Mars Hill Church as an entity and ongoing concern is no more. On January 1, 2015 they closed up shop leaving all of their many locations to their own devices to continue as independent churches or join with other congregations or simply to disband. It was a good run. From obscurity to glory and national fame and now this; simply calling it quits.
I am sure Mark Driscoll will find another way to preach the gospel, to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. He is still young and vigorous at the age of 44 and has made a big name for himself which surely he can use going forward. There are rumors that Driscoll is considering a return to Ministry in Texas or California with the help of Robert Morris who is the founding senior pastor of Gateway Church in the Dallas-Fortworth area in Texas. Gateway Church is a very successful and large mega-church with multiple sites that started in the year 2000. Matt Chandler, current president of the Acts 29 Network, is himself based in the Dalls-Fortworth area as the lead pastor of The Village Church which currently has 4 different campuses.
In addition to the possibility of Mark Driscoll founding a new church in a new location Driscoll’s new website MarkDriscoll.org, which has an archive of some of Driscoll’s sermons and teachings from his Mars Hill days, is soliciting donations for “Learning for Living” with the message “Your tax-deductible gift helps us host and distribute Pastor Mark Driscoll’s past and future Bible teaching and resources.”
So how did it all start? I would say it started when Mark Driscoll was a college freshman at age 19 when he converted to evangelical Christianity and that same year, as Driscoll relates, “God spoke to me… He told me to marry Grace, preach the Bible, train men, and plant churches… I began preparing to devote my life to obey [God’s] call for me.”
After Mark graduated from Washington State University Mark and Grace moved back to Seattle, Washington. Mark and Grace had met each other originally as students at Highline High School in Burien, Washington which is just south of Seattle, Washington. As the Wikipedia biography of Mark Driscoll relates “After graduation, Mark and Grace relocated to Seattle, where they attended Antioch Bible Church and worked with that church’s college ministry as volunteers. Mark was hired as an intern a few months later. Through his internship, Mark met Mike Gunn, who worked for an Athletes in Action ministry at the University of Washington, and Lief Moi, a radio show host. The three men began to discuss planting an “urban, postmodern” church in Seattle. Greg Kappas, the pastor responsible for Antioch Bible Church’s new church planting ministry, mentored the three and helped them develop their plans.”
Mark Driscoll, Leif Moi, and Mike Gunn then founded Mars Hill Church in the Spring of 1996 with a contingent of about 30 students from Antioch Bible Church with the blessing of Antioch Bible Church; Mars Hill Church effectively being a church plant of Antioch Bible Church from Antioch Bible Church’s point of view.
This is how the miracle of Mars Hill Church began. By the Spring of 1997 the church was well established as it expanded to 2 evening services. Under the influence of Alan Roxburgh Driscoll settled on his vital complementarian view of women in the church.
By the Fall of 1999 regular church attendance had grown to 350 people every week and the church was then able to give Mark Driscoll a full-time salary.
So here is a timeline for how it all went down:
Spring of 1996 – Mars Hill Church is founded by Mark Driscoll, Leif Moi, and Mike Gunn who met each other through Antioch Bible Church. This group of founders being advised and supported by Greg Kappas, the church planter for Antioch Bible Church. The initial members of Mars Hill Church being students from Antioch Bible Church. Mars Hill Church being an off-shoot or church plant of Antioch Bible Church originally.
1998 – Mark Driscoll and David Nicholas found the Acts 29 Network in response to people approaching Driscoll asking for advice on how to plant churches. Acts 29 started out with 11 affiliated churches at its beginning and slowly grew to 17 churches by 2003. From 2003 to 2006 there was big growth from 17 churches to 50 churches. Then from 2006 to 2011 was the huge growth from 50 churches to 410 churches. According to my count based on the churches listed at the Acts 29 website there were 457 Acts 29 churches on January 1, 2015; 401 in the United States and 56 internationally.
2005 – Mark Driscoll and others (particularly D.A. Carson and Tim Keller) found The Gospel Coalition.
2006 – Mark Driscoll founds The Resurgence. As the Mark Driscoll biography Wikipedia entry states “In 2006, Driscoll founded the Resurgence, a “theological cooperative” whose partners include Acts 29 Network and Mars Hill Church. The Resurgence aims to train church leaders in conservative reformed theology. It has three main branches: Re:Lit, a publishing house, Re:Train, a missional training centre, and Re:Sound, a music arm.”
