Some Reflections on The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill

Like so many leaders in the church space, I listened to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast, which just recently wrapped up its (near) final episode.

To say it was hard to listen to is an understatement.

It took me a month or two to even decide whether I would listen to it or not.

For those who may not know, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill is a podcast produced by Christianity Today that chronicles the humble beginnings, explosive growth, and very public dissolution of Mars Hill, a megachurch that once had multiple campuses in Seattle, Washington (one of the most unchurched cities in the U.S.). 

Filled with interviews with former staff and church members, the focal point of the series is the leadership style of lead pastor Mark Driscoll.

Like many people I know, when I started listening, there were times when I shut an episode off, thinking I couldn’t go any further, only to resume it a day or a week later. The story is so painful for the multiple layers of hurt involved and yet crucial for what we can learn moving forward.

Eventually, I finished the series, but the ambivalence never really disappeared.

So, why this post?

Mainly because this is a leadership blog, and the patterns described around Mars Hill are not unique to Mars Hill. They’re not even unique to churches. 

The patterns can happen—and do happen—in varying degrees in many different churches and businesses.

While The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast isn’t a definitive account of what happened in Seattle (for example, despite attempts, former Mars Hill Lead Pastor Mark Driscoll didn’t agree to be interviewed for the show), it provided enough of a picture of the unhealthy happenings in churches and the dysfunctional happenings within leaders to convict me of my own sin (again).

For me, the most disturbing part of listening to the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill is that I saw some of myself in the story.

I recognized some of the same impulses in me.

There’s a shadow side of leadership, pride, and power lurking in most of us. Perhaps in all of us. At least, it definitely lurks in me.

And if you identify the unhealthy patterns in your own life, maybe you can catch it early enough to prevent it from harming others.

So, let me go first to say that everything I’m describing below is things I’ve had to wrestle down in my own heart and my own leadership. I hope and pray for progress and victory for all of us who lead, including the leaders and people who were part of Mars Hill.

Exposing the darkness in ourselves is one of the greatest ways to find more light.

Here are five reflections I’m processing after finishing the podcast.

There's a shadow side of leadership, pride, and power that lurks in most of us. Perhaps in all of us. Click To Tweet

1. The Ends Actually Don’t Justify the Means

I’ve worked in a few places over the years: a law firm, at radio and tv stations, at a church, and for the last few years as an author, speaker, and a podcaster myself, running a small communications company.

You’d think it was easier to lead like the ends justified the means in a law firm or private company.


It was easiest as a pastor.

For exactly the reasons described in the podcast, you end up saying things like:

  • Well, more people are coming to faith than are leaving.
  • I can’t be responsible for the consequences…that’s up to God.
  • If it means more people come to faith, then let’s do it.

The church I led was not even close to the size of Mars Hill, nor did it have the influence of Mars Hill. But in the first decade of ministry, we became one of the fastest growing and one of the largest congregations in our denomination.

In the midst of all of that, some people got hurt. Often I moved fast and broke things. Sometimes I broke people.

Eventually, I realized that the ends don’t justify the means—that often different means produce much better ends.

I also realized that health and growth don’t have to compete with each other. You can have both. And if you can’t have both, choose health.

Listening to the podcast, I realized that what made those first few years of leadership so confusing was that great things were happening, and we were doing all of this ‘for God.’

In my heart of hearts, I believed that whatever we did that resulted in more people coming to Christ was a good thing.

Over time though, I realized that how you do what you do is just as (if not more) important as what you do.

In the church, more people is a good thing. But more love is even better.

As you have probably figured out, more love often leads to more people. But if it doesn’t, you’re still left with more love.

2. The Body Count Matters

I won’t go into the details outlined in the podcast, but one of the recurring themes was the body count at Mars Hill—the people who ‘fell off the bus’ or got pushed off the bus as it moved to new places and new heights.

For a season in my earlier years of ministry, we were growing quickly. But the underbelly of that season of growth was that we were simply growing faster than we were losing people.

It got so bad in some rapid growth years that I have a distinct memory of telling my team not to use pictures older than six months since there were too many people in the photo who had left.

I wince when I think about that now.

I don’t know why everyone who left ended up leaving (high growth and high churn seasons can be like that), and not everyone who left was mad or hurt—many tried it for a while and realized what we were doing wasn’t for them—but I do know that in all the churn, I started to form callouses around my heart.

When people leave or criticize you, it hurts.

The natural thing to do is to grow cynical, to stop listening to the disappointments and the complaints. And for a season, I did just that.

Had I let that go further, it’s likely I was only a few steps away from allowing the churn to be a badge of honor. Ugh.

Fortunately, I burned out after a few years of very rapid growth. I say ‘fortunately’ because, even though my burnout was the deepest pain I’ve ever gone through personally, I realize now that God was re-forming me in the midst of it.

I now think of my burnout as a divine intervention of sorts.

