Monday, September 15, 2008

re: Jared Wilson's blog on Mark Driscoll's teaching on preaching, why not have friends in ministry? follow up to an Anonymous poster

There's something in these points Jared Wilson made that seem especially poignant and puzzling in light of Leif Moi disappearing from getting any mention as a founding pastor in Mars Hill's internal media presence. For that matter there's no mention in the "early days" section that Mark Driscoll cofounded the church with Mike Gunn and Lief Moi, an omission that is curious because in Confessions of a Reformission Rev the picture of Moi and the description of his role in the book indicate he played a crucial role.

But before I ask some questions about a confluence of public statements over time on that subject I want to respond to what may be some good points proferred by Jared Wilson and consider some aspects of that.
... Again, I don't know what it's like to be Mark Driscoll or anyone else in a similar position. But it appears as though he's saying that it's important for a pastor to not have to be involved in the goings-ons and daily lives of his congregation, or at least some of them (as, again, I know it's not possible to personally minister to every single person who wants/needs attention). In fact, as you listen to how his week shapes up, Driscoll appears to be either a) alone, b) with family, or c) with staff (but not even with staff as much since he's only in his office two days a week)....

Years ago during the 1 & 2 Timothy sermon series Driscoll said the problem with denominations is that the leadeship has no sense of what is going on in the trenches. They are so far removed from any actual congregational life they don't know what's going on. This allows them to make leadership decisions that do not reflect well on the needs of location congregations. A way to avoid this risk could be to simply let local pastors manage all details of the local congregations in a multi-site church.

But that means that the local campus pastors, not Driscoll, have the slightest clue what is going on at the level of individual campuses. So a guy like Bubba Jennings (a campus pastor) or Jesse Winkler (ditto) would know something of what is going on at a campus and be able to observe things that Mark may not. After all, if Driscoll's sermons are spread by way of videology it effectively makes him, in one sense, a denominational leader who can preach sermons without knowing what the significance of his sermons are to the actual needs and situations arising at a multi-site campus.

The Mark Driscoll who preached through 1 & 2 Timothy years ago might have argued that taking this position would be bad because it would potentially put him completely out of touch with the congregation. On the other hand, even as far back as Reformission Rev in 2005 (Zondervan) we should not be terribly surprised that it has come to this. Why? Well, I'll get to that. We should be careful to note that Driscoll has actually said that he's not really a pastor.

Does Driscoll think that having a connection to the congregation and investing in their lives is important? If he does then he sounds like he's not doing much about it. If he's investing in the lives of the leadership circle around him then he's functioning well in that capacity but at this point is more effectively a leader of a small denomination, and I don't think even Driscoll himself would argue against this understanding of things. Multi-campus structure, presumably by-laws that lay out the order of power, probably an executive board and the rest of the pastors as employed at the discretion of the executive group, all seem like marks of a denominational structure. It seems fair to ask if this was what Driscoll circa 2002 would consider a good thing. Then again, in the earliest years Driscoll would say from the pulpit that Mars Hill would never divide ministries into demographics but there are obviously such ministries or there wouldn't be a note that no childcare is provided during certain evening services. The potential significance of that is something that can be addressed later. On to Wilson's other thing.

Here's my thing: Living life with the people of the church -- as one of the people of the church -- is how a pastor earns the credibility and respect to preach. Driscoll's train of thought goes to a place I cannot fathom, and it appears as though he's recommending a pastoral role that is basically divorced from congregational life.When I read in Acts about the early church "having all things in common," I don't see it saying "except for the overseers who needed time to study." Even with my limited wisdom, I don't see it as wise for a pastor/elder to live and work hermetically sealed off from those he's supposed to be pastoring. You might as well just call yourself a teacher or speaker and be done with it.The church should have no tolerance for pastors who don't pastor.

But, as Driscoll put it in Reformission Rev in 2006. He's NOT a pastor, not really. He's a missiologist. He may be a missiologist who is uncomfortably (in some ways) settled into being the primary preaching pastor of a multi-campus church. but he's not really a pastor, not in the sense that Jared Wilson might understand the term. At least not now. So Wilson may want to keep in mind that if Driscoll has said of himself that he's not a pastor so much as a missiologist then that may affect how relevant Wilson's concerns are.

But, to be fair to Wilson's poits, if Driscoll has the formal role of being a pastor but is really a missiologist then what's he doing from the pulpit just about every Sunday? Being a pastor? Being a missiologist? Since being a missiologist is basically not the same as actually being a pastor is it possible that Driscoll is holding on to aspects of a position he has outgrown? If he is a pastor than who constitutes the flock that he is an overseer for? Does he oversee them?

