[Updated with eight "next steps," direct quotes, video of announcement.]
In Mark Driscoll's first public statement since Acts 29 rebuked and removed him from the church planting network he founded, the embattled Seattle pastor announced he will temporarily step down as leader of Mars Hill Church while charges submitted by 21 former pastors against him are investigated.
He offered his church a list of eight next steps he plans to take [see bottom of this post, along with video link], acknowledging that some charges are "simply my fault, and I will own it, confess it, and move on from it as God continues to redeem me."
"I have requested a break for processing, healing, and growth for a minimum of six weeks while [Mars Hill leaders] conduct a thorough examination of accusations against me," Driscoll told his congregation today. "I believe that review can best be performed without me being in the pulpit or in the office."
The decision by Driscoll, whose current challenges made the front page of The New York Times yesterday, echoes past sabbaticals by two other popular Reformed pastors—John Piper and C. J. Mahaney—amid concerns not of sexual or financial sins, but of pride and other character flaws.
"I hope Mark Driscoll feels a tidal wave of hope-filled prayer for a new day and a new man in this season," tweeted John Piper in response to the news. "Pray for @PastorMark Driscoll and wife Grace and their precious children in this season of trial. And the fine people at Mars Hill Church," tweeted Jack Graham.
Driscoll, echoing his last major apology, said he has "submitted to the process described by church bylaws ... for addressing accusations against me. I invite this process, rather than debating accusations and issues in social media or the court of public opinion." He later noted, "Conducting church business and biblical conflict resolution through media channels is not healthy, and is more likely to prove unproductive at best and destructive and dishonoring to the Lord at worst."
Driscoll said a report will be released once the investigation is completed, and he has started "meeting with a professional team of mature Christians who provide wise counsel to help further my personal development and maturity before God and men." In the meantime, he will delay the publication of his next book, refrain from public speaking, and use the time away to "spend more time with God, my wife, and my children." The Mars Hill board will also seek additional members, "with local members being our first choice."
RNS reports that Mark DeMoss's respected PR firm will now be advising Mars Hill. DeMoss told RNS, “I like him, I believe in him, and if I only worked with ministry leaders who were faultless, I would be out of business tonight.”
“Storm clouds seem to be whirling around me more than ever in recent months, and I have given much thought and sought much counsel as to why that is and what to do about it," said Driscoll. "The current climate is not healthy for me, or for this church.... I am sorry for that, and I grieve with you."
"Over the years as I’ve grown and the Lord has been molding and pruning me, I’ve shared with you some of the lessons that I’ve been learning. Some of these have been painful, and some I have been slow to learn," Driscoll said. "I have acknowledged and confessed many of my sins, shortcomings, and missteps, and God has been more than faithful with his forgiveness.
"Most of our Mars Hill family has been forgiving as well, and for that I'm grateful and blessed," he said. "By God's grace, I want to always be humble and teachable." He also noted that it "grieves me greatly when something I say or do results in controversy and publicity that none of you signed up for when you decided to be a part of this church family."
Driscoll referenced fallout with former church leaders. “God is not honored by conflict, strife, disunity, arguing, slander, gossip, or anything else that is inconsistent with the fruit of the Spirit, and I am deeply sorry, genuinely sorry, for the times I have not done my part to live peaceably with all men,” he said. Driscoll also expressed thankfulness for those who had confronted Mars Hill leaders’ in-person and allowed the church to “deal with it head-on between the two affected parties, rather than in the court of public opinion and public media.”
“As is often the case, some of what is said is true, some is partly true, and some is completely untrue," he said. "Lately, the number of accusations, combined with their public nature, makes it much more difficult to know how to respond appropriately. Indeed, many times we have chosen not to respond at all, which probably raises even more questions in people’s minds and I understand that.
“Some have publicly brought up issues that were long ago addressed and resolved, adding to the understandable confusion that many of you may have been experiencing recently,” Driscoll said, referencing his recent “William Wallace” controversy as an example, and noting he had already taken “full responsibility for those actions, and will forever be ashamed by what I did.
"What I did in this case back in 2000 was indefensible," said Driscoll. "Thanks be to Jesus, it is also forgiven. And I thank God I am not the man I was back then."
“Some have challenged various aspects of my personality and leadership style. And while some of these challenges seem unfair, I have no problem admitting that I am deserving of some of these criticisms based on my own past actions that I am genuinely sorry for," said Driscoll. He also acknowledged the “paradoxes of being a pastor in the media age,” where “the same media channels that can be used to carry a sermon to virtually anyone around the globe can also be used by anyone around the globe to criticize, attack, or slander.”
Patheos blogger Warren Throckmorton broke the news and posted audio of the announcement. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer offered the first direct quotes from today's announcement. Religion News Service also offers an account.
"Pastor Mark continues to focus all his energies for the next season on the well-being of Mars Hill, while learning, growing, and serving his family well," Mars Hill told members in a weekly newsletter last Monday. "His relationship with Jesus, his family, and our church family are his priorities."
Driscoll's provocative preaching style has proved surprisingly successful in secular Seattle. He has authored 15 books and amassed a following of 13,000 weekly worshipers at 15 locations in five states.
"I've often said that I was too new in the faith, and unprepared, when we started this church, which makes all that Jesus has done all the more miraculous," Driscoll said today. "Thousands upon thousands of people have become Christians" through Mars Hill, he noted.
Driscoll has already apologized 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. Recently, Acts 29 expelling Driscoll and Mars Hill from membership, and LifeWay Christian Stores stopped selling his books.