On the other side of burnout, I became much more sensitive to the pain and hurt I was causing, especially unintentionally. Often as leaders, we don’t mean to hurt people or even realize we’re doing it. Or we harden our hearts because we can’t stand the pain of people rejecting us.

I realized (and am still learning) how much of a mistake it is to close your heart to people or act like their leaving doesn’t matter. It does.

And while caring is hard, the ultimate damage of not caring is far greater.

Caring carries risk. So, leaders, please hear me. Your heart will get mangled, and you’ll be tempted to stop caring and trusting people altogether. Don’t.

Leaders, please hear me. Your heart will get mangled and you'll be tempted to stop caring and trusting people altogether. Don't. Click To Tweet

So, you might ask, does opening your heart and caring about people stop people from leaving?

Nope. People still leave. Maybe not as many, but still, people leave. And it still hurts. (Toxic people are a different category, but most people aren’t toxic people. They just see things differently than you do).

People who disagree with you should be treated well and loved regardless of whether they are ‘with you’ or not. It’s not about you or me. It’s just not.

After I burned out and started to recover, we launched Connexus Church.

I look back on some of those launch photos a decade and a half later and smile. To my surprise and delight, most of the people who helped us launch are still with us.

And for those who left…well, if people were valuable to you when they came to your church, treat them as though they are just as valuable when they leave.

If people were valuable to you when they came to your church, treat them as though they are just as valuable when they leave. Click To Tweet

3. Charisma is a Double-Edged Sword

Culturally, we use the term ‘charismatic’ to describe leaders who have a magnetic pull to their personalities.

Leadership tends to attract and reward charismatic people. In the case of preachers, I imagine the concentration of charismatic leaders is even higher than in the marketplace as a whole.

Why? Many preachers are excellent communicators, and the ability to communicate is a significant factor in charisma.

So, what’s the challenge?

The good thing about being a charismatic leader is that people follow you. The bad side of being a charismatic leader is that people follow you.

As a charismatic leader, you have the potential to lead thousands of people to a much better future and the potential to lead thousands of people right off a cliff.

As a charismatic leader, you have the potential to lead thousands of people to a much better future, and the potential to lead thousands of people right off a cliff. Click To Tweet

From the time I was young, people told me I had charisma. Honestly, I didn’t know what that meant at that point, but having led for decades now, I realize charisma is a double-edged sword.

The temptation to use your charisma to consolidate power and use it to your benefit is real. Another temptation is to form an inner circle of fans, sycophants, and enablers who won’t challenge you or pose a threat to your viewpoint.

I got to a point early in my leadership where I was so sensitive to criticism that I felt the impulse to create an inner circle like that.

Fortunately, prayer, counseling, and people who knew me and loved me enough to help me see the truth helped me realize that ultimately that’s a path that leads to death, not life.

This brings us back to the original meaning of ‘charisma’ for all of us who at some point have been called charismatic leaders.

Charisma is a Greek transliteration into English; it means both ‘gift’ or ‘favor’ and carries a sense of having a grace given to you by God.

In other words, to the extent you possess any, your charisma is a gift and a favor from God to be used and stewarded not for your glory but God’s.

Of all the character traits we can cultivate, humility might be the greatest when it comes to stewarding charisma. As I’ve learned, again and again, only humility can get you out of what pride got you into.

If you find yourself surfing off your own giftedness, humble yourself.

This takes quite a bit of intentionality. But I’ve learned you can get to humility through two paths:

  1. Voluntarily
  2. Involuntary

How does involuntary humility happen? Simple: When you’re humiliated by others or a situation.

Humiliation is simply involuntary humility. When you won’t humble yourself, others are happy to do it for you.

I’m trying to take the voluntary path moving forward. I don’t always get it right, but I’m trying.

Humiliation is simply involuntary humility. When you won’t humble yourself, others are happy to do it for you. Click To Tweet

4. Your Character Needs to Grow Faster Than Your Platform

As I listened to story after story during the podcast, I realized that the real issue is character. It was at Mars Hill and it is in all of our lives.

The challenge is that in an age of instant celebrity, your platform can grow faster than your character.

I think that’s one of the reasons so many megachurch pastors fail (here’s a post with some thoughts on why it keeps happening).

As we’ve seen too often in the church (so painfully), all the competency in the world can’t compensate for a lack of character.

Character is the great leveler. You may be smart, but if people don’t trust you, they won’t want to work with you. You may be the best preacher in your city, but if you treat others as less than, people will stop listening.

Lack of character kills careers, shatters families, ruins friendships, and destroys influence. And even if you never get fired or divorced over the compromises you make, your lack of character will limit the intimacy, joy, and depth you experience with God and with people.

Competency gets you in the room. Character keeps you in the room. As a result, it’s character—not competency—that determines your capacity.

Although I hear the argument all the time, I personally don’t believe there is anything inherently bad about a large church or organization.

But there is something inherently difficult in it. And to some extent, the larger something is, the harder it is.

Please know, this doesn’t mean leading a small church or venture is easy. I have led small churches. I get it. Few things in leadership are easy.

