Ex-Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll returns to evangelical orbit

Seattle Post-Intelligencer/March 12, 2015

By Joel Connelly

Controversial ex-Mars Hill Church senior pastor Mark Driscoll will resurface at Hillsong 2015, two summer conferences in Sydney, Australia and London sponsored by an Australian-based, multi-city mega church.

Joined by his wife, Grace, Driscoll will not be in the pulpit but in the interview chair before an audience expected to number in the thousands.

Brian Houston, Hillsong Church senior pastor, delivered a statement Thursday night to Warren Throckmorton, a Pennsylvania college professor who followed Mars Hill’s 2014 meltdown for the Patheos website.  Said Houston:

“Well in advance of his resignation as senior pastor at Seattle-based Mars Hill Church, we invited Mark Driscoll to be one of our speakers this summer.

“Rather than having Mark preach or teach, I am excited about interviewing Mark and Grace from our main platform during our Hillsong Conference 2015.

“I am looking forward to having this opportunity to speak openly with the Driscolls about life and ministry, as well as recent events and lessons they’ve learned through personal and ministry trials during the past year.”

The meltdown of Mars Hill, a Seattle-based mega church that once numbered 15 congregations in five states, was completed when the church formally dissolved on New Year’s Eve 2014.  Individual congregations were set loose to make it on their own.

If anybody ever had a bad year, it was Mark Driscoll in 2014.  Driscoll became a vortex of controversy in the 18-year-old church which he co-founded.

Twenty-one former pastors and elders accused Driscoll of abusive and domineering behavior toward staff.  A church investigation — its full results never disclosed — confirmed charges of what it called un-Christian behavior.

Disillusioned former church members formed a picket line outside the Mars Hill Bellevue church.  A touted “Jesus Festival” at Marymoor Park was scrubbed.

Driscoll was forced into a public apology when it was revealed that Mars Hill had hired, at a six-figure fee, a firm to artificially puff sales of his book “Real Marriage” to get it on The New York Times bestseller list.  The church ended up making disguised purchases of thousands of books.

Controversy arose over Mars Hill Global, a supposed effort to plant churches in Ethiopia and India.  Internal documents indicated the expenditures abroad were for show, and that much of the money was being spent at home.

Old remarks by Driscoll, such as his description of America as a “pussified nation,” came back to haunt him.

Driscoll was taken off the speaker’s list at national evangelical conferences.  A national church-planting group called Acts29 expelled both Driscoll and Mars Hill.  Its directors urged Driscoll to leave his ministry and seek help.

Driscoll resigned on Oct. 15 as senior pastor at Mars Hill.  The mega church announced its dissolution two weeks later.

Driscoll has resurfaced with a website offering his books and videos of past sermons.

Driscoll did appear briefly in October at the Gateway Leadership and Worship Conference in Dallas-Fort Worth, which he was once scheduled to keynote.

He talked of “death threats,” people being arrested at his home, and of “huge rocks about the size of baseballs” thrown at his family when they tried to camp outside on their lawn.

Hillsong 2015 can learn from Driscoll, said Houston, who seemed to offer absolution despite continued questions hanging over the fallen Seattle mega church.

“Mark has been candid about mistakes he has made and if we can, through our conference, help others through his life experience, we think that will prove valuable.”

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