2006 – Mars Hill Church goes multi-site going from just its central location in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle to also having branches in Shoreline (just north of Seattle), Lake City (a Seattle neighborhood), and West Seattle. In 2007 2 more locations were added; also in 2008 2 more locations opened up; then in Fall 2009 Mars Hill Church opened its first branch outside of Washington State in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Source: Mars Hill Church Wikipedia entry
September 30, 2007 – The first warning of trouble. Mars Hill Church fires Paul Petry and Bent Meyer for raising objections and concerns about Mark Driscoll’s plans to re-organize the governing structure of the church in a way that would concentrate power in the hands of Mark Drisocll and a team of “Executive Elders” Driscoll trusted.
October 31, 2011 – God’s Work, Our Witness. This is not so much a news event but a post Mark Driscoll wrote asking for large donations from the membership to fund his big plans for expansion. Much of what he says in the post is eerie in retrospect; almost frantic and desperate and also hopeful and grandiose. He is presenting Mars Hill Church as being on the edge of great glory and new victories when in reality this is the moment of overreach and the beginning of stagnation and decline. I suspect Mark Driscoll sensed trouble and stagnation dead ahead and decided to use “desperate measures” to further expand his church.
Mark Driscoll’s post starts out “Our God is big. Our mission is big. Our plans are big. Our prayers are big. Our request for $6.4 million in November and December is big.” Next paragraph. “For 15 years, God has worked in big ways at Mars Hill Church. And we believe that God isn’t anywhere close to emptying his bucket of grace with our name on it. In 1996, Grace and I planted the church in our living room with just a handful of people. Today, Mars Hill Church is seeing over 11,000 people each Sunday in ten churches in two states—Washington and New Mexico.” Yes, this is glorious. Unfortunately, in retrospect, end of 2011 early 2012 is right when Mars Hill Church and the Acts 29 Network hit the wall and growth sharply slowed down or stopped. Later on in the paragraph Driscoll mentioned “And there are 400 Acts 29 churches with another 400 potential church planters being assessed.” At the end of the paragraph Driscoll then exclaims:
“And now we have multiple opportunities by God’s grace to expand our work as a church even more by doing the biggest, craziest, most epic, and ridiculous thing we’ve ever attempted:
4 churches: We’ll be planting Mars Hill Church Sammamish, Rainier Valley, Portland, and Orange County, in …
3 states: Washington, Oregon, and California, for …
2 reasons: We love God and we love people (Matthew 22:36–40), on …
1 day: January 15, 2012”
There it is; the “biggest, craziest, most epic, and ridiculous thing” (Driscoll’s own words!) for the day of glory January 15, 2012. In addition to the big expansion of physical church locations January 15, 2012 was also the day of the beginning of the much hyped and promoted Real Marriage sermon series that coincided with the release of the Real Marriage book. So Mark Driscoll set things up to make January 15, 2012 a “big day” for his church. A valiant heroic maybe desperate push for continued growth and expansion.
The “God’s Work, Our Witness” posts ends with “We are asking God to give, through you, a total of $6.4 million in November and December to finish the year strong and make room to welcome 9,000 more people. Lord willing, we will nearly double our capacity in time for the Real Marriage campaign starting in January. For 2012 we are asking God for the biggest year we’ve ever had, and literally everything is lining up for just that to happen. Together let’s pursue a vision so big that, if God is not in it, we are doomed to fail. Please give generously to Mars Hill to help support God’s work.”
January 15, 2012 – The day of glory; the peak of Mars Hill Church I would say looking back at things in retrospect. This is the day 4 new branches of Mars Hill Church were opened, the day the Real Marriage sermon series began, the approximate time the Real Marriage book was released to the public for people to read and discuss. A great set-up to bring more people and attention to Mars Hill Church. Unfortunately this great push forward did not actually bring in substantial new people or donations so Mars Hill Church ended up overextended financially.
March 17, 2012 – The beginning of the decline, the day Sutton Turner sent a memo to the Executive Elders of Mars Hill Church regarding the church’s financial situation.
Highlights from the financial report:
“Since September , we have basically planted or re-planted 6 churches (EVT, ABQ, OC, SAM, RNV, and PDX). Operationally and organizationally this is a huge task. In order to accomplish this massive task, the people and processes were set up to accomplish this task. So the organization was built to plant 6 churches, not sustain past that event. Then you put on top of these 6 churches launches a RM [Real Marriage] campaign and you basically have a company going to World War III. It is all hands on deck, spend whenever is needed and let’s win the War.
However, now the war is over and by God’s grace we have successfully completed the launches and RM [Real Marriage] Series, we have an organization built for a War and that is totally not sustainable. If we had the leaders and money to plant/re-plant 6 churches each year, we would be fine, but we don’t have the money or the leaders to do that. With the massive growth in our Central staff to accomplish these objectives in January 2012, we have picked up many things that are not mission critical and now take up time, money, and resources.”
