A letter from Pastor Mark Driscoll
November 8, 2007
Dear Mars Hill Church Members,
I grew up in Seattle not knowing Jesus. Thankfully, Jesus saved me when I was nineteen years of age while a college freshman. Shortly thereafter He led me to my first church, where a humble and godly pastor was used of God to change my life by teaching me about Jesus from the Bible. While attending my first men’s retreat with that church, God spoke to me for the first time in my life. He told me to marry Grace, preach the Bible, train men, and plant churches. It was then, at the age of nineteen, that I began preparing to devote my life to obeying His call for me.
I studied speech in my undergraduate work to prepare for preaching. I joined as many as six Bible studies a quarter to learn Scripture. I began reading nearly a book a day, which continued for many years. I married Grace while still in college. In addition, I began recruiting college friends to one day be part of the core group for Mars Hill Church, which I intended to see planted in Seattle. Following graduation from college, Grace and I moved back to Seattle where we got jobs and started settling in as a broke young couple trying to figure out how and where to plant Mars Hill Church.
By the age of twenty-four we were gathering the core group for the church plant while I was working part-time at Antioch Bible Church and a Christian bookstore that was open in Greenwood at the time. Joining me in the plant were two godly men named Mike Gunn and Lief Moi who were very much devoted to the work and, although young and inexperienced, I praised God for the support of those men who remain friends to this day by God’s grace.
At the age of twenty-five I had the privilege of preaching the opening sermon at Mars Hill Church and I have remained the primary preaching pastor ever since. I have learned a lot over the years. Much of that learning has been through mistakes, failure, and pain. The early years of the church, chronicled in my book Confessions, were very difficult in every way. In more recent years, our fast growth has been a wonderful blessing but also fraught with difficulties.
For me personally, everything culminated at the end of 2006. Despite rapid growth, the church was not healthy and neither was I. My workload was simply overwhelming. I was preaching five times a Sunday, the senior leader in Mars Hill responsible to some degree for literally everything in the church, president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network which had exploded, president of The Resurgence, an author writing books, a conference speaker traveling, a media representative doing interviews, a student attending graduate school, a father with five young children, and a husband to a wife whom I have adored since the first day I met her and needed my focus more than ever. I was working far too many hours and neglecting my own physical and spiritual well-being, and then I hit the proverbial wall. For many weeks I simply could not sleep
more than two or three hours a night. I had been running off of adrenaline for so many years that my adrenal glands fatigued and the stress of my responsibilities caused me to be stuck “on” physically and unable to rest or sleep. After a few months I had black circles under my eyes, was seeing a fog, and was constantly beyond exhausted.
Nonetheless, the demands on me continued to grow as the church grew. We added more
campuses, gathered more critics, saw more media attention, planted more churches, purchased
more real estate, raised more money, and hired more staff. It was at this time that I seriously
pondered leaving Mars Hill Church for the first time ever. I still loved our Jesus, loved our mission,
loved our city, and loved our people. However, I sunk into a deep season of despair as I
considered spending the rest of my life serving at Mars Hill Church. I simply could not fathom
living the rest of my life with the pace of ministry and amount of responsibility that was on me.
Furthermore, the relational demands of the church and its leaders depleted me entirely. In short, I
had lost my joy and wanted to lose my job before I lost my life. Tucking my children in bed at
night became a deeply sorrowful experience for me; I truly feared I would either die early from a
heart attack or burn out and be left unable to best care for my children in the coming years. I have
met many pastors who have simply crossed the line of burnout and never returned to health and
sanity and that was my frightful but seemingly inevitable future.
One of the problems was that Mars Hill had essentially outgrown the wisdom of our team and
needed outside counsel. The church had grown so fast that some of our elders and other leaders
were simply falling behind and having trouble keeping up, which was understandable. To make
matters worse, there was a growing disrespect among some elders who were jockeying for and
abusing power. The illusion of unity our eldership had maintained over the years was kept in part
by my tolerating some men who demanded more power, pay, control, and voice than their
performance, character, or giftedness merited. While this was a very short list of men, as elders
they had enough power to make life truly painful.
At the same time I began receiving other lucrative job offers that would allow me to study, preach,
and write without all of the administrative duties and burdens for which I am not sufficiently gifted
to be responsible for. For the first time in my life, the thought of leaving Mars Hill sounded very
relieving. Since I had given ten years of my life to the church and love the people desperately, it
was obvious to me that something was deeply wrong that such offers would even be intriguing.
So, I began pursuing counsel from godly men outside the church that I respected. I spoke with
Tim Keller about the difficulties of an urban church, John Piper about how to sustain longevity in
the ministry, C. J. Mahaney about bitterness that had grown in me against some elders of Mars
Hill and my need to grow in humility, D. A. Carson about how to best study so as to become an
even better Bible teacher and writer, Gerry Breshears about how to best train other men for
ministry to share the load, Pastor Larry Osborne about how to best architect a multi-campus
church, and Pastors Craig Groeschel and Ed Young Jr. about how to lead a church of thousands
and possibly tens of thousands. On top of that, I pursued counsel from a Christian doctor
regarding my health and what needed to change in my diet, exercise, and schedule. In short, I
sought wise outside counsel regarding if I should stay at Mars Hill and make changes in my life
and our church, or simply move on to another church and start over.