“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 president Matt Chandler and other leaders of the network of 500 churches.
Mars Hill leaders rebuked Acts 29's "divisive" decision, asserting "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 citing "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."
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 NYT bestseller list, though Driscoll later apologized for the agreement and voluntarily retracted his bestseller status.
“In the Internet age, Mark Driscoll definitely built up the evangelical movement enormously,” Tim Keller told the NYT's Michael Paulson in yesterday's 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.”
Earlier this month, Mars Hill canceled its 2014 Resurgence Conference, which was scheduled for October 28-29 and included Paul Tripp and James MacDonald, two Mars Hill accountability board members who resigned several weeks ago, as speakers. Mars Hill explained Monday:
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. Unfortunately, we have decided to cancel this year’s conference due to some recent changes involving our speaker line-up and some other challenges we believe would make it difficult to provide the quality of conference people have come to expect. Anyone who has already purchased a ticket will be receiving a prompt refund.
CT has previously reported on pastors who temporarily left their roles over struggles with pride. "My sense is that many of the celebrity religious leaders are well aware of and intentionally attempt to guard themselves against sexual and financial temptations," said Scott Thumma, a Hartford Seminary sociologist who studies megachurches, told CT in 2011. "But they forget that pride comes before a fall."
In 2011, Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) founder C. J. Mahaney took a leave of absence from his national network of nearly 100 church plants amid an investigation of "various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy." Mahaney was cleared of charges and reinstated after a year, and later stepped down in 2013 to focus on pastoring a local church.
In 2010, Bethlehem Baptist Church pastor John Piper embarked on an eight-month leave, explaining his soul, marriage, family, and ministry pattern needed “a reality check from the Holy Spirit.” He noted “several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me.” In 2013, Piper shared on Leadership Journal that his time-off had been dedicated to addressing his intransigent sins, including “selfishness, anger, self-pity, quickness to blame, and sullenness.”
Following his leave, Piper wrote that the "depth and magnitude of the value of these months will take the rest of my life to unpack.”
“I love the word of God, and to have it cascade over me with clarity and depth and power has been authenticating to my faith and my calling,” he continued. “My faith, because I really did enjoy communion with Christ in worship. I experienced afresh that I love God, not just talking about God. And my calling, because I was on the joyful receiving end of the power of the preached word. Yes, I want to preach like this. I want to do this for people.”
The public scrutiny faced by Driscoll and Mars Hill over the past year is similar to what SGM faced in the runup to Mahaney's sabbatical.
"Confidential documents being published online, the surprising sway that anonymous bloggers can have over thousands of readers, and just the whole dynamic of public trial for church leaders is, I think, probably the meta-trend for the church being highlighted by all this," SGM's interim president Dave Harvey told CT at the time.
Driscoll told Mars Hill today, "I suspect when I'm old, I'll be known for many things: some good, and some not so good. But I hope that the longer God leaves me on this earth, the more I'll be known for one thing that I loved: that I loved Jesus and his church... I may be an author, speaker, thought provoker, but in the deepest recesses of my heart, I'm a local church pastor and that's what I want to give the rest of my life for.”
His final words to Mars Hill:
As I look forward to the future—and I do look forward to it—I believe the Lord has shown me I am to do two things with the rest of my life: love my family, and teach the Bible. I deeply love my family and our church family and am seeking the Lord for how to have a godly and loving future that is not just sustainable but fruitful.
Finally, I want to say to our Mars Hill family—past and present, I’m very sorry. I’m sorry for the times I have been angry, short, or insensitive. I’m sorry for anything I’ve done to distract from our mission by inviting criticism, controversy or negative media attention.
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. The gospel is powerfully at work in me, your pastor, thanks to the faithfulness of our Senior Pastor Jesus Christ, and the best thing for us each to do is look to Him and point others to Him.
Thank you Mars Hill. I love you.
- I have submitted to the process prescribed by our church Bylaws as overwhelmingly approved by our entire Eldership for addressing accusations against me. I invite this process, rather than debating accusations and issues in social media or the court of public opinion. A report on this process will be presented when it has been completed.
- I have requested a break for processing, healing, and growth for a minimum of six weeks while the leadership assigned by our bylaws conduct a thorough examination of accusations against me. I believe their review can best be performed without me being in the pulpit or the office, and they have agreed to this arrangement.
- During this time Pastor Dave and our lead pastors will share the preaching responsibilities, along with their other pastoral responsibilities. I am grateful that we have a team of godly leaders that are trustworthy and love you. They will continue in 1 John for our series “Love One Another”.
- I will use this time to continue to seek the Lord about His plans for me and for this and the next season of life for Mars Hill. I will also use it to spend more time with God, my wife, and our children.
- As a general rule, I will respond to little if any criticism of me in the media, on social media, blogs, open letters, etc. Conducting church business and biblical conflict resolution through media channels is not healthy and is more likely to prove unproductive at best, and destructive and dishonoring to the Lord at worst.
- I will not be doing any outside speaking for the foreseeable future.
- I have asked our Board of Advisors and Accountability to strengthen our board by adding members to it, and they are in the process of doing so with local members being our first choice. I have agreed to postpone the publication of my next book until a future season, to be determined.
- I have begun meeting with a professional team of mature Christians who provide wise counsel to help further my personal development and maturity before God and men. I have never taken an extended focused break like this in my 18 years as your pastor, and it is not a vacation but rather a time to focus on deep work in my soul in the areas of processing, healing, and growing.