In the report Sutton Turner said “We are taking in $30.25 per adult and spending $47.30 per adult.” Turner also criticized the practice of pushing big giving campaigns at the end of the year to make up for prior accumulated deficits saying “From what I can tell by this past year’s budget, we have had a strategy of completing a Hail Mary every December with a big giving campaign. This has allowed the negative monthly financial performance to continue while we count on a Hail Mary giving push in December to make up for the annual deficit. Givers are giving to grow the body and plant more churches, but given our spending habits, their gifts just help us catch up. With the growth of the church, the 2011 version only allows for enough cash to run through June 2012 and is not a sustainable plan for December 2012.”
Turner ends his report saying “The hole we are in today was set in course when we decided to plant 6 churches in 5 months on top of the Real Marriage campaign. Too much work for an 8,000 in weekly attendance church to undertake when there was a culture within the church staff of poor stewardship and a church body that did not financially support the church.”
March 28, 2012 – Mark Driscoll resigns from the presidency of the Acts 29 Network and from The Gospel Coalition’s leadership council. In an article reporting on this event it is reported that “In a statement released by Driscoll, he made it clear that no one asked him to resign and that he will continue to support both Acts 29 and The Gospel Coalition. No conflict or controversy was behind his decision. Rather, says Driscoll, ‘I’m transitioning for no other reason than I find myself at the end of my tether with time and energy.’” So basically Driscoll withdrew from the presidency of Acts 29 and from the leadership council of The Gospel Coalition to focus more on Mars Hill as he must have known by now that Mars Hill was in trouble and needed more of his attention. It was at this time that Matt Chandler took over the presidency of Acts 29 to replace Mark Driscoll. Mark Driscoll remained on the Acts 29 board of directors.
May 10, 2013 – The frontal attack against Mark Driscoll begins with Pastor Dave Kraft leveling formal charges against Mark Driscoll’s leadership style and personality shortcomings. That Mark Driscoll is a bully, short tempered, arrogant and verbally abusive, stuff like that, and that Mark Driscoll is therefore not fit as an Elder, much less as Lead Pastor, of a church.
November 21, 2013 – Janet Mefferd on her radio show publicly and directly accuses Mark Driscoll of plagiarism by not giving Dr. Peter Jones the credit he deserved as a source or reference in Driscoll’s book “A Call to Resurgence.”
December 7, 2013 – The plagiarism accusation against Mark Driscoll goes “viral” being picked up and talked about by a wide range of religious media outlets. This is when “scandal” first attached itself to Mark Driscoll in the public mind I would say.
March 5, 2014 – The Result Source scandal breaks where it was discovered that Mars Hill Church paid Result Source at least $210,000 to artificially inflate the sales of the Real Marriage book so that Mark Driscoll could tout the book as a New York Times best-seller. The contract was entered into on October 13, 2011 by Sutton Turner; the same man who issued the dire warning about Mars Hill’s finances on March 17, 2012. This being part of the big promotion of the Real Marriage sermon series set for January 15, 2012 mentioned before.
March 8, 2014 – Dave Kraft goes public regarding his brining of formal charges against Mark Driscoll on May 10, 2013 quickly receiving public support from other former Mars Hill Church pastors.
March 17, 2014 – Warren Throckmorton reported on his website “On Monday March 17, twenty former Mars Hill pastors sent a letter to the executive elders and Board of Advisors and Accountability of Mars Hill Church with an invitation to enter into a process of mediation designed to lead to mutual repentance and reconciliation.”
August 8, 2014 – The Acts 29 Network which Mark Driscoll helped found and was the president of for many years expelled Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church with this statement:
“It is with deep sorrow that the Acts 29 Network announces its decision to remove Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from membership in the network. Mark and the Elders of Mars Hill have been informed of the decision, along with the reasons for removal. It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network. In taking this action, our prayer is that it will encourage the leadership of Mars Hill to respond in a distinctive and godly manner so that the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored.”
August 22, 2014 – 9 current, still-active, Mars Hill Church elders signed a letter addressed to all of the elders of Mars Hill Church calling on Mark Driscoll to step down from preaching and all leadership roles within the church and submit himself to a restoration plan overseen by the elders of the church before returning to his preaching and leadership role.
