It was fascinating but not surprising news this week that one of the famous ministries of our day is dissolving with the resignation of its founder, Mark Driscoll. Come New Year's day, 2015 the Mars Hill Church of Seattle will cease to exist although some of their satellite locations may choose to become independent churches.

There are some lessons to be learned from this. The first is that it is always perilous to build a ministry around one individual rather than a team that is in Jim Collin's terms "Built to Last." Any ministry dependent on one individual faces a crisis if that individual dies or leaves. Such ministries often revolve around a single leader because that leader is fundamentally unwilling to delegate responsibility and authority to others. In my view, no local church should be organized this way and when it is it often reflects a narcissistic leader who needs to control. Clearly there was not a healthy culture at Mars Hill which almost always reflects the DNA of its leader.

Well built ministries have leadership teams not a single leader and they are designed to function well even if the senior leader for some reason leaves that ministry. That structure reflects a greater concern for the mission and the ministry while structures built around an individual reflect a greater concern for the wishes and control of that individual. The first is reflective of a kingdom mindset and the second of a egotistical mindset (with a few exceptions). All ministries built around one individual are fragile entities!

My second observation is that Mars Hill lacked what every good church should have and that is local leadership that is empowered to hold its senior leader accountable and to rein in problematic behavior. Certainly in a church that size there are many highly qualified leaders, yet in the main the board of overseers was from the outside with neither the ongoing context or the ability to shepherd the pastor, let alone ensure that the church was healthy. 

For current leaders to make the decision they have made indicates clearly that they had few good options which is a reflection of the damage Mark did in the past several years, the lack of a structure that was built to last and of a strong leadership team that should have been able to weather the storm. And in case you think this is piling it on, think of the hundreds of staff and thousands of congregants for whom the church was their livelihood or place of worship and you start to understand the enormity of the corporate pain that must be present this week at the news that your church will disappear in two months. Not because there was a planned transition but because the leadership of the organization was so poor there were no good options left.

I also hope, thirdly that all of us in ministry take heed of the lessons of this sorry tale. Our character as leaders counts. Our words, attitudes, decisions and treatment of people matter a lot. I am amazed at how many people responded to Mark's behavior as OK (after all we are all human). Yet the Scriptures are clear that those in Christian leadership bear a far higher level of responsibility for their behaviors and character than others. It is one thing to have a bad day - we all have them. It is another to have a pattern of behaviors that violate Scriptural guidelines and not be called on it. To give Mark a pass because he built a large organization misses the point that success (defined by the world's definition) is never an excuse for not living up to the calling we have in Christian leadership. 

Taken together, the decision this week goes to a failure of leadership by Mark and leaders, a failure to build a healthy organization and a willingness to overlook important issues because people came in large numbers and gave generously. The speed at which it came apart in the end is indicative of deep fissures and a poor foundation. 

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 discount on orders of ten or more.
  • Nov 01, 2014
  • Category: News
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