Is it Undisciplined, or Simply Undiscipled Leadership?

kinnon —  January 13, 2012 — 26 Comments

The tagline for this website is “the issue isn’t leadership, it’s discipleship”. It’s the result of a video that Imbi and I shot with Chris Wright 14 months ago. This was shortly after he lead the Lausanne Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

I believe that video, embedded at the bottom of this post, is particularly appropriate in light of my previous post — Sex, The Missional Position. And even more appropriate, in light of Pastor Mark’s recent interview with a British journalist for the UK magazine Christianity, noted on the British website, Christian Today.

Mark is quoted as saying,

“Let’s just say this: right now, name for me the one young, good Bible teacher that is known across Great Britain. You don’t have one – that’s the problem. There are a bunch of cowards who aren’t telling the truth.” [emphasis added]

And refers to many British church leaders as guys in dresses preaching to grandmas”.

Those quotes lit up the Twitterverse and blogoshere — primarily in the UK — demanding that Mark be accountable for his words. Jason Clark, a church leader and blogger I respect, said this,

“I have to infer that either my bible teaching friends are too old, or are just a bunch of ‘cowards’. Part of me just sighs and thinks move on and ignore this, don’t give air time to what seems such crass pusillanimity.”

Krish Kandia, who Jason refers to, says this,

“The church does need people who are able to speak bluntly, I am sure the apostle Paul knew how to be blunt and direct. But there is no doubt he knew about humility, partnership, working together despite not being on the same page on every detail.”

Eddie Arthur, a missionary and Bible translator with Wycliffe Bible translators UK responds,

“Mark Driscoll did a good job of identifying some of the symptoms of the British church, but sadly, he failed completely to diagnose the disease. This isn’t a surprise, identifying what is going on in another culture, is really difficult. Even someone with a good deal more cultural sensitivity and understanding than Driscoll would struggle to do so. This is why missionaries need to invest a huge amount of time an effort in studying culture and gaining an understanding of what is really going on, before they open their mouths.”

Might I suggest the biggest issue here is actually that Mark Driscoll is a leader who has never been properly discipled — again referencing what Chris Wright says in the video below. Mark’s understanding of the church is based on the North American model of big leaders with even bigger platforms. To him that’s the only sign of the Spirit working. It’s a model where strong male leaders solidify their control of the church as they believe they are the only ones with the god-given vision.

As I note in this blog post on sheep and shepherds, Mars Hill once had a large elders board until Mark decided to solidify control with a triumvirate of two others and himself. When two of the previous large group of elders complained, Mark quotes a UFC fighter suggesting he ‘break their nose(s)’. Not the sign of either a well-disciplined or well-discipled leader. And in Mark’s version of leadership, people who challenge him at Mars Hill “are sinning through questioning”.

With his latest friendly-fire attack, this time on the UK church, Mark has had to go into defensive mode once again. Actually I’m wrong. He goes into offensive mode.

Rather than apologize for having said what he said, Mark decides that it would be better to attack the interviewer while claiming that he has been “taken out of context“. Mark needs to establish his bona fides by talking about how he and his dear wife are both graduates of Washington State University’s communications program.

Mark knows how media communications works. He accuses this Christian media organization of simply trying to increase advertising revenue by creating controversy through selectively editing what he and Grace said.

What chutzpah!

This from a man who constantly appears to court controversy at every turn. All the better to get more butts in seats listening to him live or via satellite. His communications degree has served him well. His theology degree, not so much.

Mark whinges,

“As is often the case, to stoke the fires of controversy, thereby increasing readership, which generates advertising revenue, a few quotes of mine have been taken completely out of context and sent into the Twittersphere.”

