Although Seattle-based megachurch Mars Hill is left reeling following the sudden resignation of larger-than-life pastor Mark Driscoll, a church executive search expert says he is confident that if both Driscoll and the church he founded take time for healing and reflection, they will once again experience success.
Driscoll, who over the past year has been accused of plagiarism, bullying and an unhealthy ego, announced his resignation on Wednesday after taking a six week hiatus from the pulpit while the Mars Hill Board of Accountability investigated charges against him.
According to elders, Driscoll was not asked to resign, but did so on his own volition; "Indeed, we were surprised to receive his resignation letter," they wrote. The Mars Hills' board of overseers also added that Driscoll hadn't committed any acts of "immorality, illegality or heresy," but that of "arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner."
The departure of Driscoll, and other elders in recent weeks, leaves in chaos the church he started with a Bible study in his Wallingford home and that had grown to 15 branches in five states with 13,000 visitors on Sundays. As controversies mounted, the church was forced to close several Seattle branches and cut its staff by 30 to 40 percent.
William Vanderbloemen, former pastor and author of "Next: Pastoral Succession That Works," says the chaos currently experienced by Mars Hill should serve as a warning to other churches to plan for the unexpected.
"All churches will face a transition at some point, all pastors are interim pastors," he said. "Hopefully, after what's happened with Mars Hill, churches will wake up to the fact that they need to plan for succession, emergency and long term."
"Pastors need to have conversations with their staff early in the pastorate, they need to ask, what are we going to do when I'm not here anymore? Smart churches will talk about what is inevitable and say 'let's start planning right now.'"
In order to once again see stability and growth, Vanderbloemen says, Mars Hill must take time to heal--and seek objective advice, as issues of succession within a church body are often "emotionally charged."
"The best thing a church can do when dealing with an emergency succession is take some time to heal," he said. "Mars Hill has a great interim pastor and some time to formulate a plan. However, most pastors and staff function like a family, so when they are faced with removal it is emotionally charged. Hopefully they will continue to seek outside help and an objective set of eyes."
As for Mark Driscoll, Vanderbloemen believes he could once again resurface, but says his success depends "significantly on what he does over the next period of time."
"Mark is like a rain man when communicating the Bible," he said. "In my experience, when men like him resign or go through an experience like this--if they take time away and have a period of reflection, there is a strong chance they can come back even better than they were before."
"Fortunately, Christians are a group of people that have committed their lives to the principles of forgiveness and grace. Our entire faith is built on second chances, and I hope that the right steps can happen for Mark to have a second chance to preach," he continued. "Driscoll's ministry is a badly needed witness in a city that has historically been one of the most unreached cities in our country, and I'd like to see both Mark and Mars Hill used by God again the future."