But I’ve also led some larger ministries and organizations, and the larger it is, the greater the pressure and the more there’s at stake.

I remember when our church grew past 300; my mind was blown. Now, it’s five times the size.

Or look at this blog or my podcast. Honestly, 100,000 readers or listeners was inconceivable a decade ago. Then millions showed up.

Nothing gets you ready for that.

It’s way too easy for your platform to outgrow your character. And that’s where all the danger lies.

Add to it one more fact: You and I are not naturally made to lead thousands or millions.

It doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means you’ll have to grow your character faster. Much faster.

In an age of instant celebrity, your platform can grow faster than your character. And that's where all the danger lies. Click To Tweet

5. Many Leaders Want to Be Celebrities—And The Internet is the Bullet Train

The podcast focused a lot on pride, narcissism, and the desire for celebrity.

It’s super easy to point the finger at a leader like Mark Driscoll, but that still leaves us with four fingers pointing back at ourselves.

And even if you don’t have a platform of your own, it’s easy to get a platform (a big one) by criticizing and destroying other people.

Before you deny that this applies to you, do a little gut check. Ask yourself, How good would you be with complete obscurity, with an irrelevance so deep nobody notices you or cares? 

Yep…very few of us are good with that. After all, God designed us to be social creatures and to live lives of meaning and purpose.

Interaction and making some kind of a difference are core to a meaningful life.

The challenge becomes, of course, that the internet is the bullet train to celebrity. Just ask any 12-year-old YouTuber.

The internet is the bullet train to celebrity. Just ask any 12-year-old YouTuber. Click To Tweet

There’s more than a little irony that The Rise and Fall of Mars Hills podcast criticized Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill for using the internet and social media to rapidly grow their ministry, while The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast itself was using exactly the same platforms as it became the most listened-to podcast in the Christian space.

And before you or I claim innocence or protest too loudly, well, you’re reading this blog post and perhaps you listen to my podcast or follow me on social and you’ll leave your comments online and…

You see?


It’s easy to criticize people with bigger platforms than yours, and in doing so let yourself off the hook.

A better approach is to dig deep and probe your own motives.

After listening to the podcast, I found myself asking questions like Why do I like the fact that my podcast gets downloaded so much, or how many people read my blog/buy my book/come to my talks?

There’s something ugly under that.

Alternatively, you can be so allergic (and self-righteous) about remaining obscure that your option becomes what…do nothing? Say nothing? Attempt nothing? That’s not faithfulness either.

Once again, humility and character are the keys here.

So what do you do?

Work twice as hard on your character as you do on your platform.

If we all did that, our posts would be more kind, our comments more grateful, our content more purely motivated.

What Are You Seeing Inside Yourself?

I’ve spent the last few decades trying to get healthier in leadership. It’s a hard journey, but, as you know, so worthwhile.

I’d love to know what you’re learning about yourself from The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.

Please do not use this space to slam other people or criticize others.

Abusive comments and comments aimed at tearing down other people will be deleted.

Thanks for playing nice in the comments.

I hope as you and I look inward, there will be many fewer hurt people down the road and a much healthier leadership culture in the church.

What are you seeing in yourself as you process all this?

Some Reflections on The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill


  1. Cav B on January 23, 2022 at 12:33 pm

    One thought, as a church elder for 2 decades alongside several lead pastors: there is a notable distinction between personal character and leadership character. The former is about self-control, sacrifice, and values. The latter is about hard conversations, balancing interests, and making and communicating decisions with a broad group.

    Ironically, the personal strengths can actually squelch the group skill. Especially with teachers, who are better with generalities than specifics, or with shepherds who measure how much people feel loved in the moment. Neither supports to tough, strategic, targeting of where the group should be going and how to get there; rather, it is about celebrating numbers and feelings today, and kicking cans down the road, and celebrating when prophets leave or are muted.

  2. Steve Wilson on January 12, 2022 at 11:00 am

    While not having listened to the podcast, I do have a perspective on MH as I attended from 2009-2012. I was one who came away with some very good Bible teaching and wasn’t left scarred by my time there. Now, 10 years later, I believe there can be one word to describe much of what Mark’s character stemmed from- colonizer.

    • Geneve on January 12, 2022 at 11:56 am

      Interesting comment. Not sure I understand it though. I associate the use of the term “colonizer” (esp in our twitter-verse culture) to someone being a racist, but would invite you to say more, if you are interested in further dialogue. Esp since you were a member during MH peak times. It does seem unfortunate because from what you can parse from the podcast is that this particular pastor seems to have had some initial deep intellectual foundations of biblical teachings and theology – just took it in a very wrong direction at some point. Thank you.

  3. Rev Heather on January 11, 2022 at 4:42 pm

    As a clergy woman who was serving in the Seattle area during Driscoll’s time the saddest part for me was the bait and switch character of their ministry. So many times I heard people who were wounded by Mars Hill say that they came to Mars Hill because they looked “modern and progressive.” Yet when they spent some time in the church they soon discovered how deeply misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ+, racist, and just generally toxic, their theology was.

