Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A process of triangulation, Mars Hill in 2007

Certain anonymous types have laid into Jared Wilson in the last few months.  The reason? They These anonymous people assume Wilson is just some guy eager to kow-tow to Driscoll.  Wilson is right to take issue with these things from anonymous trolls who haven't read what he's been blogging for years (as I have).  For anonymous trolls who haven't bothered actually reading Wilson's blog for years I've got some news for you, Wilson has made some pretty serious statements of disagreement with Driscoll's pastoral approach over the years I'm about to quote.

But before getting to an entry from April 10, 2008 Jared Wilson blogged on the disagreements he had with Mark Driscoll we need to take a little stop.  He was blogging about this and in case Wilson misunderstood Driscoll I'm going to excerpt what seem to be salient passages from Driscoll's own presentation.
Go to 00:31:52

Q. How do you lead staff who are your best friends?
Do you want the honest answer or should I punt?

You can't.  ... you can't.

I hate to tell you that. ... Deep down in your gut you know if you're best friends and someone works for you that changes the relationship.  Right? Because you can fire them. Of course you want to be friends with your elders and the people you work with. I mean, we're a church. I mean you wanna, you NEED to love the people you work with. But one of the hardest things, and only the lead guy gets this.  Nobody else on staff even understands what I'm talking about. When you're the lead guy you wear multiple hats. Say it's someone who works with you and they're a good friend. You wear the "Hey, we're buddies" hat. We're friends.  We go on vacation. We hang out. We do
dinner. We're friends.

But you also wear the "I'm your boss" hat "You need to do your job or I might have to fire you" hat, and you also wear the "I'm your pastor. I love you, care for you, and I'm looking out for your well-being" hat. Those three hats are in absolute collision. Because how do you fire your friend and then pastor them through it? Right? I mean that is very complicated. I love you, you're fired, can I pray for you?  That is a very .. what are we doing?  I think if you're going to have your best friends working with you they need to be somewhere else on the team but not under you or the friendship really needs to change.

Driscoll went on to describe the first person he fired:

... I have very good friends in this church. I have elders who are very dear friends. But when you have to do their performance review; when you have to decide what their wage is; when you have to decide whether or not they get promoted, demoted, or terminated it is impossible to do that because you can't wear all three hats at the same time.

The first guy I fired who was a dear friend, a godly man, no moral or doctrinal sin whatsoever, he just wasn't keeping up with what we needed him to do. And it wasn't cuz he didn't try and wasn't working hard. And he had a wonderful wife and a great family.  And to this day I think the world of this guy. And if my sons grew up to be like him I'd be proud. I'm not critical of this man at all. But I remember sitting down at that first termination. First I put on the friend hat, "I really love you, I appreciate you, I value you." Then I put on the boss hat, "I'm gonna have to let you go. Here's why." Then I put on the pastor hat, "How are you feeling? How are you doing?" And he was really gracious with me.

Driscoll then went on to explain that he resigned as the lead pastor and resigned as the head of the elder board.  He also resigned as the senior employee in the church.  Driscoll went on to say that Jamie Munson was then head of the elder board, executive pastor, legal president of the organization. 

Driscoll went on to say: "And for me, to be honest, it was the most freeing, liberating thing I could have dreamed of because now I don't have all that conflict of interest.  I can be friends with someone but I don't have to fire them, do their performance review, and decide how much they get paid. It's too conflicting for me. "  Best as I can tell Driscoll had just explained how the way to avoid putting himself in a conflict of interest about having to fire a friend in ministry is he could let Munson do that stuff and be the real formal power at the top of Mars Hill. 
Jared Wilson absorbed the and other statements by Driscoll back in April 2008 wrote several things.

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).

Last night as I was listening to this podcast for the first time, I got a call from a friend saying his planned help had bailed on him and asking if I could help him move for a couple of hours. Coincidentally, Driscoll had just made the point about people asking him to help them move their couch or something!

I cannot in good conscience get up and presume to pastor people through teaching while abdicating
responsibility of pastoring them through living. As Mark Dever says, a pastor doesn't just make sure his church is well fed, but well led.

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.

Don't get me wrong, I do think pastors ought to devote more and more time to study and writing, and it is a shame that many pastors don't do this and yet still preach every week, and it is a shame that too many congregations consider reading, studying, and writing as "not really work" and so expect their pastor to be busier doing other managerial things.

