Mark Driscoll looks no different than he does any other day. He's wearing the hip pastor uniformblue jeans and an untucked shirt with the top two buttons undone. Yet he speaks in a subdued tone that hints at wear and tear.
He begins his talk about lessons learned as a church planter with common-sense advice about how pastors can blow off steam. Driscoll, 36, plays T-ball with his three sons or feeds ducks with his two daughters. Hardly the stuff that provokes raging blog debates and church pickets. As Driscoll's Mars Hill Church in Seattle has grown to 6,000 members in 11 years, quiet moments like this with his family have preserved some of his sanity.
"I'm playing hurt right now," Driscoll confesses to prospective church planters at a March meeting of Acts 29, his network of 170 churches around the world. "I wore out my adrenal glands at the end of last year, just living off adrenaline too much. My sleep has been really jacked up for some months."
Those glands must have a little something left in the tank, because Driscoll warms up when he recounts the history of Mars Hill.
"My first core group was single indie and punk rockers committed to anarchy," he says. "Needless to say, they didn't naturally organize themselves or give generously. If I would have said, 'Everybody tithe,' it would have been in cigarettes."
Driscoll can't stand in front of a crowd for long without stirring things up. That's what you get from a pastor who learned how to preach by watching comedian Chris Rock. Before long, he has the audience going. "If you're going to be a fundamentalist or moralist pick things like bathing with your wife to be legalistic about," Driscoll says in his distinct, gravelly voice. "Don't pick something stupid like, 'Don't listen to rock music.' I don't know who's choosing all the legalisms, but they picked the worst ones. Eat meat, bathe together, and napthose would be my legalisms. Those are things I can do."
Driscoll "comes off as a smart-aleck former frat boy," according to The Seattle Times. Guilty as charged. If he hasn't offended you, you've never read his books or listened to his sermons. On any given Sunday at Mars Hill, it's possible that a visiting fire marshal will get saved. But it's just as likely that a guest will flip him off before walking out.
The spectrum of response speaks to his sharp tonguehis greatest strength and his glaring weakness. But Driscoll also disturbs many fellow evangelicals because he straddles the borders that divide us. His unflinching Reformed theology grates on the church-growth crowd. His plan to grow a large church strikes postmoderns as arrogant. His roots in the emerging church worry Calvinists. No one group can claim him. Maybe that's why they all turn their guns on him.
Driscoll gave me a hearty hug when we met at his beautiful new home, tucked in a pleasant Seattle neighborhood where you might not expect to see this pastor with a "bad boy" reputation. His forehead looked normal, not sloped. He wasn't drunk, either. And if he packed a firearm, I couldn't see it. So much for the stereotypes Driscoll said Christianity Today readers might have about him.
Driscoll first picked up his reputation when thousands met him in Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz as Mark the Cussing Pastor. Yet his background pegs Driscoll not as a rebel, but as an overachiever. High-school classmates in Seattle elected him student-body president. He also captained the baseball team and edited the school newspaper. He didn't read the Bible until college at Washington State, when he flipped open a copy of the niv given to him by a pastor's attractive daughter. At first, Driscoll sided with the Pharisees, because he admired their self-control. But God soon revealed to Driscoll that Jesus was the true hero. Driscoll also heard from God that he should marry that pastor's daughter, now his wife, Grace.