    As one person said to me, “The insides and outsides of churches don’t match. You see an old-fashioned mainline church and they look like they’re so conservative, but on the inside you are all about God’s love for ALL people and caring for the “least of these” (Mt 28:40). You see a non-denominational church with their modern building and music and you think they will be modern in their views, but on the inside they are living in the dark ages.”

  4. Brent on January 8, 2022 at 10:02 am

    Thanks for your vulnerability in acknowledging how you see yourself in this story. Anyone who has ever been involved in leadership wuthin the institutional church will have seen elements of themselves and/or their experience contained in The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.

    The beauty of God’s grace is that – through Christ, He redeems “filthy rag” efforts and He has redeemed sin. Driscoll’s. Yours. Mine.

    The ugly is, the consequences of the unLoving – are felt a lifetime.

    The beauty of God’s grace is that – it can be sufficient (healing) for the unLoved, if it is allowed to be.

  5. Geneve on January 3, 2022 at 2:33 pm

    Thank you for sharing a link to this podcast and your thoughts to your entire email list. I had never heard of it, but I just finished binge listening to the entire excellent serial Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast.

    It reminds me and should remind us all just how important well researched journalism is in a democracy.

    From that first uncovering of his plagiarism by the Christian broadcast journalist Janet Mefferd to the Warren Throckmorton investigation to the painstaking research and production of the Christianity Today podcast by Mike Cosper to your sharing it here to millions of influential (Christian and otherwise) business leaders, there is a direct line of people with integrity doing the right thing in the face of what must feel like intense pressure to just do nothing and turn a blind eye.

    It takes guts and grit to share this podcast here – and I thank you because I may never have found this incredibly enlightening story otherwise.

    This podcast is a huge relief and release valve. And it feels like the beginning of a positive and new/different voice for Christianity in America.

  6. Doug Reid on December 30, 2021 at 12:10 am

    Love your comments but hate that you used another leader to make your point. Enough harm and pain has come from this. Honestly feels like click bait once again. Bringing it back is insensitive and sad. I wasn’t aware of Mark or Mars Hill until I clicked on your link to the podcast. Sadly you just joined the ranks of so many that have used this story to grow your own brand.

    • Jonathan on December 30, 2021 at 12:43 am

      Mark Driscoll at one point was one of the most Recognizable and influential pastors in the world. The rise and fall of mars hill podcast was not just the number one Christian podcast but at one point the number 4 most listened to podcast in ANY genre.
      This is a person, church and topic that everyone is talking about and actually need some wise commentary on.
      I’m sorry, but You saying that you’re now tainted from hearing about this mess via Carey is like blaming someone for never having heard of… Donald Trump!
      That’s not Carey’s fault.

      The days of ignoring abusive and immoral leaders For the sake of remaining blissfully unaware is thankfully long gone.
      Bring into the light what had festered in the darkness for so long.

      Again, the actual “sad and insensitive” part of the article is Carey not once acknowledging his own culpability in platforming this abuser just before the whole world was reminded of his abuse.
      It’s a form of revisionist history

  7. Cullen on December 29, 2021 at 11:13 am

    Something that neither the podcast nor your article touch on are the ways that bad theology led to all the harm that happened at Mars Hill. Remember, Driscoll wasn’t overbearing and misogynistic without reason – he had deeply held beliefs with “biblical” support for the ways he conducted himself. If we’re honest, conservative churches that operate in ways that value the voices of women are actually functioning in that way in spite of their beliefs, not because of them.

  8. Jeffrey Courter on December 29, 2021 at 10:28 am

    I guess I am the only reader of this post unfamiliar with either Mars Hill or the podcast about Mark Driscoll’s rise and fall. I make my comment, knowing I may represent others like me, in “mainline” denominations who consider ourselves to be Christians, Christ followers, but who have different theological views…

    This was interesting, because I never would have considered the career of Mark Driscoll at all, Carey, unless you had brought him to my attention! The lessons on humility are something I consider almost daily, as to me the most Christian thing we are called to do is love. So my perspective may be different, because even though I am a pastor myself, my effort to convert people is to make them more loving, not necessarily to make their beliefs like mine. (I’m not entirely sure anyone should be considered an authority on what to believe, anyway, including myself, but that’s outside the scope of this…)

    Perhaps that should have been part of the Mark Driscoll story as well: if you feel you have the right answers, you might be wrong, which may lead you to harm others, intentionally or not. Humility includes what we believe. I don’t know if the podcast included that or not, but if it didn’t, perhaps it should have.

    Thanks again for illuminating some of us about something some of us did not know, but perhaps should have.

  9. Celso on December 28, 2021 at 10:04 pm

    “You can have both growth and health. If you can’t, then choose health.”

    Thanks for the reminder and encouragement.

