by Andy Gustafson
Mark Driscoll has been the center of controversy for quite some time. But now that he has left Mars Hill and is no longer associated with Acts 29, it is likely that his more damaging impact on the church at large will continue to resonate and have their effect through the young men he has inspired. Most people know that Acts 29 network disassociated Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill church from its network earlier this year. And most people know that Mark Driscoll has been asked to step down from leadership at his Mars Hill Church, for a variety of reasons. And now Mars Hill attendance has dropped 30-40% and its likely they will have to lay off up to 40% of staff, and finally, Mark Driscoll has resigned as pastor. Driscoll has possibly seen his heyday, but the problem is that the effects of Driscoll’s attitude, style, and behavior has infected a whole generation of young pastors and laypeople, and those damaging effects will likely live on long after the Mars Hill drama is over– not just in Acts 29 churches, but in the thinking, leadership and even pastoring of a whole generation of young 20-to-40-something pastors.
There are plenty of articles out there about characteristics of Driscoll, and even some about Driscoll followers. I attended an Acts 29 church for a stint and got to know about Driscoll and some of his followers, and fortunately for our church, our leadership did not reflect many of these characteristics– and they were not all fans of Driscoll. So these characteristics are not directly related to being associated with Acts 29. Neither are these characteristics of complimentarians (as opposed to egalitarians)– I know of many complimentarians who don’t share any of these characteristics. And as my reformed friends point out to me, the blame here isn’t Calvin or Reformed thought either (and I agree!)– mOST reformed Calvinists I know do not have these characteristics– so it seems that the common denominator of these characteristics may have more to do with being a fan of Driscoll than being reformed, complimentarian, or acts 29, or a young calvinist (although these can all get blurred–particularly for an outsider– these days).
Sometimes the apparent self-perception of Driscoll fans is that Driscoll and his fans are courageously proclaiming the unpopular truth in a world of political correctness. They feel they are taking Christianity back as a manly-man religion from the pansy buddy-Jesus culture they despise as effeminate. They are giving structure and order to a world without it, and helping take the asylum back from the patients who were running it.
Obviously there was a reason why Driscoll and his style resonated with people in the church– and many outside the church. There is a need to call men to be accountable to take responsibility for themselves, and to not simply be passive, and some other key insights. But these insights are distinct from some of the more troublesome habitual attributes that have at times been displayed by Driscoll and pastors who emulate him. From experiences I have had and heard about, these are a few of the more disturbing key characteristics which seem to be common to many Mark Driscoll devotees:
1. Cursing as a sign of relevance: Its amazing to me that grown men who are pastors of church use coarse language like they are a 13 year old trying to impress their friends. This is certainly immature and childish, as well as stupid. It is not manly– real men know how to speak intelligently without using profanity. Even non-Christians like Aristotle knew long ago that what a man likes and how he speaks tells us about his heart and character, and that is true for these cursing pastors as well.
2. Being Flippant and Brash: There seems to be an underlying arrogance which leads to a flippant attitude of some Driscoll fans– and this leads to them being brash (which again, is connected to the cursing). A rhetoric of repentance and being a sinner overlays a basic arrogance underlying this facade. Love is patient and kind and earnest– but the spirit one often sees is the opposite. Such behavior brings discredit to ministry.
3. Fight-Club Mentality. Call it Ultimate-Fighting-Fan Christianity, Machismo, or simply a love of crudeness and brutality under the guise of manliness, but a lot of Driscoll fans seem to be on the prowl for a fight– like when he said he wanted to ‘go all Old-Testament’ on dissenters. I’ve heard stories of veins bulging in hot tempered yelling matches by pastors who supposedly are shepherds of their church. Everyone has moments of failure, but unrepentant habitual aggressive-machismo-as-godly-manliness is a sign of immaturity and inappropriate for ministry service.
4. Bullying in the name of righteousness: Strange as it may seem, some pastors are bullies, and do their bullying in the name of love. Of course Driscoll is known for tweeting about effeminate worship leaders in a bullying and unchristian manner. But bullying goes way beyond that– talking over people, bullies push their agenda over others, and they simply don’t listen to others points of view (because they know they are right, and others are stupid). Not listening is the flip side of being a bully, and many Driscoll devotees seem to have a blind spot there.