One might imagine how much easier this all might have gone had Mark simply said, ‘Yes you’re right I screwed up. I spoke without thinking. I’m an opinionated kind of guy and I need to learn to control my tongue.‘ But that’s not going to happen, now is it. In fact, Mark’s defense begins to sound like what one might hear from someone suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

He states that the interview was, “in my opinion, the most disrespectful, adversarial, and subjective.” Justin Brierley responds to this by saying, “I beg to differ, but you can be the judge when the full article is released and the audio goes up.” (See Justin’s Twitter feed for links.)

And the editor of Christianity magazine, Ruth Dickinson, says this,

“Justin’s interview with Mark Driscoll was robust and fair, and I utterly reject the claim that it was adversarial, disrespectful or subjective. We took great care to ensure that his quotes were in context, and gave him the opportunity to talk about his new book, as well as his life and theology.”

Mark operates as a power unto himself. He gets away with saying the things he says or writing the things he writes because it appears that no one in his immediate or extended circles are truly willing to take him to task. It’s too often left to those of us ‘living in (our) mother’s basements, writing in (our) pajamas’ to ask him to live up to the qualifications of being a leader in the church.

As he claims to be a charismatic Christian who hears from the Holy Spirit on a regular basis, Mark needs to be reminded that the only sign of the infilling and empowerment of the Holy Spirit is the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (And yes I realize, that “snark” is not on this list and who am I to call out anyone else on the fruit of the Spirit. So noted.)

Let me leave the last words in this post to my blogging friend and Wesleyan pastor, Dave Faulkner,

“…what sticks in my throat is the way I see the word ‘Pastor’ in front of his name all the time. It’s Pastor Mark this, it’s, and so on. What exactly is pastoral about this behaviour? We all slip. I do. But Driscoll has been called out as a bully before, and his elders have taken him to task. I think it’s time for a repeat. And a look at why this kind of behaviour keeps recurring.

UPDATE 2: Read my post written after listening to the full interview that prompted this post. 

UPDATE: Wenatchee the Hatchet weighed in on this yesterday. You should read his post and put him in your RSS reader.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

26 responses to Is it Undisciplined, or Simply Undiscipled Leadership?

  1. We probably can’t visit Chris Wright’s video too often. Thanks to you both for making it.

    I’d like to suggest that we, too, bear some responsibility for producing this new generation of “leaders.” Like Daniel in Babylon, our repentance should include ourselves. As much as I enjoyed (and agreed with) your tart comment, “His communications degree has served him well. His theology degree, not so much,” It is our generation who has mistaken education for discipleship. Many of our seminaries have failed. The result is leaders who have never been discipled. We should have insisted otherwise.

    Now, two generations after Francis Schaeffer and Billy Graham invigorated a truly godly movement, we see some of the weaknesses sown in seed form from the very beginning. Having just handed the leadership of my local church to the next generation, I know that whatever progress they make will be by the grace of God; whatever weaknesses they display will point to the areas I failed to address.

    Still–this is an excellent post, Bill.

  2. You nailed it Kinnon — best commentary on what’s going on here bar none.

    • High praise, Frank.

      As I’m sure you will remind me later, I’m not worthy. 🙂

  3. Thanks for quoting me, Bill. I thought hard about writing my post this morning, because I was angry as a Brit with what Driscoll had said, and the tone of it. Both your direct quotation of me and the wider blogosphere/Twitterverse reaction underlines for me the seriousness of this. I know Eddie Arthur, whom you also quote above, believes this is a rather western storm in a teacup, and maybe it is in the wider economy of the kingdom, but we can’t go on slaying each other out of ignorance like this.

  4. *Twang* the sweet sound of an arrow hitting the Bullseye!

    It’s a shame Driscoll didn’t apologise (I’m guessing he doesn’t feel the need to!) but instead takes the classic route of accusing the journalist of all the things which most reflect Driscoll’s communication strategy “disrespectful”, “adversarial” and “subjective”. Though I doubt Driscoll would see any word that passes his lips as at all subjective! Whatever you think about his views, he never fails to communicate them in an arrogant and aggressive way – tbh I think his utterances are moving beyond simple narcissism toward a full blown messiah complex (or at least to seeing himself as the one true heir of Calvin)! All this and he boasts of having “a degree in communications from one of the top programs in the United States.” well if I had Mr Driscoll’s ear I would advise him take some time to reread his lecture notes!

