A letter from Pastor Mark Driscoll
November 8, 2007
Dear Mars Hill Church Members,
I grew up in Seattle not knowing Jesus. Thankfully, Jesus saved me when I was nineteen years of age while a college freshman. Shortly thereafter He led me to my first church, where a humble and godly pastor was used of God to change my life by teaching me about Jesus from the Bible. While attending my first men’s retreat with that church, God spoke to me for the first time in my life. He told me to marry Grace, preach the Bible, train men, and plant churches. It was then, at the age of nineteen, that I began preparing to devote my life to obeying His call for me. I studied speech in my undergraduate work to prepare for preaching. I joined as many as six Bible studies a quarter to learn Scripture. I began reading nearly a book a day, which continued for many years. I married Grace while still in college. In addition, I began recruiting college friends to one day be part of the core group for Mars Hill Church, which I intended to see planted in Seattle. Following graduation from college, Grace and I moved back to Seattle where we got jobs and started settling in as a broke young couple trying to figure out how and where to plant Mars Hill Church.
By the age of twenty-four we were gathering the core group for the church plant while I was working part-time at Antioch Bible Church and a Christian bookstore that was open in Greenwood at the time. Joining me in the plant were two godly men named Mike Gunn and Lief Moi who were very much devoted to the work and, although young and inexperienced, I praised God for the support of those men who remain friends to this day by God’s grace. At the age of twenty-five I had the privilege of preaching the opening sermon at Mars Hill Church and I have remained the primary preaching pastor ever since. I have learned a lot over the years. Much of that learning has been through mistakes, failure, and pain. The early years of the church, chronicled in my book Confessions, were very difficult in every way. In more recent years, our fast growth has been a wonderful blessing but also fraught with difficulties.
For me personally, everything culminated at the end of 2006. Despite rapid growth, the church was not healthy and neither was I. My workload was simply overwhelming. I was preaching five times a Sunday, the senior leader in Mars Hill responsible to some degree for literally everything in the church, president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network which had exploded, president of The Resurgence, an author writing books, a conference speaker traveling, a media representative doing interviews, a student attending graduate school, a father with five young children, and a husband to a wife whom I have adored since the first day I met her and needed my focus more than ever. [emphasis added] I was working far too many hours and neglecting my own physical and spiritual well-being, and then I hit the proverbial wall. For many weeks I simply could not sleep more than two or three hours a night. I had been running off of adrenaline for so many years that my adrenal glands fatigued and the stress of my responsibilities caused me to be stuck “on” physically and unable to rest or sleep. After a few months I had black circles under my eyes, was seeing a fog, and was constantly beyond exhausted.
Nonetheless, the demands on me continued to grow as the church grew. We added more campuses, gathered more critics, saw more media attention, planted more churches, purchased more real estate, raised more money, and hired more staff. It was at this time that I seriously pondered leaving Mars Hill Church for the first time ever. I still loved our Jesus, loved our mission, loved our city, and loved our people. However, I sunk into a deep season of despair as I considered spending the rest of my life serving at Mars Hill Church. I simply could not fathom living the rest of my life with the pace of ministry and amount of responsibility that was on me.
Furthermore, the relational demands of the church and its leaders depleted me entirely. In short, I had lost my joy and wanted to lose my job before I lost my life. Tucking my children in bed at night became a deeply sorrowful experience for me; I truly feared I would either die early from a heart attack or burn out and be left unable to best care for my children in the coming years. [emphasis added] I have met many pastors who have simply crossed the line of burnout and never returned to health and sanity and that was my frightful but seemingly inevitable future.
One of the problems was that Mars Hill had essentially outgrown the wisdom of our team and needed outside counsel. The church had grown so fast that some of our elders and other leaders were simply falling behind and having trouble keeping up, which was understandable. To make matters worse, there was a growing disrespect among some elders who were jockeying for and abusing power. The illusion of unity our eldership had maintained over the years was kept in part by my tolerating some men who demanded more power, pay, control, and voice than their performance, character, or giftedness merited. While this was a very short list of men, as elders they had enough power to make life truly painful.
The consensus was that Mars Hill was poorly architected to be a multi-campus, multi-elder, multithousand person church. My administrative gifts had simply reached their capacity and the church needed to be re-organized so that campuses could be led by elder teams to ensure that our people were best cared for, our doctrine best taught, and our mission best led. This meant that I needed to give up a great deal of power and trust other elders, deacons, and members to care for the church with the same passionate affection that I have for our people.
To begin this process I had to go first and divest myself of a great deal of power. In the history of the church I have held the three positions of greatest authority. Legally, I was the president of Mars Hill Church the organization. Practically, I was the preaching pastor and primary voice of Mars Hill Church. Administratively, I was the president of the elder board and highest authority on
the staff. So, I resigned as the legal president, resigned as the president of the elder board, and resigned as the highest authority over the staff. I have retained the position of primary preaching pastor but have also started a preaching cadre to train many other elders in preaching so as to begin sharing that load roughly twelve times a year with other gifted men.
Having shared power, I was then able to establish a new Executive Elder board to architect the future of Mars Hill. I remained one of the men on that team to help lead the church but came under Pastor Jamie Munson, the team leader. [emphases added] [WtH, if you want to see how and why appointing Munson to this role clashes with other Driscollian sentiments head over here] I simply did not have the giftedness or time to architect something as complex as our church, which intended to grow to multiple campuses, possibly even stretching out of state or out of country. Yet, I wanted to ensure that our church remained theologically precise and committed to not just growing but also caring for our people. So, the new Executive Elder team sought outside counsel from bigger churches that we respect. At this time, Pastor Tim Beltz also became a valuable asset thanks to his many years of nonprofit management experience for ministries much larger and more complex than ours, along with Scott Thomas who had pastored at many other churches, and Pastor Bubba Jennings whose leadership and management gifts would allow the Ballard campus to become a center of excellence and equipping center for new campus launches.
