5 Things Every Church Leader Can Learn from the Mark Driscoll Situation

So let me start here.

I struggle with pride.

Do you?

Doesn’t everyone?

Pride is at the root of all sin. It is pride—the pursuit of self, of knowing better, of being right—that caused our fall in the first place. It is a daily struggle for me.

My heart broke this weekend as I read of the latest developments at Mars Hill Church as their Pastor, Mark Driscoll, temporarily stepped down. There’s a very (from what I can tell) balanced and fair article about the events here in Christianity Today if you want some background.

I need to say I don’t know Mark Driscoll. I’ve never met him.

And this is not a post where I’m going to pass any level of judgment on Pastor Mark or Mars Hill. He needs our prayers as does his family and church (My heart really hurts for his family in a season like this. They love their husband and dad. So does Christ.)

And even as I say “he needs our prayers” I realize that often in Christian circles we say that with a sense of superiority, as though he needs our prayers or she needs our prayers in way that I don’t.

Not even close to true.

No one prays with clean hands. I don’t. You don’t.

I need your prayers as desperately as Pastor Mark. So do you. So when we pray, we need to pray as those who come alongside each other before a merciful and just God and a Saviour we all so desperately need.

We are in this together.


Not Sex, Not Money….Pride.

As I read through various accounts of the situation as it developed, this quote from the Christianity Today article caught my full attention:

“The decision by Driscoll, whose current challenges made the front page of The New York Times yesterday, echoes past sabbaticals by two other popular Reformed pastors—John Piper and C. J. Mahaney—amid concerns not of sexual or financial sins, but of pride and other character flaws.”

The writer goes on to point out that many leaders have put in safeguards against sexual sin or financial wrongdoing and quotes Scott Thuma, a Hartford Seminary sociologist:

“My sense is that many of the celebrity religious leaders are well aware of and intentionally attempt to guard themselves against sexual and financial temptations. But they forget that pride comes before a fall.”

John Piper gave some painfully honest answers behind his break from ministry in 2010. Again, as the article points out:

Bethlehem Baptist Church pastor John Piper embarked on an eight-month leave, explaining his soul, marriage, family, and ministry pattern needed “a reality check from the Holy Spirit.” He noted “several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me.” In 2013, Piper shared on Leadership Journal that his time-off had been dedicated to addressing his intransigent sins, including “selfishness, anger, self-pity, quickness to blame, and sullenness.”

I can relate to every one of Piper’s struggles and have had them, in seasons, in my only life. My guess is you have too.

So I fully admire pastors who have had the courage to admit they are struggling with pride and to take a break from ministry to address it.

As my wife said to me, “Maybe we should all resign. There’s a sense in which maybe those who have stepped back have done the honourable thing, isn’t there?”

So let no one cast a stone.

Pride is my struggle, and if I may, it’s your struggle. You’re human.

How do we keep it contained?

How do we keep it in check?

How do I keep mine in check?


5 Ways Pride Can Sneak Into A Leader’s Life

Pride is ubiquitous. You don’t need to try to be prideful. It just happens.

It’s in you and it’s in me.

But in the always-online-instant-platform-social-media age we live can acts like an accelerant to pride.

Like money, social media is a terrible master but a wonderful servant. It can be used for tremendous good, and it can play to the worst parts of us.

The reason I’m focusing on social media here is because pride often accompanies growth, and more church leaders than ever now have access to greater influence and personal platforms.

I realize there’s some irony here because I’m blogging about this and on the verge of launching a podcast. (No link…that would be too…manipulative.)

So how does pride sneak into a leader’s life today? In many many ways.

I am NOT saying any of these operated in Pastor Mark’s life or Piper’s or Mahaney’s. I have no idea. All I know is they can operate in mine and in the lives of other people I know.

Here are 5:


1. When I’m more focused on growing my personal platform than advancing the mission of the local church

Social media gives everyone a bigger soap box. And many are pursuing it.

A constant temptation for many leaders today is to put themselves ahead of the mission of the local church.

Above all, I want to be a faithful local church pastor committed to advancing the mission of our church and helping people discover the love their Saviour has for them….personally.

But sometimes it’s easier to soak in the accolades of people you’ve never met than it is to deal with a mess you’ve created and need to work through (that’s what leadership is, right? Solving the problems you’ve helped create.)

And sometimes it’s frustrating that the people who work with you every day (and live with you) are sometimes less impressed with you than the people who get a curated and edited version that ends up online.

The people closest to you see your flaws. Which is why it’s so easy run to those who don’t.

Stay grounded. Stay local.

Stay honest.

Stay focused.


