|The Barnabas Ministry
Confessions of a Reformission Rev.- Hard Lessons
From an Emerging, Missional Church
Mark Driscoll is the founding and current pastor of the
in Seattle, WA. Confessions
is aptly named, as Driscoll candidly discusses the various steps and
events along the way from the very beginning of this congregation to
the present and even its intended future. Driscoll has an entertaining
and informal writing style
that goes behind the scenes of how he and his church came to where they
Mars Hill, a leading congregation in what might be
"emerging church movement" is unique and worthy of discussion. Though
fairly large (reportly about 4000 members at
this time), Mars Hill is not exactly like the typical suburban
Located in a city that reportedly has more dogs than children, it is
one of the "least churched" cities in the nation. He relates how Mars
Hill had its beginnings:
So, I decided to start a church for three reasons. First, I hated going to church and wanted one I liked, so I thought I would just start my own. Second, God had spoken to me in one of those weird charismatic moments and told me to start a church. Third, I am scared of God and try to do what he says (p. 39).
In my imagination, however, I saw an entirely different church, one that did not have a beat-up old couch or a foosball table in the sanctuary. I envisioned a large church that hosts concerts for non-Christian bands and fans on a phat sound system, embraced the arts, trained young men to be godly husbands and fathers, planted other churches, and led people to work with Jesus Christ as missionaries to our city (p. 40).
I find good and not-so-good in this
story. I think it's great that he had a vision of building a
congregation that would reach his city (though I'm always apprehensive
when I hear somebody say "God gave me a vision" for something). I've
been involved in planting
several churches and I respect the efforts
that go into such a venture. I think it's important that churches
connect with their cultures,
and the big-city, younger generation culture is seemingly waiting to be
Interestingly, there are times when Driscoll talks about how they
embraced the culture to a point, and other times when they stood their
ground on moral or theological issues and let those more interested in
culture than God walk out
Driscoll is candid as he discusses how the church
migrated from informal to more formal leadership structures. He
wrestled with following the Lord and the vision for the church while
dealing with people who wanted to hijack the church in various stages.
In fact, this whole "wrestling with issues and tough decisions" aspect
is a big
part of the book. Driscoll's recollections provide a useful insight
into these things.
Along the way, he also discusses how his own views and
perspectives on certain things changed through his experiences. For
.... after reading more
books and articles than I cared to, I decided to just start asking some
of the new converts who had met Christ in our church what would most
help them to grow in their relationship with Jesus. Each young person I
spoke to said they wanted to be connected with people younger and older
than themselves. The young urban arty types God had burdened me to
build a church for generally came from jacked-up homes, which they
wanted to overcome in hopes of one day having a decent future for
themselves and their kids. But they had no idea what a decent Christian
family looked like. So what they needed was a friendship with godly
older families to learn about marriage and parenting. The last thing
they needed was a mono-generational church.
... That Sunday, I repented
before out church for my dumb idea of having a Generation X church,
which was good because it set the precedent of me standing up to recant
my dumb ideas so that we an get unstuck on our mission of bringing the
gospel of Jesus to our city. So we started running a nursery for small
children during our service. Curiously, the singles and college
students really enjoyed getting to know children and their families and
began volunteering to play with the kids. It dawned on me that by
working with the kids, a lot of our young people were learning from the
kids about parenting and were learning from friendships with the
parents what kind of person they would need to become to marry and
begin a family of their own. (p. 65-66)
To me, the most troubling thing in the book
are the tales of how people left his congregation. Now some people
leaving I don't
have a problem
with, like the story Driscoll relates about the musicians who wanted
other religious leaders to teach at the church so they could embrace
post-modernism better. Driscoll says, "Because these musicians were not
teachable, I kicked them out that night, and we went more than a month
without any worship music in the services (p. 77)." While concerned
about the Scripturality of such an action, it sounds like a parting of
the ways was appropriate at that time.
There were other
stories about other people who had ambitions to lead and hijack the
church in varying ways. Driscoll makes the point that there are wolves
who want to make
people followers of themselves and the church should be protected from
However, there were also stories of people who left
because the church was getting bigger and things were changing. These
are the ones I found troubling. For example:
I hit a particularly low
point one day when a young couple knocked on the door of our home. We
had invested hundreds of hours in the young woman, dating back to our
college ministry. Her husband was a new Christian whom she had met in
the church. We had done their premarital counseling, and I had
officiated their wedding. When they got married, they could not even
afford a couch, so I drove one of ours over in my truck and gave it to
them. We considered them friends until they came over to tell us they
had left the church. They complained that since the church had grown a
bit bigger and things a bit busier, my wife and I had become less
available to them.
My wife and I were both
working other jobs because the church could not pay me and were
volunteering more than forty hours a week to the church. Being rejected
by friends felt like a punch in the gut.
We were stunned. We needed
couples like this to help the church survive, not jump ship just
because my wife could not drop everything to take this woman out to tea
whenever was convenient for her. The odd thing was that they
transferred to a megachurch in the suburbs, which made no sense
because they would get no closer to that pastor and his wife than they
had to Grace and me. Yet they knocked on the door unannounced to tell
us we were not doing enough for them. It seemed obvious to me that they
wanted us to bend over backward and promise to do anything to make them
happy in order to keep them in the church. But I simply gave up and
sent them on their way because they were not on our mission to bring
the gospel to Seattle. For them, the mission was to get Grace and I to
jump like trained dogs on command (p. 80-81).
