A letter from nine Mars Hill Church pastors to their fellow elders is perhaps the harshest criticism yet of controversial megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll, who recently stepped away from the pulpit for several weeks while the church leadership reviews multiple accusations against him.
In the 4,000-word letter, which was first published by Grove City professor Warren Throckmorton, the pastors address the lack of accountability at Mars Hill, and allege that Driscoll abused his powerful position at the Seattle-based church, which boasts of an estimated 14,000 member congregation at 15 locations in 5 states.
The pastors lay out several conditions to which they desire Driscoll to submit to during his time away from the pulpit:
[W]e direct that he steps down from ministry, submitting himself under the authority of the elders of the church, who will oversee the details of his restoration plan.
He must step down not only from the pulpit, but from all aspects of ministry and leadership.
He will continue to receive his salary so long as he continues to cooperate with the restoration plan set before him by the elders of Mars Hill Church.
Also included in the letter were quotes from conversations with Paul Tripp, a prominent evangelical pastor who resigned from the Mars Hill's Board of Advisors and Accountability in June.
"This is without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I've ever been involved with," Tripp is quoted saying in the letter.
"You can't have a church culture where you essentially have a very tight circle and everyone else is your enemy," he added.
The pastors also allege that Driscoll refused to be forthright concerning his dismissal from the Acts 29 Network, a church-planting coalition of more than 500 congregations that he helped develop.
"We have been repeatedly told that no one from the A29 board talked to Mark or to our board prior to removing Mark from the network," the pastors wrote. "The truth is that multiple members of both boards had been in direct contact with each other, and with Mark, exhorting and rebuking him over the course of months and years, and to say or imply otherwise is deeply misleading."
The pastors also reference "questionable transparency and truth-telling" surrounding church finances and the Mars Hill Global Fund, as well as a controversy last year involving a conference on charismatic theology called Strange Fire. They also address charges that Driscoll plagiarized, inflated his book sales, and the lack of clarity surrounding the multiple resignations and dismissals from its board, including Tripp and pastor James MacDonald.
Also mentioned in the letter was a separate letter written by Mike Wilkerson, who, along with other former Mars Hill pastors, sent a list of allegations to church elders regarding Driscoll, with the pastors suggesting that the statement put out from the church at the time was misleading.
"Even this Thursday we put out a statement claiming that Wilkerson's formal charges were being 'reviewed by the board and the elders,'" the letter from the current pastors stated. "This is misleading as it gives people the impression that the elders as a whole are able to take part in reviewing and adjudicating the case."
The pastors' letter ends by quoting a sermon from Driscoll from 2006.
"I just shudder to say this, but if I should ever say or do anything that the elders would need to fire me, do not be loyal to me," Driscoll said. "Be loyal to Jesus; be loyal to your elders. Be loyal to the pastors in your church."
According to Mars Hill public relations firm head Mark DeMoss, the letter will be thoroughly examined by the governing body of Mars Hill before any final decisions are made.
"This letter, as with past letters voicing accusations toward Mark Driscoll will be processed in accordance with Article 12 of the church's bylaws," DeMoss said in a statement. "This means the accusations will be thoroughly examined and a report issued when the review is complete. In the meantime, it does not seem appropriate to comment on specific accusations before/while they are being formally reviewed as we don't want to circumvent the process prescribed by the governing body of Mars Hill."