Posts tagged ‘Mars Hill Church’

Mark Driscoll’s Fruit Punch

Credit: Mars Hill Church

Credit: Mars Hill Church

Jesus once explained how the world could recognize His disciples: “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20). “Fruit,” of course, is what the apostle Paul describes as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Thus, if others want to know whether or not a person follows Jesus, they need only to look at how he acts.

Of course, there is a little more to it than just this. Because even people who follow Jesus do not always bear the kind of fruit Paul enumerates. Indeed, even Paul himself admits, “What I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). Paul’s spiritual fruit is more like a fruit punch – a mix of good fruit and bad fruit, righteous fruit and sinful fruit.

This past week has been a tough one for Mars Hill Church of Seattle. Last Sunday, its pastor, Mark Driscoll, announced to the congregation that he will be taking at least six weeks away from the pulpit, explaining:

Storm clouds seem to be whirling around me more than ever in recent months and I have given much thought and sought much counsel as to why that is and what to do about it …

Some have challenged various aspects of my personality and leadership style, and while some of these challenges seem unfair, I have no problem admitting I am deserving of some of these criticisms based on my own past actions that I am sorry for …

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.[1]

Usually, when a pastor steps away from his pulpit because of some controversy or scandal, it makes no news. But Mars Hill Church is one of America’s most famous congregations. Thus, the controversy surrounding Driscoll has been very public – front page of The New York Times public, in fact. Two days before Driscoll announced his leave of absence, the Times published an exposé:

Mark Driscoll has long been an evangelical bad boy, a gifted orator and charismatic leader who built one of the nation’s most influential megachurches despite, or perhaps fueled by, a foul mouth, a sharp temper and frank talk about sex …

But now Mr. Driscoll’s empire appears to be imploding. He has been accused of creating a culture of fear at the church, of plagiarizing, of inappropriately using church funds and of consolidating power to such a degree that it has become difficult for anyone to challenge or even question him. A flood of former Mars Hill staff members and congregants have come forward, primarily on the Internet but also at a protest in front of the church, to share stories of what they describe as bullying or “spiritual abuse,” and 21 former pastors have filed a formal complaint in which they call for Mr. Driscoll’s removal as the church’s leader.

Mr. Driscoll is rapidly becoming a pariah in the world that once cheered him.[2]

When The New York Times says your empire is “imploding” and calls you a “pariah,” that’s not good. But this is what Mark Driscoll is now facing.

As I’ve been reading people’s comments on Driscoll’s absence from Mars Hill’s pulpit, it’s been fascinating to read both the comments of his fervent supporters as well as those of his vociferous detractors. On Mark Driscoll’s Facebook page, people came out with glowing messages of support and prayer:

BEST BIBLE TEACHER EVER! Love you pastor Mark, thanks for teaching me how to man up and love Jesus and my family! Your sermons helped me through one of the most difficult moments in my life. I thank God for your faithfulness in teaching his word and I can’t wait to see you come back and do more amazing things!

And this:

Pastor Mark, I got baptized a few years back with Mars Hill on Easter and my now husband got baptized this past Easter. What makes it even more amazing is that after he got baptized he turned and baptized his 9 year old son … You have changed us and my marriage is truly saved by the grace of God but we wouldn’t have gotten here if it wasn’t for your teachings.[3]

On a blog critical of Mark Driscoll, readers can be treated to comments like this:

Driscoll needs to step down for good, not for 6 weeks. The man is dangerous. He has fired high ranking members of his staff on the spot, and created a culture of spiritual abuse disguised as “church discipline.” He is mean, he has publicly insulted “effeminate worship leaders” and implied Ted Haggard’s homosexuality
was the result of “wives who let themselves go,” to name but a few of many highlights.

