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Acts 29 Removes Mars Hill, Asks Mark Driscoll To Step Down and Seek Help

(UPDATED) Mars Hill cancels Resurgence conference. Paul Tripp says Driscoll's accountability model will never work. Board insists 'making real progress' on problems.
Acts 29 Removes Mars Hill, Asks Mark Driscoll To Step Down and Seek HelpYouTube screenshot
Matt Chandler and Mark Driscoll at Resurgence 2013 conference.
Image: Screenshot of Resurgence website

Update (Aug. 15): Mars Hill has canceled its 2014 Resurgence Conference, which was to be held October 28-29 and included recently resigned board members Paul Tripp and James MacDonald as speakers.

"The Resurgence Conference has always been born out of our love of Jesus and the church, and the desire to support efforts to grow leaders to grow churches," states the church's announcement. "Unfortunately, we have decided to cancel this year’s conference due to unforeseen changes to our speaker line-up and other challenges we believe would make it difficult to provide the quality of conference people have come to expect from Resurgence."

Promotional material stated that the 2013 conference had 175 countries represented. Other speakers for the 2014 conference were J. I. Packer (by video), Greg Laurie, Crawford Loritts, Terry Virgo, and of course, Mark Driscoll.

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Update (Aug. 12): Paul Tripp, a popular pastor and speaker who recently resigned as one of Mark Driscoll's advisers, stated today that Mars Hill's accountability model "will never be able to do what it was designed to do."

Image: www.paultripp.com

"It became clear to me that a distant, external accountability board can never work well because it isn't a firsthand witness to the ongoing life and ministry of the church," wrote Tripp of Mars Hill's Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) in a statement on his website. Tripp is executive director of the Association of Biblical Counselors's Center for Pastoral Life and Care, and author of 15 books on Christian living, including Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry.

Tripp, who served on the BOAA from November to June, explained:

Such a board at best can provide financial accountability, but it will find it very difficult to provide the kind of hands-on spiritual direction and protection that every Christian pastor needs. Unwittingly what happens is that the external accountability board becomes an inadequate replacement for a biblically functioning internal elder board that is the way God designed his church to be lead and pastors to be guided and protected.

"I would still love to see the leadership community of Mars Hill Church become itself a culture of grace and I am still willing to help," concluded Tripp. "But not through the means of a board that will never be able to do what it was designed to do."

On Friday, Acts 29 cited similar concerns in removing Driscoll and Mars Hill from its membership, stating it "leaned on the [BOAA] to take the lead in dealing with" controversies related to Driscoll, but "no longer believe[s] the BOAA is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out." [CT previously reported below on Acts 29's full statement.]

Meanwhile, the two remaining external members of Mars Hill's BOAA—chairman Michael Van Skaik and Larry Osborne, a multisite pioneer and president of the North Coast Training Network—on Friday defended the board's ability to oversee Driscoll, stating, "We are making real progress in addressing the serious reconciliation and unhealthy culture issues that have been a part of Mars Hill Church for way too long."

Another BOAA member who last month announced his resignation from the board (pending a replacement being selected), James MacDonald, also defended Driscoll, stating that he "found [Driscoll] to be exemplary in his current readiness to live under the BOAA oversight."

CT's previous reporting on both statements can be found below.

Announcing the resignations of Tripp and MacDonald last week, Mars Hill wrote:

Dr. Paul Tripp joined our Board of Advisors and Accountability in November 2013 and has been an immense help to our leaders over the past year. Dr. Tripp has extensive experience in discipleship and biblical counseling. Earlier this month, we made the decision together to open the opportunity for him to work with greater focus on issues directly related to his expertise, namely the continued development of our community and redemption ministries. Because simultaneously being a board member and a consultant does not allow for the required definition of independence, Dr. Tripp graciously submitted his resignation from the BOAA in early June so that he can more extensively serve our church as a consultant. We are excited to continue this work with him, and are thankful for his continued support of Mars Hill Church.