  10. CHA on December 28, 2021 at 2:42 pm


    This may be the most moving and impacting blog I’ve read from you (among hundreds). Thank you for the appropriate introspection and the emphasis on character. You make so many helpful insights here on this sobering topic.

  11. Carey Nieuwhof on December 28, 2021 at 10:12 am

    I’ve read all the comments and really appreciate the tone and tenor of the conversation. Thank you for taking the time to process and leave (in almost every case) thoughtful, introspective and constructive comments that I think help move the conversation and our leadership forward.

    Just wondering what might happen in the general tone of online comments (which, after all, reflect the state of our hearts and the direction of our leadership) felt more like this and less of what we see as a rule online. I can’t help but think we’d all be healthier and better off for it.

    Thank you for the thoughtful comments.

  12. Nic on December 28, 2021 at 8:13 am

    I didn’t think the commentary on the use of the internet to rocket Driscoll was being critical of using the platform necessarily. I thought it was offered as a description of internet age historical events that are imperative to understanding the story as a whole. The bigger issue was a lack of character that was not growing at a pace on par with the scope of reach that Driscoll had. But as journalists, I think Christianity Today has a necessary duty to tell the story as faithfully as possible.

  13. Glenn Garvin on December 27, 2021 at 1:37 pm

    Good summary comments Carey. I too was sick to my stomach for the most embarrassing points that we all kinda represent each other in a world where non-believers think Pastors are all the same.

    I wish CT would explored more of the other half of the problem.

    Many church folks believe they WANT that kind of leader! Look how many times Israel begged God for a king. God told them exactly what they’d get and they still wanted one.

    I believe people want strong, charismatic leaders because they want little to do with the hard part of living the gospel themselves, getting along with each other and producing fruit. Let’s get a Pastor/leader to do all of that for us.

    I’m glad you weighed in on the discussion even if it feels like we all went to the dentist office with you.

    • Kathleen Brooks on January 16, 2022 at 5:45 pm

      What a great point. There is so much value in looking not only at the issues from Driscoll but with the people who stayed there. I speak from experience as I attended a very similar type of church for almost 20 years. Was the pastor abusive? Absolutely. Should he be held accountable? Absolutely, but there were issues in my own heart that kept me there.

  14. Ben Krueger on December 27, 2021 at 10:51 am

    Thank you for writing this post about the Rise and Fall podcast. It took me about one week to listen to the podcast in its entirety. I am a very young leader, only 23. It’s very easy to point the fingers at Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll. Thank you for redirecting and reminding me that the point is to be looking at myself. Who am I becoming as I begin my journey in ministry (I am the Program Director at a small grassroots afterschool program in Grand Rapids, MI)? Thank you for all your work in helping leaders remember to focus on their own character development over their influence.

  15. Jason Chandler on December 27, 2021 at 10:18 am

    I appreciated this post and found it to be a helpful synthesis for leaders in doing some self-reflection. For you to not have reacted in some way to this podcast about Mars Hill would have been strange, especially since you had Driscoll as a guest after all this went down. And there were a few times while listening to the Rise and Fall podcast that I said to myself, ” I can’t believe Carey had this guy as a guest on his show!” I’m still not sure how that decision was made.

    I have suffered some ill treatment and injustice at the hands of a senior pastor. I feel a lot of anger on behalf of those at Mars Hill who suffered because of Driscoll. I ache and long for him to come clean, to repent, to look people in the eye and tell them he is sorry he was such a jerk and that he messed up their lives. That may never happen this side of glory and I pray that this injustice will not eat away at those who suffered from it, but it will be very hard for them.

    I haven’t suffered much injustice in my life, but this small taste of it made me feel a lot of sympathy and respect for minorities in the church of Christ who have suffered much from the dominant culture and from those who claim to love Christ. They have much to teach us about longsuffering and loving our enemies and I hope that I will be mindful not to add to what they have already suffered.

    But thanks again, Carey. I cut and pasted a few of your quotes from this piece into my journal.

  16. Scott on December 26, 2021 at 8:46 pm

    Great article.

  17. Paul on December 26, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    The podcast disturbed me but did not surprise me. It furthered my concern for the mega church model of leadership we see today. I saw the same pattern in growing churches over forty years ago when I began ministry. The drive for recognition, for success changed my reasons for ministry and led to burnout. Thank God, I decided to leave ministry rather than subject my family and congregations to an insincere leadership style that sought attention. Mankind’s character flaws do not change over time. We see the same examples in Old Testament accounts of leaders who changed from godly, humble men to indulgent, materialistic, power-hungry tyrants, no longer leading people but using them to their own advantage and feed growing egos. Satan tried to appeal to that human flaw when he tried to tempt Jesus at the top of a mountain, offering him the splendour of the world if he would bow down and worship him. Whether leading a growing church, a podcast or media ministry, or having a growing presence on the church/world stage, the warning is the same. “The things that happened to those people are examples. They were written down to teach us, … If you think you are strong, you should be careful not to fall. The only temptation that has come to you is that which everyone has. But you can trust God, who will not permit you to be tempted more than you can stand. But when you are tempted, he will also give you a way to escape so that you will be able to stand it.” ‭‭[1 Corinthians‬ ‭10:11-13‬ ‭NCV‬‬]
    Let each of us look carefully in the mirror of the scriptures, before we set ourselves up as examples of the humble heroes who have overcome.