But there is a fine line between pastoral business and the professionalization of the ministry, which quite frankly is killing many churches, and I think that line is crossed whenever a shepherd withdraws himself from the life of the sheep.

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.


Driscoll says, "If you're best friends and someone works for you, that changes the relationship."
Well, sure. Relationships change anyways. But the point he's making (he speaks of having to put on the "boss hat" and the "pastor hat" and the "friend hat") smacks of more a business than of the Body of Christ. I can understand that when a group of friends is doing ministry, the lines of authority can get blurred and feelings can get sore, so it is a situation that must be handled sensitively and wisely when conflict arises.

But since when is that new? In what situation in church life should we handle conflict insensitively and abruptly?

Now why do I bring this up?  Because 2008 was the same year I noticed co-founding elder Lief Moi's name had disappeared from the eldership listings. Lief was famously known within the church as Mark's "good friend" who was willing to go toe to toe with him over things.  Then some time in 2007 Lief apparently resigned and was talked back into rejoining the eldership but (from what little I'd heard at the time) was cut down to half-time hours.  I only remember so many things and though that's what I recall hearing at the time I don't remember enough to be able to provide certainty.  These may be things where people may find the following website a valuable resource:

It may provide dates and events that I was not in a position to be aware of during that period.  I had not renewed my membership over a plethora of reasons.  Jonna Petry's account of events she describes happening in 2007 and 2009 may therefore be of note.
On page 4 of her story she writes the following:

Many drastic changes occurred in the spring of 2007. Mark pressured all the elected executive elders [with the exceptionof Jamie Munson] to resign their posts, saying a new structure was necessary. Mark also decided that Lief would no longer function as the pastor of the Ballard camps (the primary and largest campus where Mark taught mostly in person) and as a result the two of them had a horrible falling out.

For those new to this blog I've mentioned these links before.  The spring of 2007 was when Driscoll shared that he had worked himself to a physical breaking point. Bene Diction Blogs On charitably described Driscoll's account of his work at that time as "insane".

I write this blog while flying somewhere over the United States late on a Thursday night heading home from a conference in the great nation of Texas. I have blogged very little thus far in 2007 as I have been playing hurt in terms of my health. I have been pushing it for ten years since Mars Hill Church opened up, and the end of last year was a particularly rough patch. I was looking forward to a few weeks off after Christmas to catch up on sleep. Sadly, what happened is that I would be very tired and go to bed at a decent hour only to wake up a few hours later, unable to return to sleep. I was not stressed out or thinking, but it seemed something was physically wrong. Even sleeping pills were of little to no help and by the end of the holidays I was exhausted, having slept an average of perhaps three hours a night. A naturopath said I had overextended myself and worn out my adrenal glands (which regulate my sympathetic nervous system).

We'd already been informed by Driscoll he'd come into spring of 2007 "playing hurt". The more we learn about the links between the body and the mind the more apparent it should be that a man who has hit a physical breaking point is likely to hit a mental and emotional breaking point as well. And to yet again bring up the research of Roy Baumeister on aggression and violence the most dangerous person, the person most likely to be a bully or a fighter is going to be a man (yes, a man) with a very high but unstable self-esteem.  The person who has no real or perceived threats to his self esteem can come across as humble, friendly, jovial, and so on.  Once his status or competence get question, whether in reality or in his own mind, once his ego is at stake, he stops being charming and friendly and becomes dangerous. 

2007 was a landmark year for Driscoll but in retrospect a person could propose that 2007 was a landmark of low points for Mark Driscoll's physical health; for the quality of his preaching and handling of scripture; and was arguably the low point of his credibility within the church.  In early 2008 Dricoll could say, in the same video Jared Wilson blogged about:

I think my gifts got out ahead of my character and continually DO get out ahead of my character and so I'm always having to work on my character catching up.  ... I think the hardest thing  for me is not getting bitter.

If you listen to the broader context of the above statement you could very fairly raise the question, "Has Driscoll's self-described high risk toward bitterness emerge from a sense of entitlement?" If he really believes that what he and everyone else deserve is hell and everything else is a gift he should practically never struggle with bitterness, right?

