After weeks of controversy over his leadership style, megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll has resigned from Mars Hill Church, the Seattle fellowship that he helped to launch and transform into one of the most successful and best-known congregations in the US.
Driscoll, aged 43, had not fallen into any of the sexual, moral, financial or heretical transgressions that have tempted other modern-day charismatics to their doom. Instead, he confessed to "pride, anger and a domineering spirit." This had cost him the support of key church members and other in his leadership team.
In a letter to Michael Van Skaik, chairman of the Mars Hill Church board of advisors and accountability, and published by RNS, Driscoll says God is making him "more like Him every day."
He writes: "By God's grace I have pastored Mars Hill Church for 18 years. Today, also by God's grace, and with the full support of my wife Grace, I resign my position as a pastor and elder of Mars Hill. I do so with profound sadness, but also with complete peace."
He says that in August he had requested a leave of absence from the pulpit for six weeks while a committee of elders conducted a formal review of charges against him.
Driscoll and his wife met the board of overseers last week, concluding the formal review, where they were assured that he had not disqualified himself from ministry. The committee spent more than 1,000 hours reviewing documents and interviewing complainants, although some of these did not wish to take part in the review process.
Driscoll writes: "I readily acknowledge I am an imperfect messenger of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are many things I have confessed and repented of, privately and publicly, as you are well aware. Specifically, I have confessed to past pride, anger and a domineering spirit.
"As I shared with our church in August, God has broken me many times in recent years by showing me where I have fallen short, and while my journey, at age 43, is far from over, I believe He has brought me a long way from some days I am not very proud of, and is making me more like Him every day."
Emphasising that there have been no charges of criminal activity, immorality or heresy, he concedes that aspects of his personality and leadership style "have proven to be divisive within the Mars Hill context."
He says: "We have concluded it would be best for the health of our family, and for the Mars Hill family, that we step aside from further ministry at the church we helped launch in 1996. I will gladly work with you in the coming days on any details related to our separation."
He continues: "Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family—even physically unsafe at times—and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill."
In a statement published on the church website, the overseers, Michael Van Skaik, Larry Osborne. Jon Phelps and Matt Rogers say they have accepted that resignation and the church moving forward with planning for pastoral transition, recognising the challenge of this in a church that has only known one pastor since its founding.
They say the investigation took 1,000 hours of research, and more than 50 people were interviewed, leading to a 200 page document.
They write: "We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner.
"While we believe Mark needs to continue to address these areas in his life, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry. Pastor Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviours reflected by a domineering style of leadership."
They admit that some of the accusations made against Driscoll were "altogether unfair or untrue" and state that he was not asked to resign.
"Indeed, we were surprised to receive his resignation letter. While he can speak to his decision as he chooses, we would point to just two things from his letter. He noted that he had concluded 'it would be best for the health of our family, and for the Mars Hill family, that we step aside from further ministry at the church.' Secondly, he specifically wanted to convey "to the wonderful members of the Mars Hill family, how deeply my family and I love them, thank them, and point them to their Senior Pastor, Jesus Christ, who has always been only good to us."
Mars Hill Church is described in US media as a church of the internet age. It is believed until recently to have had more than 14,000 worshippers in 15 church premises in five states, although membership has fallen recently.