And this:

[Mark] has repeatedly found himself embroiled in accusations of abuse, stealing others intellectual property, fleecing his church to pay for his best seller status, fleecing his church with his fake global fund … He has lived more as a son of the devil than the son of GOD.[4]

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground when it comes to opinions about Mark Driscoll. Even his apology has gotten mixed reviews. Some people believe Driscoll has sincerely repented of his sin and is the best man to lead Mars Hill Church while others doubt Mark’s sincerity. One person commented, “I listened to Mark’s ‘apology’ and I didn’t see any repentance.”[5]

So what are we to make of all this?

In a sentence, I would say: Mark Driscoll has made fruit punch. Like the apostle Paul, Mark has born both good fruit and bad fruit, righteous fruit and sinful fruit. And whether or not you applaud or denounce him has to do with what fruit of his you are looking at. To only applaud his good fruit while ignoring his bad is to make an idol out of him. Only Jesus bears only good fruit. But to only denounce his bad fruit while overlooking his good is to stand in self-righteous condemnation of him. We must never forget that it’s not only Mark Driscoll who makes fruit punch. We do too.

So from one fruit-punch-making pastor to another I say, “Mark, I’m praying for you. And, I’m praying that the team of overseers who are reviewing the charges against you make a decision that is best for you, for Mars Hill, and for the glory of God’s Kingdom.” Then, for all Christians who make fruit punch – and we all do – I am also praying. I am praying that we would continue to be “transformed into [the Lord’s] likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18) until our fruit punch becomes the Spirit’s pure fruit in heaven.

_______________________________________

[1] Mark Driscoll, “An Update From Pastor Mark,” marshill.com (8.24.2014).

[2] Michael Paulson, “A Brash Style That Filled Pews, Until Followers Had Their Fill,” The New York Times (8.22.2014).

[3] facebook.com/pastormark

[4] Warren Throckmorton, “Announcement: Mark Driscoll Will Take At Least Six Weeks Off,” patheos.com (8.24.2014).

[5] Celeste Gracey, “Forgiving My Pastor, Mark Driscoll,” Christianity Today (August 2014).

September 1, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Unreal Sales for Real Marriage

Real MarriageIt seems as though the New York Times bestseller list just isn’t what it used to be.  In an article for the Los Angeles Times, Carolyn Kellogg writes about the saga of a recent book that became a New York Times bestseller not because lots of people were buying it, but because a company called ResultSource was buying thousands of copies of the book with the express intent of turning it into a bestseller.  Kellogg begins by citing from World magazine, the news outlet that broke the story:

“The contract called for the ‘author’ to ‘provide a minimum of 6,000 names and addresses for the individual orders and at least 90 names and address [sic] for the remaining 5,000 bulk orders. Please note that it is important that the makeup of the 6,000 individual orders include at least 1,000 different addresses with no more than 350 per state.’”

Measures like these are designed to game the systems set in place by BookScan and other book sales talliers to protect the integrity of their bestseller lists …

After getting thousands of names with geographic diversity, RSI took another step to place [the book] on bestseller lists, according to the World article. The agreement specifies, “RSI will use its own payment systems (ex. gift cards to ensure flawless reporting). Note: The largest obstacle to the reporting system is the tracking of credit cards. RSI uses over 1,000 different payment types (credit cards, gift cards, etc).”[1]

Wow.  That sure sounds shady.

Did I mention the book in question is Real Marriage, written by famous mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll?  And did I mention his church, Mars Hill in Seattle, shelled out, according to some reports, over $200,000 to get his book to the top of the New York Times bestseller list?

In many ways, Mark Driscoll and I are kindred spirits.  We share many of the same theological commitments.  When it comes to preaching, we both believe a good sermon must not primarily be about what we are to do, but about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  When it comes to Scriptural authority, both of us hold doggedly to the doctrine of inerrancy, even though some voices are seeking to discredit it these days.  When it comes to salvation, we both believe that, contrary to our society’s pluralistic ethos, salvation is found in no one but Christ.  We share a lot in common.  But for all our theological similarities, what happened with Real Marriage represents a weighty ethical difference.