    • In the world of journalism, this is called gaslighting – this article in Psychology Today talks about this phenomenon in terms of interpersonal relationships but the dynamic applies to religious/political leaders who present with provocative views but then go ballistic when their crud is called on the carpet.

      You see this ALL the time in evangelical/emergent circles and other places where one is starting up “cutting edge” church that is led by a charismatic narcissist or a select group of frat boys. Without any accountability, a Lord of the Flies scenario inevitably develops.

      Pull the plug and it tends to go away. 🙂

  5. Great words as always Bill…Driscoll is about as pastoral as a bull in a china shop. The sad thing is the following he has…it has more to do with the power of spectacle, the outrageous. He does how to manipulate the strings of perverse NA culture…call him a shock doctor. Most of what he says is for nothing more than draw attention to himself.

  6. Insightful commentary. Thanks, Bill.

  7. I can’t see from the image on the vimeo video but somebody puleeze tell me . . . . is Chris Wright WEARING A DRESS?

  8. We had a similar experience here, in South Africa. Driscoll also referred to South African men being cowards. Perhaps his choice of words are too harsh. I was certainly offended, but then again, most of the time when God used his prophets to speak, the words were hardly flattering.

    Mark’s short, blunt and harsh approach is both his greatest strength and weakness. What I try to do is “divide by Mark” sift through the harsh rhetoric for the truth, because, lets face it, God is using that man greatly, he is incredibly smart and astute, and his insights, as crudely stated as they may be, are often very accurate.

    • heh heh … heh heh heh, South African men, too, huh? So Driscoll is taking this telling-men-they’re-cowards on the world tour for any English-speaking audiences that will pay for it?

  9. Thanks for putting into words what many of us have percolating in our hearts and minds.

    grace and peace…

  10. Thanks for your cogent thoughts as usual, Bill. IMO it is the Acts 29 tribe that are sissies for not seriously calling Driscoll out for this repeated behavior. The crew around MD needs to…in the words of their king leader…”man up” and get him in therapy.

  11. I suggest we take Mark’s advice…

    “The best thing is to not waste time blogging, twittering, and talking about me.” – Mark Driscoll

    …and not waste time reading, listening, or watching him. He is a Phelpsesque extremist who should not be taken seriously as a legitimate or credible Christian example.

  12. “When two of the previous large group of elders complained, Mark quotes a UFC fighter suggesting he ‘break their nose(s)’.”

    Thanks for bringing that up Bill, I always found that quote familiar, but now I realize why. It reminds me of Mr. White, Harvey Keitel’s character in Reservoir Dogs talking about how pull off a heist:
    “They’re not supposed to give you any resistance whatsoever. If you get a customer, or an employee, who thinks he’s Charles Bronson, take the butt of your gun and smash their nose in. Everybody jumps. He falls down screaming, blood squirts out of his nose…” and so it goes.

  13. WenatcheeTheHatchet January 22, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    One of the things most disappointing about the whole thing is that if the question were to come up as to whether Mark Driscoll was discipled in any meaningful way before becoming a pastor he has been the first person to say this has been his problem! He actually even said so from the pulpit that looking back on his pastoral career he was never a member of a church he didn’t start, he’s never submitted to an elder at another church, and has never really had much discipling from an older pastor.

    Yet having made such a confession from the pulpit this is construed as humility by at least some of his fans. For me this comes off more like admitting that he didn’t take a driver’s education course or an exam before starting to drive a car.

    I’ve heard Driscoll fans say that Piper and Mahaney have been discipling Driscoll. I don’t take this seriously for several reasons.

