I spoke with former Mars Hill Church member Rob Smith Wednesday at 8 a.m. regarding his and others' protests.
Rob emailed me after he heard Medved and I talk about these protests. We'd been saying we found them odd. Usually those who oppose how a church is run will go and start a new church or join a different one. This was the first time I'd ever seen former members AND non-members protest for an internal church change. I've seen protests regarding how a church or a pastor/priest stands on specific issues before, but never one of this nature. I found it odd and I said I couldn't figure out why folks would protest outside of the church or why people WHO DON'T EVEN ATTEND would involve themselves in what is essentially an internal church matter.
Anyway, Mr. Smith emailed and felt that as one of those protesting, their perspective was not really represented. So I invited him on (I actually bumped into him at an event and he reminded me of his email). For those wondering, if someone disagrees with what I've said, I will almost always invite them on, especially if he or she was the subject of the disagreement.
Anyway, we talked for two segments about Mark Driscoll, his experiences with Driscoll and Mars Hill, and his reasons for public protests. Mr. Smith cited the "shunning" of certain families and "abusive," "coarse" language as primary reasons for his conviction that Driscoll needs to be removed from Mars Hill.
To the best of my knowledge, I've never attended a Mars Hill Church (I may have visited once - I have friends and relatives that attend Mars churches, but if it was so, I don't specifically recall it). I don't know Pastor Driscoll, but have listened to several of his sermons via podcast and find him a compelling preacher (I still poke fun at his "Yoga" phase, but I also pointed to a study on Yoga, suggesting Driscoll's position on it has serious discussion merits). So I have no personal stake in the dispute, other than I have been pleased to see the success of Mars Hill churches and the personal happiness they bring to those I know who attend Mars Hill.
After hearing Mr. Smith, my position remains unchanged. I KNOW why the controversy gets NYT and TV coverage. Divided political conservatives are instant news. Divided religious conservatives even more so. But I still don't see the point of outside public protest. Sure hundreds have left, but thousands remain (and how many are still coming?). There doesn't seem to be any crime involved - just accusations of ego, personality, and social pains arising from theological or personal disagreement.
Another wildly successful pastor (whose sermons I also listen to via podcast from time to time), Timothy Keller, was quoted in the NYT story, but it was basically an acknowledgement of Driscoll being rough around the edges. There's no crime, no sexual impropriety, not even a doctrinal heresy.
If it were me, and I wasn't a Driscoll fan, I'd simply go to a different church or start my own. It's been reported that some ministries have disassociated themselves with Mark, and that's their right. And pastors and churches have to be careful when a church becomes too much about a single personality. But Driscoll has put himself on leave to reflect on criticisms of him, and I don't see what more could be asked of him. And as for shunning, I've known families and individuals were "shunned" by their church. My approach has always been, if they were right to shun, change the behavior, if they're wrong, ignore them, make new friends, and pray that they'll come to their senses later.
I've had plenty of bosses who used "coarse" language and could seem harsh, but they were driven people who got things done that others didn't. I'm not saying it's right, but sometimes our personality strengths that enable us to accomplish something are also our weaknesses. I burst out harshly way too often to condemn Driscoll for it.
Whether Driscoll is too rude personally to some people or not, I have no idea. I'd be surprised if it weren't true toward some - he probably meets thousands of people so by the sheer law of averages, you're bound to be cross with a few. I meet fewer people and am probably cross with more and Driscoll has probably helped more people in the last week than I have in my life. So whatever the case is, I hope his sabbatical provides him with renewed strength, correction where needed (we could all use some), and his gifts are swiftly back in use inspiring people toward a Christian life. Who knows? Maybe the New York Times will cover that!