I know sales number shenanigans are not at all unusual in the publishing world.  Authors do this kind of thing all the time.  Sarah Cunningham of the Huffington Post explains that Real Marriage’s marketing strategy is only a symptom of a systemic disease:

This book launch strategy … wasn’t shocking to anyone who has been involved in the publishing industry … There have always been ways to underwrite the success of authors in any field, religious or not, when the efforts were attached to a deep enough bank account.  Don’t doubt for a second, then, that some of Mark’s … counterparts haven’t done (or tried to do) the same.[2]

According to Cunningham, when it comes to cooking sales numbers, “everybody’s doing it.”  But this go-to teenage quip is a sorry justification for what is a seriously unethical practice.

When I visited ResultSource’s website, I found it curious that although they made all sorts of promises that they can get a book onto the New York Times bestseller list, they didn’t give a clear explanation of how they can get a book onto the New York Times bestseller list.  Here’s a sampling of what their website boasts:

We partner with authors to create and tap an audience – to connect the potential buyers of your book directly with the bookseller to leverage your launch potential.  Our goal is to reach further than just typical launch management – our deep relationships enable us to create opportunities outside of what’s expected, to gain substantial traction within the critical “first 90 days” of your launch – or booksellers will send your book back to the publisher.

RSI can:

Leverage our relationships with individuals in “Seven Channels of Influence” to promote your book.  Research shows that people are influenced by multiple touch-points – and that our buying decisions are driven by as many as seven channels within our culture.

Send email promotions to as many as 300,000 book buyers on our proprietary database of business and self-help book buyers.

Write and design electronic promotions such as banners, excerpts, and Q&As.

Build a powerful merchandising program with key retailers like airport booksellers, Amazon, B&N (Brick-n-Mortar and BN.com), Borders, Books-A-Million and independent outlets.  The key to a winning book launch campaign is to have copies of your book in prominent positions at as many retailers as possible – and then drive sell through.[3]

Now, besides being a little leery of any company that makes selling a book through Borders (NYSE: BGP $0.00 +0.00%) a featured component of their marketing strategy, I am also deeply unsettled by the ambiguity of their claims.  I honestly have no idea what they’re talking about.  What are the “Seven Channels of Influence”?  What, exactly, does it mean to “build a powerful merchandising program with key retailers”?  And why don’t they mention that their primary strategy to drive sales is for this company to buy thousands of copies of a particular book in a way that dupes bestseller lists into believing thousands of people are buying the book?  If a company can’t talk openly and honestly about the services they offer, perhaps they shouldn’t be offering them.

Ultimately, I point out what happened with Real Marriage not to pick on Mark Driscoll, but because this scandal is indicative of a wider, toxic pattern that needs to be addressed.  In this particular instance, I appreciate how the Board of Advisors and Accountability at Mars Hill has responded to this controversy, writing, “While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again.”[4]  I am glad to hear that.  I hope others follow suit.

From a theological perspective, Driscoll pinpoints the root of the problem in this whole saga in another one of his books when he writes, “This world’s fundamental problem is that we don’t understand who we truly are – children of God made in His image – and instead define ourselves by any number of things other than Jesus.”[5]

I couldn’t agree more.  If the prestige of being a New York Times bestselling author is so bewitching that a whole company can be created to help authors pay their way onto this list, something is terribly and tragically awry.  We are defining ourselves by all the wrong things.

Regardless of whether or not Mark Driscoll actually is a bestselling author, he is a child of God.  So am I.  And that’s good enough.  Because, in the end, that’s what really matters.


[1] Carolyn Kellogg, “Can bestseller lists be bought?Los Angeles Times (3.6.2014).

[2] Sarah Cunningham, “The Injustice of Silence: Why Our Culture Pulled Mark Driscoll Over For a Broken Headlight,” Huffington Post (3.6.2014).

[3] ResultSource.com, “Book Launch Campaigns.”

[4] “A Note From Our Board of Advisors & Accountability,” Mars Hill Church (3.7.2014).

[5] Mark Driscoll, Who Do You Think You Are? Finding Your True Identity In Christ (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2013), 2.

March 17, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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