The consensus was that Mars Hill was poorly architected to be a multi-campus, multi-elder, multithousand
person church. My administrative gifts had simply reached their capacity and the church
needed to be re-organized so that campuses could be led by elder teams to ensure that our
people were best cared for, our doctrine best taught, and our mission best led. This meant that I
needed to give up a great deal of power and trust other elders, deacons, and members to care for
the church with the same passionate affection that I have for our people.
To begin this process I had to go first and divest myself of a great deal of power. In the history of
the church I have held the three positions of greatest authority. Legally, I was the president of
Mars Hill Church the organization. Practically, I was the preaching pastor and primary voice of
Mars Hill Church. Administratively, I was the president of the elder board and highest authority on
the staff. So, I resigned as the legal president, resigned as the president of the elder board, and
resigned as the highest authority over the staff. I have retained the position of primary preaching
pastor but have also started a preaching cadre to train many other elders in preaching so as to
begin sharing that load roughly twelve times a year with other gifted men.
Having shared power, I was then able to establish a new Executive Elder board to architect the
future of Mars Hill. I remained one of the men on that team to help lead the church but came
under Pastor Jamie Munson, the team leader. I simply did not have the giftedness or time to
architect something as complex as our church, which intended to grow to multiple campuses,
possibly even stretching out of state or out of country. Yet, I wanted to ensure that our church
remained theologically precise and committed to not just growing but also caring for our people.
So, the new Executive Elder team sought outside counsel from bigger churches that we respect.
At this time, Pastor Tim Beltz also became a valuable asset thanks to his many years of nonprofit
management experience for ministries much larger and more complex than ours, along with Scott Thomas who had pastored at many other churches, and Pastor Bubba Jennings whose leadership and management gifts would allow the Ballard campus to become a center of excellence and equipping center for new campus launches.
The newly formed Executive Elder team began working on proposed new bylaws that would
serve as the architecting document for a better Mars Hill. The big issue was empowering our
campus pastors to lead elder teams. This would ensure the best care for the people at each
campus by being accessible and able to make decisions quickly. Simply, we could not care for
our people across multiple campuses with one large and fast-growing elder team that had to meet
to make decisions across campuses many of us had never even attended. So, the bylaws had to
be rewritten to break the elders into teams with campus areas of oversight as well as
accountability. As an aside, the rewriting of our governing bylaws is something we had done on
other occasions throughout the history of Mars Hill, so this was not a new experience.
Sadly, it was during the bylaw rewriting process that two of our elders, who curiously were among
the least administratively gifted for that task, chose to fight in a sinful manner in an effort to
defend their power and retain legal control of the entire church. This included legal maneuvering
involving contacting our attorney, which was a violation of policy, one elder who is no longer with
us disobeying clear orders from senior leaders about not sharing sensitive working data with
church members until the elders had arrived at a decision, which has caused much dissension,
and that same elder accusing Pastor Jamie Munson, who was the then new Lead Pastor of Mars
Hill, of being a deceptive liar in an all-elder meeting with elder candidates present, despite having
absolutely no evidence or grounds because it was a lie. This was heartbreaking for me since I
have seen Pastor Jamie saved in our church, baptized in our church, married in our church, birth
four children in our church, and rise up from an intern to the Lead Pastor in our church with great
skill and humility that includes surrounding himself with godly gifted older men to complement his
To make matters worse, this former elder’s comments came after my more than one-hour lecture
in that meeting based on a twenty-three-page document I gave the elders as a summary report
about what I had learned from the other pastors I had met with in addition to months of
researching Christian movements. I had just explained the cause of the pains we were
experiencing as a leadership team as largely tied to our growing number of elders and campuses,
as well as ways that my research indicated men commonly respond by sinfully seeking power,
money, preference, control, and information as ways to exercise pride and fight for their interests
over the interests of the team, church, and mission of Jesus Christ.
The elder who sinned was followed up with following the meeting by a rebuke from a fellow
Executive Elder, but repentance was not forthcoming. To make matters worse, some vocal
church members ran to that elder’s defense without knowing the facts, made demands upon the
elders, acted in a manner that was not unifying or helpful, and even took their grievances public
on the Ask Anything comment portion of our main website for my forthcoming preaching series.
Of course, this was done under anonymous names to protect their image in the eyes of fellow
church members while maligning the elders publicly. Some church members even began
accusing the other elders of grabbing power and not caring for the best interests of our people,
which is nothing short of a lie and contradictory in every way to the entire process we were
undertaking. It broke my heart personally when amidst all of this, a member asked me on behalf
of other members if the elders really loved our people. Now having given roughly half my life to
planning for and leading Mars Hill Church, the questioning of my love and the love of our elders,
some of whom even got saved in our church, for our people was devastating.
