How to learn from failure without gossiping
June 27, 2013
What's the difference between gossip and a case study. In every organization (this could be your business, this could be your ministry, this could be your church) um, you're going to have SOME seasons where something REALLY works and you want to use that as a case study. And that's usually not very controversial or debated. "Hey, this worked. It went well. We need to really learn from that. Let's pay attention to that. Let's see what it is we can extract from that so we can continue to have success."
Other times things go poorly, badly, negatively. Mistakes are made, failures are made ... and I need you to know, as a leader, though this is discouraging, this can be difficult, it's inevitable. The more decisions you make, the more mistakes you're gonna make. Make ten decisions? You're going to make one mistake. You make a hundred decisions, you make ten mistakes. You make a thousand decisions, you make a hundred mistakes. You make a MILLION decisions, you're gonna make 100,000 mistakes.
So the longer you're in leadership and the more decisions you make, the more mistakes you're going to make and the question is, "Can we LEARN from those seasons, those mistakes, those decisions," whether those be mistakes, or maybe sins that WE'VE committed or that others have committed or that a group of leaders or a team has made a bad decision and sent the organization in the wrong direction and there are complications as a result of that, when those things happen, let me submit this to you--those are enormous opportunities for learning and growth for leaders in the organization and for the organization as a whole. And also, those things need to be captured and remembered so that as new leaders are coming in and being raised up they don't continue to make the same old mistakes that they learned from those seasons and sometimes from those failures sins and errors.
And so the question is, though, how is that not gossip?
There's sometimes where you have to, as a leader--and I'm not talking here about publicly--sometimes you do need to do so publicly. Let's say there's someone who commits a horrible sin and they're in leadership, you know, adultery, drug addiction, massive stealing from the church or something of that nature then that may need to be known to the people in the church so that everybody's aware of what's going on.
But let's say it's not something that rises to that level. It's not something that is even, necessarily disqualifying, that you would fire someone for this. It's just a mistake. It was an error. It was something that was just blown. It was just wrong. It wasn't executed right, whatever the case may be.
This is where you take those case studies and you share them with the other leaders in a way that is more private; you're not trying to create a lot of drama or have everyone, you know, involved in the process but you're asking, "Okay, what can we learn from this?"
Sometimes the best way is when the person or persons involved are humble and godly and they say, "Well, let US tell the story of our failures, our mistakes, our errors, the things we did wrong, and let us do that in a way that heps the rest of the team learn from our errors." In an ideal world that's the case because, well, that's certainly not gossip. That's someone being humble and helping train other leaders through their failures. That's a good thing.
Other times, the doesn't want to talk about it or the person disagrees or the person leaves the organization or the person is no longer in leadership. Then the question is, can we still use those scenarios as case studies? And the answer is you CAN, I would encourage you, don't make it personal and don't necessarily share names or all the particuilar details unless it is absolutely required because the goal is not to throw somebody under the proverbial bus but to ask, "Well, what principles can we extract from this experience?"
But let me submit this to you--we have to learn from our mistakes, our failures, our errors and the Bible gives us evidence of this. The Bible is not primarily a leadership book. That's not its primary intent. But God does work through leaders and so the Bible has a record of a lot of the wins and losses of various leaders. And the Bible does present certain leaders' failures and sins as case studies.
I'll give you some examples, we know that Adam blew it as a leader and it's not because Adam told us, it's because Moses told us. We know for example, as well, that David blew it and we know that because it's not just David who tells us, others record that in scriptures, though David also does confess to that in one of the psalms were he acknowledges his own adultery and murder. ...
Nehemiah had two guys, that were REALLY against him, Sanballat and Tobiah. And they were enemies and critics and opponents of him, though they would be affiliated and associated in some degree with God's people. And the Bible tells us about them as a negative case study of how sometimes bad leaders oppose good leaders.