The newly formed Executive Elder team began working on proposed new bylaws that would serve as the architecting document for a better Mars Hill. The big issue was empowering our campus pastors to lead elder teams. This would ensure the best care for the people at each campus by being accessible and able to make decisions quickly. Simply, we could not care for our people across multiple campuses with one large and fast-growing elder team that had to meet to make decisions across campuses many of us had never even attended. So, the bylaws had to be rewritten to break the elders into teams with campus areas of oversight as well as accountability. As an aside, the rewriting of our governing bylaws is something we had done on other occasions throughout the history of Mars Hill, so this was not a new experience.
Sadly, it was during the bylaw rewriting process that two of our elders, who curiously were among the least administratively gifted for that task, chose to fight in a sinful manner in an effort to defend their power and retain legal control of the entire church. This included legal maneuvering involving contacting our attorney, which was a violation of policy, one elder who is no longer with us disobeying clear orders from senior leaders about not sharing sensitive working data with church members until the elders had arrived at a decision, which has caused much dissension, and that same elder accusing Pastor Jamie Munson, who was the then new Lead Pastor of Mars Hill, of being a deceptive liar in an all-elder meeting with elder candidates present, despite having absolutely no evidence or grounds because it was a lie. This was heartbreaking for me since I have seen Pastor Jamie saved in our church, baptized in our church, married in our church, birth four children in our church, and rise up from an intern to the Lead Pastor in our church with great skill and humility that includes surrounding himself with godly gifted older men to complement his gifts. [emphasis added]
To make matters worse, this former elder’s comments came after my more than one-hour lecture in that meeting based on a twenty-three-page document I gave the elders as a summary report about what I had learned from the other pastors I had met with in addition to months of researching Christian movements. I had just explained the cause of the pains we were experiencing as a leadership team as largely tied to our growing number of elders and campuses, as well as ways that my research indicated men commonly respond by sinfully seeking power, money, preference, control, and information as ways to exercise pride and fight for their interests over the interests of the team, church, and mission of Jesus Christ.
The elder who sinned was followed up with following the meeting by a rebuke from a fellow Executive Elder, but repentance was not forthcoming. To make matters worse, some vocal church members ran to that elder’s defense without knowing the facts, made demands upon the elders, acted in a manner that was not unifying or helpful, and even took their grievances public on the Ask Anything comment portion of our main website for my forthcoming preaching series. Of course, this was done under anonymous names to protect their image in the eyes of fellow church members while maligning the elders publicly. Some church members even began accusing the other elders of grabbing power and not caring for the best interests of our people, which is nothing short of a lie and contradictory in every way to the entire process we were undertaking. It broke my heart personally when amidst all of this, a member asked me on behalf of other members if the elders really loved our people. Now having given roughly half my life to planning for and leading Mars Hill Church, the questioning of my love and the love of our elders, some of whom even got saved in our church, for our people was devastating.
Today, I remain deeply grieved by and for one man, but am thrilled that what is best for Jesus and all of Mars Hill has been unanimously approved by our entire elder team because I do love Jesus and the people of Mars Hill. Furthermore, my physical, mental, and spiritual health are at the best levels in all of my life. Now having joy and working in my gifting I am beginning to see what a dark and bitter place I once was in and deeply grieve having lived there for so long without clearly seeing my need for life change. My wife and I are closer than ever and she is the greatest woman in the world for me. I delight in her, enjoy her, and praise God for the gift that she is. She recently brought me to tears by sweetly saying, “It’s nice to have you back,” as apparently I had been somewhat gone for many years. Our five children are wonderful blessings. I love being a daddy and am closer to my children with greater joy in them than ever. In short, I was not taking good care of myself and out of love for our church I was willing to kill myself to try and keep up with all that Jesus is doing. But, as always, Jesus has reminded me that He is our Senior Pastor and has godly other pastors whom I need to empower and trust while doing my job well for His glory, my joy, and your good.
The past year has been the most difficult of my entire life. It has been painful to see a few men whom I loved and trained as elders become sinful, proud, divisive, accusatory, mistrusting, power hungry, and unrepentant. It has, however, been absolutely amazing to see all but one of those men humble themselves and give up what is best for them to do what is best for Jesus and our entire church. In that I have seen the power of the gospel, and remain hopeful to eventually see it in the former elder who remains unrepentant but to whom my hand of reconciliation remains extended along with a team of other elders assigned to pursue reconciliation if/when he is willing. Furthermore, sin in my own life has been exposed through this season and I have also benefited from learning to repent of such things as bitterness, unrighteous anger, control, and pride. As a result, I believe we have a pruned elder team that God intends to bear more fruit than ever. This team of battle-tested, humble, and repentant men is now both easy to enjoy and entrust. Emotionally, I told our Board of Directors recently that I felt like I walked Mars Hill down the aisle and married her off so that she could be best cared for and loved in the next season of her life. I remain her father who loves and cares for her and is vitally involved in her growth and well-being, but now trust the elders to take good care of her thanks in part to a structure that enables her to be loved well. Subsequently, for the first time in my tenure at Mars Hill I am able to work in my area of gifting with men I trust on a mission I believe in with church members I love and a Jesus I worship. That harmony is priceless.