Tripp's full statement is at bottom of this post. CT reviewed Tripp's 2012 book on why churches can't afford to ignore the spiritual lives of their pastors, and Ed Stetzer interviewed Tripp on how "the culture surrounding our pastors is spiritually unhealthy." Tripp told Stetzer (not in reference to Driscoll, but to the overall "state of pastoral culture"):

I have been concerned and saddened at the numbers of pastors who somehow, someway have lost their way in the middle of their own ministry story. ... It is quite normal for pastors to live in a culture of isolation and separation. One pastor cogently captured it for me this way as he said, "Everyone else in the body of Christ can confess sin, but if I do I'm done." The reality is that every pastor is a person in the middle of his own sanctification. A pastoral culture of silence and separation simply can't work. Is it workable for a pastor to live in isolation from the essential sanctifying ministry of the body of Christ?

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Update (Aug. 10): LifeWay has stopped selling Driscoll's books at its 180 Christian stores.

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[Updated with Mars Hill rebuttal of Acts 29]

Hoping that "the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored," the Acts 29 church planting network founded by Mark Driscoll has removed the Seattle pastor and his Mars Hill megachurch from membership.

“It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network,” said Acts 29 in an online statement signed by Matt Chandler and other board members of the network of 500 churches.

Acts 29 came to the drastic decision "with deep sorrow," according to the statement. "In taking this action, our prayer is that it will encourage the leadership of Mars Hill to respond in a distinctive and godly manner so that the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored."

Mars Hill is no longer listed on the Acts 29 church directory page for Washington state. Acts 29 declined to comment further to CT.

No one from the Acts 29 Network contacted Mars Hill leadership before sending the notice, Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability (BoAA) members Michael Van Skaik and Larry Osborne said in a letter to church elders Friday afternoon.

"The Acts 29 decision caught us by surprise," said Justin Dean, communications manager for Mars Hill.

In the letter to elders, which was provided to CT, Van Skaik and Osborne, the board's two non-Mars Hill members, counsel elders to "not become bitter or angry," but "continue to pray for all involved."

"I told the lead pastors at the recent annual retreat that we are making real progress in addressing the serious reconciliation and unhealthy culture issues that have been a part of Mars Hill Church for way too long," says the letter, which was later made available to all Mars Hill members. "And we are. I also told them that more opposition would undoubtedly be coming, and it has. Friendly fire always hurts the most."

In an expanded letter reportedly sent to Driscoll and Acts 29 pastors and obtained by Driscoll critic Warren Throckmorton, Acts 29 board members explain that the church planting network has received "countless shots and dozens of fires" over the past three years for Driscoll's "ungodly and disqualifying behavior."

Thus, even though Acts 29 remains "eternally thankful for what [Driscoll] as a man and Mars Hill as a church have meant to our network," board members decided to remove Mars Hill churches from the network because the association "discredits the network and is a major distraction."

"Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help," board members told Driscoll.

Driscoll, whose provocative preaching style has proved surprisingly successful in secular Seattle, has already apologized for the steady stream of controversies over the past few years. Most recently, he came under fire when crude, 14-year-old comments he made in a church forum resurfaced in the blogosphere. Driscoll apologized, as he had in a 2006 book, telling his congregation that the posts were a bad idea. “I was wrong to respond to people the way I did, using the language I used, and I am sorry for it and remain embarrassed by it,” Driscoll said.

Acts 29 has supported Driscoll during recent controversies while relying on Mars Hill's BoAA to address the problems, the letter states.

"We have both publicly and internally tried to support and give you the benefit of the doubt, even when multiple pastors in our network confirmed this behavior," the letter says. "But we no longer believe the BoAA is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out. Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming. We now have to take another course of action."

Van Skaik and Osborne disagreed, saying Mars Hill's BoAA has actively investigated charges.

"Be assured of this, the formal charges that were filed were serious, were taken seriously and were not dismissed by the board lightly," the letter says. "There is clear evidence that the attitudes and behaviors attributed to Mark in the charges are not a part and have not been a part of Mark's life for some time now."