2007 was also the year of Driscoll's Scotland sermon about Song of Songs, which garnered enough negative attention Driscoll eventually opted to pull down the audio.

2007 was also the year in which Driscoll preached Ruth, Nehemiah, and then Phillipians less as explorations of biblical texts and more as personal ruminations.  For a lot of us who had been long-time members that whole year was Driscoll obviously running on fumes and riffing about his own life more than actually discussing biblical texts.  Of course as I've been noting 2007 was the year Mark Driscoll mentioned now former elder James Noriega from the pulpit.

Most famously, 2007 was the year Paul Petry and Bent Meyer were fired.  But the falling out between Mark Driscoll and Lief Moi that happened in 2007 was the thing that only people inside MH could have heard about.

Jonna Petry's account mentions this on page 7 of her story.

... Lief Moi (Mars Hill co-founder and Mark's so-called best friend - the one who would go toe-to-toe with him) had been demoted, diminished, and basically cast aside. Five elected executive elders had resigned under pressure.

On page 11 Jonna Petry's account says the following:

There have been some restored friendships with former elders.  In addition to Bent and Joanne Meyer, we have reconciled with Lief Moi and his dear wife, Tonya, who were co-founders of Mars Hill along with Mike and Donna Gunn.  The Mois came to our home in May of 2009, shortly after Lief resigned as an elder and they left the church. 

Only in the last few weeks did I discover this:

Jeremy Echols says:

October 18, 2008 at 2:50 am

Lief Moi did not leave because he was uncomfortable about the direction that the church was going in. He was actually “de-eldered” as you call it due to multiple run-ins with the law over repeat issues and no solving these issues – eventually leading to his arrest. Also within this, he did not walk in the light regarding these issues, thus breaking the accountability that elders in Mars Hill are to have. Anyone who is a member at Mars Hill can read about it on The City…

Echols seems to have understood that Moi was "de-eldered" due to run-ins with the law and that anyone who was a member at Mars Hill could read about it on The City.  Echols did not provide a time frame in which Moi's "de-eldered" event took place, only a statement that suggested any member was in a position to have been notified about the end of Moi's membership/eldership.  So at least according to Echols' remark Lief was let go at some point prior to October 2008 when he made his comment. 

Jared Wilson refers to a question and answer session in which Driscoll explained that pastors should not do ministry with friends and gave an example of a recent situation in which he had to, apparently, let someone go. My hunch is Wilson may have misunderstood how recently Driscoll fired the first person he fired.  Driscoll seems to be spelling out in the February 27, 2008 Q & A session that the best thing he did (at that time) was making Munson formally in charge of the entire organization so he could just focus on preaching and teaching. 

To go by Jonna Petry's account early 2007 was when there was a big push for a new structure that would allow Mars Hill to keep growing.  If I may be so bold as to suggest the reasoning, Driscoll may have wanted a new system with centralized leadership (executive elder board) that could quickly and decisively make decisions about campus assimilation and development projects without having to get a majority of elders to agree to decisions. 

Having Munson and other executive elders handle all the most important decisions without reference to the rest of the elder team could ensure that any elders who might open things up for debate or question the wisdom or haste of decisions could be effectively set in a position where they would not slow down the pace of church growth.  Think of the "Howler Monkey" strip of the Bobcats from The Oatmeal and this might be a possible window into a way in which Driscoll could have been thinking about elders that he eventually fired.

If the goal of church growth centered around Driscoll creating new content was the focal point then this decision is both pragmatic and, within that perspective, absolutely necessary.  Munson was being placed at the top of the formal chain of command so Driscoll could back away from actually running anything.  By Driscoll's account in early 2007, he'd gotten close to working himself to his physical breaking point.  People who assume Driscoll was consolidating power around himself and a chosen few will not understand things the way Driscoll obviously understands things.  He saw himself as divesting himself of power and sharing it.  Which, clearly, from Driscoll's perspective is true. 

But that is not the only way to understand how the changed power structure was actually going to work.  Driscoll resigned as the senior employee in the organization, as the guy where the buck stopped at him.  He gave that role to Munson, a younger guy who came to Jesus under Driscoll's preaching.  What Driscoll could see as giving away power to Munson could also be seen as Driscoll retaining a place on the executive elder board where he was able to be one of the three to five men at the top able to ratify binding network-wide decisions but also have the advantage of being divested of any direct responsibility for whatever went wrong. 