On the one hand I don't consider Wilson's concerns to be valid in the sense that if we take Driscoll at his word in Reformission Rev we see that Driscoll says he's a missiologist more than a pastor. But, on the other hand, Wilson's concerns seem valid precisely because it seems, on the face of it, that a missiologist is NOT a pastor and that in several respects Driscoll's position is sufficiently removed from members of the church that he functions more like a denominational leader. Which is just fine, so long as he acknowledges that that is more, in essence what he is. It raise the question, if Driscoll is a missiologist, why he takes the role that regular pastors do on Sundays.

And to that degree, since the purpose of apostles (of which he identifies himself as one, i.e. a missiologist/church planter) is to prepare the saints for ministry and good works, perhaps what Driscoll may want to consider is that part of that task is preparing other people who actually ARE gifted with shepherding gifts to, you know, actually shepherd the congregations in the multi-campus system. To go by the multiple sermons preached by various campus pastors on Jonah available through the media library it looks like that's actually the direction Driscoll may be going. If the direction Driscoll and the other elders have is to go more in this path, of letting campus pastors have more and more opportunity to speak directly to the congregations then this would be consistent with the approach a missiologist probably ought to take.

The less fortunate path would be to retain centralized teaching that goes directly to a set of congregations Driscoll simply has no meaningful connection to. This isn't exactly bad in itself but it carries within it a risk in the long run, which is that Driscoll will become a de facto denominational leader who has no meaningful connection to the church he leads. The risk inherent in that second approach is that a church like Mars Hill is so enamored of electronic communication, on-line donations, and satellite feed of Driscoll's sermons across campuses that what they may not realize is that their attempt to foster some kind of community has become a virtual church in which a person need not attend a service in order to hear preaching, need not attend a service to donate to the church, and would only "need" to attend a service at a campus in order to serve, in whatever capacity might already be approved of. Whether or not Driscoll from 2002 would consider his approach to what is apparently still some kind of pastoral ministry in 2008 is impossible to assess. But it does seem Jared Wilson should consider that Driscoll's own account is that he's not really a pastor but a missiologist. Perhaps it's fair to point out that Wilson should not find Driscoll wanting by a measure Driscoll doesn't seem to apply to himself any more than Driscoll should find Wilson wanting by criteria that are important to Driscoll that Wilson may not endorse--which is probably just stating the obvious.

The second disagreement I had was in Driscoll's response to a question about leading friends on staff ministry. Driscoll said don't do it. Don't do ministry with friends. Have friends and have staff.He's not saying you shouldn't be friendly with staff or treat them as non-friends; he's saying, as far as I understand him, that you shouldn't do church ministry with close friends because it makes management difficult. What happens when you have to do performance reviews or, God forbid, let someone go? He even has a personal story about having had to do this.

Now as someone else pointed out on Wilson's own blog entry, this could simply mean that Driscoll simply points out that a buddy syndrome can set in that makes it hard or impossible to enforce any accountability. Thing is, over the years Driscoll has said that co-founding Mars Hill with two good friends (Mike Gunn and Leif Moi) had the opposite tendency, that they tended to help keep him accountable, reel him in, shoot down bad ideas and the like.

Around page 34 of Reformission Rev Driscoll has a 9th out of 10 questions, something roughly on the order of "do you have the guts to shoot your dogs?" He then explains that dogs represent bad styles, stupid ideas, weak procedures, loser leaders, and other things that just need to be abandoned. A pastor has to have the courage to shoot these dogs once and make sure they stay down and dead.

It is doubtful that Driscoll has changed in his belief that dogs need to be put down but he has changed his views on whether or not a pastor should be working with friends in full-time ministry in the last six years. No one seems to have asked him why. Would the disappearance of Moi from the list of pastors employed by Mars Hill church have anything or nothing to do with this? If Moi wasn't a dog then what happened to him?

Obviously no one has to answer these questions but the things Driscoll has said in conferences about friends in ministry is so different from what he has said in earlier years about the vital role his friends, with whom he worked in ministry at Mars Hill, have played in helping get Mars Hill off the ground that it's a bit startling that men he considers good friends, or did in the past, get nary a mention on the Mars Hill public spaces these days.

