A national “church planting” group called Acts 29, cofounded by Mark Driscoll, has removed the senior pastor at Mars Hill Church and the church from membership, with seven board members urging in a letter that he “step down” from ministry and “seek help.” The networking group is self-described as a “trans-denominational peer network of missional church planting churches.” Its title is taken from the Book of Acts, which has 28 chapters. In 2012, the group embraced 422 churches on six continents. The directors cited, but did not detail, what they called “ungodly and disqualifying behavior” that Mars Hill Church has not addressed. The pastors, writing to Driscoll, who co-founded his mega-church in Seattle 18 years ago, say they take “no joy to move forward in this direction,” and that “we trust that the Lord will be at work in us all.” The letter, first posted by Warren Throckmorton on Patheos, tells Driscoll:
“As the board of Acts 29, we are grateful to God for the leadership, courage and generosity of both you and Mars Hill in not only founding the network but also sustaining it through the transition to this board three years ago. The very act of giving away your authority over the network was one of humility and grace, and for that we are grateful.
“Over the past three years, our board and network have been the recipients of countless shots and dozens of fires directly linked to you and what we consider ungodly and disqualifying behavior. We have both publicly and internally tried to support and give you the benefit of the doubt even when multiple pastors in our network confirmed this behavior.”
The directors said they “leaned on” the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability to “take the lead” in dealing with the report. But they added that they no longer have confidence the church’s BOAA “is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out.
Two prominent “outside” members have quit the Board of Advisors and Accountability in the past two weeks, but on the surface appear to remain on good terms with Driscoll. “Ample time has been given for repentance, change and restitution with none forthcoming,” the Acts 29 directors write. “We now have to take another course of action. “Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended period of time, and seek help. Consequently, we also feel that we have no alternative but to remove you and Mars Hill from membership in Acts 29.
“Because you are the founder of Acts 29 and a member, we are naturally associated with you and feel that this association discredits the network and is a major distraction.” In a blog post on its website, Act 29 announced:
It is with deep sorrow that the Acts 29 Network announces its decision to remove Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from membership in the network. Mark and the Elders of Mars Hill have been informed of the decision, along with the reasons for removal. It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network. In taking this action, our prayer is that it will encourage the leadership of Mars Hill to respond in a distinctive and godly manner so that the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored.
The dramatic Act 29 letter follows, by five days, a Sunday morning outside the Mars Hill Church in Bellevue, in which former members and supporters called for Driscoll’s resignation. Driscoll has delivered three mea culpa statements in recent months. He apologized to church members for a scheme, using their money, in which a consulting firm manipulated orders of Driscoll’s book “Real Marriage” to put it on The New York Times bestseller list. He confessed that it is impossible to be both a “celebrity” and a pastor, and vowed the relinquish the former role. He also promised to cease provocative Twitter comments for the remainder of the year.
But former insiders have repeated charges of abusive behavior, intimidation and shunning on the part of the senior pastor.Mars Hill Church, founded in 1996, has grown to 15 churches in 5 states and has boasted a membership of 14,000. Driscoll appeared to be moving toward status as one of America’s leading evangelicals, and was subject of a New York Times Magazine profile in 2009. He now appears to be in extreme disfavor with fellow evangelicals. The Acts 29 directors said they will soon be going public, telling Driscoll:
“Shortly after sending this, we will be informing the members of Acts 29, your Board of Advisors and Accountability, and your elders, as well as putting out a public statement on the Acts 29 website. As Throckmorton notes, Mars Hill Church locations have already been removed from the Acts 29 website, and the news of Driscoll’s removal has been posted.