Sunday, May 20, 2018

a Larry Osborne conversation with Mark Driscoll from 2016: Part One: Mark Driscoll recounting his Fall 2004 meeting with Larry Osborne at a Leadership Network event

One of the things that jumps out early on in Jessica Johnson's book Biblical Porn (which we'll try to review some time in the next few weeks) is a relatively passing reference to the Leadership Network.  While Mars hill had its start with the blessing and sending of Hutcherson's Antioch Bible Church it was, more or less beyond doubt, Leadership Network that played a role in making Mark Driscoll one of the rock star pastors of Generation X.  Johnson's book does not really spend any time discussing Leadership Network because of the academic focus of the book.  That said, the book played a helpful role in jotting my memory about how pervasively the name of Larry Osborne comes up in the annals of Mars Hill, most often (as best I can recall) from the pen of Mark Driscoll himself.  

Confessions of a Reformission Rev
Mark Driscoll, Zondervan 2006
ISBN-13: 978-0-310-27016-4

From chapter 7: Jesus, we’re loading our squirt guns to charge Hell again (4,000-10,000 people)
Pages 164-165

In the fall of 2004, Leadership Network brought together a handful of large-church pastors for a meeting in New York. It was an honor to be among such successful and diverse pastors as Wayne Cordero (Foursquare), Tim Keller (Presbyterian), Michael Slaughter (Methodist), Walt Kallestad (Lutheran), and Matt Hannan and Bob Roberts (Baptist). Each of them had timely insights that helped clarify the plans I was making to grow our church to ten thousand people. During one of the breaks, I grabbed lunch with Larry Osborne, who pastors North Coast, a church of six thousand people in San Diego, California. Our church had quickly blown through the three-thousand mark, and we were expecting to crest at just under four thousand people a week by the fast-approaching spring of 2005.

I was in the middle of putting together a comprehensive strategic plan for the future of our church, with plans to grow to over ten thousand people. Our two morning and two evening Sunday services were all filling up, and we needed to decide what our next steps would be. We searched diligently but once again could not find a facility with three thousand seats or more to rent in the city. And we were unwilling to relocate the church out of the city, where land was cheaper and more options were available. 

As I sat with Larry, I immediately launched into a barrage of questions about growing the church, hoping to maximize our time together. Larry had impressively grown his church from a small congregation to a church of six thousand people while maintaining sound doctrine and incorporating an effective small group ministry.

Larry proceeded to ignore all of my questions and instead started asking me questions seemingly unrelated to growing the church. He asked me how many children I had, their ages, the condition of my marriage, and if being a good husband and father was more important to me than growing a large church. 

I was stunned. Over the years, I had met with many successful pastors to learn from them. Not one of them had ever asked anything about my personal life and my family or even if I was morally fit to be a pastor. The only people who ever asked those types of questions were my elders, because they love me and my family.

The first four pages of chapter 7 are, in fact, a summary of Driscoll’s conversation with Larry Osborne in the fall of 2004.   It builds up to a conclusion that is on page 167

… Simply, he [Osborne] was instructing me on the chief principles of creating a mature missional church.

So I tried to begin with the end in mind. I sought to plan for the church for as far down the road as I could see.  I could envision a church of more than ten thousand people and began working with Jamie to reverse-engineer a plan to become that church. We drafted a strategic plan that was over a hundred pages long, between plans and supporting documents and articles. We then presented our strategic plan to the elders and deacons, who helped us make some changes that greatly improved the plan. The deacons and elders also devised strategic plans so that their areas of ministry could grow with the church. If all the plans were put together, the total master plan would be hundreds of pages long.

Our strategic plan, which is sketched out in this chapter, won’t be fully implemented until after this book is published. By that time, we will know if we had a good plan or if we messed everything up and reduced the church to a small group of people meeting in a phone booth and grumbling about the strategic plan. I am hesitant to end the book with these details because I have no guarantee that they will work.  But it’s where we are at, going into another season of great risk.

It would turn out that the large building Jamie Munson scouted out and that the Mars Hill elders purchased was not zoned for the uses that Mark Driscoll’s grand vision had envisioned.  The alternative to the boondoggle that was outlined confidently as the plan for future growth for Mars Hill was to embrace an older model that had been implemented in the history of Mars Hill, the multisite model.  The key difference moving forward as that the new multisite model would have pastors as administrative heads of a network of churches whose preaching content would predominantly be Mark Driscoll’s preaching; gone were the days when Mike Gunn preached in the south, Mark Driscoll preached in Ballard, and Lief Moi preached in the University District.  The new paradigm of multisite was, famously, filming Mark and broadcasting him across the campuses and times.  Of all the things outlined in the master plan in Confessions that was what managed to get worked out.

What’s worth noting is that as far back as Driscoll’s 2006 book he had emphasized how a meeting with Larry Osborne in 2004 through a Leadership Network event informed his ideas of what needed to be done to strategically grow Mars Hill to the size he wanted.  He insisted in print that he did not care whether he pastored a large or a small church but this insistence seems to have been belied by the recurrent reference to head counts of attenders in the subheadings of every single chapter of Confessions. If he really didn’t care about the numbers in any event why organize an entire book into chapters with subheadings that included numbers of attenders?  But what was, in any case, made clear by Mark Driscoll himself was that it was a 2004 conversation with Osborne he credits with stunning him into a realization that the way Mars Hill was organized would need to change.  The closing chapter of Confessions of a Reformission Rev was presented as a summary of what strategic plans were going to be implemented. Driscoll’s 2006 book was published in April and the next two years would bear out that the gap between what was confidently announced about the future plans for Mars Hill and what actually happened in Driscoll’s efforts to reorganize the governance of the church would throw up some discrepancies.

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