This article is from Issue 74: March/April 2015

The Faults in Our Stars

What can we learn from the downfall of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church?

To a visitor at Mars Hill Church’s Bellevue, Washington, campus, the church service looks much the same as it has for months, as churchgoers stream into the historic theater building that houses the church.

The name is gone, though, changed to “Doxa Church,” and Pastor Mark—as church members and staffers call Mark Driscoll—is not there. And he will not be coming back: The pastor who grew Mars Hill Church to a more than 12,000-attendee multisite megachurch resigned Oct. 14 after a year in which he was accused of plagiarism, misappropriating church funds to purchase best-seller status for his book Real Marriage, and exercising what church overseers called “a domineering style of leadership.”

Driscoll’s style of leadership was, in one sense, part of his pastoral persona. He was the rebel pastor, not afraid to swear or call out sin, sexual or otherwise, and charismatic in his call to “be a man.”

“Mark is a polarizing figure in Seattle and in the Christian community, and that’s kind of his trademark,” says Jennifer McKinney, a professor of sociology at Seattle Pacific University who has studied Mars Hill for the past decade. “That’s partly why he’s so popular, particularly among younger evangelicals: He says what he wants.”

Driscoll’s polarizing personality was evident particularly in the early days, says Gerry Breshears, a professor at Western Seminary in Portland who mentored Driscoll from about 2000 to 2010 and co-wrote four books with him, including Vintage Church, Vintage Jesus and Doctrine: What Every Christian Should Believe.

“That was back in the days when he got joy from saying he got hate mail from Rick Warren and Mother Jones loved him,” Breshears recalls. “The arrogance was palpable. He was, at that point, the shock jock of preachers.”

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Driscoll’s shock jock voice got results. In 2012, Mars Hill Church was the third fastest-growing church in the U.S. and the 28th largest, according to Outreach Magazine.

“The goal was always, ‘We’re going to win more people for Jesus.’ The goal was good. And Mark as a preacher was pretty much right on target, but the high-pressure, performance-driven, get-results culture was deadly.” —Gerry Breshears

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