Mark Driscoll’s recent statement has gained appropriate attention. Amidst the recent controversy surrounding plagiarism, ghost-writing, the hiring/firing policies of Mars Hill and their non-disclosure agreement requirement for employees, the recent surfacing of news of a contract with a publicity firm to game the system and give an inflated, coordinated surge for his Real Marriage book to achieve New York Times best-selling status, and the recent public outcry from former staffer Dave Kraft, people were wondering when Driscoll would directly respond to these disturbing revelations. Well, he has spoken, linked here.
First of all, I want to state that these recent problems are due to an overworked pastor trying to do too much. The plagiarism is more a sloppy edit job, in my opinion, where no malicious intent was present. What popular author would knowingly write stuff that was taken from other authors that are generally consumed by the same target audience? This suggests to me that some of his work has been quickly manufactured to keep up with demand. That is a recipe for the sloppiness we find. Dependence on ghost writers, sloppy editing of material intended for sermons that required a more thorough vetting for footnoting in book form, and eager publishers make for a deadly combination. Throw into that the desire for such books to be successful and lo and behold you are now spending thousands of dollars to inflate the notoriety of a book as part of the whole branding enterprise. Welcome to the evangelical industrial complex. It’s easy to fall prey to this powerful force. You also throw in the fact that more and more of the decision-making is ceded to experts who are given a long leash to ‘make things happen’ and it’s not surprising what sort of sausage-making occurs.
When Driscoll praised the Docent group for minimizing his sermon preparation time, even boasting on Twitter that his sermons only took as long to prepare as they did to speak, it manifested to me an overworked pastor trying to keep up a speaking schedule that wasn’t healthy. After all, these groups specifically target the “busy” pastor. How many of these busy pastors can even afford these services? The niche consumer must be the overworked celebrity pastor type who needs to maintain a high profile, while at the same time being freed from all of the time necessary in research and old-school sermon preparation.
I rejoice because Driscoll’s recent admissions reveal that it isn’t wise — if not possible — to maintain this profile while also faithfully pastoring the local church. I think his love for the local church is genuine. His following comments are commendable:
I will also be doing much less travel and speaking in the next season. In recent years, I have cut back significantly, but I will now cut back even more. I have cancelled some speaking events, and I am still determining the best course of action for a few that I’ve committed to, as they are evangelistic opportunities to invite people to salvation in Jesus Christ, which is something I care about deeply. I will be doing very few media interviews, if any. Also, I’m communicating with my publisher to determine how to meet my existing obligations and have a much less intense writing schedule.
Personally, I find this all relieving. The pressure and pace has increased every year since I started in 1996. I don’t want to be burned out or angry, and I want to become more like Jesus every year. I want to teach the Bible, love well, and run at a pace to finish my race many decades from now. My health is actually in the best place it has been in recent years. I have a skilled and unified team that loves you and can handle more responsibility, if I can free up the time and energy to love them and invest in them. Grace and the kids are doing very well, and my family is still my joy and priority. This year we will have three of our five kids as teenagers, and our oldest will be a senior preparing for college. I don’t want to miss this season, as these are years I can never get back. If I am going to err, I want it to be on the side of guarding too much time and energy for family and church family rather than not enough.
Second, in recent years, some have used the language of “celebrity pastor” to describe me and some other Christian leaders. In my experience, celebrity pastors eventually get enough speaking and writing opportunities outside the church that their focus on the church is compromised, until eventually they decide to leave and go do other things. Without judging any of those who have done this, let me be clear that my desires are exactly the opposite. I want to be under pastoral authority, in community, and a Bible-teaching pastor who grows as a loving spiritual father at home and in our church home for years to come. I don’t see how I can be both a celebrity and a pastor, and so I am happy to give up the former so that I can focus on the latter.
What I found most helpful from Driscoll is his admission that he might not have been as mature as he made himself out to be:
In the last year or two, I have been deeply convicted by God that my angry-young-prophet days are over, to be replaced by a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father. Those closest to me have said they recognize a deep change, which has been encouraging because I hope to continually be sanctified by God’s grace. I understand that people who saw or experienced my sin during this season are hurt and in some cases have not yet come to a place of peace or resolution. I have been burdened by this for the past year and have had private meetings one at a time to learn from, apologize to, and reconcile with people.
