The founding pastor at one of the Northwest’s largest megachurches has resigned, according to a letter from the Mars Hill Church board of overseers posted on the church’s website Wednesday.
The letter says that Pastor Mark Driscoll submitted his resignation as an elder and lead pastor at the Seattle-based church, that the board accepted it Tuesday and that it is now proceeding with plans for a pastoral transition.
The board members’ letter also says they were surprised to receive Driscoll’s resignation. The letter quotes him as saying “it would be best for the health of our family, and for the Mars Hill family, that we step aside from further ministry at the church.”
Driscoll had led Mars Hill through 18 years of rapid growth around the West Coast, including opening a church in Tacoma’s Stadium District last winter. It also has a congregation in Olympia.
After growing to 15 sites in five states, Mars Hill announced last month it was closing two Seattle churches and consolidating them with the Ballard church due to a decline in giving.
Mars Hill spokesman Justin Dean reiterated Wednesday what he had said last month: Mars Hill has no plans to close its congregations in Tacoma and Olympia.
Driscoll had been on a leave of absence for nearly two months while accusations regarding his management and leadership style were investigated by church elders.
In his resignation letter posted in full by Religion News Service, Driscoll cites concern for his family’s safety as another reason he resigned.
“Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family—even physically unsafe at times—and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill,” Driscoll wrote.
A controversial figure for years because of his conservative views on homosexuality and the roles of women, Driscoll has been accused of bullying some under his leadership and being evasive when confronted with criticism.
The overseers’ letter posted Wednesday said: “We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner. While we believe Mark needs to continue to address these areas in his life, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry.
“Pastor Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.
“We found some of the accusations against Pastor Mark to be altogether unfair or untrue.
“Other charges had been previously addressed by Pastor Mark, privately and publicly. Indeed, he had publicly confessed and apologized for a number of the charges against him, some of which occurred as long as 14 years ago.”
Since Driscoll stepped away over the summer, Mars Hill has lost thousands of members at its various campuses; some associate pastors also have left. In Tacoma, where Mars Hill opened in December in the historic former First Congregational Church, attendance fell from 1,350 before Easter to 850 in September, Dean said.
Mars Hill Tacoma also dropped one of its five Sunday services last month.
The Rev. Bubba Jennings, lead pastor of Mars Hill Tacoma, said the congregation will continue on with four services Sunday.
“We are shocked and saddened but we will keep our faith in Jesus, keep teaching the Bible and keep loving people,” Jennings said in an email. “We ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to be praying for us.”
Matt McKee, 53, of Auburn, reacted with surprise Wednesday when a News Tribune reporter told him of Driscoll’s resignation.
“Not good,” said McKee, who attends the Tacoma congregation. “That’s not the outcome I was expecting. It’s disappointing.”
Paul Mulyarchuk of Kent was sad as well.
Driscoll wasn’t the pastor for the Tacoma congregation, but church attendees typically watched his sermons from the previous week on high-definition video.
“He was the preaching pastor of Mars Hill ever since they started,” said Mulyarchuk, 23, a Tacoma member. “It’s just really sad to see it end. I wish it didn’t.”
But Mulyarchuk said he’s not concerned about the future of the Tacoma congregation. He said the church is about Jesus Christ, not Mark Driscoll.
“It’s time to move on,” he said. “I think Mars Hill will be just fine.”