    • Tanya on December 27, 2021 at 9:45 am

      I think you missed the point on two counts.

  18. Cameron on December 26, 2021 at 5:41 pm

    A challenging post today in many ways. I personally am challenged that we refocus on maintaining health above growth. I’m pretty sure I won’t read the Mars Hill podcast as it grieves me to hear falls of God inspired but maybe not humbly led movements. However your podcast was good reflection and encouragement for us all to be humble and focus on health. It not new as a month a go in devotions I’d been reading about the kings of OT and found this inciteful verse 2 Chronicles 26:16 reminds us that ‘after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall’.

    I think pride and want to protect ourselves by surrounding by those who agree can be even in a single ministry of 10 people. It can come in at any stage. Im challenged by thought of who is no longer in our church six months on and have we been caring enough.

    A challenge which I’m not sure how to answer it we love and care for health of people when on church and care when they leave but if we continue to give time and attention then we neglect those who the Lord has recently brought in. How do we balance caring for those in our care and not wiping our hands (so to speak though bit reality) of those who leave

  19. Jim on December 26, 2021 at 5:40 pm

    Great post, and great comments. It has taken God nearly 20 years to change me from a task-oriented people user into a people-oriented task user. I had to be fired from a church, move into a para-church ministry that focuses on people above all, and serve a long time to get a large measure of healing. Now our Lord is allowing me the privilege of leading one of his churches again; I won’t be perfect, as we all know, but I will seek to be intentional about relationships and love people the in an attempt to love like Jesus.

  20. Dillon Smith on December 26, 2021 at 5:05 pm

    Convicting and insightful Carey.

    Great stuff!

    • Sandy Stone on December 28, 2021 at 9:04 am

      Thank you for this post. A lot of good insight for leaders and for living life.

  21. Jonathan on December 26, 2021 at 3:22 pm

    While I’m glad you saw through that podcast areas of reflection and culpability- as did I – it seems you missed a bit of a “lay up” in terms of personal reflection. Maybe I’ll add it for you

    see, the thing about the Mars Hill podcast, was that there wasn’t really new information. It was just synthesized in a clear way. A simple Google search… a few phone calls…would have revealed all of this toxicity about Mark Driscoll years prior to the podcast. Yet the biggest tragedy of this whole affair is that Driscoll is allowed to re-traumatize another congregation, partly because a handful of high profile Christian leaders, like Larry Osborne, Robert Morris and now Carey Nieuhoff
    (Episode 328) normalize what is tantamount to a cult leader.
    To come back now with this humble reflection on arguably the most popular Christian podcast of all time and yet miss your most glaring culpability of assisting in his “comeback” makes me wonder if you’ve actually learned anything.

    • Scott on December 26, 2021 at 5:26 pm

      Jonathan, I went back just now and read the transcript of that Episode 328. It is difficult to see Mark Driscoll tell a story to Carey that does not match with the stories that others are telling. In the end, the choice to contribute his side rests with Driscoll. Until that time, I agree with you that giving him space to extend his platform that does not allow for critique or ask for the broader truth is not serving the greater Kingdom work that is needed for those who have been harmed. Considering that the witness of the Church in one place impacts the witness of the Church in every place, the number of people harmed is not small.

      • Bill Cramsie on December 28, 2021 at 4:14 pm

        I think Jonathan and Scott are pulling this story where it needs to go. Scott’s point, “Considering that the witness of the Church in one place impacts the witness of the Church in every place, the number of people harmed is not small” is a huge point in my mind. Church going Christians are asked to invite often and share the message of Jesus to those who are uninformed or in Jesus’ words “lost.” Yet, the harm done to the corporate church in this story, not by what happened in Seattle, but by what is not happening today from other church people, and in particular leaders, in terms saying “this is wrong and it can’t happen again,” kills an invite before anyone is asked.

        I saw a tweet, asking if people who supported Mark Driscoll before the God informed resign, can recant their support. It is an interesting question, but useless as no one is. I see support now from leaders I respect and I am rocked to my core. I do pray for those who were crushed personally by what happened in Mars Hill but I am aware those who will look at other’s response and say why do I want to be one of them?

        Carey points out people leave and we are never able to explain why because they generally do not say, they just leave. It is even harder to understand why some don’t come at all. Even for me a devoted church attender and follower of Christ I worry that I might be better as “spiritual” but not “religious” when I see the corporate church hold support and assist in the “comeback” (as Jonathan says) of a pastor in rehabilitation who is not apologetic.

