Mars Hill, Driscoll, and the Multi-site



If you haven’t read the news regarding the plans for Mars Hill Bible Church to dissolve by January I’ll summarize the overall process by quoting Mars Hill pastor, Dave Bruskas.

“Rather than remaining a centralized multi-site church with video-led teaching distributed to multiple locations, the best future for each of our existing local churches is for them to become autonomous self-governed entities.”

According to Bruskas each pastor at the satellite locations will have three options in the weeks ahead:

(1) become an independent, self-governed church
(2) merge with an existing church to create one independent, self-governed church
(3) disband as a church and shepherd current members to find other local church homes.

During the above process, Mars Hill as an organization will dissolve in four steps:

(1) All of Mars Hill’s existing church properties will either be sold, or the loans on the individual properties will be assumed by the independent churches, subject to approval by the lender

(2) All central staff will be compensated for their work, and then released from their employment

(3) If any funds remain after the winding down and satisfaction of Mars Hill business affairs, they will be gifted as seed money to the newly independent churches

(4) The existing Mars Hill Church organization will be dissolved

I couple of years ago I watched a DVD series featuring James McDonald and several other well-known pastors.  The series, entitled The Elephant Room, tackles some difficult issues in the ministry of the church through candid conversation.  As a pastor and lover of the Church, I found the content interesting.  But what really caught my attention was session six; the discussion between James McDonald and Mark Driscoll regarding multi-site churches.  A lot could be said about their discussion, but in light of recent events there’s one thing I want to reflect on…it seemed minor at the time, but has major implications.

Driscoll explained that if his ability to be the regular teacher at Mars Hill was ever severely compromise or if he died, all the other satellite churches under the Mars Hill structure would become independent churches with the campus pastor becoming the primary teacher for their respective locations.  This plan is also discussed in a Gospel Coalition video where McDonald, Driscoll and Mark Dever discuss the dynamics of multi-site preaching.

After listening to these discussions here’s where I’ve landed on the Mark Driscoll-Mars Hill issue.

The multi-site phenomenon (no matter how idealistic its participants are) stands to cripple the humility of the preacher and turn them into a celebrity because for better or worse, the medium is the message….big screens, big personalities, big stars.

When confronted with the possibility that such church structures might be unhealthy, using language such as “long term church planting strategy” when referring to multi-site church locations, sounds very missional, but I think it smacks of one leader with a strong personality trying their darndest to build and maintain autocratic power.  How long-term is too long term?  We might have learned the answer to that question in recent weeks as Mars Hill now sets about the task of dismantling.  I am concerned for the welfare of multi-site churches as their leaders continue to find themselves in hot water regarding allegations of greed, dictator-like leadership, and unrepentant pride.

Furthermore, and more importantly, the preaching of the gospel is always contextual to local congregations.  This is demonstrated by the fact that we have different New Testament letters sent to various local congregations.  One gospel, many contexts.  We need more gifted preachers expositing the Word of God in local congregations that don’t even come close to a weekly attendance over 1,000.  We need capable men and women to share the truth apart from any delusions of rock star-like status.  In this way, the preacher stays focused on the concerns at hand and preaches faithfully with those local concerns in mind.

I applaud the decision that Mars Hill has made to set their satellite locations free to do the work of the church in their own local contexts.  This move should have happened quite some time ago in my estimation.  It is my prayer that the gospel will continue to go out from these churches and that many more will come to Christ.  I also pray that the negative effects, the hurts and the sorrows of this whole ordeal will be dealt with in a timely and God-honoring manner.  And finally, I’m praying for Mark Driscoll.  I can’t imagine what he’s going through right now, but I wish him the best as he journeys into unknown territory.  It’s no secret that I’m not a “fan” of his, but I know that Christ takes all kinds of people and makes them new again unto his glory…so in all of this we pray that much will be made of Christ and that his people (including Mark) will find renewal.