The New Elephant in the Room: Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald and Authoritarian Rule in the Church – Part 1

Mars Hill Church.  By all the “measurable” standards promoted by the Church Growth Movement, it stands as one of the towering monuments amongst the 1300 Protestant megachurches presently dotting the landscape of this nation. With a weekly attendance of over 12,000 people gathering on fourteen different campuses in four different states, it’s lead pastor, Mark Driscoll, has become something of a “rock star” amongst the evangelical faithful. His sermon podcasts generally exceed 100,000 downloads per week; he authors New York Times best-selling books on the subject of marital sex; and he does media tours and interviews on popular daytime shows such as The View.  As I said: “rock star.”

But over the past few years, cracks appear to be forming in the ministry of Mark Driscoll – cracks, which even now, are beginning to raise ever-more-troubling questions regarding the nature of Driscoll’s leadership.  Take, for instance, the growing body of evidence that suggests that authority and church discipline within Mars Hill Church are taking on an overly-aggressive tone that some suggest borders on abuse.  Having trouble believing that to be true?  Consider the following two short video clips from sermons preached at Mars Hill, just before Driscoll reportedly walked off stage and fired two highly-regarded pastor/elders.

Mark Driscoll – How to Keep Your Elders in Line

Mark Driscoll – Beating your own Leaders

And lest one be tempted to think that these are isolated incidents, rest assured that this does not appear to be the case.  In addition to the recent mini-scandal related to “Andrew” and his run-in with Mars Hill-style church discipline, there are the numerous websites, such as Freedom for Captives,, and The Wartburg Watch that all seem to be bearing witness to the same general concerns.  In fact, this issue seems to be so significant that even secular media sources such as The New York Times, The Stranger and Slate Magazine are covering these events.

Now, on the heels of former-elder Bent Meyer publicly challenging Driscoll’s authoritarian leadership comes the most explosive testimony yet.  Nearly five years after her husband was released by Mars Hill in 2007 for “protesting a plan to reorganize the church [governance]” along lines that would “consolidate power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides,”[1] Jonna Petry, wife of the deposed staff member/elder, Paul Petry, has penned an incredibly compelling open letter on the blog, Joyful Exiles.  While the letter may appear to be unique to Mars Hill, it is a very well-written letter that should be read by every evangelical Christian concerned about nature of the church in North American society.  Why?  Because in a evangelical culture that is witnessing the rapid assension of the megachurch lead by the “celebrity pastor,” questions need to be asked about what appears to be the diminishing ability of elders to effectively govern and lead when one elder is, as they say, “more equal than others.”

This article is continued at: Does Pastor James MacDonald Possess too much Power?

[1] Molly Worthen, “Who Would Jesus Smack Down?” in the New York Times, 6 Jan. 2009.

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One Response to The New Elephant in the Room: Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald and Authoritarian Rule in the Church – Part 1

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