On Tuesday, Oct. 14, Mark Driscoll resigned as a pastor and elder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.
In August, Driscoll and his church were removed from the Acts 29 Network, the church-planting group he founded in 1998. In response, he decided to take a leave of absence for at least six weeks while Mars Hill leaders reviewed public accusations and other charges that had been made against him by former pastors. Both of these events came in the wake of a number of controversies, which included plagiarizing and paying for his books to land spots on “The New York Times” Best Seller List, as well as “improper behavior toward subordinates” in the church’s leadership.
Driscoll established Mars Hill in 1996. Initially meeting in he and his wife’s house, it is now considered to be one of the nation’s most influential megachurches with 13 locations in Washington, California, Oregon, and New Mexico as of September.
However, this picture is about to dramatically change. Following the six-week period, after which Mars Hill leaders had told Driscoll he “had not disqualified [himself] from ministry,” he wrote a letter of resignation to the Chairman of the Board of Advisors and Accountability at Mars Hill, explaining, “Prior to and during this process there have been no charges of criminal activity, immorality or heresy, any of which could clearly be grounds for disqualification from pastoral ministry….Aspects of my personality and leadership style have proven to be divisive within the Mars Hill context, and I do not want to be the source of anything that might detract from our church’s mission.”
Despite the controversies, the Mars Hill Board expressed that they were surprised by the news and had not expected Driscoll to resign, stating, “We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner. While we believe Mark needs to continue to address these areas in his life…we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry.”
In a 2009 article from “The New York Times,” Molly Worthen noted Driscoll as “one of the most admired – and reviled – figures among evangelicals nationwide.” Indeed, he is widely considered to be one of the most controversial Christian leaders of this day.
Many of Driscoll’s supporters feel he has made a great contribution to the present evangelical movement. Known to some as “the cussing pastor,” he generally favors black jackets and jeans over suits and ties and rock music over traditional hymns. Still, contrary to what some might expect, he is a Reformed Christian who is committed to teaching conservative theology, and many admire his outspokenness and willingness to express these views without apology.
However, other evangelicals believe Driscoll has always been unsuited for ministry. He is particularly well-known for his “hypermasculinity” and controversial views on gender and sexuality. Many of his critics have designated him as a male “chauvinist” and “misogynist” in light of comments, perceived as crude and derogatory, he has made over the years about certain groups, especially women and homosexual men.
Consequently, Driscoll’s resignation has set evangelicals at odds, just as he has polarized the Christian community from the beginning of his ministry.
Dave Bruskas, the elder who has temporarily assumed Driscoll’s position, announced that Mars Hill will dissolve in the New Year. As of Jan. 1, 2015, Mars Hill as a multisite church will no longer exist, and each individual church will decide if it will become “an independent, self-governed church,” “[merge] with an existing church,” or “[disband].”
Many are asking what the closure of a megachurch in one of the nation’s most unchurched areas will mean and how the fate of each church will play a role in charting the future course of evangelical Christianity.
To read Driscoll’s full letter of resignation, visit www.religionnews.com.
Sources: Christianity Today, ChristianForums.com, MarsHill.com, New York Times, ReligionNews.com