Last week I learned that Mark Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., resigned from leading his church. While those involved with him denied he was disqualified for ministry, the overseeing board of Mars Hill concluded Driscoll had “been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner, but had never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy.” Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.
My heart goes out to Mark, his family, Mars Hill Church and to all those negatively affected by this situation. I hope and pray Mark and his wife have someone they trust who will minister to them and love them back to their divine calling and destiny.
It is very interesting to me that, in the past several years, other well-known evangelical pastors in the Reformed camp have stepped aside for similar reasons. C.J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace stepped down due to arrogance and John Piper took a leave of absence from the pulpit because of pride and to work on his marriage. This indicates a new and important trend in leadership expectation since, in the past, well-known ministerial leaders would only step down for the scandalous sins of adultery, financial fraud and other so called “big sins.”
I have followed the story of the challenges related to Mark’s leadership style since it broke several months ago, and the following are important lessons we can all learn from his unfortunate situation.
1. There is less tolerance for a top-down leadership style in today’s culture.
Today’s culture is much more egalitarian than the previous generation. In the past decades, most churches and people would sneeze at the charges laid against Mark Driscoll, but not so anymore. God-glorifying leadership has to go beyond a one-person autocratic leadership style to one that leads through empowering teams around them to accomplish the mission. Strong, secure leaders are not afraid of pushback from other inner-circle leaders, and they enjoy having others involved in the creative process of vision, problem solving and execution.
2. There is much more scrutiny today because of social media.
In past decades, Mark Driscoll would probably still be the pastor of Mars Hill. What helped take him down was the vast social media enterprise that elucidated many of his remarks and retorts from his opposition on the blogosphere. Right or wrong, now everyone in the pew has a voice and they can say whatever they want about their pastors, their sermons, the church and others via Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms.
The result: Every leader is now living with more scrutiny than ever before in human history, and it will only get more intense as time goes on. (This is why every leader should have a social media taskforce to deal with unwarranted and negative things said about them on the Internet.)
3. Love is more important than achievement and results.
First Corinthians 13 teaches us the greatest of all attributes is love. God is not impressed with what we accomplish as much as He is interested in why and how we do the things we do. When we objectify the people in our church to get the results we want, we are dehumanizing them and are missing the point even if we seem to get great short-term results.
4. All executive leaders and lead pastors need both internal and external accountability.
It seems as though there was no one in the group of elders of Mars Hill with a strong enough voice to stop Mark from his abusive leadership style (which he has acknowledged in public). When the internal structure of accountability fails and/or if an elder cannot stop their leader from deleterious behavior, then the elder should have an outside overseer to confront their lead pastor.
There always has to be several layers of recourse in an organizational infrastructure to deal with malfeasance or toxicity in the corporate culture and/or leader.
5. The church often elevates gifted people who are not emotionally mature.
Over and over again I see Christian churches and organizations elevating people who are emotionally broken and immature people merely because they have great charisma, preaching or singing ability. All of us have to grapple with the fact that at times our talent can outpace our level of spiritual formation and character. Not every popular preacher is an emotionally healthy and mature Christ-follower.