a guy in his church or on his leadership team.
OK. So I like that Driscoll said things straight and as a man he wasn’t afraid to speak hard truths to men. We currently have a ‘man crisis’ in our churches. What I mean by that is that there aren’t many of them, and of the ones who are there too many are…soft (I know that probably sounds outrageous to some of you – but it’s true!) Part of the problem is that many ministers don’t know how to speak to men. They are often strong pastorally (good at being a listening ear and dishing out hugs) but more often than not they suck at the more prophetic stuff (like calling out hidden sin and challenging passive/aggressive abusive behaviour). Driscoll said it like it was. Men need that (whether they would admit it or not) which probably explains why so many in his congregation were young men (many of whom were fatherless). And while I’m sure he took it too far at times, I for one am grateful for the challenges he laid down for men like me to be godly disciples, husbands, dads and leaders in the church and community.
I don’t think I had ever really realised that men often need to be ministered to differently to women until I stumbled across Driscoll. But here I am 7 years later having written 2 books for men which, while not necessarily adopting the tone of Mark Driscoll, certainly seek to confront men in a godly and gospel-centred way and call them to a higher standard of biblical manhood. (I even got called a “Welsh Mark Driscoll” by one reviewer…but wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or not!)
So there we have it. Such is the controversy that surrounds Mark Driscoll I expect that there will be various responses to this post. Feel free to post any thoughts you have in the comments section below. Alternatively connect with me on Twitter and let me know what you think. In closing – wherever you land on this – can I please encourage you to pray for the Driscolls and for Mars Hill Church as they continue to heal, reflect and work things out as they move forward.