On Wednesday, Mark Driscoll resigned from his position at Mars Hill Church after nearly 20 years of leading the church he planted into one of the largest churches in the North America. He had stepped out of the pulpit for the last 6 weeks as an investigation looked into many charges against him of anger and bullying behaviour towards staff and elders. Over the last few months as controversy grew, many pastors have left and some campuses have closed down. The church that used to have a weekly attendance of over 14,000 is apparently down to about 7,000.
For almost a decade Driscoll was a star of evangelicalism. His growing platform led to book deals, conference speaking and a huge following of his sermon podcast. He is a gifted preacher and a shrewd leader. It was amazing how much content he was creating between sermons, books, conferences and blog posts. In Driscoll we saw a unique combination of solid reformed theology mixed with a unique gifting in communication and leadership.
At Grounded in the Gospel we value doctrine. It really matters what we believe. It concerns us where we see theological drift and believe that the consequences of this drift are significant. We want to see Canadian churches prioritizing gospel-centrality, expositional preaching, and sound doctrine.
But the Driscoll fiasco teaches us an important lesson. It’s not a new lesson, but a fresh reminder of an old lesson. Paul told young Timothy: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (I Tim 4:16).
Watch yourself. Watch the teaching.
Life and doctrine. We have to be vigilant to watch both. One without the other ends badly. The salvation of both the pastor and his church are at stake here.
Now of course I affirm that God is sovereign in salvation and He never fails in saving those he elects to save. We don’t serve a frustrated, failing and helpless God whose hands are tied by our free will. Ultimately the security of the believer is found in the sovereignty of God and the certainty of his election. However, the intermediary, the human means by which God is working out his sovereign will includes the life, conduct and teaching of local church pastors. God preserves his people. It is His work. And God preserves his people through the proclamation of sound doctrine and the congruous behaviour of those who proclaim it.
You may preach sweet doctrine like pure, clean, refreshing water to desert wanderers, but if that pure, clean gospel water passes through a filthy, rusty, contaminated tap, will you refresh or repulse your hearers? Don’t contaminate the gospel proclamation with a sin-saturated lifestyle.
A Crucified Style
Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 2, Puritan John Flavel said “we must preach a crucified Christ in a crucified style.” The gospel controls not only the content of our preaching, but also the manner in which we preach. Doctrine matters, but so does our life. There is a kind of ministry that befits the gospel and a kind that betrays it.
Mark Driscoll’s example seems to be that the ends justify the means. Grow the church at any cost. Control, power, aggression, discipline, anger, arrogance are all acceptable if they are helping the church grow. And they may have for a time. But the gospel must control both the ends and the means. It controls both our life and doctrine.
There is a certain culture that the gospel must create. Humility. Grace. Not to say that the gospel makes us weak, the gospel ministry calls for courage and boldness and faith to do difficult things. But there is also a requisite gentleness and humility that must accompany gospel ministry.
Watch Your Life
We who are more theologically inclined can overlook the accompanying importance of watching our life. Driscoll had sound doctrine. I’d agree with him on most things. Doctrine matters, but so does character. Watch your life and doctrine.
Pastor, you have been entrusted with authority, but are you authoritarian?
Pastor, you have been entrusted with a platform, but do you love the spotlight?
Pastor, you have been given unique gifts, but do you take pride in them?
Pastor, your theology says the church is led by a team of elders, but is it really?
Pastor, do you have people in your life who can correct you, warn you, and help you to see what you can’t see?
Pastor, you preach grace, but does it saturate all your relationships and conversations?
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
This article was originally published at Grounded in the Gospel.