For that matter, if Driscoll considers Wendy Alsup a good friend she's not listed as a deacon employed by the church anymore either, even though her book just got published. Michael Spenser (aka Internet Monk) wrote a very warm review of Alsup's book and mentioned that Alsup had a knack for getting to the point and not distracting the reader with attempts at story or humor that her pastor doesn't share. Well, if she's not listed as a deacon any more it's not certain that Driscoll is her pastor anymore.

So given Driscoll's public statements over the years and his recent statements about not working with good friends it might lead one to have the misunderstanding that some of the people he considered friends may have been dogs, or may have felt they had good reason to stop serving at the church. Since a person can't know which is which without actually knowing the people in question and they are entitled not to talk about it, all this is simply to point out that what Jared Wilson recounts and what Driscoll published in 2005 may or may not have some overlap. Perhaps Driscoll fired a few people he considered friends at one point because he considered them dogs? That would be the simplest explanation of things but I'll totally understand if no one at Mars Hill past or present feels like discussing that.

All things considered from public statements given by Driscoll in print and at conferences that might be the simplest explanation, though. I want to stress that there seems to be too much speculation as to these things on the internet. My asking questions does not mean that I actually know why people's names are no longer listed in the deacons or pastors at the church, just that I am noticing that Driscoll's change of heart about friends in ministry might have a connection to the application of his "Shoot your dogs" principle laid out in Reformission. Of course unless Driscoll says something more the rest would be speculation. But in a way, for the name of a founding elder to vanish from any reference in Mars Hill media raises the question of why. We can surmise that Moi isn't still being a pastor anywhere. But there's no indication that he was a dog that need to be shot, to borrow Driscoll's colloquialism. So the middle point between these two axes would be that the man left for reasons we are not privy to.

More or less, since these things are statements made on the record to the public a person can ask what the significance, if any, of these things are. Wilson's points are interesting. I agree with some of them but it is more pertinent to today's blog entry that an anonymous commenter mentioned some things recently, things that I can't really verify but am admittedly skeptical about. When a person who Driscoll has said for years is a good friend is no longer listed as a pastor at the church that person co-founded then there are basically only two or three possibilities. That person could have been a dog Driscoll and other pastors at MH had to shoot, per the paradigm laid out in Reformission Rev back in 2005. That person could have resigned for something that made them unfit for ministry in either their eyes or the eyes of others, or the person could have resigned in protest of something. Sheer longevity over a ten year period mitigates strongly against the third option being the most likely.

So, my anonymous reader, does this help address why I am skeptical about some of the rumors you mentioned?


Anonymous said...

friends have the unsettling ability to tell you things about yourself you may not like to hear. What kind of missiologist needs that kind of distraction?

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

You raise a few points I wish to write about in the future

Jared said...

Thanks for the link and the extensive interaction.

I guess my concern remains. Even if one is a "missiologist," not a pastor, doesn't the title imply a certain level of ongoing missional experience?

I don't know what Driscoll does, what his schedule is like. So this isn't about him, really. It's about the idea of being a missiologist in one's office.
Isn't that like saying you can be a biologist without actually going out and seeing plants and animals?

Should we listen to missiologists who aren't also missionaries?

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Wow, you raise several points in this, Jared, that I feel could be touched on in the future. What work has Newbegin done that people found The Gospel in a Pluralist Society so influential and valuable? How much field work did he do before he wrote that very academic, obviously office-made work? At the risk of making a hasty comparison, has Driscoll done enough missional work in Seattle (assuming Seattle is a mission field, which Driscoll certainly must still believe it is for reasons that would probably require another post) to be able to go on a speaking circuit and write books while not really being involved in direct missional work?

If he considers the preaching and teaching he does to be either missional work or training other missionaries perhaps it's all fine, really. But if he, so to speak, sets himself as a sort of Newbegin light, I guess you're asking (maybe) if Driscoll has done enough work to deserve what may be a simultaneously self-assigned role that is given through popularity and, not to put too rough a point on it, brand recognition?

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Jared, you seem to be asking if ten years doing what he considers missional work in Seattle really qualifies Driscoll as a missiologist if he's not currently doing missionary work. Would you consider Seattle a mission field? If so how? If not, why not? And would ten year's time be enough for Driscoll to take the approach he does as a missiologist, which is more speaking and training other church planters?

To some degree it seems the newer stuff, like his book Death by Love, is recycling material from 2005. Since plenty of pastors recycle preaching and teaching material into books this would seem normal and Driscoll is hardly a writer of the N. T. Wright variety where people joke that they'll stay on hold until he finishes the next one.