The last 12 months have been devastating for Mars Hill Church in Seattle and their globally recognised teaching pastor, Mark Driscoll. Numerous former and present pastors, elders and members have described the church culture as abusive and manipulative, and criticised a process of concentration of extraordinary power among very few hands, including the power to silence employees.
Famously, Mark has described the process of dealing with those who do not buy into the Mars Hill vision:
“Here’s what I’ve learned. You cast vision for your mission, and if people don’t sign up, you move on. You move on. There are people that are gonna die in the wilderness, and there are people that are gonna take the hill. That’s just how it is. Too many guys waste too much time trying to move stiff necked, stubborn, obstinate people. I am all about blessed subtraction. There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus, and by God’s grace, it’ll 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 options. But the bus ain’t gonna stop.”
As a result, the Mars Hill story has become a byword for the dangers of allowing untested young pastors with strong convictions and dominant personalities to exercise senior church leadership in the absence of effective oversight.
Now, I’m not really interested in talking much more about Mars Hill. There is much of Mark Driscoll’s ministry for which I am unashamedly thankful. There are other parts that I’d rather not have seen. However, it isn’t my job to offer commentary on third-hand insights into the inner life of the church.
What interests me – interests, that is, in the sense of morbid fascination and regretful reflection – is this question: how much of this is true of me?
(By the way, I’m fully aware of the incipient narcissism of this piece – I’ve just said that I don’t want to talk about them, I’d rather talk about me. Sorry. Guilty as charged.)
I am a relatively young pastor, or at least I was when I became the senior minister of St Barnabas Broadway, one of Sydney’s most iconic churches. My gifts don’t hold a candle to Mark’s; nor, however, have I had some of the same charges levelled at me. But I do hold strong reformed convictions. I am fairly driven, and have little time for liberalism or wooly-headedness. And I have made decisions that have hurt members of my church. I am prone to spin. I often shortcut important processes. I have a tendency to drive others towards my preferred outcomes without truly hearing their concerns.
And although I don’t resile from any of the hard choices I have made over the last few years, I don’t think I’m quite the white hat I’ve always believed.
I catch up regularly with a bunch of other young ministers, many of them church planters, and this theme is depressingly common. We have been tasked with starting new churches or revitalising old ones. Our relative youth has been named as a source of energy, and our strong convictions as a source of change. Some of us can point to significant conversions and growth. And yet all of our churches – as far as I’m aware – have balls of hurt, disappointment or resentment. The decisions we have made, and the way in which we have made them, have led to people leaving our churches, or just disappearing in them. And we are the source of this, too. In other words, there are ‘dead bodies’ behind our buses, too.
And it’s beginning to dawn on me that I don’t know how to lead a church where this isn’t true. And that’s really sad. And worst of all, the line between me and a Mars Hill sometimes seems a little hard to pin down.