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

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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.)

Like money, social media is a terrible master but a wonderful servant. Click To Tweet

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.

Pride resists accountability. And pride couldn't be more wrong. Click To Tweet

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.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.