Now I wasn't there and I don't know the people involved
personally. But this whole
thing smells a little bit to me. Driscoll says he was
hurt by this couple
doing what they did, and I take him at his word. But, I wonder if he
thinks this couple was hurt by
what they were experiencing too? He laments how much he "invested" in
them, but does he recognize that this couple also invested several
years of their lives with this church?
In the early days
a church, part of what makes such a church special is the closeness and
connectedness. It hurts when people
you were close to (that is, Driscoll and his wife) effectively dump
you to pursue more and more people, a larger church, more impact, etc.
this couple friends, a brother and sister in the Lord or were they
towards something bigger?
And why should Christian friendships be conditional
upon membership in a church? Is that more important than following
Christ? Putting the church at the center of relationships can be a form
of emotional control or manipulation to get people to go along with a
convenient to say this couple didn't have the "same mission"
as he did. Was
that really true, or just an easy way to excuse the bait and switch
that these people felt as the church was changing from a small church
to a large institution? To
Driscoll's credit, he discusses the situation openly and honestly (at
least as far as we know, anyway), but for him to say this couple wanted
him and his wife to be "trained dogs" makes we wonder if Driscoll
really understands what was going on with these people. It also makes
me wonder what these people would say if given the chance.
Similarly, Driscoll speaks of hiring an executive
pastor, a young man who fired some staff and reorganized "everything"
one point. Driscoll received heat for these actions and had people
threatening to leave if
he did not reign this young man in. Driscoll says, "I chose to support
Jamie for better or worse and just accept that some people would would
leave the church (p. 146)."
What strikes me as troubling about these stories (and
there are many more in the book) is the "churn" among
members and staff. It appears that at any given point in time, the
"components" of his church (people) were functionally expendible
towards getting bigger. As Mars Hill grew, Driscoll sometimes comes out
looking more like
wheeler-dealer baseball general manager than a pastor, and Mars Hill
looks more like the New York Yankees than a church.
Here's the point that everybody ought to be concerned
about. If one is
expendible, then anyone is expendible. Would
Driscoll trade two of his children to another family for a baby and a
pick?" Of course not. But faithful church members and staff are part of
a church family. How is it that some people are
expendible and others aren't? Is Driscoll himself
expendible? It slays me when leaders use the "family" idea to
keep hurt people from leaving, but don't treat members as "family"--
this is what usually led to the hurt in the first place.
If I was in such a size-ambitious church, I'd want to
be told how
expendible I was up front, so I would be careful not to invest my heart
and time in something that I would be "expended" from at some future
point just to make a bigger
thing for the people in control. But people who are having a great time
in a church don't normally think of things like this, and they get
blind-sided and deeply hurt when it happens. They ought to keep their
eyes open and if they see people being treated poorly and leaving, they
it can and probably will happen to them at some point.
The church-builder type people may say, "A bigger
church means more
people are being reached." But if you reach them just to expend them in
favor of somebody else, what are you doing besides exploiting them?
When does the exploitation end? Leaders like Driscoll need to
that people really matter, and to treat them otherwise is not
church that grows by throwing away people that were formerly useful has
This isn't to say there shouldn't be some changes for
strategic reasons. Driscoll uses the phrase "blowing up the church" to
discuss the need to create change instead of having change happen to
them. I can appreciate the need to do this from time to time.
Churches are wise to choose change strategically rather than
But you just don't dump people who are part of your
family. Part of being a good church leader is bringing people you lead
along on the grand mission; every part of the body is important. What
these churches gain in size, they lose in churn and intrinsic quality.
They may end up with a
bigger or more "effective" church machine, but also a church that is a
diverse and healthy than meets the eye. Not to mention a trail of hurt
people by the wayside.
Now later on in the history of Mars Hill, Driscoll
relates the story of how one of the founding elders and two other
spun off the service they were most closely associated with into a
separate church plant.
In the end, we decided that
what was in the best interests of our mission to the city was not in
the best interests of each of our elders. ... Mike and two elders chose
to take their church service out as a separate church plant. This
decision was tough because I genuinely loved Mike, and I still do. He
was an older man who had faithfully encouraged and supported me through
the toughest times in our church. But he wanted his own pulpit and felt
called to a mission in a different part of the city and would need to
be released so that we could each follow the mission Jesus had called
us to. Many of our people loved Mike and would leave with him, which
meant we might take a hit in terms of leaders and dollars. But it was
the right thing to do for the gospel (p. 147-148).
This is a far more healthy way to deal with these sort
of issues. I don't know why more churches don't do this sort of thing.
Well, actually, I think I know some of the reasons why this happens;
that was a rhetorical remark. I think top
church leaders don't like giving up control or part of what they
perceive is "their" empire. They have warped ideas about unity, are
stuck on themselves being "right"
or in charge, or feel that losing a part of their empire diminishes
them somehow. Or perhaps it comes down to cold, hard cash and losing
contribution money from spun-off groups. Maybe they think that their
underling "isn't ready" yet,
forgetting that they themselves were not ready when they set
out. Not being entirely ready is part of the adventure of life, God
hardly prevents us from doing things for which we are not ready.
Anyway, this is the kind of healthy departure that I
loves. God made kids to grow up and move out of the house and have
their own families, but somehow we expect Christians to remain
spiritual children to some leader and his vision and agenda for their
entire lives. It's a shame that sometimes it takes some hurtful,
destructive event to bring
about God's intended will. God calls people to maturity, and that means
that leaders have to
release people to be what God has called them to be at some point.
In short, I recommend this book as a great and candid
insight and discussion of this the new generation of churches and
issues related to them. It is a stimulating behind-the-scenes look at
new generation of megachurches.
Copyright © 2007 John Engler. All rights reserved.