Why the Abuse of Authority at Mars Hill Matters, Part 2: The Influence

For background go here.

When I was a youth pastor in Mississippi, I discovered Mark Driscoll. Funny and straightforward, he was a youth pastor’s dream come true. So after listening to a sermon or two and reading a book about the beginnings of Mars Hill, I decided to expose my students to him. We – about 10 students and myself – went through Vintage Jesus together. They loved it. And even after I left, Mark Driscoll continued to be partaken of.

Next I was at a church in Wichita, Kansas. There, I worked with Middle School students all the way through College and Singles. I introduced those college students and singles to Driscoll and Acts 29. I even took 3 college students with me to an A29 boot-camp up in Seattle. While in “the ICT” I started what became a successful ministry for this age group in downtown Wichita. DCF met in the back of a coffee shop and grew and grew and grew. Before I left to move back home to Birmingham to plant (but then join an A29 plant), I handed DCF over to an Acts 29 planter  – a guy I admire and respect.

Pastors of the church I attend now – a PCA church, mind you – often post articles from The Resurgence website.

Five congregations over a five year period, all under the influence of the major players in this story.

So my personal story is riddled with anecdotes illustrating in stark relief the influence of Mars Hill and Acts 29. But let’s face it, many of you have felt and seen the influence far more than I have. I have hardly listened to any of Driscoll’s sermons. And though I’ve read and recommended his books, I remember so little of them and have read nothing since the first few chapters of that one with all the graphic sexual images in it…no, no, not the new sex book.

In my life he was more of a resource, for many more, he was a distant mentor.

Last week, when I posted the story of Paul Petry on my blog, I was asked a really good question –

Would we care about this so much if it happened in a small church hardly anyone knew or cared about?

It’s a really good question. But I’m not sure we can answer it with a “yes” or “no.”

There is a reason we know the story of Paul Petry. It’s not merely because we so-called watchbloggers like to drudge up dirt on the big dogs. Mark Driscoll and the leaders of Mars Hill chose the easy path of notoriety at every turn. They have never balked at the opportunity to publicize their achievements and offerings. They are known because they wanted to be known.

They are celebrities because they wanted it.

And the celebrity status puts them in the position of being known more than the small out of the way churches. Therefore, we care more simply about what is happening at Mars Hill because they are on our radar and the small backwoods church is not. Now it’s true, that small backwoods may experience instances of abuse of authority causing a stir having cataclysmic effects on our culture in the near future. But we can only deal with what we know. And the known is where we can be sure of influence over the evangelical culture.

Let me also answer the question another way- no, I would not care as much about the small out of the way church as much as I do the Mars Hill abuse. Why? Because I have personally seen what the abuse coming out of Mars Hill looks like. (You know what’s funny? Over the past week I’ve been accused of taking this too personally and caring too much about the goings on of a church thousands of miles away. People are funny.)

The influence is daunting – one of the most popular podcasts, 14 campuses in 4 states where Driscoll is either preaching live or being shown on a large video screen, the very popular Resurgence website designed to serve and influence leaders, Re:Lit is a publishing group with a volue on the NYT bestselling list, and Acts 29 is a network of 400 churches and growing worldwide.

Shouldn’t our concern about the abuse of authority be in proportion to the influence such men have?

Rob Bell put out a video about a book that had yet to be published and the New Calvinists went all MMA on him. Why would they go after him before anyone had read the book? They worried if they did not say anything, his book might be a negative influence on their flock/readers/greater evangelical world.

I mean, don’t you think what’s good for the (once) pastor of Mars Hill in Michigan is also good for the pastor of Mars Hill in Seattle?

4 thoughts on “Why the Abuse of Authority at Mars Hill Matters, Part 2: The Influence

  1. Anonymous March 27, 2012 / 6:57 pm

    I think we should be more concerned about the big names because of the public influence. Not every sin is a public sin, and far too many personal issues are taken publicly. However, Paul does call out Peter on hypocrisy because the sin was committed publicly and because it was leading others astray (e.g. Barnabas). To all those who would take every attack public (not you), Paul doesn't even mention the sin of the sinner in 2 Corinthians 2.Joel H

  2. Mara Reid March 28, 2012 / 12:56 pm

    Matt, I was part of a small church that was led by a personality similar to Mark Driscoll. It wasn't backwoods. It was in a medium sized city and there were some very good things that that pastor did. But he was also authoritarian like Driscoll and the church had a military feel which appealed to the young men. Though more egalitarian than Driscoll's church, the pastor would say things about the new converts being babies in the Lord but in our church the babies wore camouflage Pampers (and this was long before the designer diapers were ever on the market.)Things started out well. But like Driscoll, that pastor didn't like being told "no". My father was on that board and heard a lot of ranting and raving. And we watched that pastor rant and rave about money or obedience or whatever his mood called for, from the pulpit.Because of my experience, watching the Mars Hill thing unfold has been particularly difficult.I've told people that Driscoll is a lot like my old pastor, except… Driscoll is smarter, more charismatic, and better looking, all of which make him far more dangerous than my old pastor ever was.This is already long. But if you ask sometime, I'll tell you where that old pastor of mine is now. And it's not a pretty sight.

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