I don’t need to recall all of the unwise things Driscoll has said in the past, all under the veneer of radical masculinity. “Angry-young-prophet days” is a good way to put it. I’m glad that this admission is owing to the Spirit’s work. I know that others have reached out to him as well. Perhaps John MacArthur is vindicated in his past analysis that ‘liberated frat boy’ was a more fitting description than ‘man of God’ for much of what emanated from Driscoll’s influence. Real manhood requires a steady dose of humility over manufactured bravado. Machismo does not require a diet of Cable television and MMA. He once chided pastors at a Desiring God conference for not watching Cable to stay up on the trends. He was only partially hyperbolic. He’s also said that watching Mind of Mencia was helpful for his sermon delivery. There wasn’t much laughter in the room. I’m guessing that Mark now realizes that what he advertised as liberated maturity was a bit amateurish — and that the puzzled look from mature men of God was indicative of aged wisdom that is to commended, not ridiculed.
Many have prayed for Driscoll, including myself, and I’m glad to see his frank admission specifically over these matters. And even if pressure was placed on Mark to craft this letter (which wouldn’t be admitted), then good as well. Accountability is a necessary check to get us to own up to things we might not have if it was just between us and the Holy Spirit. God appointed humans as a means for our sanctification. Driscoll doesn’t need to name names, but I know that mature men have reached out to him and I’m glad for Driscoll’s growth in response to the loving voices of wisdom and prudence.
I’ve found myself criticizing Driscoll in the company of his fanboys while also defending him in the company of his most vicious critics. Driscoll has successfully called out his fanboys by delineating the old Mark from the new version. He can’t be held responsible if mindless fanboys just go along with the new Mark as if it, too, were some sort of branding effort (in their minds). It could be XP to Vista, but the most loyal fanboys will swear it’s better. Hopefully this upgrade will render Driscoll a much more credible paternal figure who can speak the truth in love to those who only want to emulate the former Driscoll. If the fanboys are mourning the loss of the shock jock, then good. But let’s hope they can be converted. The cynic in all of us will find Driscoll’s recent letter inadequate, finding more cause for righteous indignation than rejoicing. Should Mark have stepped down? Maybe. Should he step down and take a sabbatical leave while he works on repairing relationships? Perhaps. I’m not in the know to even make those determinations.
Another lesson to be learned is that of accountability. If Mark himself is acknowledging that there were problems for an extended period of time, where was the accountability levers to point this out along the way? Were they the ones who were fired and silenced? If so, then Mark certainly does have work to do, and I’d even suggest some form of restitution. Who’s to say that this can’t happen again? If it takes Driscoll’s self-discovery to right the ship, even if there’s much praise for the accountability board, then the viability of such a board should be called into question. Should the pastor who signed the contract to spike the sales of the book be fired? It’s not going to happen. Driscoll would also have to step down. I’m trying not to be cynical on this point, but only time will tell what the dynamic of Mark and the board look like. If it comes out that Driscoll should have been the one to step down amidst the criticism of former staffers, there’s nothing than can be done beyond forgiveness and restitution. A public hanging will only appease what’s a sinful desire for vengeance, for envy masquerading as righteous indignation.
What we do have is progress — and that is good! Anyone who covets a megachurch and celebrity profile, beware! Let me also be the first to say that these dynamics are ever present in smaller churches as well — perhaps even more so. Driscoll has learned from these recent events and they have providentially served as a wake-up call. For that we should rejoice. He has been faithful to his wife, loves and is loved by his children, and sincerely wants to honor Jesus. His maturation has rendered him more of a man now than in the past. We’re all works in progress and we should celebrate the process of sanctification in others. Driscoll 2.0 will lead to Driscoll 3.0 — and so on. We’re constantly being refined. We shouldn’t be shocked.
© 2014, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.