We read as we move into the Gospels, of Judas Iscariot as a case study, one who is stealing from the ministry of Jesus and is just trying to use Jesuse for his own mission and is not on mission with Jesus and he ultimately becomes the one who betrays Jesus. Judas doesn't tell us that. Judas doesn't write his memoir and tell us, "Well, here's what I've learned." Instead the authors of the Gospels tell us about the failure of Judas as a leader so we can learn from that. ...
What does this mean? It means the Bible gives us permission to have case studies. And the same Bible that says "Don't be a gossip" gives a LOT of case studies.
If we're not attacking someone, throwing them under the bus, and sort of blame-shifting everything to them and just telling the story of a case whereby we can learn from it than I think we're being biblical, and we're following the pattern of the Scriptures. I think we have plenty of precedent.
The first thing to notice about this ten minute presentation (if you watched the whole thing) is that Mark Driscoll poses the question, "What is the difference between gossip and a case study" and he says that it's not gossip if it's not a personal attack on somebody but otherwise does not really answer the question. He basically said that so long as it's not a personal attack and you're not throwing somebody under the bus that you're wasting opportunities to have case studies in instruction by not talking about things.
So in a way this wasn't just a non-answer, it was basically saying that anything that didn't name names could probably work. Sometimes you'd name names in the case of really bad sins.
There's something kind of weird in the middle of these asides into biblical tales of failures of leaders. Driscoll mentions Nehemiah but not to mention any of Nehemiah's failures but to mention that bad leaders opposed the good leader. Ditto Judas Iscariot. These were case studies of bad men opposing the good man, which seems unrelated altogether to the topic of how "you" will fail in ministry. The Bible is, to be sure, full of stories of leaders who failed and how they failed, but Driscoll gave no practical or useful advice on how "you" could really discern the difference between what he called a "case study" and gossip.
But notice that in this ramble that the stand-out asides and case studies are not necessarily a parade of leaders and their failures. Adam, David, Peter. But then the Nehemiah cases aren't cases of Nehemiah's failures but of people who opposed Nehemiah. Judas is brought out as a case study of a failure but as another example of a false or oppositional force.
Driscoll doesn't do much to lead by example in talking about his own failures in this clip. He gave a rambling theological rational for why it's okay to use "case studies" that aren't gossip without explaining what that threshhold might be that, once crossed, delineates a case study from gossip. If you don't take advantage of stories of mistakes it's like a great expense with no return on the investment. So mistakes, not necessarily yours, can be great case studies.
Well, let's turn out attention to that interesting admonition that when you talk about something like a bad moment or a bad decision in the history of a church ministry that you don't use personal attacks and that you don't throw somebody under the proverbial bus.
After all, a bit more than a whole year earlier, on June 18, 2012, Chrise Rosebrough broadcast audio from Mark Driscoll's 2007 talk:
October 1, 2007
... Too many guys spend too much time trying to move stiff-necked obstinate people. I am all about blessed subtraction. There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus and by God's grace it'll be a mountain by the time we're done. You either get on the bus or get run over by the bus (those are the options) but the bus ain't gonna stop. I'm just a, I'm just a guy who is like, "Look, we love ya but this is what we're doin'."