Today, I remain deeply grieved by and for one man, but am thrilled that what is best for Jesus
and all of Mars Hill has been unanimously approved by our entire elder team because I do love
Jesus and the people of Mars Hill. Furthermore, my physical, mental, and spiritual health are at
the best levels in all of my life. Now having joy and working in my gifting I am beginning to see
what a dark and bitter place I once was in and deeply grieve having lived there for so long without
clearly seeing my need for life change. My wife and I are closer than ever and she is the greatest
woman in the world for me. I delight in her, enjoy her, and praise God for the gift that she is. She
recently brought me to tears by sweetly saying, “It’s nice to have you back,” as apparently I had
been somewhat gone for many years. Our five children are wonderful blessings. I love being a
daddy and am closer to my children with greater joy in them than ever. In short, I was not taking
good care of myself and out of love for our church I was willing to kill myself to try and keep up
with all that Jesus is doing. But, as always, Jesus has reminded me that He is our Senior Pastor
and has godly other pastors whom I need to empower and trust while doing my job well for His
glory, my joy, and your good.
The past year has been the most difficult of my entire life. It has been painful to see a few men
whom I loved and trained as elders become sinful, proud, divisive, accusatory, mistrusting, power
hungry, and unrepentant. It has, however, been absolutely amazing to see all but one of those
men humble themselves and give up what is best for them to do what is best for Jesus and our
entire church. In that I have seen the power of the gospel, and remain hopeful to eventually see it
in the former elder who remains unrepentant but to whom my hand of reconciliation remains
extended along with a team of other elders assigned to pursue reconciliation if/when he is willing.
Furthermore, sin in my own life has been exposed through this season and I have also benefited
from learning to repent of such things as bitterness, unrighteous anger, control, and pride. As a
result, I believe we have a pruned elder team that God intends to bear more fruit than ever. This
team of battle-tested, humble, and repentant men is now both easy to enjoy and entrust.
Emotionally, I told our Board of Directors recently that I felt like I walked Mars Hill down the aisle
and married her off so that she could be best cared for and loved in the next season of her life. I
remain her father who loves and cares for her and is vitally involved in her growth and well-being,
but now trust the elders to take good care of her thanks in part to a structure that enables her to
be loved well. Subsequently, for the first time in my tenure at Mars Hill I am able to work in my
area of gifting with men I trust on a mission I believe in with church members I love and a Jesus I
worship. That harmony is priceless.
Personally, I want to thank Pastor Jamie along with the other elders who worked so hard to
provide answers to the questions that were gathered from our members. Today I write this letter
after finishing my studies for my upcoming sermon on Philippians 2:12–30. In God’s providence it
is incredibly timely. There was a conflict in the that church with two leaders (4:2), which is akin to
our recent discipline of two elders. Paul said that the people in the church were “grumbling”
against and “questioning” the church leadership that were dealing with the conflict. He tells the
church to not nitpick over details, but rather be “blameless” and “innocent” and work for unity so
that the world will not think less of Jesus. To remedy things Paul sent a letter to the church he
planted and cared for, which prompted me to write this letter to you.
In that letter, Paul commends Timothy as a good leader, which reminds me of Pastor Jamie.
Timothy was a young man saved under Paul’s ministry and personally trained by Paul, much like
Pastor Jamie who was saved under my preaching and has been personally invested in by me for
a decade. Timothy is commended because his first allegiance is to Jesus and he also both cares
for the people and respects the leadership of Paul as the founding pastor, which is exactly the
kind of man Pastor Jamie is. Furthermore, Timothy’s example shows the two sides of leadership
that eldership requires. Your elders have been dealing with pain caused by one-sided leadership
by some only caring for the people but not respecting fellow pastors. Some translations also say
that Paul and Timothy were “like-minded” in their philosophy of ministry, which curiously enough
is the root of all of our conflict recently and led to what Paul called “grumbling” and “questioning.”
In light of that, I want to thank Pastor Jamie and the other elders who put so much time into this
document as they love you and Jesus and are hoping to quiet any “grumbling” and “questioning”
by being open and truthful. In Philippians 2:12–30 Paul also lifts up Epaphroditus as a good
example of a faithful church member who gives and serves generously. My prayer is that you
would be an Epaphroditus for us.
Lastly, I felt it was important to write this preface to our lengthy document so that you would
understand what has transpired behind the scenes and in my heart over the past year. Had I
simply left Mars Hill, the hearts of some elders would have virtually guaranteed crippling division
in the church. So, I have stayed to grow in my own repentance and not abandon the work Jesus
called me to nearly half my life ago because I love you. Today, I am weary but elated and confident that Jesus who began this work will see it through to completion. I am confident that I will be able to remain with you for the rest of my life serving as my gifts permit. Subsequently, I am rejoicing in what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do both in and through Mars Hill Church.
For Jesus’ Fame,
Pastor Mark Driscoll