Quoting from the letter “Beyond these two examples, there is no dearth of examples in the last two years of very questionable transparency and truth-telling, including the Mars Hill Global Fund, Result-Source, Strange Fire, ghost-writing/plagiarism, explanations for staff transition, the resignations of BOAA members, etc.” and Dr. Paul Tripp who served on the Mars Hill BOAA (Board of Advisors and Accountability) is quoted as saying “I don’t think even now that there is the recognition of the depth of what Mars Hill Church and Mark is actually dealing with. This is without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.”
August 24, 2014 – Mark Driscoll announces that he will step away from the pulpit for a minimum of 6 weeks. As Driscoll put it “I have requested a break for processing, healing, and growth for a minimum of six weeks while the leadership assigned by our bylaws conduct a thorough examination of accusations against me. I believe their review can best be performed without me being in the pulpit or the office, and they have agreed to this arrangement.”
October 14, 2014 – Mark Driscoll resigns from Mars Hill Church
October 31, 2014 – Lead Pastor Dave Bruskas announces that Mars Hill Church will disband and dissolve effective January 1, 2015.
January 1, 2015 – THE END.
Looking back over this history, it is hard for me to believe that Mark Driscoll was undone because he was a bully, power mongering, and tyrannical. Driscoll was always “controversial.” He was always “in your face.” He loved going on “man up” tirades against the men in his church and was often very insulting and confrontational in his style. He also used a lot of self-deprecating humor and told stories about himself often portraying himself in an unflattering light to demonstrate that he is a sinner to and that we are all sinners. This style and personality of Driscoll is exactly what made him popular particularly with young men. It is why Driscoll became a super star in the conservative Christian world where he broke all the rules and was rewarded handsomely for it with a huge fast growing conservative church right in the heart of atheist liberal Seattle.
Then, all of a sudden, Driscoll’s personality and style becomes “tyrannical” and “bullying.” Instead of his antics and tactics being “edgy” or “cute” or maybe “pushing the envelope” or “doing what has to be done” instead they are seen as outright scandalous and mean and unacceptable and intolerable.
This change against Driscoll happened when the good times of fast expansion ran out and when the money started to get tight. Instead of the easy luxury of being able to put things on the Mars Hill charge card without much oversight or scrutiny involved suddenly everyone had to count their pennies and cut back. As the money problems continued layoffs then stalked the land. Driscoll was no longer super smart and to be trusted implicitly because Mars Hill stopped growing; the magic was gone. Then things turned nasty and all of a sudden it was Driscoll’s personality and style and his “bending of the rules” that was the problem.
Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll in particular succeeded so spectacularly because he met an unmet need for a conservative traditional gender roles church in an area, the Seattle area, where no one previously had figured out and implemented an effective strategy for how to bring conservative Christianity into an atheist liberal cultural zone. Driscoll figured out how to do this and so hit the jackpot enjoying a full 15 years of rapid expansion for his church. Eventually however this previously neglected unfulfilled religious need in the Seattle area was quenched and so the growth of Mars Hill slowed way down. This saturation point appears to have been reached around late 2011. Mark Driscoll tried to keep the good times rolling and the expansion continuing with his Real Marriage book and sermon series combined with the opening of several new church locations; his much hyped day of glory on January 15, 2012. This “vision” didn’t work and got Mars Hill Church in trouble financially but at least he tried, at least Driscoll tried his best to push the power of his church as far as it could go.
What is important to me in this story is how much Driscoll accomplished. The multiple branches of Mars Hill Church are no longer under the brand of “Mars Hill” but they are still around, the people in those churches still have been brought into a conservative Christian environment due to the organizational success of the Mars Hill Church before it imploded. The Acts 29 Network is still around. Before Mark Driscoll there was no Acts 29 Network. The Acts 29 Network is the largest organized grouping of complementarian Christian churches in the United States as far as I know. Also The Gospel Coalition and The Resurgence are still around. Everything that Mark Driscoll developed and grew as far as conservative Christian organizational infrastructure is concerned is still around.
Another important thing that Mark Driscoll accomplished. He showed that complementarianism or patriarchy works; that complementarian patriarchal Christian teachings work in the religious marketplace. That complementarianism and patriarchy is a good effective means of building a congregation even in or especially in atheist liberal environments. There are many who will seek to emulate Mark Driscoll’s success in the future. He provided a template for “how it is done.”
American culture will be resurrected and brought to health again by means of conservative patriarchal religious revival. Mark Driscoll will go down in history as an important figure in this process of religious revival and cultural renewal. The infrastructure of conservative patriarchal Christianity has grown hugely since 1995; Mark Driscoll being an important part of that process by providing a model for how to bring conservative Christianity to an atheist liberal town and in particular by his role in founding and leading the Acts 29 Network.