There's a few kind of people. There's people who get in the way of the bus. They gotta get run over. There are people who want to take turns driving the bus. They gotta get thrown off cuz they want to go somewhere else. There are people who will be on the bus (leaders and helpers and servants, they're awesome). There's also sometimes nice people who just sit on the bus and shut up. They're not helping or hurting. Just let `em ride along. You know what I'm saying? But don't look at the nice people who are just gonna sit on the bus and shut their mouth and think, "I need you to lead the mission." They're never going to. At the most you'll give `em a job to do and they'll serve somewhere and help out in a minimal way. If someone can sit in a place that hasn't been on mission for a really long time they are by definition not a leader and so they're never going to lead. You need to gather a whole new core. [emphasis added]
I'll tell you what, you don't just do this for church planting or replanting, you know what? I'm doing it right now. I'm doing it right now. We just took certain guys and rearranged the seats on the bus. Yesterday we fired two elders for the first time in the history of Mars Hill last night. They're off the bus, under the bus. They were off mission so now they're unemployed. This will be the defining issue as to whether or not you succeed or fail. [emphasis added]
The two guys, as can be easily established by local history and reportage, were Bent Meyer and Paul Petry. A fuller timeline of what happened is over here:
On November 8, 2007, Mark Driscoll wrote a letter to explain recent events, chief among them being a controversial pair of terminations amidst a restructuring of Mars Hill. The terminations of Bent Meyer and Paul Petry from pastoral office at Mars Hill was made known earlier in 2007 and Driscoll obliquely addressed the matter in a lengthy letter:
A letter from Pastor Mark Driscoll
November 8, 2007
from pages 4-5 of the 142 document
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. [emphasis added] 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.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. [emphasis added] 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 [emphasis added], 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 [emphasis added] 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.
A lot of quoted text, but it seems important--it seems really strange Mark Driscoll would insist in the summer of 2013 that when you talk about the failures of leaders that you not make anything that could be a personal attack and that you not bring something up to throw somebody under the bus. One of Mark Driscoll's more infamous utterances was about how there was a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus and how, by God's grace, there'd be a mountain before they were done.
Driscoll also remarked that you either got on the bus or got run over by the bus, those were the two options but the bus wasn't gonna stop. Well, the bus isn't exactly running NOW, is it? And Driscoll said of two guys, two guys who were the first to get fired in the history of Mars Hill (itself a claim that seems to be of dubious reliability), that "they're off the bus, under the bus. They were off mission so now they're unemployed."
If it seemed as if that was a lot of fairly specific talk about guys being thrown under the bus for being off mission and that these kinds of crisis moments would define whether you succeeded or failed in ministry; if it seemed that there was a lot of personal attack and under-bus-throwing, this 2007 period isn't really a time Mark Driscoll has ever looked back upon and said, for the record, that there was anything he didn't do well.
Back in 2013 Driscoll talked about how as long as you don't name names and don't use personal attacks and don't throw somebody under the bus you've got a wealth of case studies. About ... 19 months ago nearly every former pastor of Mars Hill who participated in what turns out to have looked like a simple kangaroo court against Meyer and Petry wrote a public letter of confession.
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Dear Paul and Bent, we want to publicly confess our sin against you regarding events that took place at Mars Hill Church back in 2007. We were wrong. We harmed you. You have lived with the pain of that for many years. As some of us have come to each of you privately, you have extended grace and forgiveness, and for that we thank you. Because our sin against you happened in a public way and with public consequences, we want to make our confession public as well with this letter. ...
The list of signatures includes just about everyone who was in eldership at Mars Hill but conspicuous by their absence are the names "Mark Driscoll" and "Jamie Munson".
If Mark Driscoll thought it was a good idea to say that you should preach and teach from things you learned from your own mistakes in that 2013 vodcast it seems as though the vodcast became more of a rambling exposition on how it was okay to use other peoples' failures as case studies. It even briefly mutated into a rumination on bad guys who opposed good guys in biblical narratives.
Well, Driscoll boasted in 2007 that two men were fired from Mars Hill and that they were "off the bus, under the bus". Driscoll also made a point of saying he felt personally grieved by and for "that one man", whose identity was fairly readily identifiable to maybe a thousand of us who were at Mars Hill as Paul Petry. It's hard to shake the sense that when in June 2013 Driscoll decided to lay his advice on leaders he was speaking in some sense as a complete hypocrite, someone who had shown he had no problem making the discussion of a failure or a conflict a matter of personal animus on the one hand and doing so in a way that made it impossible not to recognize who was involved on the other.