To borrow the idiom of priestly, prophetic, and kingly gifts in the Mars Hill lingo, Driscoll gave himself the lead prophet job, which meant that whoever had the kingly position was responsible for everything and would be officially in charge. Informally, since the chief administrator/bean counter was someone who couldn't get the job without Driscoll's approval Driscoll could still retain a huge amount of informal power while being formally insulated from many key responsibilities.  So in a fascinating way both critics and defenders of Driscoll's approach to restructuring and power consolidation can be seen as being right. 

But as Jonna Petry summed things up, the price paid for gaining that kind of efficient administrative machinery within Mars Hill Driscoll was obviously aiming for was high. I am in a possibly strange position to sort of "get" where the two different sides landed here.  I still do not remain convinced that how Mars Hill leadership conducted itself on the whole was equitable or competent in 2007 even though I can "get" the motives and incentives they reasoned from at the time.  Those reasons were specious.  Complete unity and uniformity about by-laws was never necessary.

Driscoll came into 2007 "playing hurt" which might as well be considered a euphemism for being a physically and emotionally broken man who pushed himself past his natural giftings and competencies to a point where his judgment was probably impaired.  Throw in 2012's Real Marriage with belated confessions about marital strife and bitterness and Driscoll's account of himself for the year 2007 begins to look like a man who was admitting he was "playing hurt".  We now have a more plausible explanation for why Driscoll decided to "take one for the team" about wives who let themselves go than the widely spread misrepresentation that Driscoll was saying something about Ted and Gayle Haggard.  Driscoll was letting on about a resentment issue within his own marriage.

In other words, it has become more evident, if we triangulate Driscoll's public statements, that he came into 2007 so physically, emotionally and by extension intellectually and spiritually broken the big re-org he was pushing for was probably not what his focus should have been.  He probably should not have been focusing on continual growth and have taken a sabbatical, a real sabbatical.  He had an opportunity then to let pastors do more of the teaching load but instead things had been recentralized around a Mark Driscoll who was "playing hurt" and whose sermons were by and large travesties, hour long rambles in which biblical texts were often used as pretexts for Driscoll to discuss himself.  For many former members this was a big red flag. This was not the Driscoll we were used to hearing.

Meanwhile, it is more and more evident that the re-org Driscoll felt was necessary was not universally agreed on.  Questions about the wisdom of Munson's decisions, if they were raised, were not unfounded given that Driscoll publicly credited Munson with coming up with the idea to purchase some property in Ballard that turned out to be impossible to use for the intended goals Mars Hill had for the property at the time of the purchase.  If in Reformission Rev Driscoll credited Munson with brainstorming an idea that turned out to be an ill-advised property purchase having older elders around to express reservations about Munson's decisions could have been valuable.  As Jonna Petry has recounted it was somewhere during this 2007 period that Driscoll and Moi had a terrible falling out.

I blogged about noticing the disappearance of Moi's name from MH sites and content on September 14, 2008

Jonna Petry's account has it that Moi resigned and Echols account has it that Moi was "de-eldered". Jared Wilson recounted in April 2008 that Driscoll shared in February 2008 that he concluded that best friends and ministry just can't work at all.  Driscoll, during this same period, also presented his hours long presentation on spiritual warfare that has been blogged about so extensively I don't feel like repeating those points.   What may eventually need to be cleared up is what actually happened.  Personally I don't think Moi will ultimately prove unwilling to share his side of the story.  Given that a certain Jeremy Echols has already insisted on publicly saying on the internet Moi got arrested it may be in Moi's best interest to speak up at some point.  It may also be in Echols best interest, if he has any idea what's been going on, to consider an apology.  If the shoe was on the other foot Moi wouldn't have publicly trotted an arrest of Jeremy Echols just to defend Mars Hill.  I know Lief well enough to say that.

