If Supporting Mark Driscoll Doesn’t Disqualify Someone from Leadership, What Does?

by | Aug 5, 2022 | Faith | 28 comments

Why are Andy Wood and Josh Howerton supporting Mark Driscoll?

We need shepherds to act like shepherds–and caring for sheep means not supporting someone who preyed on sheep.

Caring for the sheep means not supporting someone like Mark Driscoll, whose spiritual abuse caused Mars Hill in Seattle, the denomination he created, to implode, and whose misogyny was legendary. All of this was well-documented last year in the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast, though it was well known long before that (I wrote about Driscoll back in 2014).

This has all come to a head again lately because Andy Wood, the chosen successor for Rick Warren at the massive Saddleback Church, invited Mark Driscoll to speak at his leadership conference last year.

Think about that: even knowing everything we know about Driscoll, Wood invited him to share the platform.

On Fridays I usually do a round up of social media, but this week I’d like to walk you through a story that’s been building.

I’m just getting over COVID, and wasn’t feeling well enough for most of the week to do much of anything (other than write the epic post about the pastor arguing that women should choose death over rape). I spent more time on Twitter this week than normal, because I wasn’t feeling well enough to do much else, but I was bored out of my mind.

And while on Twitter, I saw a picture that pastor Josh Howerton posted of a group of pastors praying over Andy Wood before he goes to Saddleback.

(I can’t share the actual tweet since I’m blocked;  here’s a screenshot):

Josh Howerton and Others Praying over Andy Wood

I found this alarming, All of these men are supporting Andy Wood, but I think that anyone who invites Mark Driscoll to speak should be automatically disqualified from leadership (unless they realize their mistake when it’s pointed out, sincerely apologize, and make amends).

The only way we will clean up the evangelical church from those who spiritually abuse so blatantly and from those who are so openly misogynistic is if we stop giving them oxygen.

The fact that he would choose to enlarge a spiritually abusive man’s platform shows that the sheep are not Andy Wood’s primary consideration.

However, Andy Wood has issues of his own regarding spiritual abuse.

He has been accused by Jason and Lori Adams-Brown of acting in an abusive way towards them when they were on staff (you can read about that at The Roys Report). Saddleback Church did ask their head hunting firm to look into these allegations, and the firm cleared Andy Wood of these allegations, and a second firm said that they did the investigation adequately (abuse expert Boz Tchividjian is unpersuaded) . I have several questions, though:

  1. Did they decide that Lori Adams-Brown was lying, or did they decide that what happened to her did not rise to the level of abuse?
  2. Did Echo Church give their former employees permission to break their NDAs?
  3. Did they interview everyone who has an NDA? (there are strong indications the answer to this is no).

Saddleback Church is a huge church that Rick and Kay Warren built. It would be heartbreaking to see it go ahead with a pastor with such huge, glaring issues. (More on the issues in this report).

And, as I said, besides the spiritual abuse, hiring Mark Driscoll should be an automatic disqualifier. 

If pastors could get together to pray for Andy Wood, why could they not get together before the conference last year and tell  him not to invite Mark Driscoll?

If they have that close a relationship with him, then why is that relationship not leveraged to call Andy Wood to account? Why do big name pastors not do the hard work of caring for the sheep?

And I think I have my answer (courtesy of Julie Roys, who discovered it).

They don’t think it’s a big deal either, because Josh Howerton himself advertised Mark Driscoll:

 

Josh Howerton advertising Mark Driscoll

There is so much more going on it’s hard to explain it all–he was defending Andy Wood against accusations that some of Wood’s victims are silenced because of NDAs, and he said that he never personally used NDAs. Then Erin Harding on Twitter produced what looks like current (or at least within the last two years, given the logo) employment contracts from Lakepointe Church that include confidentiality clauses, indistinguishable from NDAs. He accused people of beating up on him and started blocking people. Here’s a good thread documenting the issues.

What I’m asking for is that pastors stop protecting each other and start protecting the sheep.

This should not be that difficult.

But why does this happen? Why do pastors rally around each other?

I have a theory.

I think celebrity Christian culture is a huge draw, and pastors want to become well known and create huge churches.

Not all pastors. But many.

