Me and Mark Driscoll

Driscoll claims to have heard the audible voice of God 

As well-intentioned Christians, we make claims about how God speaks to us. There is a plethora of sentimental illustrations that seek to bolster our claims, including, beautiful landscapes, picturesque mountains, the galaxy as seen through the lens of the Hubble Space Telescope, babies, puppies, trees, and the ubiquitous “two sets of footprints in the sand.” When Christians claim “God spoke to me about this,” it is a conversation killer, simply because these utterances can’t be verified by any kind of vocal recognition software. But this doesn’t stop many from continuing to make this claim. One such influential example of this in my life included the ministry of Pastor Mark Driscoll. Pastor Mark during the heyday of Mars Hill Church made many such claims of hearing the audible, authoritative voice of God, and I think I believed him. Certainly, I believed God was using Pastor Mark Driscoll to speak to me.

I listened with rapt attention to Christianity Today’s podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill because I was one of the many pastors influenced by the ministry of Mark Driscoll. I first discovered Driscoll’s sermons online sometime in the early 2000s after reading a reference to him as “the cussing pastor” in Donald Miller’s book “Blue Like Jazz.” At the time, I was in the middle of a journey out of a small Pentecostal organization in which I had been reared and groomed to be a minister. I had managed to carve out for myself a modest vocation as a preacher vacillating between roles as a youth pastor, assistant pastor, and traveling evangelist. 

Mark Driscoll’s was a much different world than mine

I look back on those years as a mixed bag of gaining experience as an effective preacher, becoming well-versed in Bible content, but also wasting much of my youth serving an organization and local church that was spiritually abusive, not to mention just plain wrong on a host of theological issues, including the gospel itself. When compared to my rural Arkansas experience, discovering Mark Driscoll’s ministry in his vastly different world of Seattle, Washington, was a watershed moment in my spiritual evolution.

Mark Driscoll emerged as a controversial yet influential figure in modern Christianity, particularly through his dynamic preaching style at Mars Hill Church. His sermon series, delivered passionately on Sunday mornings, tackled topics like relationships and theology, resonating with a broad audience both locally and through social media. His books were influential and practical, including the popular “Real Marriage” book that he wrote with his wife Grace Driscoll. Additionally, his media savvy solidified his position as a thought leader, with works exploring books of the Bible, leadership, and the intricacies of marital and family relationships.

I credit Mark Driscoll, along with John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul as among the spiritual leaders who tipped the scales, bringing me to a place where I eventually left that Pentecostal group that up until that point, had defined my life and ministry. But unlike MacArthur and Sproul, Driscoll was a contemporary, who also had just enough of a charismatic flare to ease my Pentecostal sensibilities. I listened to Driscoll’s preaching religiously and read everything he published. I was so impacted by his ministry and Bible teaching that I quickly subscribed to his “New Calvinist” ideologies, embracing his views of gender roles, church governance, and general gospel-centeredness. 

The Effectiveness of Driscoll’s Preaching 

Driscoll’s bombastic and often offensive style of preaching wasn’t something new for me, as it was typical of most of the preaching I heard in my Pentecostal tradition and was similar in style to my own homiletic delivery. But what made Driscoll’s preaching so attractive to me was the content. Driscoll, a Bible expositor who preached through books of the Bible for hours at a time, captivated my attention. 

In his sermons, Driscoll emphasized the importance of prayer, invoking the example of Jesus and the teachings of influential figures like John Piper. He championed a family ministry approach, advocating for strong familial bonds and shared values among followers of Jesus.

As someone who had been primarily exposed to topical, and often less than thoughtful preaching formats designed to elicit emotional responses, I found his preaching refreshing and transformative. For the first time in my life, I was receiving a steady diet of gospel preaching and exegetical theology that revolutionized my life and perspective, but eventually, the leadership traits and social views that I attempted to appropriate from Driscoll would reveal themselves to be problematic for my ministry, and as it turns out, they would prove to be devastating for his.

I wanted to be like Pastor Mark

In 2010, I accepted the invitation to become the pastor of a fledgling congregation that viewed itself as a nondenominational church after decades of being affiliated with the Pentecostal organization that was part of my own formative experiences. The church was in a decline and had recently been victimized by an unscrupulous pastor who had taken out multiple loans in the church’s name without the consent of the congregation and then spent the money frivolously. The former pastor eventually went to jail for his crimes, and I served this congregation for over five years as together we attempted to move forward. In several ways, my leadership style was modeled on what l learned from listening to Driscoll and reading the books he recommended on church polemics. 

I endeavored to lead our small congregation by practicing expository preaching, implementing a plurality of elder governance, and insisting these roles were exclusively the purview of qualified men. However, what I did was create a group of less than qualified men as leaders, including myself, resulting in a confused congregation. While my preaching often informed the congregation, it did little to transform them or provide guidance for the daily struggles they were facing. I was answering questions from the Bible that no one was asking. And although we did enjoy some success during those years and managed by God’s grace to see the congregation moving forward once again, eventually I experienced a leadership challenge that resulted in my resignation.

My mistakes were dumb, rookie moves that many a first-time pastor has regretted, and to be fair to myself, I like to think that some of what I did resulted in many positive moments for our church family by the grace of God. 