2. When I pursue being known more than I pursue knowing Jesus

It’s fairly well known that many ministry leaders struggle with their personal walk with God. It can drift. It can even die for a season.

I have to be disciplined daily to keep my relationship with Jesus fresh, alive and vibrant.

Whether you want to be known and loved in your local church or a wider platform is irrelevant.

When I pursue being known more than I pursue knowing Jesus, I risk everything that the Gospel is about.


3. When my platform outgrows my character

Your character has to be bigger than your talent or skill set or you inevitably implode.

If your church outgrows your character, you’re in trouble as a leader.

If your platform online outgrows your character, it’s only a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’ things begin to implode.

After almost two decades in ministry leaders, I am constantly amazed at how hard I have to work at developing my character so that my private life and public walk line up.

That should be no surprise, of course. We used to call it sanctification and it’s still the work of the Holy Spirit.

I’m passionate about character development and wrote more about it here.


4. When I expect the people who know me to treat me like the people who don’t know me treat me

The cool part about being an outside speaker or having people who don’t know you follow you on social media is they always treat you with great respect.

We men, in particular, crave respect.

And of course, respect is earned.

Which means you have to work harder to gain it with the people you love and serve every day—your family, your team, your staff, your friends—than you do if you blow into town for a day to speak somewhere or if someone reads your blog and thinks you’re amazing.

As Andy Stanley says, when the people who know you the most love and respect you the most, you’ve got the balance right.

When only the people who don’t know you respect you, pride has likely taken your focus off what matters most.


5. When I resist accountability

Pride resists accountability.

It says “I’ve got this figured out.” “I’m fine.” “I’ve got this mastered.” “I don’t need anyone.”

And pride couldn’t be more wrong.

In fact, the more successful you become, the more accountable you need to be.

You don’t have to be transparent with everyone but you need to be transparent with someone. 

Someone—like a board, or a group you don’t fully control—needs to have full access to your finances, to how you’re really doing, to what’s really going on. And you need to approach them with completely open hands.

Accountability at first looks like a threat. But when you have it, you realize it’s a life saver.

I know this is deep stuff, but then the work we’re involved in is deep stuff.

It matters.

I will be praying for Mars Hill and Pastor Mark and his family, not from a place of judgment (I hope), but as one (from distance) who stands alongside.

And I’ll be praying as one who hopes for a magnificent restoration and a story only the Gospel can write.

For that is the story the Gospel is writing in all of us.

What about you?

How do you struggle with pride?

Are there things you are doing you find helpful?

Please leave a comment. And please know any comments that reflect negatively on Pastor Mark or Mars Hill will be deleted immediately.

No stones. Not one.

This is about all of us.


  1. Anton Lim on September 5, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Thanks Carey. Really appreciate you shedding light on the character issues and how it relates to yourself, not assuming you know MD, JP, or CJM. As someone who is part of the church that you lead, I appreciate that you are willing to recognize this in yourself while calling all of us to be introspective in our own lives. Thanks for desiring to focus on the mission and to stay local to stay focused.

    Cheering you and and praying for you as you continue to lead a church that unchurched people love to attend and be a part of.

  2. rdparfan on September 4, 2014 at 3:27 am

    Thanks for this reminder. Pride is a dangerous sin we all must put to death.

  3. Josh Kelley on September 3, 2014 at 2:18 am

    I would add this: When I seek to be served instead serving. Perhaps the most common and dangerous way that pastors seek to be served is by preaching in order to be admired instead of to help the congregation.

  4. Donn M on September 2, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    Fantastic post… currently I struggle most with the ‘balance’ you mention in #4, I take your words to heart as this balance seems essential. To get the ‘balance right’ would require a lot of sustained and thoughtful effort.

    As I read these words again “When the people who know you the most love and respect you the most, you’ve got the balance right.” I wondered how this reconciles or relates to what Jesus said referring to himself, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” Matthew 13:57, Mark 6:4, Luke 4:24, John 4:39-45. For me its difficult to get the balance you speak of it seems my growth in faith, love and ministry draw curiosity, doubt, criticism, even hope for my failure. Maybe I wrongfully expect and accept a lack of respect to some degree as a Biblical truth, at the same time I don’t want to push forward in pride, but in humility seeking council and guidance from elders and God’s Word.

    There’s never an indication that Jesus needed the approval of people. I’m not saying that’s where I am, I wish it were, but it’s not. Most are looking for approval and I certainly would appreciate the respect and love of those closest to me to be optimal and balanced with that of acquaintances. But I carefully consider your words along with those of Author/counselor Margaret Paul who writes,
    “In my experience as a counselor for over 40 years, I have found that . .
    . approval addiction is far more prevalent than any substance addiction. We
    live in an approval-addicted society.”