And it’s these “famous” pastors who write all the books (most are ghost-written, actually), speak at the conferences, and get featured on the big websites.

To become well known and famous, you need to keep the relationships with other big names and famous people close. So there is incentive to support each other and never hold others to account.

In other words, many of the people who are famous “pastors”, and who give spiritual counsel to other “pastors”, don’t know much about pastoring.

Compare a megachurch pastor like Josh Howerton’s week with the week of many small town pastors.

Picture Jim, who pastors a church of 175 in a small community. His week began by meeting with contractors for the new accessible bathroom they want to put in the church. They’ve been raising money for this for ages, and he had to sign off on the final plans.

He met with Dave and Sandy, who are getting married in a few weeks, for another pre-marital counseling session. He really, really likes this couple, and they ended up talking for longer than they intended, so his sermon prep got delayed.

But most of the week was taken up with a funeral for one of the saints at his church, a woman who was 92, who was estranged from all but one of her kids. Before the funeral he had several meetings with angry family members, trying to get them to talk to each other and agree on what was going to be at the funeral.

In the middle of the drama of that this week, he had to go to the Wednesday night youth group party to welcome some new youth to the area this year and show support for the fledgling group of 11 kids, one of whom is his own.

He came home after the funeral on Thursday, exhausted. He only has a vague idea of what he’s going to preach this Sunday, but Friday he’s hoping he has enough time in the office to plan it all out.

He’s going to have to play piano on Sunday, too, because the normal pianist is at the cottage for the weekend. He doesn’t mind playing piano; it relaxes him and he’s really good at it. But it means he’ll have to go over the songs as well.

I don’t know everything Josh Howerton was doing this week, but I do know he had a lot of time to spend on social media, and he seems to be spending time connecting with other big name pastors, who were supporting him on social media.

I’m wondering if any of his parishioners were in the hospital, and needed someone to visit him?

The odd thing is that in our church culture, we think Jim could learn from Josh, because Josh’s church is so big. But what if it’s actually the other way around?

That’s what i wrote on Facebook, and what I want to finish with:

 

What if small time pastors have something to teach megachurch pastors–rather than the other way around?

How can pastors be part of the SOLUTION to toxic teachings and culture in the church?

I’ve been calling out some big name pastors for endorsing disqualified and misogynistic pastor Mark Driscoll.

But many pastors are wonderful, and they HAVE called out this stuff. We just don’t see it because they don’t have big platforms.

To those pastors: we are so grateful. We are glad there are safe shepherds.

But you have more power than you realize. If we are going to change the culture in the evangelical church, we have to attack the one of the big roots: Celebrity Christianity. Here’s how you can:

  1. Stop buying books by big name pastors. If they are a pastor and they are writing books and traveling regularly for conferences, they simply don’t have the time or bandwidth to shepherd the sheep the way that you do. They don’t have things to really teach you about how to be a shepherd. They are not your mentors; YOU are THEIR mentor.
  2. Stop going to conferences with big name speakers. Take the money that you would normally spend on those conferences and meet together with Christian leaders in your community on a retreat. Minister to each other, hear each other’s hearts, and learn from each other.
  3. Read books that are written by those who aren’t represented in leadership–who aren’t your typical white, male, upper middle class, married man. Read books by those who resemble your congregation more than they resemble the headliners at the conferences.
  4. Listen to podcasts by interesting people who teach you insights you didn’t know, rather than people who mirror back what you hear everywhere you look.
  5. (Added from a reader!) Read psychology journal articles. Read sociology magazines. Know what issues are likely facing your congregation. Did you know that roughly 20% of Christian women experience marital rape? 1/5 girls and 1/9 boys have been sexually assaulted before 18? 22% of evangelical women experience vaginismus? 13% of teenagers have had at least one depressive episode in the last year? Did you know that 43% of women who have had an abortion attended church at least once a month when they got their abortion? Would knowing these statistics, and others like them, change your sermons?

So many pastors today are stepping on their sheep in order to build platforms for themselves–and they’re doing this because celebrity Christian culture gives them a way to.

If we got back to shepherds knowing the sheep, becoming vulnerable with the sheep, and serving the sheep, we’d be far healthier.

