In early April, Mark Driscoll stunned many ex-Mars Hill Church leaders with his account on the Life Today TV program of how Mars Hill Church came to an end. Driscoll blamed the problems at Mars Hill Church on an “eight year governance war” and said it centered around disputes over power with his subordinate elders. Last week, one elder, Mike Wilkerson, went on the record on Matt Carter’s podcast to contradict Driscoll’s account. When Driscoll first made that claim, former elder Mark Dunford also denied Driscoll’s story.
Not long after the show aired, it was removed from Life Today‘s website. Now, I can post a fair use clip of the show which contains Driscoll’s unique perspective. Watch:
Mark: At 22 we graduated; 25 we started a Bible study trying to reach primarily young 2 college-educated singles in what was at the time among the nation’s least churched cities. In the early years we were broke and we didn’t have kids and I was working a job and didn’t think it would amount to anything. Eventually, in God’s grace, God did some remarkable things through some wonderful people. We saw about 10,000 people baptized. We saw the church grow to 15,000 on a typical Sunday. We saw 15 locations in five states, just kind of superseded all expectations.
Randy: And this is the Pacific Northwest, this is not the Bible belt.
Mark: No. This is urban, single, young adults, all kinds of sexual issues, confusion, abuse, baggage and carry-ons — so lots of stuff going on. We had a governance war at the church that went eight years behind the scenes over who is in charge and how things play out. At the end we had 67 elders in 15 locations in five states, a large percentage of whom I had never met. They wanted to have independent local churches and we were one large church in many locations. So there was an eight-year battle that finally went public the last year and it was very painful for everyone involved, especially the wonderful, dear, generous, amazing people that served and gave and made it all happen.
So the governing board in authority over me invited us to continue and we prayed about it and talked about it as a family and felt like we heard from the Lord and I resigned. And left without — didn’t have an opportunity to say good-bye to the people so I want to let them know how much I love them and appreciate them and wish I would have had that opportunity. We took some time off just to heal up. I signed a non-disclosure agreement so you’re not going to talk about it, which was fair and reasonable and I agree with. And just decided to spend time as a family to heal up, to meet with wise counsel, to learn what we could learn and to see what the Lord had for the next season of our life.
Since the show, I have heard from a dozen former elders. None recall a war over power and control. Some gave me permission to use their comments anonymously. One said:
Mark’s version is revisionist history. There was no battle. He was always in charge of the church. He ruled it and steered it as he wished. He mostly had “yes” men on board who did what he wanted. They only reason Mars Hill ended up with 67 elders at the end was that Mark lowered the standards for eldership so he could have more elders for more franchise locations. He pushed for more and more locations, and in this Life Today interview he is acting like it was the idea of the local elders. No Mars Hill elder wanted to have an independent church in the sense of pulling a MH location away. If an elder felt like being a lead pastor and preaching more, he would plant a church with Acts29. Since Mars Hill and Acts29 were closely related for most of the time, it was very fluid. A few did that, but it was very few.Mark’s version is an example of him playing the heroic victim. He’s not the victim of his elders. They were his victim. And when they finally recognized he did not meet the qualifications for an elder and the were going to remove him, Mark resigned like a coward and blamed his resignation on God. Interestingly, Mark resigned the night before the elder report about his disqualification was going to be made public. I believe Mark resigned because it preserved his severance package.
Another told me:
I don’t ever remember hearing anything about any campuses wanting to break away. If they did, they would have been fired on the spot. I guarantee you that.
Another one said:
There was no “war”, Driscoll decided to rewrite the bi-laws and then fire a couple wise pastors asking legitimate questions.
Finally, a former elder concluded:
The common thread in all these events has to do with Mark’s character flaws, authoritarian leadership style, unresolved conflict and his biblical qualifications for being an elder being questioned, due to many specific and ongoing patterns, incidents, and behaviors. No discussions in elder meetings over those 8 years involved anything to do with church governance, as that was not even a consideration or topic of conversation.
For the record, I approached Rev. Driscoll via his ministry website for comment and to give him an opportunity to present his side of the story. He never responded.
Wenatchee the Hatchet has a major analysis of the Life Today appearance and takes down Driscoll’s narrative bit by bit. Start with part one and work your way through the details.