Pastor James MacDonald recently stepped down from the accountability board, but defended Driscoll's repentance, stating:

I have great love and affection for Mars Hill Church and I want to make clear this change is not because I am unhappy with Mark’s response to board accountability. On the contrary, I have found him to be exemplary in his current readiness to live under the BOAA oversight. I am not resigning because I doubt Mark’s sincerity in any way. I believe in Mark Driscoll and his heart to leverage difficult lessons in service to Christ and his church in the years ahead. I am excited to continue to support that trajectory as Mark’s friend, as I focus my efforts on Harvest Bible Fellowship.

Driscoll stepped down as president of Acts 29 in March 2012, appointing Texas pastor Matt Chandler as president and moving its headquarters from Mars Hill in Seattle to Village Church in the Dallas area. Driscoll remained on the network's board for a time before leaving its leadership completely.

At the time, Driscoll pointed to publishing success with his Real Marriage book (which also came under fire recently amid news that Driscoll paid a marketing company more than $200,000 to ensure its success) as well as a new Resurgence conference as reasons to step away from Acts 29 leadership. At the same time, he resigned from the council of The Gospel Coalition, stating, "The men remain friends who are welcome to speak into my life, and I’m transitioning for no other reason than I find myself at the end of my tether with time and energy."

Today, Driscoll's Twitter account stated, “Unforgiveness will poison everything you do.” The tweet is likely an ironic mistiming, given that Mars Hill staff have been running the account this summer after Driscoll declared he was taking a break from social media for the rest of the year. Recently, Jonathan Merritt made waves for writing how he has accepted Driscoll’s apology, and how Christians should be “as generous with the salve of forgiveness as we are with the acid of criticism.”

As the news spread through social media early Friday afternoon, evangelical leaders affected by Driscoll’s ministry reacted to the network's decision.

“Thankful to be a part of the ‪@Acts29 network. Join us in praying for ‪@PastorMark and ‪@MarsHill,” tweeted Juan MacLean, pastor of Redemption City Church, a church plant in Boston.

Another church planter, Aaron Loy, wrote, “I can't believe what I'm reading about Mark Driscoll & Mars Hill removed by Acts 29. My heart is really heavy today.”

A coalition of aggrieved former Mars Hill members announced that it will delay its plans to bring additional charges against Driscoll. Spokesperson Rob Smith stated:

It is with a mix of sadness and relief to see that Acts 29 has taken these actions. We hope and pray that the call for Mark Driscoll to step down from ministry is heeded. We would therefore rather wait and withdraw our plans to file new charges if he steps down, or file them in due course if he chooses to ignore the call of the Acts 29 board. We are in prayer for Mark and his family. We pray that he will find comfort, restoration, and hope in the Christ that he loves. We are committed to love him well and stand ready to support him and his family through these difficult days. We echo the call of the Acts 29 board.

CT has previously covered Acts 29 and its influence in the evangelical world, including the appointment of Matt Chandler as president and how Acts 29 requires church planters to meet leadership standards. CT also profiled Acts 29 leader Matt Chandler, addressing how he is relationally different than Driscoll, and how his churches operate in a more decentralized manner than Mars Hill churches.

CT will update this story as more information becomes available.

Below are the Acts 29 letter obtained by Throckmorton, the Mars Hill response sent to CT, and Paul Tripp's statement on his resignation from Mars Hill's accountability board.

Here is the Acts 29 letter:

Mark,

As the Board of Acts 29, we are grateful to God for the leadership, courage, and generosity of both you and Mars Hill in not only founding the network but also sustaining it through the transition to this board three years ago. The very act of giving away your authority over the network was one of humility and grace, and for that we are grateful.

Over the past three years, our board and network have been the recipients of countless shots and dozens of fires directly linked to you and what we consider ungodly and disqualifying behavior. We have both publicly and internally tried to support and give you the benefit of the doubt, even when multiple pastors in our network confirmed this behavior.

In response, we leaned on the Mars Hill Board of Advisors & Accountability to take the lead in dealing with this matter. But we no longer believe the BoAA is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out. Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming. We now have to take another course of action.

Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help. Consequently, we also feel that we have no alternative but to remove you and Mars Hill from membership in Acts 29. Because you are the founder of Acts 29 and a member, we are naturally associated with you and feel that this association discredits the network and is a major distraction.

We tell you this out of love for you, Mars Hill, Acts 29, and most significantly, the cause of Christ, and we would be irresponsible and deeply unloving not to do so in a clear and unequivocal manner. Again, we want you to know that we are eternally thankful for what you as a man and Mars Hill as a church have meant to our network. However, that cannot dissuade us from action. Instead, it gives added significance and importance to our decision. We hope and pray that you see this decision as the action of men who love you deeply and want you to walk in the light—for your good, the good of your family, and the honor of your Savior.

Shortly after sending this, we will be informing the members of Acts 29, your Board of Advisors and Accountability, and your elders, as well as putting out a public statement on the Acts 29 website. It brings us no joy to move forward in this direction, and we trust that the Lord will be at work in all of this.

In sorrow and with hope,

The Board of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network

Matt Chandler
Darrin Patrick
Steve Timmis
Eric Mason
John Bryson
Bruce Wesley
Leonce Crump

Here is the full Mars Hill response:

Update from the Board of Advisors & Accountability

Earlier today our board chairman, as well as many of our other pastors, received a letter from Matt Chandler, the president of Acts 29. The letter notified us that the board of Acts 29 has removed Pastor Mark and Mars Hill from membership in the Acts 29 church planting network. Our board responded to the letter with the following update to our elders, and we wanted to share it with you as well.

Men, I told the lead pastors at the recent annual retreat that we are making real progress in addressing the serious reconciliation and unhealthy culture issues that have been a part of Mars Hill Church for way too long. And we are. I also told them that more opposition would undoubtedly be coming, and it has. Friendly fire always hurts the most.

I have never in my life spoken with Matt Chandler or any of the A29 board members for that matter (except Darrin Patrick, once about 4 years ago as part of Pastor Mark¹s employment review process which he used to be a part of). In addition, no one from Acts 29 contacted Larry Osborne of our board prior to this decision. And perhaps most significantly, Pastor Mark was not personally contacted by the A29 board prior to receiving this announcement.

So I am not quite sure what Matt means by "leaning on the board to take the lead in dealing with this matter."

Be assured of this, the formal charges that were filed were serious, were taken seriously and were not dismissed by the board lightly. There is clear evidence that the attitudes and behaviors attributed to Mark in the charges are not a part and have not been a part of Mark¹s life for some time now.

Our board’s decision is final regarding these charges, although will no doubt continue to be played out in the courts of public opinion. Again, I am deeply saddened that the A29 board would make such a decisive and divisive conclusion without speaking directly to the board or Mark prior to their public announcement.

My counsel to you is to not become bitter or angry. Continue to pray for all involved. Continue to love and lead the people God has brought to your churches. They need a pastor right now and God has given them you!

Michael Van Skaik Chairman, Board of Advisors and Accountability

Larry Osborne Board Member

Here is Paul Tripp's statement:

I love the gospel of Jesus Christ. I love the church of Jesus Christ. I love pastors. I love working with churches to help them form a leadership culture that is shaped by the same grace that is at the center of the message that they preach.

It's because of this love that I accepted the position on Mars Hill Church's BoAA. But it became clear to me that a distant, external accountability board can never work well because it isn't a firsthand witness to the ongoing life and ministry of the church.

Such a board at best can provide financial accountability, but it will find it very difficult to provide the kind of hands-on spiritual direction and protection that every Christian pastor needs. Unwittingly what happens is that the external accountability board becomes an inadequate replacement for a biblically functioning internal elder board that is the way God designed his church to be lead and pastors to be guided and protected.

So, since I knew that I could not be the kind of help that I would like to be through the vehicle of the BoAA, I resigned from that position.

I would still love to see the leadership community of Mars Hill Church become itself a culture of grace and I am still willing to help, but not through the means of a board that will never be able to do what it was designed to do.

[YouTube screenshot courtesy of cjstout1]

Posted:August 8, 2014 at 11:15AM
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