And many of you are already doing that so well. You don’t need to learn from celebrity pastors; they need to learn from you.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

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That’s what I want to end with: Pastors who are truly caring for the sheep, we see you. We appreciate you.

You may not have flashy churches with expensive, huge sanctuaries, huge travel and conference budgets, and staff to run interference for you (though some of you might).

You may not be preaching to thousands every weekend (though some of you might).

But if you’re caring for those Jesus has given you, you are doing the Lord’s work. God doesn’t judge in numbers.

Be faithful. And thank you for doing the hard work.

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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28 Comments

  1. A2bbethany

    Basically try to listen to those who’re actually experts in a hands on way! Not the lounge chair….I’m a professor sort of way. Celebrity Christians probably haven’t had to practically apply Jesus’s teachings. Not to the situations they’re spouting opinions on. Like a bad marriage…or a mental health crisis.

    Reply
  2. Jo R

    Why do church employees have to sign NDAs with regard to the senior pastor and the way he conducts church business? How would the senior pastor ever be held accountable for misconduct?

    What am I missing here?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You’re not missing anything. It’s absolutely unconscionable, and yet so many churches do it.

      Reply
      • Anon for this

        Yup. If the church/minister has nothing to hide, as he shouldn’t in the professional capacity of leading a church, then NDAs shouldn’t exist. Soon as I hear a church uses NDAs, I run now because it screams, “I have something to hide!”

        The church we left several years ago was spiritually abusive and the lead pastor went so far as forcing out the associate pastor by spreading rumors, lies, and of course using the “hierarchy” of position… if he signed the NDA, the church would provide a few months of extra insurance for his extremely ill, hospitalized kid. After all that, he couldn’t find another job in ministry because he couldn’t give that time as a reference and it’s hard to explain that in ministry.

        Reply
        • Anon for this

          The kicker- the “elders/pastor” presented it to the church as, “We are graciously giving him X much extra to help them out because we are kind and we love them and want to do what is right and godly,” instead of telling the truth which would essentially have been, “We blackmailed him by saying do this or you won’t be able to give your daughter what she needs to heal and live, and you will be in deepest debt forever. Now, here’s a pen- sign right here.”

          Reply
    • Tim

      I’d never heard of churches using NDAs before so not any kind of expert, but I can see an argument for it. Most church employees would be dealing with people’s private information in some sense, so some kind of confidentiality clause in contact seems reasonable.

      If you’re a pastor or counsellor who’s dealing with people’s private issues every day then just about everything you do would be in that category. So maybe it’s easier to just say that clause covers everything you do in your job, rather than to try and carefully word a clause to carve it out.

      Maybe we’re talking about two different things, and even if it’s just what I’ve described it’d still obviously be open to abuse. But not convinced that confidentiality clauses/NDAs *in themselves* are a red flag. Am I missing something?

      Reply
      • Jo R

        Unless I completely misunderstood the linked Roys Report articles, the NDAs had absolutely nothing to do with keeping counseling sessions confidential.

        Instead the NDAs covered the interactions among paid staff and between staff and ministry leaders. As in, if you thought other leaders were abusing their positions, the NDA meant you couldn’t talk about it, particularly after you were fired.

        Makes it hard to hold others accountable and, incidentally, defend yourself from them for wrongful termination.

        Reply
        • Tim

          Right, that’s a totally different ball game then. (I’d only read Sheila’s article, not the links as well). Thanks for clarifying.

          One of the key values of a church we were part of years ago was “anyone exercising authority should also be under authority”. I’m not sure if that’s explicitly in the Bible but it’s really hard to imagine a non-malevolent reason why someone would oppose that principle (which NDAs like what you’ve just described seem designed to do).

          To be fair, that church was unhealthy in other ways and ultimately dissolved. I think it was despite that principle not because of it, but anyway…

          Reply
  3. Mara R

    I am very tired of the celebrity pastors controlling the narrative. As long as they do, there’s not a lot we can do but be voices crying in the wilderness.

    I messaged an acquaintance on Facebook after she posted something from Mark Driscoll simply stating that Driscoll is not safe and linked to “The Rise and Fall” podcast. I did this a couple months ago, maybe.