All these sources may triangulate where Mark Driscoll was in 2007 and give us some insight into what may prove to be the worst year in his ministry at almost any given point.  It may the strangest of all possible ironies that Driscoll was not hiding any of this stuff, he was so busy "playing hurt" he couldn't have hid it, it was in plain sight.  Arguably years of being at Mars Hill allowed inertia to kick in and the halo effect (let the reader understand) basically did the rest.  By the time many people (say, a thousand) in Mars Hill figured out things had gone awry somehow it was quite literally too late.  The firings had already happened, a whole year of pathetic sub-par preaching had occurred in which Driscoll transformed the Bible into an excuse to talk about himself, and he lost credibility in the eyes of a thousand members who had invested years of their lives, their money, and their time into a church that looked more and more like it was less "all about Jesus" and more of the Mark Driscoll show. 

And the response?  It looked like Driscoll's response was to claim that the stricter doctrinal requirements explained things (never mind the Targum Neofiti fiasco).  A thousand people left?  Well, the Peasant Princess led to record growth so it was all fine.  During this time Driscoll's sermons were still not on the level of sermons by campus pastors during that time.  There's a point where if you're "playing hurt" you need to be out of the game.  Maybe not forever but long enough to gain your mind, body, and spirit back.  Driscoll used to say that if there was a problem in the family or the marriage the pastor should step back and even step down and focus on fixing the things in the marriage or family FIRST and THEN come back to leading after he's fixed things.  Yeah, well, the trajectory of the Driscoll marriage leading to Real Marriage has not been an encouraging indicator here.  The gap between old Mark Driscoll's rhetoric and new Mark Driscoll's methodology continues to disappoint.

It doesn't shock me that a physically and emotionally broken man who compensated for a bitter situation in his marriage by chronically over-working himself in ministry would hit a breaking point.  Driscoll has famously said he's an introvert and he probably considers himself to have a lot of giftings.  Okay, but his social and emotional energy reserves have always seemed minimal and to bring back some Christianese jargon, a man's gifts are not the same as spiritual gifts. 

If Driscoll observers will recall the first sermon in the Ruth series Driscoll said Grace described him as Elimelech.  On January 7, 2007 about an hour into the sermon (i.e. the last few minutes) Driscoll asked listeners to consider who in the book of Ruth they are most like. He said of himself, "I am Elimelech". He elaborated: 1 hour in 1.07.2007 sermon on Ruth 1

...Elimelech is the guy--everything falls apart. It looks dark, it looks bad. He takes a poll he makes a plan. He decides Moab has a lower cost of living. Moab has more vocational opportunity. Moab has food on the table. I will make a plan, I will be the sovereign. I will take care of everything. Trust me. I know what I'm doing. He leads well. He plans well. He tries to be the sovereign (they're all going to die anyways). I am Elimelech.

I asked my wife, "Which one am I?" ... She didn't even breath, didn't even take a breath, "Oh, you're Elimelech." And his name means what? MY GOD IS KING! That was me. If you asked me, Jesus, sovereign, lord, king, God! And if I ever need Him I'll call him but I don't think I do because I've got all this taken care of.
I would suggest that perhaps the single most important publicly shared insight we can have into Grace Driscoll from Mark's own lips was this single moment.  At some point Grace was willing to unflinchingly tell her husband he was Elimelech if he were any character in the book of Ruth.  Driscoll would obviously prefer to be Boaz but the jury of observation and the jury of history is still out on whether he has since turned into a Boaz or whether we're still watching an Elimelech in action.


Unknown said...

Matthew, thank you indeed for this compassionate look at Mark. I needed that!

I too tend to fail to accept God's grace, may He help me!

From what I observe, it looks like Elimelech has morphed into latter stage Balaam!

I think the choice that Elimelech made was to ignore the value of spiritual environment. To me, sometimes becoming part of a little monastery on the prairie sounds good.

Right now I pray that Mark Driscoll would be humbled by God and that God would deliver us from evil indeed!

chris e said...

It seems both from the documents you quote and the ones over on the joyfulexiles, that Marshill have taken the teachings of Tim Keller and others on 'the sin under the sin' and turned it from a useful observation into a tool of morbid introspection. Perhaps they've forgotten 'simul justus et peccator' also applies to attempts to get to the root of sin .. in this they seem to show their Anabaptist side most clearly.

In terms of the whole thing being used as a power play of sorts, it seems closest to 'holiness' sects like the International Church of Christ.

It occurs to me that perhaps Piper too is better classified as a Predestinarian-Anabaptist rather than a Reformed-Baptist. It would certainly explain the particular aspects of Edwards he seems to find compelling.