        A second point, still looking at the church corporately, or as Paul says it, the Body of Christ, I think Janelle Ficek in her comment has another question raised boldly in the Mars Hill story, that we must address, “why do we as the church still treat women so differently than men?” It seems to me Jesus treated women differently too, He elevated them, He made Mary Magdalene an Apostle sending her to the others to inform them He was alive and he encouraged Mary of Bethany as she anointed Him prior to His death (today a sacrament in the Catholic Church.) Arguably for Jesus woman are Apostles and Priests.

        I too thank you for having the courage to say anything o this story Carey, but the four fingers may be pointing back at all of us, I recall Jesus words; it would be better for us to have a great millstone hung around our necks and to be drowned in the depths of the sea, than to cause one of the little one who believe in Jesus to sin (cf. Matthew 18:6.)

  22. Charles W Areson on December 26, 2021 at 2:57 pm

    Thanks for the summary. I wanted and didn’t want to listen, to the Mars Hill podcast, still not sure I want to. However, your summary gives me the overview, but it was your willingness to point the finger at yourself rather than just accusing others was refreshing.

  23. Steve on December 26, 2021 at 12:18 pm

    This is a well-written post that provides insight and perspective on a complex topic. What I like most is that it is written with humility. There is a temptation to inject our opinions with charisma, personality, popularity, ego, intellect, etc. in order to sensationalize. This may be the case for our posts, sermons, or other content—especially when our ideas are poorly formed. We may also over-compensate in the direction of hype to make sure we are seen and heard. After all, that’s what often builds platforms. But, when we approach a topic like this with humility, we tend to experience the truth however it lands. It may or may not convict us, humble us. To write with humility is not easy. We want to help others. We also want to be seen as smart and knowledgeable: as an expert. I’m struggling with that even now…drifting in and out of humility as I try to write a thoughtful reply that compliments the author. To make a point, but not to lose it while making it.

  24. Ed Boschamn on December 26, 2021 at 12:04 pm

    Poignant and challenging and helpful. Sincere thanks. Your transparency is a powerful model…please stay with it. The church needs it.

  25. Oni O. Samuel on December 26, 2021 at 11:38 am

    Thanks greatly for sharing this reflection.

  26. John J Frady on December 26, 2021 at 11:00 am

    Thanks for sharing this. Your thoughts were my thoughts exactly. Thanks for your vulnerability.

  27. Jim Turpin on December 26, 2021 at 11:00 am

    I love where you said
    In the church, more people is a good thing. But more love is even better.

    As you have probably figured out, more love often leads to more people. But if it doesn’t, you’re still left with more love.

    If we can get ahold of this it solves many problems.

    After All,
    God is Love. 1 John 4:16
    So if we Love more we have more of God working through us.

  28. Janelle Ficek on December 26, 2021 at 10:50 am

    Thank you for writing this! It read very genuine and humble.

    The Mars Hill podcast was so painful to listen to. The only thing I’d add to your article is why do we as the church still treat women so differently than men? It’s usually a bit quieter and more passive than the Mars Hill approach, but the message is often still loud and clear. I think this is an area that the church lags behind culture and why some would never want to be part of a church. The pain that women have endured inside the church breaks the heart of the God I know, and, I’m sure, thrills the devil. I am committed to raising my kids in a local church but it breaks my heart that they aren’t seeing it done much differently than what I grew up in. God, help me know how to change what I can.

    Thank you for all you do. It means a lot!


  29. Bill Moersch on December 26, 2021 at 10:48 am

    As always, spot on. I was on a church staff for 6 years and was deeply hurt. My instinct to survive and not quit helped me define it all as “fortunate” as well, learn what not to do and be me loving and effective in ministry.

    As I close this year I thank you for your insights, sanity and wisdom. You play a big part in my life, those I lead and our community at large. Thank you for that! It’s working and I pray you know in your heart the absolute success you are. Much love and respect.

  30. Rob Charach on December 26, 2021 at 9:45 am

    Proverbs 4:23 in the NIV Bible Version. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

    Leadership is challenging snd difficult. Your comments on character are foundational for every leader to consider A wise leader told me “deal with your stuff with God privately or someday it will be addressed publicly “. This is what we are seeing every week for the last several years. This is far from over and root causes need open discussion.

    Discussion on accountability structures in our churches and failure of biblical oversight would be an important part of such discussion . Mars Hills was a leadership failure with an overall flawed system.

    Pride , power and politics dominate too many of our churches .

    Keep speaking hard truth.

  31. P. Knight on December 26, 2021 at 9:36 am

    I listened. I must listen again. I am often surprised when I hear of leaders and pastors that I respect failing. But why does it surprise me? It shouldn’t. Because I know me, sort of, and I am not that different. I find myself continually astounded at God’s grace. I am so thankful.

    “Father, please help all of us who lead to continually be learners. Do your immeasurably more “within us” for the sake of your church.”

  32. John Ryerson on December 26, 2021 at 9:31 am

    Insightful as you often are . It was hard not to layer American politics onto this column. Eg character. The disconnect is significant.