    It took her a long time to respond. She was very sweet but very wrong. She spouted Driscoll’s narrative, that she’s been following him 20 years and has been so blessed by his ministry. She said that she was aware of Rise and Fall but didn’t have time to listen to it but her husband did and he thought that it was very slanted against Driscoll. She said all the things that Driscoll said about the situation and how the devil was attacking his great and spiritual ministry (that’s what Driscoll called being held accountable for his sins. It was a demonic attack).

    She was so deep in and had been drinking the Driscoll Kool-Aide so long that I just dropped it stepped back because I didn’t have the strength to fight it.

    People I respect believe Driscoll’s narrative and call anyone who points to his unrepentant sins as being the cahoots with the Devil. I felt so sick inside over this. Evangelicalism has gone so far off the deep end calling good evil. It is so discouraging.

    Reply
    • Jo R

      “Too big to fail”-ism?

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That is exhausting, isn’t it? And people like that are funding his lavish lifestyle, even while those who knew him best in Seattle have declared him unfit for ministry, and while that city is still reeling. It’s terrible.

      Reply
      • Laura

        I heard that his church in Scottsdale, Arizona is having issues with him. Sounds like Driscoll is pulling the same stuff there that he did with Mars Hill.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yep. I have to admit I have very little sympathy, though, because why are people going there in the first place? We need to be a people with more discernment!

          Reply
        • Mara R

          I heard something about Scottsdale last year. But I haven’t heard much lately. I don’t know if that one is going to blow apart like Mars Hill or is Driscoll and just keep the hustle going indefinitely.

          Reply
    • CM

      Unfortunately, that sounds so much kike what I keep hearing in the Catholic Chuch. Issues with ounders and leaders of new communities keep popping here and therr, but most people belive what they want to believe : if they dislike the person/community/church, they’ll say “it’s completely rotten and demoniac” but if they like it, they’ll be “meh … that’s evil gossip, that can’t be”
      I wish Christians cared more about truth and love that about fame …

      Reply
      • CM

        Sorry about typo :s The post was mistakenly sent before I proofread it!

        Reply
  4. CMT

    I‘ve pretty much concluded “celebrity pastor” is an oxymoron (and “mega church” might be too, if you get right down to it).

    Reply
    • EOF

      Definitely an oxymoron. The original churches were usually held in homes. Many led by women, even.

      Reply
    • A2bbethany

      I think it’s a matter of attitudes for the congregation. Our old church was a very small one (50-80 members, over half of them related closely.) And they’re very stubborn in their beliefs and have hardly any affect on neighboring areas. They sent a team of preachers to India, but have a rediculously strict beliefs about music. If it’s not oral voices it’s un-biblical and they’d cut off support to that church.

      And our family only felt mildly welcomed and wanted, when we had decided to leave for a more community active one. (Also happens to be a different kind of Baptist and like 10x the size congregation.)

      This congregation has a basic motto for their members:
      Love God, love people, and 2 others, something about worship God and make disciples. And they make it clear all the time, you need to serve and be served by the church.
      So while not perfect, and a mixed congregation that have a lot of personal lifestyle beliefs! They all put that aside to worship and serve the community.

      So long story short, it’s not size that makes a church, it’s the attitude of being Christ centered first and opinionated 2nd.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, I agree. Often toxicity flourishes in small churches with people it’s easy to control.

        I’d love to see a study on the size of church that is most likely to be healthy! I heard once that it’s around the 200-225 range, but I’d love to see it in a journal article.

        Reply
      • CMT

        I don’t disagree that big organizations can be healthy and small ones can be toxic.

        I’m just not convinced that the qualities that make a group a church (as opposed to some other kind of organization) scale all that well. And there seems to be a correlation between the sort of people who become “celebrity pastors” and the sort of people who build “mega churches.” Just sayin’.

        But, I am not a fan of crowds or loud noises, so that may color my opinions on the subject!

        Reply
        • Nessie

          I wonder if many pastors that had a more manageably-sized congregation that quickly increased got overwhelmed in the caring department, “outsourced” a bit too much to other staffers/volunteers (at some point, a pastor cannot be expected to keep up with all or most congregants- impossible to be in too many places and still have a healthy set of boundaries for their own families/needs), then started to get a big head once they were no longer dealing with the “little things.” Perhaps their empathy atrophied when they were no longer using it, but increased skills of the “business/money-making” set. Quick slide into feeling a power high when they start getting more and more people/attention, etc.