    1. Piper and Mahaney are practically a whoe country away and there won’t be any assurance of a real relationship
    2. “Piper and Mahaney” are just names dropped to establish super-star celebrity pastor credentials. This is a gesture toward “humility” that is still an ego boost. It means Driscoll is important enough that John Piper and C. J. Mahaney decided to personally advise him about weaknesses in his pastoral work
    3. If Driscoll were actually being discipled at this stage in the game why have we seen no change in his “exegesis” of contested interpretations of Song of Songs 2 or 7 or 1 Timothy 5?

    A Christian who is growing in the Lord and really getting discipled will submit to the Scriptures and change his/her interpretation of them in light of such mundane details as Hebrew or Greek or studies thereof. What the discipled Christian won’t do is, when confronted with a misuse of a biblical text, double down on his take as being the right and only way to read a text.

  14. Bill – interesting post. I’m writing from the perspective of being a church-planter, in the UK, whom almost nobody has heard of; and I subscribe to Christianity magazine, so I read the published version of the interview when it came out. I’m not a disinterested observer, in other words.

    I have to say I was particularly disappointed to read Driscoll’s own reaction to the interview; this from a man who is so ready to knock down the most rickety of strawmen when criticising others from the safety of his own pulpit. He has a disturbingly adoring fan-base, of which I am not a member. But here’s the bizarre thing: maybe he’s right for the wrong reasons, but I think Driscoll has a point. And I wasn’t expecting to see myself write that a few months ago. But I say that for a couple of reasons. One concerns what Driscoll is, and is not. The other concerns the state of the church here in the UK.

    As you said early in the post: “Mark Driscoll is a leader who has never been properly discipled”. May I take the liberty of half-quoting you? Mark Driscoll is a leader. He is not a pastor; he is not a teacher; he is not an apostle, a prophet or an evangelist, and it’s debatable whether he is eldership material as things stand. But he is a very gifted leader, as set out in Romans 12 (alongside encourager, administrator, giver, and so on): pro-istemi, one who stands out or stands before. That’s his gift in a nutshell: he has a strong personality and built-in credibility that comes with it, and is able to hold a line and keep people focused on a specific purpose. In that context, a drill-sergeant is ideal. It’s not a good way to run a congregation, of course, but if Driscoll were engaged in leading projects in humble submission to a more mature and broad-based local eldership, he would be far more effective. I can’t judge Driscoll as a pastor, though, because he’s not one. Therefore I don’t need to take his comments personally or as though they have authority, which leaves one free to sift out any good stuff one can find in them.

    Equally, leaders are nearly always capable public speakers, and have an innate ability to grasp enough of the basics of a subject to appear competent at it. In Driscoll’s case, he’s learned some basic theology and aligned himself with a particular theological tribe, and thus he has been able to pass himself off as a teacher. In practice he is nothing of the kind; he is merely adept at using the bible as a sock-puppet that always agrees with him. It’s all of our faults; for centuries the “reformed” church has idolised the pulpit, and increasingly confused the terms “minister”, “preacher”, “teacher” and “leader”. But again, I don’t judge Driscoll as a teacher; he isn’t one, and I don’t need to take his theology seriously. Which, again, leaves one free to pick out anything of value.

    The UK church? Well, if I’m honest, many of us are far too focused on not giving offence (as though the only alternative were to be vicious and spiteful). A proportion of our local congregations, and city-wide clusters of churches, are riven by politics or paralysed by relational no-go-areas because we lack the courage to confront difficult people or difficult issues. More broadly, we’re very keen to create “gentle and non-threatening” environments to promote a certain kind of healing, but less able to provide robust and challenging environments that promote growth and maturity.

    Like you, Bill, I wish Driscoll had submitted to godly discipleship early in his christian life. I wish he set a better example, and were better able to take what he dishes out. And I wouldn’t give his teaching to my dog. But I do honour his boldness, and his rejection of a pacified form of church.


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