Mark Driscoll, the former pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, will return to one of the highest-profile events of the evangelical world this summer – but not as a platform speaker.
Driscoll, who resigned from Mars Hill following a string of revelations about his leadership style and a scandal about the manipulation of book sales figures, was scheduled to speak at the Hillsong Conferences in London and Sydney.
However, blogger Warren Throckmorton was told by Hillsong founder Brian Houston in an email that Driscoll and his wife Grace would be interviewed on stage rather than preaching. Houston said in the email: "I am looking forward to having this opportunity to speak openly with the Driscolls about life and ministry, as well as recent events and lessons they've learned through personal and ministry trials during the past year.
"My aim is to have an in-depth conversation that gives insight into their hearts. Mark has been candid about mistakes he has made, and if we can, through our conference, help others through his life experiences, we think that will prove valuable."
It is not yet clear whether Driscoll will appear at both scheduled venues. The fallout from the implosion of Driscoll's ministry at Mars Hill led to the church's closure, with its satellite campuses closing, merging with other churches or becoming stand-alone congregations. It is also still facing the possibility of legal action over the use of funds raised for missions which it is alleged were diverted to general church use.
Driscoll was accused of promoting a culture of bullying and coercion, and of creating a "toxic"culture at Mars Hill, formerly one of the largest in the US. Driscoll himself, a charismatic preacher and communicator, was named by Preaching magazine as one of the most influential pastors of the last 25 years.
He now runs a ministry website which does not mention the controversies in which he was involved, but does not currently pastor a church. Invitations to him to preach at evangelical gatherings were withdrawn after the Mars Hill debacle, though he spoke briefly last October at the Gateway Conference in Dallas, Texas, about the struggles his family have been going through since leaving Mars Hill.
"I've cried a lot lately. It's been a rough season for my family," he said then.
He added that his family has received death threats and "rocks about the size of baseballs" were thrown at his children.
The pastor of Gateway Church, Robert Morris, praised Driscoll for his apparent humility in coming to the conference despite being removed from the speaker line up.
"We did not cancel him, he and I decided together that he was going to step outside of ministry for a season and get some healing. He asked me 'Could I come to the conference and just attend?' And I thought that was very big of him to just come and be ministered to," Morris told those gathered.
"Most of what you read [about Driscoll] isn't true, some of it is. He did make some mistakes," he continued.
The Hillsong Conference will provide his first major platform since then.