There are lots of people who want Mark Driscoll to fail and fall. I am not one of them. I love and respect Pastor Mark. His preaching helped saved my life. I have profited immensely from his ministry, especially in my early days of church planting and trying to figure out what missional ministry could look like among young adults. I do not know Mark personally. We have never exchanged so much as email messages. But we have mutual friends. He was kind enough to endorse my first book. During my time with the Docent Research Group, I did some editing work on a few of his book manuscripts. When I wrote the piece linked above, he was gracious enough to send a note of thanks and encouragement through his personal assistant. It touched me deeply. I want to repeat: I do not want Pastor Mark to fail and fall. I just want him to walk in step with the truth of the gospel.
I would “confront” him to his face if I could. Even though this is not a Matthew 18 situation, and Pastor Mark has not sinned against me personally, last week I tried to contact him privately through the two avenues available to me, but I received no response. I did not demand or even expect one. I know Pastor Mark is a very busy man, and since we do not really know each other, he has no obligation to me, and I don’t mean to suggest he does. He doesn’t. And if I’d had the opportunity to speak to him, as I requested, I would have done so respectfully and gently. I do hope what I’m writing right now will not be read as unkind or argumentative or ungraciously accusatory.
But I have an obligation to Pastor Mark. Because his preaching was so instrumental in my gospel wakefulness and because his writing was so influential on my early ministry – in large part because of his bold and unapologetic willingness to risk offending me in telling me the truth about myself and holding up the healing and empowering truth of Christ – I feel as though I owe it to him to speak thusly to him. Or about him, as the case may be, since I do not want to presume he would read this.
And I feel I have an obligation to the young men coming up into ministry, exploring the gospel-centered paradigm, learning and studying and practicing missional ministry wherever God has called them. I don’t want them to think the way to lead is to insulate from critique, ignore challenges, and adapt to some echo chamber of mutual admiration. I don’t want young men looking up to men like Mark or listening to lesser voices like my own to think gospel-centered ministry means passivity and silence in the face of obvious needs or, worse, aggression in the area of reputation, dominance and swagger in leadership.
Pastor Mark has, in my estimation, been distancing himself from the so-called “neo-Reformed” movement or the gospel-centered tribe for a few years. Stepping down from the council of The Gospel Coalition and from the presidency of the Acts29 Network and aligning more and more with voices in the “attractional” or “church growth” crowd, he has been communicating his shift away from one tribe and into another (perhaps a new one of his own cultivation) for quite some time. I am not insinuating sin in any of that at all; the attractional guys are our brothers in Christ. We tend to do ministry differently, of course, and I won’t lie in saying I think they largely approach church – or preaching specifically and the worship gathering generally, at least – in a distinctly wrong way, but it is certainly Pastor Mark’s right to partner with whom he wants and find his ministry kinship wherever God leads him.
But I guess what I’m saying is that it’s OK for the gospel-centered guys to “own” Pastor Mark’s apparent disowning of us. I am not trying to be divisive here; I am only trying to recognize the division that has already taken place. We have accepted the distancing to a large extent without comment. The occasional critical book review aside, we have found less and less to say about the growing division between his ministry trajectory and ours — at least, since the Elephant Room 2 controversy. I think for the most part we have been content to simply consider him “released.”
I stopped listening to Pastor Mark’s podcasts about five years ago and stopped reading his books a few years later, mainly because I became discouraged by his drift from substantive expository preaching. He seemed to have moved away from a rigid focus on the text and adopted more of a “start with the text, expand to a rant” kind of preaching style, and it grew tiresome to me. Even so and ever since, I have publicly defended Pastor Mark a few times over the last few years on a few points. I have disagreed with a few of his thoughts publicly, as well, but never in any substantive way, keeping the more concerning disagreements to myself.
I respected him too much to even appear to add to the growing animosity against him by his increasingly vicious critics. Some of those voices have spilled plenty of virtual ink about myself, not to the extent they have about Pastor Mark but still enough for me to know that they do not have their target’s best interests in mind and that, further, they won’t really be appeased, even with a sincere apology. I know what it’s like to have lies told about me, to have profane graffiti and perverse accusations hurled my way by strangers doing their “processing” online at the expense of unwitting and unwilling participants.
But after giving it some time – the Internet hates patience – to pray and think and ask trusted people to test my motivations, I think the time for silence, for me anyway, is over.
It’s not just about plagiarism. As a writer who learned to provide meticulous documentation from some very meticulous English teachers in high school, for me it is a no-brainer to cite sources. As a writer who works hard to create original content with a certain level of quality and style – what level is certainly subjective and up to the reader, I admit – for me it is a no-brainer to deem plagiarism as not just dishonest but unjust and unfair and lazy. As a writer who worked for the Docent Research Group, I know that citations of sources were diligently provided. And I’ve seen the original research brief provided to Pastor Mark for the 1&2 Peter study guide. The footnotes were there.
But it’s not just about plagiarism. I can believe the cut and paste was made without the right footnotes out of carelessness, that it was not carried out with an intent to deceive. It happens. So, no, it’s not just about plagiarism. I can believe Pastor Mark is not culpable in this. But he is responsible. If you understand the distinction. It’s about failing to take responsibility for the book with one’s name on it. It’s about throwing loyal friends under the bus. It is contrary to the kingdom of God we are called to proclaim and embody for under-shepherds to horde credit and shift blame.
This is not merely about lazy writing (or lazy supervision of someone else’s writing). It’s about what this one latest incident in the accumulating evidence of Pastor Mark’s empire-building says to us, his brothers and his customers. Pastoral leadership is difficult, not least because it demands the cross-taking humility of taking responsibility. To take responsibility for books that have your name on them, sure, but also for a public ministry sadly increasing in image-projecting, publicity-stunting, and gospel-obscuring. This latest episode is just the latest example indicating an evident lack of accountability and personal responsibility. All along, I’ve trusted that Pastor Mark had the right people around him, speaking the hard truths to him. I assumed those voices were there and authorized by him to keep him honest. I no longer believe this.
Pastor Mark, if you’re reading this — you are losing us. Forget about the “haters.” We ain’t them. We are the ones who love you, who want to see you succeed and prevail. And we won’t stop, no matter what tribe you’re in or which conference stage you take. But we want you to take responsibility for your actions and your attitude. It does not commend grace. We want you to walk in repentance. We want you to seek the way of Christ in more humility, to drop the image and the posturing, and remind us of what drew us to you in the first place: the fame of Christ’s name, not the protection of your own. What would the truth of the gospel have you do? What would adorn the gospel? What would make Jesus look big? I believe it would be a reversal of the trajectory of pride you have been on. I’m asking you to turn around and show us why we were so drawn to you in the beginning. I’m asking you to show us Jesus. He has become lost in your shadow.
Mark, you don’t owe me anything; you’ve already given me so much. I love you. And I am willing to lose friends and favor in posting this publicly. But I think it’s worth it, because I think you’re worth it and the integrity of gospel ministry is worth it.