Fast-tracked restoration: Why is Mark Driscoll already back in church leadership?

As he returns to church leadership then, I think there are three key questions we need to ask

What hasn’t been publicly seen from Driscoll however, is any show of heartfelt brokenness at, or apology for, mistakes made. I’d argue that as a public figure, any repentance and restoration has to be seen publicly too. Driscoll’s absence from public ministry isn’t about him – it’s about the many, many people who were seriously hurt and even traumatised by his approach at Mars Hill. If he truly was sorry for his behaviour, if he really did believe that he had taken actions which at least temporarily disqualified him from leadership, why did he not simply disappear for a while into obscurity? Crucially, there hasn’t been one big moment of confession and unreserved apology; we’ve never seen the man humble himself and demonstrate any Damascene moment of realisation.

 

So Mark Driscoll is back. The former leader of Seattle megachurch Mars Hill, who resigned in 2014 amid accusations of bullying, plagiarism and manipulation, will launch his new church on Easter Sunday – a somewhat theatrical bit of timing that attaches extra significance to his own personal resurrection. Driscoll is now the Senior and Founding Pastor of The Trinity Church, Scottsdale, Arizona, and while the first service won’t immediately lead to regular weekly meetings, these should follow soon afterwards. Mark Driscoll will be Pastor Mark again, returned from the wilderness to rebuild his ministry and his reputation.

If you’re thinking this all sounds a little too soon, you’re not alone. Barely 18 months have passed since Driscoll stepped down as pastor of Mars Hill, after years of controversy and public criticism escalated into formal complaints from former staff and congregants. Acts 29 – the church-planting network he founded – removed him from ministry and asked him to resign; he stepped down from his role at Mars Hill in October 2014; his church dissolved itself at the end of that year.

Driscoll’s transgressions were varied and manifold. He’d been able to weather criticism for perceived misogyny (he described women as ‘penis homes’) and homophobic (he criticised ‘effeminate, anatomically male worship leaders’); he’d simply become divisive with his trashy, testosterone-fuelled approach to public discourse. However, when 21 former Mars Hill pastors brought accusations of workplace bullying and other ‘disqualifying behaviour’ to the church’s elders, one of America’s most high-profile celebrity pastors could no longer just shrug off the complaints.

For several months, a storm escalated around Driscoll. It emerged that his church engineered the presence of his own book on the New York Times bestseller list by paying a marketing company to manipulate sales numbers (they got Mars Hill Church to purchase 11,000 copies, at an estimated cost of $210,000). He was accused of various counts of plagiarism in his books. A blog written by four of Mars Hill’s former elders appeared, in which they publicly repented for how they’d hurt people under Driscoll’s leadership. Petitions arose and gathered momentum. Even the conservative voices who’d turned a blind eye to Driscoll’s past indiscretions disowned him. Eventually his position became untenable.

For the past 18 months, Driscoll has kept a relatively low profile as the furore around him naturally died down and the world moved on. His invitation to appear at Hillsong’s UK and Australia conferences in 2015 was downgraded to an taped on-screen interview; Driscoll mainly restricted his ministry activity to online resources. Many of the people profoundly hurt by the man and his church came forward tell their stories, but in a culture with an increasingly short memory, they were soon forgotten. The announcement of his Arizona relocation barely caused a ripple of dissent, and the launch of the church was even sponsored by several megachurch pastors, including Perry Noble, who said he was going to “choose to believe in Pastor Mark and Grace as they set out on this endeavour,” before adding “I just want to say that I support him 100 percent.”

Not everyone is so convinced.

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