The story of Mark Driscoll is like an onion, with every layer that unfolds the eyes can’t help but burn to tears —sadness, frustration, astonishment, disgust, empathy, a full range of emotions. What he has done, said, and represented at times is nothing less than chilling. Sexism, misogyny, blatant bully-leadership, abuse of ministry funds, bigotry, not to mention the Evangelical family secret… hyper-Calvinism. One time, describing America as a “pussified nation” dominated by feminists and “chickified dudes.” One face-palm after another.
As you’ve probably read, Mark took a very short time away from ministry after a scandalous exit and ultimate resignation from Mars Hill Church. Many of his supporters and ministry partners, running full throttle for the exit signs. During that season, in the minds of most, his choices and actions didn’t demonstrate a genuine process of humbling and change. At best, it’s a mixed review. Now, months later, he’s back at it, starting a new church.
Where some might want me to attack Mark and kick him to the curb, I can’t. Furthermore, it’s not my place. Despite the darkness of his deeds, the destruction wrought from his ego, He’s a fellow human being. We all make mistakes and lose our way. The Grace that is sufficient for me, I am sure is more than sufficient for him. If Mark should be sentenced to a spiritual life of stacking pins in a bowling alley, then so should I, and so should you. Grace is the great equalizer, putting us all on the same playing field and on the same team. We all need Grace, equally. None are better, only different.
But that didn’t stop Jesus from staring down evil, addressing it as so. The truth is, we have a problem. A huge zit on the face of our modern church-world. On the surface, it looks like “pastoral celebrity”—not just pastors, but anyone building a personal kingdom. Bloggers, leaders, speakers, artists, authors, all candidates for being seduced into this horror show. What are pedaled as visionary dreams and difference-makers, are schemes and attention-takers, all achieving one radar averting goal…the validation-creating, insecurity-healing, and significance-gaining of the individual leading the show. It all looks so spiritual, but really so selfish, when one sees what’s below.
To be sure, there are many within our Christian community who receive the label of “celebrity.” And though not perfect, they are wearing it well. Their extensive reach, success, and large followings weren’t sought out, don’t rule their hearts, and they aren’t exploiting their platform, rather humbly using it for good. What is a very difficult walk, they are walking very well.
Sadly, in the sea of spiritual celebrity, this is not the norm.
Yet, the numerous Mark Driscolls of our Christianity aren’t the real problem, it’s our Christian culture that seeds and enables their existence. The illness we have become, is what gives birth to the reality of their formation. The x-ray is on the light board, we are the disease, and they, a mere symptom, a surface manifestation. Spiritually engineered from the incubator of our Christian culture.
In fact, the truth is, we should all be thanking Mark Driscoll. His story is the alarm that should be grabbing us by the ears, the stoplight that should be slamming our breaks. The fever, the itchy red rash that calls us to the doctor, realizing there is a much deeper problem at stake. And maybe, just maybe, before it’s too late, we’d embrace a cure before our cancer overtakes.
Problem is, we are so far gone. Color blind for sure. What is fire-engine red, begging us to halt, we see as grass-growing green, signaling God’s favor to press through. Intoxicated by the sound of our own Christianity.
As hard as it is to hear, the diagnosis is clear. We are the “something” going on behind the person these people become. Get out your pen and paper, we owe not our condemnation, but our apology for the creation of each and every one.
For we are the Christians who see Church as primarily where Jesus exists and works. It’s all about church. Church, church, and more church. Not just church, but gatherings, groups, conferences, concerts, followings of people. The larger the crowd, the more legitimate the ministry, the greater blessings of the Savior.
For us, the goal and sum of the Christian life is church, cross-topped corrals of church-people pursuing churchy things, as different as some may seem. Organize it, maintain it, whatever it takes to keep it going. And if church isn’t for you, something is wrong with you. Damaged goods, subtly not one of us. You’re not a true leader until you are a church leader. The big dance, where big leaders go.
We are the Christians, who equate spiritual maturity, skill, and evidence of God’s favor with followers, buildings, baptisms, books, speaking schedules, blog “hits,”and “likes” on Facebook. God must be doing something great, a special work is surely at play. Look at all the subscribers, the listeners, group members, all the people, it can’t possibly be a charade. Look at those buildings, so modern and easy, as far as the eye can see. Look at how busy, how in demand. Wow, how anointed they must be. 10k followers on Twitter, the number they follow, only 10, surely that’s the mark of Christ within. Superstars of Jesus, rockstar prophets for our day. Dare I say, if Hitler lived among us, he’d have the very same. Tons of followers, “hits”, and “likes” on Facebook. Branded to the nines, slick social media presence, lots of lipstick to hide behind.
Territory, market, fan-base, all must be preserved. The celebrity lunch table, exclusive to the cool dudes. Whatever it takes to get to the next level, step on you if they must. Platform creation, platform preservation, platform elevation, at all costs. We are truly in the age of franchised ministry, and we the spiritual consumers who drive it, and make it breathe.
We are the Christians who believe the goal of the Christian life is to be successful for Jesus through personal performance that creates appeal. Be all you can be, Jesus and me. Do more, become more, live the Christian dream. Prosperity, happiness, pleated and ironed, the spiritual Hollywood scene. We, the narcissists on our personal quest for Jesus to show us how to perform at our personal best. Enough is never enough. Give me more to do, a way to overcome, something to convince me that I am worthy to be loved. Tell me it’s reachable, something Jesus and I can achieve. Inspire me with the Kool-aid, I’ll drink anything for a remedy. Keep me thirsty, keep me hungry, I’m addicted to the hope, that within me and Jesus, our efforts combined, I can become whole.
We are the Christians who believe it’s best to get your spiritual growth spoon-fed through like-minded, public figures you can adore. Just give me something I can worship, fabricated into an idol of my own ideals. I know about Jesus, but furnish me something real, something for the in between. We all need a savior when the Savior is not enough. Identity, worth, and significance are best measured by spiritual accomplishment. So surely, my side-kick savior has the goods that I need, simply look at all that they have achieved. Besides, leadership is best validated by the creation of a personal brand that gains and keeps spiritual consumers. When I see this, it’s gotta be the trough for which God wants me to eat. Surely, He doesn’t want me thinking on my own.
No wonder there are so many Mark Driscolls, this is who we have become. Church-addicted, consumer-minded, performance-driven, platform-worshipping, appearance-seduced, franchise-focused, me-serving, success-intoxicated, personal kingdom-building Christians who drop their jaws in surprise and disgust when all that we are gets super-sized and personified by some among us, for all to see in public light.
Yet Jesus chose purpose over celebrity, message over crowds, the cross over appeal, commissioning over franchising, serving over being served, Grace over performance, and sacrifice over personal gain.
There will always be Mark Driscolls among us, until Jesus becomes our game.
We should all be thanking Mark Driscoll for showing us that for which we should be ashamed.