  33. George Reynolds on December 26, 2021 at 9:08 am

    Carey, your comment about seeing yourself in the podcast was the first impression I had upon listening. The podcast has lessons for all of us.

  34. Rich on December 26, 2021 at 9:00 am

    To me, the megachurch pattern, where it gets so large that there is need to be multivenue, is a recipe for disaster. It might be doable, but it is very easy for a pastor to build a personal empire. This empire will require them to speak week after week nonstop, and never get a break. They will live off the high of adoring fans that will burn them out. It can also make them very lucrative. The megachurch puts a single HQ at the center, and funnels everything through it. It does not develop others who can be spun off, but has a single preacher at the center.

    When I ran into one, I assumed they would rotate their speakers, and be more of a network. But such is not the case at all. It is a dangerous mix, which is why Denominations do not run this way. Even the Catholic Church, which has the Pope in a critical role, is not this way.

    The megachurch structure ends up being like a Tower of Babel to me.

  35. Paul on December 26, 2021 at 8:54 am

    Hi Carey,

    These are great reflections. The reception to the Mars Hill podcast was a mixed bag in my circles. Some thought it amounted to yet another criticism of the church by the church…some unnecessary and undesired attention yet again. But like your points make clear, when there is corruption, we need to acknowledge it and learn from it, especially when it would be all too easy for the same things to happen again, without wisdom and watchfulness.

    One thing you should probably be aware of if you’re not already…regarding the phrase body count. Among Gen Z, this phrase has almost exclusively become about the amount of people you’ve had sexual encounters with. I think the context here makes it obvious that that’s not what’s being talked about. But it’s a good thing to know, nonetheless.

    Thanks for your diligent service to the church!

  36. Andy on December 26, 2021 at 8:54 am

    Does the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast leaves any room or make any comment about pastor Mark’s restoration or personal/ministry healing? Does it document where is he is personally or in his ministry?

    • Aaron on December 26, 2021 at 11:29 am

      Yes it does. Mark was not restored by the elders that asked him to take a leave of absence. He has never repented individually to the people who have felt the direct brunt of what he was accused of. The podcast does highlight (on the last episode) an example of a repentance journey of one of MH’s Exec pastors who mistreated many people. Without accusations, this story is a poignant observation about what could happen if Mark was actually willing to humble himself enough to apologize to individuals and submit himself to authority. I don’t know Mark, and I’m sure the podcast has flaws, but the editor tried his best to be faithful to people’s stories.

  37. Randy LeBaron on December 26, 2021 at 8:53 am

    I have gotten so much from your posts and podcasts over this past year but this is probably one of the best that you have shared. I appreciate that you share your vulnerabilities with us because it helps us to see ourselves in each situation.

    I pray that God will continue to use you and your platform to help other pastors and leaders grow in the New Year. Blessings!

  38. Chris on December 26, 2021 at 8:51 am

    Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing your private reflections Carey.

  39. Mark Domm on December 26, 2021 at 8:49 am

    Thanks for speaking to this Carey. I truly appreciate your willingness to use the piece to look inside yourself and help us to do the same. I love your reminder about the value of people who leave being the same as when they came. Great insight.

  40. Micah Joy on December 26, 2021 at 8:32 am

    Thank you for taking the mature low road and being willing to shine the light on real struggles in your life, while still acknowledging the poor choices of others. This was such a well-rounded post. It is brings peace to know that others are speaking up about difficult things without sweeping them under the rug. Thank you!

    • Chuck on December 26, 2021 at 8:57 am

      That took guts and humility. My wife and I both listened to the Rise and Fall podcast. Very sobering on many fronts. And I was hoping you’d give it some attention as it’s got some great take aways whether you’ve been in that kind of hot mess or not. The biggest for me was a reminder of the necessity of biblical accountability done right. Done right. I’ll say it again. Done right. Keep up the great work!

  41. Skip Smith on December 26, 2021 at 8:32 am


    Your transparency is awe inspiring. Thank you …. it feels to me like your sacrifice(s) is for the benefit of us all. Truly beautiful. Many years ago, I experienced a similar self destruction as Mark Driscoll …. and like Mark …. through years of healing and rooting, I am experiencing a resurgence in ministry and leadership. Mr. Driscoll (I do not know him – but following from afar) appears be a different man-father-husband-pastor-leader then during the Mars Hill debacle. Grace and true repentance/forgiveness will do that. I have learned from his struggles – more from my own – and found God to be faithful and good. Grace freely received should manifested as Grace freely given.

    Grace and Peace,


  42. Kamala on December 26, 2021 at 8:31 am

    I listened to the podcast. I love your reflections and how you made it personal. Thanks for the unbiased review!

  43. Elizabeth on December 26, 2021 at 8:25 am

    Just got a big new platform. Thanks for the reminder about character and humility.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 26, 2021 at 8:31 am

      That’s great to hear Elizabeth. And yes, I’m with you on that. 🙂

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