5. Anti-Egalitarian: This isn’t mere complimentarianism though– Driscoll has said women’s thinking skills are inferior to men, women need to stay attractive or its partially their fault their husbands cheat, and that women just aren’t capable of leadership in the church. There is an extreme higherarchical system in the minds of many Driscoll followers– and women are to submit to men as the followers in the pew are to submit to the elders.
6. Dismissive attitude towards most laypeople: In the words of Mark Driscoll, congregational governance of a church is like letting the patients run the asylum. Driscoll fans tend to have an exceedingly high view of power structure in the church, and the capacities of the leaders to do all and know all. The distrust of laypeople is parallel to the distrust of women in this worldview.
7. No Questioning/No Accountability: Driscoll fans tend to see questioning of authority as inherently sinful– a failure to submit to divine authority (which the leadership represents) which leaves pastors who are Driscoll fans for the most part unaccountable to anyone.
Alan Molineux points out in a recent article that it is shallow and short sighted to put all the blame on one individual like Driscoll– the blame must go around to all the enablers in the church. A problem leader needs followers– call them yesmen, uh-huh thugs, starstruck disciples, or whatever you want– and the followers have responsibility for the promotion of these bad practices and styles of leadership as well. Molineux points out, “It only takes a few good men to do nothing for a problematic leader to create an unhealthy culture.”
He says you need enabling leaders who co-lead with the bully, who look the other way when the lead bully acts wrongly. Also enabling staff, whose livelihoods, friendships and spiritual life are all so intertwined with the continued success of the leader that it is difficult to speak out about problems you see. Third, the enabling enthusiast, who want to believe the vision, and trust the leader, and are often willing to look past even obvious failings of their leader. Fourth, the enabling constituency– other leaders will often remain silent if there is popular support for the problem leader (‘how can one speak out against such a widely popular gifted preacher?’, they might ask) Fifth, the enabling peace proclaimers, who always call for unity, not division. These people sound high minded, as they simply defend the status quo to not rock the boat.
In business, we say whistleblowing is difficult because it requires dissent, the appearance of disloyalty, and accusation. This is no less true in a church culture. Speaking out against a leader will require you to disrupt the status quo, it may make you appear disloyal, and it usually will require some sort of accusation, no matter how kindly you put it. And it is scary to do that when it is your own church family.
Almost a year ago now (October 24, 2013) Tim Suttle wrote these (hopefully) prescient words forcasting the future of Driscoll’s influence:
Driscoll can only work within the very early immature stages of Christian discipleship, where rules, dualistic black and white thinking rule the day. Defiant about his immature behavior, Driscoll will continue to shun accountability and control people through fear and intimidation. Without the capacity for self-criticism, his glaring issues become will only become more pronounced over time. Those who follow him will see that his only mode of building community is to force community by erecting rigid boundary markers enforced through intimidation and fear. It’s simply not enough for us as we grow older and begin to crave wisdom and sacrifice. Any Driscoll devotees who grow beyond that narrative of dominance, dualism, and control will see that conformity is not the same thing as transformation. When that happens Driscoll’s influence will immediately melt.
Driscoll could at times be a powerful effective preacher, and for that we can be grateful. And many people positively impacted by some of Driscoll’s ministry shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. But as for the Driscoll-macho-style which sometimes accompanied it, we can hope and pray that Driscoll-influenced pastors and laymen will eventually see the limits of this style of Christian behavior and the stunted worldview which goes along with it. In the meantime, damage will continue to be done to churches, communities, families, and individuals who live under the teaching and authority of their cursing, flippant and brash, machismo bullying women-suppressing unaccountable pastors and the yes-men (and women) who support them.
To stand by and let these things continue is wrong. In not speaking out against sin, you are complicit in it. If you see this in yourself or your leaders, something must be said. These attitudes and practices are like a cancer which spreads throughout the body. And its not as though its just a matter of opinion or a matter of theological difference. Cursing, arrogance, bullying, belittling, and brashness are not a matter of theological difference or style– they are a matter of sin.