          I’m also a huge fan of pastors NOT knowing what the financial contributions of congregants are. Far too easy to end up playing favorites- willingly or not- to the “big players” as it were.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I do think this happens a lot. The actual shepherding and caring for the sheep gets more and more remote, until they’re not doing it at all, and then all they’re doing is “teaching.” So we have “teaching” pastors and “executive” pastors, and they get the largest salaries.

  5. Angharad

    As the spouse of a pastor trying to care for two tiny rural congregations while holding down a part time job (because the church can’t afford to pay us), your appreciation of the role that ‘small church’ pastors do has been so appreciated! My husband can spend hours on pastoral visits and phone calls that can be really draining, but it’s not seen as work by many because ‘it’s just chatting to people’. They have no idea that a phone call with someone who is struggling with their faith, or a visit to a newly bereaved widower is a totally different thing compared to hanging out with a friend for a chat!

    I love your list of suggestions. Although I would amend number 2 to read ‘Don’t go to conferences with big name pastors as speakers’. I am thinking of one particular guy who is a fairly ‘big name’ over here in some church circles, but who is humble, self-sacrificing and 100% on fire for God. Every time I have heard him speak, I have been so blessed and encouraged. But I’ve often heard him say that his kind of speaking ministry is a totally different calling to pastoring. And he has no leadership role in the church of which he is a member, because he rightly says he is not able to attend often enough to do such a role as it should be done!

    Reply
  6. JKP

    I’m SBC. I know Rick and Kay Warren personally and it disturbs me that the heir to the throne at Saddleback would allow..invite ! Mark D to speak. I’m personally offended because as an SBC pastors wife for 17 years I experienced spiritual abuse myself. For years my (now ex-husband) lived a double life that was not God honoring. When he was ‘outed’ we were told we could no longer stay in leadership but ‘allowed’ to leave that church w/o him confessing and repenting (only to me ). Consequently he was for 11 years recommended and given a positive review by that former head pastor (of a mega church) where we had served. That allowed him to continue his ‘secret’ life and move from
    Church to church across our convention because he knew people in leadership that would not be honest and call him into accountability.
    So, it angers me that people like Mark Driscoll can abuse churches and members and just move on. There has to be more accountability!

    Thank you Shelia for bringing this to our attention.

    Reply
    • Laura

      I’ve been part of Celebrate Recovery ministry (in another state) that started at Saddleback over 30 years ago. I’ve listened to Rick’s practical sermons. I love how he and Kay advocate for mental health in the church. I am very disappointed that Andy Wood was chosen to replace Pastor Rick. I’m at a loss for words on that one.

      Abusive pastors like Driscoll will find ways to keep their power which usually means starting a new church somewhere else.

      Reply
  7. Aly

    I’m the wife to a pastor of a small church, a grandaughter of a pastor of a small church, and a daughter to a pastor of a small church. I would like you to consider a deeper study into the true duties of a pastor. I’ve been surrounded my whole life with church people complaining that their pastor wasn’t able to visit their 2nd cousin twice removed for their hernia surgery (being slightly facetious, here), and that is so misrepresentative of a pastor’s role. A pastor IS meant to be a lead teacher, and I believe other duties, although mostly handled by the pastors in my life, fall to the elders and deacons of the church. I love and respect your opinions/articles and have been following you for years, now. However; being on this side of the fence almost 30 years has made me so disappointed at how people think they can enforce responsibilities on a pastor that are not meant to be. There is constant criticism from all sides, and I felt that in this article, as well. It’s enough to give someone a nervous breakdown, quite honestly. So discouraging. This is a comment exclusively about your analogy of a small pastor, by the way.
    Also, I’ve been helped immensely and in personal ways by leaders of large churches. In fact, one of the wives of one such pastor is my mentor.
    I understand the validity of this article with most of your points having to do with certain people, but I feel as though you’re grouping a large amount of people together and hating on them for no reason other than the size of the congregation they belong to. This article feels very detached.

    Reply

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