Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll has been removed from a church-planting network of more than 500 churches he helped found after a pattern of “ungodly and disqualifying behavior.” – Sarah Pulliam Bailey |RNS
“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,” said Acts 29 in an online statement signed by Matt Chandler and other board members of the network of 500 churches.
Acts 29 came to the drastic decision “with deep sorrow,” according to the statement. “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.”
Mars Hill is no longer listed on the Acts 29 church directory page for Washington state. Acts 29 declined to comment further to CT.
In an expanded letter reportedly sent to Driscoll and Acts 29 pastors and obtained by Driscoll critic Warren Throckmorton, board members explain that the church planting network has received “countless shots and dozens of fires” over the past three years for Driscoll’s “ungodly and disqualifying behavior.”
Thus, even though Acts 29 remains “eternally thankful for what [Driscoll] as a man and Mars Hill as a church have meant to our network,” board members decided to remove Mars Hill churches from the network because the association “discredits the network and is a major distraction.”
“Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help,” board members told Driscoll.
Driscoll, whose provocative preaching style has proved surprisingly successful in secular Seattle, has already apologized for the steady stream of controversies over the past few years. Most recently, he came under fire when crude, 14-year-old comments he made in a church forum resurfaced in the blogosphere. Driscoll apologized, as he had in a 2006 book, telling his congregation that the posts were a bad idea. “I was wrong to respond to people the way I did, using the language I used, and I am sorry for it and remain embarrassed by it,” Driscoll said.
Acts 29 has supported Driscoll during recent controversies while relying on Mars Hill’s Board of Advisors and Accountability (BoAA) to address the problems, the letter states.
“We have both publicly and internally tried to support and give you the benefit of the doubt, even when multiple pastors in our network confirmed this behavior,” the letter says. “But we no longer believe the BoAA is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out. Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming. We now have to take another course of action.”
Pastor James Macdonald recently stepped down from the accountability board, but defended Driscoll’s repentance, stating:I have great love and affection for Mars Hill Church and I want to make clear this change is not because I am unhappy with Mark’s response to board accountability. On the contrary, I have found him to be exemplary in his current readiness to live under the BOAA oversight. I am not resigning because I doubt Mark’s sincerity in any way. I believe in Mark Driscoll and his heart to leverage difficult lessons in service to Christ and his church in the years ahead. I am excited to continue to support that trajectory as Mark’s friend, as I focus my efforts on Harvest Bible Fellowship.
Driscoll stepped down as president of Acts 29 in March 2012, appointing Texas pastor Matt Chandler as president and moving its headquarters from Mars Hill in Seattle to Village Church in the Dallas area. Driscoll remained on the network’s board for a time before leaving its leadership completely.
At the time, Driscoll pointed to publishing success with his Real Marriage book (which also came under fire recently amid news that Driscoll paid a marketing company more than $200,000 to ensure its success) as well as a new Resurgence conference as reasons to step away from Acts 29 leadership. At the same time, he resigned from the council of The Gospel Coalition, stating, “The men remain friends who are welcome to speak into my life, and I’m transitioning for no other reason than I find myself at the end of my tether with time and energy.”
Today, Driscoll’s Twitter account stated, “Unforgiveness will poison everything you do.” The tweet is likely an ironic mistiming, given that Mars Hill staff have been running the account this summer after Driscoll declared he was taking a break from social media for the rest of the year. Recently, Jonathan Merritt made waves for writing how he has accepted Driscoll’s apology, and how Christians should be “as generous with the salve of forgiveness as we are with the acid of criticism.”
As the news spread through social media early Friday afternoon, evangelical leaders affected by Driscoll’s ministry reacted to the network’s decision.
“Thankful to be a part of the @Acts29 network. Join us in praying for @PastorMark and @MarsHill,” tweeted Juan MacLean, pastor of Redemption City Church, a church plant in Boston.
Another church planter, Aaron Loy, wrote, “I can’t believe what I’m reading about Mark Driscoll & Mars Hill removed by Acts 29. My heart is really heavy today.”
A coalition of aggrieved former Mars Hill members announced that it will delay its plans to bring additional charges against Driscoll. Spokesperson Rob Smith stated:It is with a mix of sadness and relief to see that Acts 29 has taken these actions. We hope and pray that the call for Mark Driscoll to step down from ministry is heeded. We would therefore rather wait and withdraw our plans to file new charges if he steps down, or file them in due course if he chooses to ignore the call of the Acts 29 board. We are in prayer for Mark and his family. We pray that he will find comfort, restoration, and hope in the Christ that he loves. We are committed to love him well and stand ready to support him and his family through these difficult days. We echo the call of the Acts 29 board.
CT has previously covered Acts 29 and its influence in the evangelical world, including the appointment of Matt Chandler as president and how Acts 29 requires church planters to meet leadership standards. CT also profiled Acts 29 leader Matt Chandler, addressing how he is relationally different than Driscoll, and how his churches operate in a more decentralized manner than Mars Hill churches.
CT will update this story as more information becomes available. But here is the Acts 29 letter obtained by Throckmorton:
As the Board of Acts 29, we are grateful to God for the leadership, courage, and generosity of both you and Mars Hill in not only founding the network but also sustaining it through the transition to this board three years ago. The very act of giving away your authority over the network was one of humility and grace, and for that we are grateful.
Over the past three years, our board and network have been the recipients of countless shots and dozens of fires directly linked to you and what we consider ungodly and disqualifying behavior. We have both publicly and internally tried to support and give you the benefit of the doubt, even when multiple pastors in our network confirmed this behavior.
In response, we leaned on the Mars Hill Board of Advisors & Accountability to take the lead in dealing with this matter. But we no longer believe the BoAA is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out. Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming. We now have to take another course of action.
Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help. Consequently, we also feel that we have no alternative but to remove you and Mars Hill from membership in Acts 29. Because you are the founder of Acts 29 and a member, we are naturally associated with you and feel that this association discredits the network and is a major distraction.
We tell you this out of love for you, Mars Hill, Acts 29, and most significantly, the cause of Christ, and we would be irresponsible and deeply unloving not to do so in a clear and unequivocal manner. Again, we want you to know that we are eternally thankful for what you as a man and Mars Hill as a church have meant to our network. However, that cannot dissuade us from action. Instead, it gives added significance and importance to our decision. We hope and pray that you see this decision as the action of men who love you deeply and want you to walk in the light—for your good, the good of your family, and the honor of your Savior.
Shortly after sending this, we will be informing the members of Acts 29, your Board of Advisors and Accountability, and your elders, as well as putting out a public statement on the Acts 29 website. It brings us no joy to move forward in this direction, and we trust that the Lord will be at work in all of this.
In sorrow and with hope,
The Board of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network
Original Report by CT