Mark Driscoll, whose Mars Hill Church has its headquarters in Bellevue and churches in Olympia and Tacoma, said Sunday he would take a leave from running his megachurch in response to complaints that he’s been a bully and abusive to staff members.
Driscoll made the announcement in remarks to his church after he returned from a vacation that was overshadowed by rising objections to his leadership from former aides and congregants. In recent months he has been accused of plagiarism, misusing church funds and creating a culture of fear at his church, which has 15 campuses in five Western states and says it has a weekly attendance of 15,000.
“I am very sorry for the times I have been angry, short or insensitive,” Driscoll said, according to text of his remarks posted on the church’s website. “I am very sorry for anything I have done to distract from our mission by inviting criticism, controversy or negative media attention.”
“Storm clouds seem to be whirling around me more than ever in recent months,” he said.
Driscoll said he would take a leave for at least six weeks as he decides what to do next and while Mars Hill reviews complaints against him. He said that he would use the time “for processing, healing and growth” and meeting with “mature Christians” for counsel. He said he would not do any public speaking, would delay the publication of his next book and would try to avoid responding to criticism.
“This is one of the paradoxes of being a pastor in the media age: The same media channels that can be used to carry a sermon to virtually anyone around the globe can also be used by anyone around the globe to criticize, attack or slander,” he said. “However, another part of it is simply my fault, and I will own it, confess it and move on from it as God continues to redeem me.”
Driscoll, 43, has been an important figure in the contemporary American evangelical church. His role is significant both for his early critique of what he saw as the overly consumer-friendly and watered-down nature of mainstream megachurches, and for his leadership of a theological movement called New Calvinism, which embraces the doctrine of predestination.
He drew admiration for creating a thriving megachurch in the Pacific Northwest, one of the most secular regions in the nation, and he was noted for his success at drawing young men to church, using rock music, frank talk about sex and sin, and an emphasis on the importance of masculinity to build a following.
Driscoll has survived years of criticism from liberals upset with his views on gender and sexuality. He is a strong advocate of the idea that wives should submit to their husbands, and a strong opponent of same-sex relationships.
But the criticisms of his management style and behavior — coming from fellow conservatives who had been longtime allies, friends and supporters — has proved far more damaging. In recent weeks, he was kicked out of a national church-building organization he co-founded, a major Christian retail chain stopped selling one of his books, and he was facing canceled speaking invitations and an exodus of staff members and congregants.
“Some have challenged various aspects of my personality and leadership style, and while some of these challenges seem unfair, I have no problem admitting I’m deserving of some of these criticisms based on my own past actions that I am genuinely sorry for,” he said Sunday.