The Mark Driscoll Apology Saga

mark_driscollI’d like to take a break from my Biblical Slavery series and try to piece together my thoughts on the Mark Driscoll Apology Saga. Like a lot of these whirlwind controversies that spread through the blogosphere, the hype usually dies down by the time I’m ready to write something coherent about it, but in this case I haven’t quite seen the Driscoll debate tackled from my perspective yet.

So I’m going to take off the “liberal” hat that I’ve been wearing for most of my recent posts and put my “evangelical” hat back on.

I served as a Deacon at my evangelical church for about 6 years. (As an aside to newcomers: unlike many bloggers who’ve left evangelical churches, my theology and politics didn’t change over time. The liberal evangelical I am now was the same person my conservative church appointed as Deacon way back in 2005, and my views weren’t a secret to the congregation.)

During the course of the time while I served as Deacon, I served on a number of candidate searches for Elders and Deacons. For the uninitiated, here’s how this works: your Elders and Deacons didn’t appear magically out of the ether filled with certainty that God dropped them on this earth to serve their role. In most evangelical churches, a committee is appointed that’s a mix of current leaders in the church and a few laypersons to provide a voice from the congregation. Together they come up with a list of candidates for each office.

(What does this have to do with Mark Driscoll? Stay with me. I’ll explain soon…)

There are a few rules to this process: given our church’s complementarion views, only men were considered (although our Pastor did unsuccessfully push for many years to appoint deaconesses). You also couldn’t call guys up and ask them if they wanted to serve in either role. In other words, the guy who turned down serving as an Elder wouldn’t ask if he could become Deacon instead. Our goal was to always have at least one more candidate than the number of open slots that year. So if we have two “retiring” Elders, we wanted 3 candidates so the congregation would have a true vote.

Our list of candidates usually came down to about 4-6 Elder candidates and 4-8 Deacon candidates. Most of them said no. Sometimes it was because they didn’t feel led to serve, sometimes it was PTSD fro the last time they served (anyone who’s been part of church leadership during a rough patch or crisis knows that it can get very stressful.). Except for one year when morale was especially high and we had a bunch of candidates, we always barely got enough candidates to have a true election.

You learn a lot about your congregation when you serve on the election committee. Guys that you just assumed were easy choices are more complicated than they appeared to be. Some had theological disagreements or personality quirks that disqualified them. One man refused to officially join even though he’d been attending our church every Sunday for 20 years. Even though he loved our church and had no intentions of worshipping anywhere else, his refusal to sign on the dotted line as a member prevented him from being elected as a leader. Another guy was an annihilationist (i.e. he didn’t believe in hell), and another was a member of the Masons. Our leadership didn’t have a problem with that, but enough members were suspicious of the Masons, so we decided he wasn’t worth the trouble.

On the more humorous side, there was one prominent man in our church whom many people looked up to. This guy’s name was always raised when church members approached us. They’d say “Why don’t you ever nominate him?He’s a great teacher and an upstanding man!”

The truth was that every year for more than ten years he made the short list of people we’d ask, and he’s always say no. The funny part was that he had this unofficial understanding with our leadership that every year he wanted to be asked because it was reassuring for him to know that he was still highly respected. And every year we knew that he would say no. The one year we didn’t ask him, he was very upset and hurt, even though he had no intention of saying yes.

And, of course, sometimes you found out that men who seemed to be in very happy marriages were actually pretty awful to their wives. Our church was very judicious about not gossiping about those situations; I rarely heard what the issue was. But if my Pastor said that there were serious concerns about their family life or their ability to model Christlike behavior to their wives, everyone knew that was a euphemism for domestic abuse or substance abuse.

Which brings me to Mark Driscoll. One of the lessons I learned from my Elders was that it was a mistake to view church leadership as a ladder to climb. Serving as a Deacon didn’t mean you were on your way to becoming an Elder down the road; they were different roles with different gifts and qualifications. It’s possible that one might follow that track, but we strove hard to discourage that mentality. I also learned that people shouldn’t take it as an insult if they’re not asked to serve in leadership. Different people have different strengths and weaknesses, and if you have a great vision for missions or evangelism, becoming Elder may not be the best use of your abilities. My pastor was a big advocate of considering younger candidates if they fit the criteria.

And that’s the key: if they fit the criteria. I remember one year there was an incident where one of our most respected members just lost it on the ministry team he was serving with. He was frustrated with the fact that his committee wasn’t showing the same zeal and passion for his ideas that he felt, plus there were a number of difficult trials he was privately going through. And it all came out as a vicious rant against his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. That was the only time anyone ever saw him lose his temper, but it was such a volcanic display that it shut down any possibility that he would be considered a viable leadership candidate unless he showed significant emotional and spiritual growth over time. And part of the growth we were looking for was a willingness to face up to that incident and apologize directly to the people he wronged.

As the years passed and it became apparent the he was going to remain the dedicated guy who served in various ministries but never owned up to his mistakes or apologized for them. He always wanted to run things his way, which is a red flag if you’re looking for Christlike leaders. But we didn’t need his pattern of stubbornness to know he would be a bad fit as a leader. That one incident was enough for us to make sure he never got in the position of being the head of any ministry.

As I see it, Mark Driscoll is that guy times a thousand. I can (and have) spent a lot of time venting about Driscoll’s various controversies, but oddly enough his apology made me realize that it’s best to just think of him as the guy who got to be pastor but wasn’t fit for the job.

It’s not just that he’s controversial or he’s guilty of a number of sins, missteps, and poorly chosen words. It’s that Driscoll gets tangled up in controversies that most Christians (including most evangelicals) wouldn’t even consider doing, let alone be tempted by.

I don’t know of any Christians, no matter how passionate they are about traditional gender roles, who would even think about venting publicly about “effeminate worship leaders.” I can’t think of any other pastor who’s ever made disrespectful public remarks about his Elders. I can’t think of any pastor, no matter how much fame and celebrity status tempted them, who’d go so far as to hire a service to game the NY Times bestseller list. I can’t think of any pastor who would insist that wives perform vulgar sex acts, and insult them if they refuse to. I can’t think of any pastor who would end a letter to his church -especially a otter intended to betaken as an apology – by threatening them with legal action if they distributed the letter to people outside the church.

In my view, that’s the reason why Driscoll gets so much justifiable criticism: he does stuff that would disqualify him from being considered as head of any church ministries, and it’s oddball stuff that anyone over 17 would have outgrown.

If a guy like Driscoll strolled into the average evangelical church, I can tell you exactly what would happen to him. He’d approach the pastor on fire for a more aggressive and zealous vision of church, and he’d volunteer to help spearhead the church towards that new direction. The pastor would patiently praise him for his enthusiasm and gently suggest that Mark needed more experience and spiritual maturity before he could take on such a role. And then the pastor would consult with an Elder, and that Elder would offer to take Mark under his wing and disciple him. The Elder would try to get Mark to see that all of his anger isn’t pure or righteous, and there are ways to communicate his ideas with more humility. (I’m setting aside for a moment that I disagree with many of Mark’s ideas, since my point here is about Mark’s demeanor). And at that point Mark would either agree to submit to the teachings of someone older and wiser than him and learn to set aside his craving for getting what he wants, or he’d walk away in a huff mumbling curses and go hunt for church willing to give him some power.

I’m willing to wait and see if Mark’s apology expand in scope to include offenses beyond the NY Times controversy and people whom he’s wronged over the years, but for now at least the tone seems to reflect a desire to offer the smallest apology possible and still have it be called an apology.

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