Pastoral leadership lessons learned the hard way

But as I contemplate those years in pastoral leadership, I am increasingly convinced that had I not been so insistent on emulating the leadership styles of a megachurch pastor that I had never met, thousands of miles away from my setting, that perhaps my tenure may have ended differently.

For instance, I believe that if many of the godly women in our church had been given an opportunity to sit on our board, my inaugural pastoral experience would have been very different and would probably have ended more positively. I lost the opportunity to hear the counsel of wise women because I was convinced it wasn’t biblical. Instead, the different iterations of my board during those years ended up either as echo chambers or pissing contests, with none of it as helpful or productive as it might have been if given the chance to be influenced by the diversity and giftings of women.

When I, and the other men on my board, confronted one another, it led to power struggles that were more centered in our collective and individual insecurities as leaders than in any real insurmountable differences. We even played the “God is speaking to me” card on numerous occasions, as we scrambled to outdo one another by spiritualizing every opinion. If we were to be believed, God was a verbose micromanager concerned about the color of paint on the walls, musical and worship styles, and even about how much we should pay our Daycare staff. Interesting that God rarely endorsed paying more than minimum wage. Listening to us it seemed that God wouldn’t shut up about our church. Eventually, I was told that God had spoken that it was time for me to resign my position as lead pastor.

Mark Driscoll’s ministry unravels

Meanwhile, Pastor Mark Driscoll’s ministry at Mars Hill Church began to unravel in earnest in 2014 as accusations increased surrounding his temperament and treatment of staff and congregants. His leadership unraveled with accusations of plagiarism and a plot to manipulate his book sales to land on the New York Times bestseller list.

There were numerous reports of bullying, intimidation, and even violence against staff members, that ultimately led the Elders of Mars Hill to investigate. But before they could disclose their findings to the church, Driscoll resigned publicly, once again stating that God had spoken to him, releasing him from his pastoral position and revealing that “a trap had been set” by those investigating him.

Mars Hill Church enjoyed an attendance of fifteen thousand people at its peak, and disappeared practically overnight. But Driscoll remains active, launching new initiatives like a new church called Trinity Church and digital platforms like the Real Faith app. He continues to engage in theological discourse and address cultural issues through his ministry, although his influence has diminished. The eventual downfall of Mars Hill revealed the consequences of unchecked authority and the need for greater accountability within religious organizations. Despite Driscoll’s lip service to serve as a follower of Jesus, his leadership style and controversies surrounding the church tarnished his legacy.

Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll teach enduring lessons for leaders in any context, but most especially those in American evangelicalism, highlighting the importance of humility, transparency, and a commitment to accountability in ministry. This is a cautionary tale that goes far beyond mere public relations management or influential podcast episodes. 

Same old Driscoll 

Driscoll’s Sunday morning sermon is now just another one among an increasingly crowded field of public Christian ministry that seeks to reassert its diminishing influence at the heart of current cultural dilemmas. It seems Driscoll is attempting to recapture some of his past glory, but it is no longer about “Vintage Jesus” but rather, vintage Mark. In fact, Driscoll is now fully rebranded as “Mark Driscoll Ministries.” 

I am certain that there are many Christian leaders who share my experience of looking to others whose perceived successes resonate with our own desires and ambitions. This is true of every field, but what the story of Pastor Mark and Mars Hill Church reveals and what my story reveals, is that leadership in the Church should be dramatically different from how successful leadership is measured in other spheres.

While the church growth movement has been successful by certain measurements, with upstart churches flourishing by replicating business strategies in many communities, we as Christians have failed to ask ourselves if we should pursue these strategies. Just because we can doesn’t necessarily mean we should. The Church isn’t a business and treating it as such only serves to further the true national American religion of consumerism. Our obsessions with success and all its accouterments reveal that it isn’t God, but money that talks.

Avoiding the Mark Driscoll Trap 

Perhaps Pastor Mark was right about the trap, but not in the way he intended. Maybe the traps that we fall into as Christian leaders are those that we set ourselves. Traps that are constructed of our own pride, selfish ambition, and certainty that the Holy Spirit speaks to us. I would hope that if God indeed does speak to us we would all be doing a much better job of representing Him.

And should He ever speak to us, maybe we should keep that to ourselves.


This essay is from our Anastasis Series where we resurrect articles from the past that are either still relevant today or can be easily updated. This piece was first published on June 24, 2021, and has been lightly edited and updated.

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  • Mark Walker says:

    Scot Loyd is a cancer in Christian growth. He is completely in left field and you guys should vet who you allow to get published better. He is “woke” and all in for critical race theory. He strays from sound Bible teaching and should never be allowed to teach at a Bible college. Men like him are exactly why so many are choosing not to attend seminary . He is an idea for a good arrival look into who and what is being taught to our young pastors.

    • I have known Scot for 14 years. in that time he has shown uncommon growth and humility. I specifically reached out to him to ask him to write for Faith on View. Critical Race Theory is consistent with the Christian doctrines of brokenness/ depravity of humanity and original sin. I have never seen him publish anything that strays from sound doctrine. He teaches at a Christian University, not a Bible College or seminary so those points are off base. I’d respond to your last sentence but it is incoherent.

      What I do see from Scot is a prophetic voice that is more concerned with pleasing God than men even if the men who he upsets are the self-appointed gatekeepers of evangelical orthodoxy. We are honored to have Scot’s Christ-honoring voice represented here on Faith on View.

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