Mark Driscoll and the culture of bullying: is it a one man stand?

Pastor Mark Driscoll

In light of the recent Mark Driscoll controversy, author Alan Molineaux has asked whether church culture has allowed us to play 'pin the blame on the leader', rather than consider the role of those on the sidelines.

With conservative teachings on gender roles in particular, Driscoll is well known for being a loud voice in many controversial debates. He leads Mars Hill Church in Seattle, which attracts around 14,000 people to its services each week and is one of the fasted growing churches in America.

He recently faced criticism, however, for using underhand tactics to ensure his book 'Real Marriage' – co-written with his wife Grace – made it onto bestsellers lists, and for supposedly bullying his church into submission.

It caused significant outrage, and has brought Driscoll's integrity as an author and church leader under question. The backlash inspired a letter to members of his congregation in which he apologised for his actions and other recent controversies, mentioning also "the crushing weight of responsibility" and how "overwhelmed" and "frustrated at [his] shortcomings" he felt. The letter has since gone viral on the web.

"In my worst moments, I was angry in a sinful way. For those occasions, I am sorry. As I've expressed in several sermons, I needed to mature as a leader, and we needed to mature as a church," Driscoll wrote.

He also apologised to those his teachings have "hurt", admitting: "In the last year or two, I have been deeply convicted by God that my angry-young-prophet days are over, to be replaced by a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father."

While many have been quick to condemn Driscoll for his actions (and many more have also expressed their gratitude for his apology), in an article for Red Letter Christianity, Molineaux suggests that accusations of "pastoral bullying" at Mars Hill have been unfairly levelled at Driscoll alone.

He draws parallels with the plotline of the 1992 Tom Cruise film A Few Good Men, writing that: "The key leader is the culture maker and often rightly seen as the main protagonist but is supported by a whole cast of 'enablers'.

"I am not unsympathetic towards these people," he notes, admitting that he has been part of such church cultures, but goes on to suggest that it is important to consider the role of the wider church in allowing unhelpful structures to flourish.

"We need to remember that bad leaders do not work in isolation," he warns.

"It only takes a few good men to do nothing for a problematic leader to create an unhealthy culture."

Other leaders who "look the other way", staff who "operate in a culture of fear", those who are so enamoured by the vision of the church that they find it difficult to accept anything may be wrong and those who simply get caught up in the majority - whose "silence is their complicity" - are all labelled as having their part to play.

"My reason for writing is that the above categories are not confined to the very distinct cases of mega church bullying," Molineux adds. "This can happen in any community. It can happen anytime good people do nothing when they see bad things happen."

He finishes with the assertion that accountability, and active engagement with the church community as a whole is integral to maintaining a healthy and life-giving church culture.

"It might be that a few good men can allow for churches to become unhealthy, but it only takes a few brave women and men to call people into account for their behaviour," he concludes.

At least twenty former pastors from Mars Hill are said to be seeking to mediate with Driscoll, including Dave Kraft - formerly Pastor of Leadership Development - who has admitted to standing by while poor decisions were made at the Seattle church. "We didn't step up to the plate when we should have," he has said on the Patheos website.

He has also stressed the importance of accountability, adding: "I would like to see Pastor Mark publicly state that he is sorry, that he has sinned, that he will deal with his past sin and make himself accountable in so doing to an unbiased group of leaders who will hold his feet to the fire on this."

Driscoll is currently taking time out from social media, travelling and writing to "reset" his life.

"I want to teach the Bible, love well, and run at a pace to finish my race many decades from now," he has said.