    I really would like to know how to humbly attain the balance you speak of and I would like to know whether you see this balance as a ‘driver’ for ministry and other efforts of love… Is to win those closest to us over to a respectful loving balance desirable or critical . I’m feeling conflicted between wanting approval that may be pride driven and remaining humble in the pursuit of what is right even though not always approved or even lovable based on where others selfish prides and desires my be within their own journey.
    Thanks for considering my interest and struggle.

  5. […] 5 Things Every Church Leader Can Learn From The Mark Driscoll Situation by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  6. Daniel Yang on August 29, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    Thanks for this! We’re planting a church in downtown Toronto and it’s a very intimidating task. The need for validation is tremendous. As one church planter said to me – the lows aren’t as low as you think they are, but the highs also aren’t as high as you think either. Great reminder about being grounded and staying humble.

  7. Trevor Stultz on August 29, 2014 at 7:39 am

    (Insert Sarcasm) I’m still trying to find that verse in the Bible where God needs us to judge others? Maybe I’m confused because many churches and church leaders are so good at doing just that! I did however, find a whole bunch of stuff about forgiveness and loving others, caring for the poor, and something about a spec and plank?!?!?

    So maybe we should focus more on that and not on judging…

    Thank you for the great perspective Carey! I find myself easily roped into prideful things at times and need all of these things to keep myself grounded in God’s word. More than anything, I continue to rely on Grace…

  8. […] Carey Nieuwhof So let me start here. I struggle with pride. Do you? Doesn’t everyone? Pride is at the root […]

  9. ACM on August 27, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    I just stumbled upon this post through a friend’s share on Facebook. It couldn’t have happened at a better time. Although my relationship with God is fairly new, I try to pray for my husband who visibly struggles with keeping his pride in check within our marriage. I think your points are so incredibly valid; especially number 4. Is there a way to communicate these feelings gracefully and respectfully without hurting his feelings? I’d like him to see that he has nothing to prove to me and that his “male pride” often gets in the way of our happiness. Thank you Carey! Great read.

  10. Hugh on August 27, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    Great insight – “When the people who know you the most love and respect you the most, you’ve got the balance right”.

  11. Bill on August 27, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Yikes. This so called, ‘Mark Driscoll Situation’ sounds pretty ridiculous to me.
    It’s interesting that Mark said that he’s “meeting with a professional team of mature Christians who provide wise counsel to help further my personal development and maturity before God and men.” Is this a professional team of lawyers?

    Then he said that he has “submitted to the process described by church bylaws … for addressing accusations against me. I invite this process, rather than debating accusations and issues in social media or the court of public opinion.” Dude, what about being accountable? Quit hiding behind the insanity of ‘church bylaws’ and be what you ask everyone at your church to be: transparent.

  12. Robert Hartzell on August 27, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Very well put Carey. So many times it’s our heart’s condition more than blatant sin that gets us into trouble. Thanks.

  13. Scott on August 27, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Great insights today Carey. Really thankful that you wrote so graciously about this subject as so many of us struggle with pride. Thanks!

  14. Angie on August 27, 2014 at 11:30 am

    One of the best articles I’ve read on the Mark Driscoll situation so far! Thank you Carey Nieuwhof for sharing this article. As I continue to pray for Mark Driscoll, I will remember to pray for my own heart and my own sin that grieves God.

  15. Jennifer on August 27, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Beautifully and courageously written, thank you for being authentic. God bless!

  16. Timi on August 27, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Great post. I have always sensed that an obsession (might be the wrong phrase for it) for social media ministry might give someone a false image sort of. Sometimes I wonder how many sermons my congregation had listened to before they got to the church that morning. I could be wrong, but I feel this has contributed largely to immaturity in the Body of Christ. I feel Pastor Mark and I will definitely join you in praying for him, mars Hill and his family. Truly we all struggle with one form of pride or the other. We need His mercy. Bless you sir!

  17. Mary DeMuth on August 27, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Beautiful post, so important for me, for anyone really, who deals with a public ministry of any sort. The Scripture is hauntingly clear: pride precedes downfall.

  18. Greg Martin on August 27, 2014 at 9:34 am

    ‘No one prays with clean hands.’ Amen, Carey. Thank you for your transparency and humility. Indeed, we are all in this together; we’re not here to make a name, but to glorify a name. Peace.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 27, 2014 at 9:47 am

      Thanks Greg. We are in this together for Christ for sure. So true!

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