But Driscoll was confident in saying that if you're convinced that someone in church leadership has effectively stolen from the church and sinned in a grievous and disqualifying way that the people need to know. So at one level, it could be that Driscoll has to deal with the fact that some people thought he did things seriously amiss enough to file a complaint about it. And, of course, who knows whether that will get anywhere. Whether or not it does, Mark Driscoll's case that anything that's not "gossip" can be a "case study" is something people who would consider attending his church should keep in mind. It turns out that if you were a man who in a moment of anguish shared with Mark Driscoll you'd learned something horrible was done to your child by a relative ... well, Mark Driscoll can explain it all himself, since he did it back in May 2016.
Interesting, however, is the proclivity of people to reverse their position when the proverbial shoe is on the other foot. What I mean is this: when I sin against someone, I want them to accept me forgive me, and let me off the hook, because that is what sinners want. As long as we view the cross only from the perspective of sinners, this is all we will see. However, when we or someone we love is sinned against, we cry out for justice because that is what victims want. For example, a father who learned that his young daughter had been sexually abused by his brother told me he "wanted blood." [emphasis added] This, precisely, is the perspective of God, who has never sinned against anyone but is continually sinned against by everyone ...
And when's the last time Mark Driscoll saw that father? When's the last time, if ever, he saw that daughter?
I fully affirm penal substitutionary atonement as a component of the atonement Christ secured for Christians at the Cross (plus christus victor, christus exemplar, expiation, propitiation, ransom, etc). But it still seems tasteless beyond words that Mark Driscoll decided to trot out the confidence of a father who learned his child was sexually abused by his sibling and use this as some kind of "gotcha" point in favor of substitutionary atonement. To clarify, I think this kind of rhetorical flourish is nasty even if this were trotted out as a defense for atonement as expiation. If adult church members give some limited permission to share some or even all of their story that's one thing, but it's another thing to use a story about the sexual abuse of someone else's kid as a moment to stump for just one atonement theory.
Don't bother commenting about your distaste for PSA. Even a Pelagian has to contend with the fact that if God gave us all free will some adults choose to rape children and God, knowing all and making everything, gave them that free will. If you think free will is so important for the good that you choose to do that that's why God allows adult men to rape children that's your theodicy. The start of the Book of Job shows us that God knowingly and willingly lets children die, so this isn't something that can be waved off by folks who think that somehow free will (however you define it) means God's not responsible. Not even God in the book of Job says He's not responsible in any way for what He lets happen, what he tells Job is "You're not God, so you can't really tell me what to do, can you?"
Mark Driscoll hinging dubious theological or interpretive points on stories about children isn't exactly unheard of. He built up a climax to his tendentious take on Esther by appealing to a story he had with Ashley Driscoll rather than anything in his master's degree in exegetical theology. It's one of the things he does that, frankly, I admit gets me a bit angry. For a guy who has spent so many years talking about how he wants to protect women he's had no problem parading the shame of women and girls who have been straight up abused to make doctrinal points he could have made in some other way. Penal substitutionary atonement is more readily explained if I talk about how Christ chose to bear the punishment I deserved to save me. Why bring up a girl who was a victim of sexual abuse just to "prove" that when the shoe is proverbially on the other foot people want justice.
Sometimes it feels like when Mark Driscoll talked about the distinction between "gossip" and a "case study" that he wasn't able to answer the question because if he actually answered it he might have to be accountable for whether he'd lived by that answer in his own pastoral conduct.
Well, here we are in 2016 and virtually every man who was on the elder team at Mars Hill in 2007 has come around to consider the way Meyer and Petry were treated to have been ghastly, sinful, and sinful enough to warrant a public apology, retraction and request for forgiveness. Meanwhile, if Mark Driscoll's still on message, he's been grieved by and for that one man where he avoided naming names. If the 2013 June vodcast was any indication, that kind of vagueness was so that it wasn't "gossip" but could be a "case study". And the practical "lesson" that it seems we have to learn here is that when it comes to avoiding "gossip" while considering anything that's not a personal attack or throwing someone under the bus, it would seem that we've got a case where Mark Driscoll's instructional axiom could boil down to "Do as I say, not as I do."