Since Mark Driscoll resigned, there have a lot of “What we can learn” pieces out there. I’ve read a few, and while they I thought they all made excellent points, here a just a few observations I think have been missed in this whole matter.
Here are 5 lessons I see coming out of this.
- Don’t poke the bear. There’s no upside in antagonizing people- any people, but especially your critics.
There are some folks who seem to take glee in taunting their critics. Driscoll especially loved to refer to those who critiqued him as “pajama blogger jihadists who make declarations about how the world should be from the comfy confines of their mom’s house.”
While that’s a funny line, the end result of insulting your critics is an ever-increasing group of people who feel an ever-increasing emotional weight behind finding fault with you. Being funny is easy. Actually engaging a growing group of people who are concerned about your methods is a lot harder. And doubling down on the very tone for which you are being critiqued makes little sense, unless you are slowly coming to realize that it’s that very tone that is at the center of the success you’ve had.
If you are taking pride in how many people are against you, or ever looked at the number of your critics and thought “I must be doing something right,” you are walking down a very dangerous road.
The Gospel calls us to engage our critics, bless our enemies, and convert foes into friends, not seek ever more hilarious ways to insult, anger or demean them.
- You will be hoisted by your own petard. He who lives by the sword, dies by it. What you sow, you reap.
That bomb throwers eventually blow themselves up is more of a general life lesson, than Mars Hill-specific, but I think what’s been happening illustrates it well. Things tend to turn back on themselves and people who make a habit out of firing those under them for disagreeing with them will eventually find themselves caught up by the revolving door they themselves set up. When we create a culture of instability through trials, tribunals and needing boards of accountability in our churches, we’re really sawing thru the very branch we’re sitting on.
Many people, including I think, Mark Driscoll himself, never thought he’d leave. He often talked about dying in the Mars Hill pulpit. Unfortunately, as the pile of bodies behind the Mars Hill bus grew and grew, it wasn’t too hard to see that eventually, the one driving the bus was going to get pulled over.
Sow grace and reap grace. Sow a culture in which people are casually tossed to the side of the road and some day you will find yourself sitting there with them.
- Celebrity churches grow fast but they shrink just as fast
Making waves, being controversial, growing your “platform”- all ways to see your church move from regular community of faithful people centered around the person of Jesus, to mega-entity with multi-million dollar budgets, hundreds of people on the payroll and appearances on Piers Morgan. The problem is that at the end of it, the community is often no longer centered around Jesus, but around the celebrity making it all happen.
And worse, when that celebrity takes a fall, the people who have been drawn to hear the big name week after week tend to start disappearing. The spiral of cutting staff and programs, selling properties begins and the exodus only increases. Those who were part of the now-closed Mars Hill campuses are beginning to see this clearly.
The celebrity church is inherently the weakest form of community. Centered around one person, ultimate authority and decision-making resting not in a team of elders, but in that same person, the reputation of the church tied to his or her reputation… eventually it’s going to go sideways and that church’s meteoric rise will come to an abrupt end.
Not all mega churches are celebrity churches. But those that do grow because they have a charismatic person who makes headlines at the front need to think about the cost if that person should hit the wall.
Riding the wave with a celebrity can be thrilling, at least until the wave begins to crash.
- Eventually you will become a caricature of yourself.
You can’t have a celebrity church without a celebrity. And every celebrity needs his or her own “thing,” that special something that begins to define them in the public consciousness. For Driscoll, this began with his introduction to the world as the “cussing pastor” in Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. It continued through Chris Rock-inspired monologues, rants and general curmudgeonlyness.
Throughout it all, concerns were expressed by those near to him. And throughout it all, in spite of repeated statements of repentance, it remained another month, another Driscoll-related blow up on the internet and eventually the media as a whole.
The worst part of being a celebrity is not the constant scrutiny. In fact, for those who remain teachable, that can actually be the best part, because the fishbowl in which they live can be one of the most significant means for their formation through making clear the areas where growth is needed. No, the worst part of the celebrity culture is its refusal to let people grow and evolve. What people come for in the first place continues to be what they demand and what we think we need to give. Just ask any classic rock band who tries to play new material. Few and far between are the celebrities who can re-invent themselves gracefully.
No, the real problem with being a celebrity is that eventually you will either disappoint your fans by becoming something different or you will become a caricature of yourself. Avoid the problem by not becoming the “edgy” pastor, the “funny” pastor, the anything but faithful pastor.
- Empires are for kings, not pastors.
In a Christian media filled with “Fastest Growing!” and “Most Influential!” lists, this may be the point which raises the most ire, but I feel like it needs to be said. Empire-building is not what we are called to do, even empires built in the name of Christ.
As a church planter and one who works with church planters, I’ve watched with increasing alarm as the church franchising movement has grown. More and more churches are moving into “markets” very far from their home community, bringing small and/or struggling churches into their “brand,” and generally taking the celebrity church model not only national but international as well.
I recognize and share the desire to see large numbers of people come to Christ. Where I get off the boat is in thinking that those people have to be a part of the church I personally pastor. I came to realize a long time ago that we all have limits- how many times and places we can preach, how many people we can pastor. Technology allows us to transcend those limits. I can now beam a hologram of myself across the country and make it appear as though I am talking to a crowd of people I will never even meet. The only real question is should I?
Empire building is in our blood. Giving away people and power to others is not. Building a huge multi-national organization may be fine for the CEO of a company, but for the pastor, the shepherd? We are the ones called to be the least and meant to call others to the same. It’s hard to model the self-emptying nature of Christ while simultaneously building our platform, checking our numbers and stats, and thinking about how we are doing over and against the others in our league. The call to servant leadership is not something we can long pay lip service to.
In all of this I continue to hope and pray for the best for Mark and the people of Mars Hill. My fear is that rather than causing us to step back from and question the whole idea of the celebrity-driven mega church pastored by the edgy bomb-thrower who loves to taunt his critics we’ll just see a new generation of them who have learned the wrong lessons and rather than abandoning the whole model and seeking the way of not only personal but institutional humility we’ll just get more of same, maybe just with a little less, you know… Driscollness.