Domineering, But Not Disqualified from Ministry?

This is not a post about what kind of a guy I think Mark Driscoll is. There are already far too many of those.

This post is about church leadership. And power. And disqualification.

I starting thinking about these issues as I read this statement released by the Mars Hill Board of Overseers that addresses Mark Driscoll’s recent resignation.

What stood out to me from the statement were the following two points:

  1. We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner. While we believe Mark needs to continue to address these areas in his life, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry.
  2. Pastor Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.

Two things made me uneasy. First, it strikes me as odd that the board says Mark has never been charged with “immorality” even though he has displayed arrogance, a quick temper, and domineering leadership. Those characteristics strike me as ones that—at least within a Christian worldview—are clearly immoral. Then again, perhaps their use of the term “immorality” is meant to refer specifically to sexual immorality (maybe such usage is common in some circles). Even so, I wonder why they single out “immorality, illegality or heresy” as three (apparently important) categories of improper behavior to explicitly address. It makes me wonder if the board views those three types of behavior as the primarily ones that would result in disqualification for a minister?

Which leads me to the second thing that made me uncomfortable. In this statement, the board deems a man who has (at times) been quick-tempered and domineering in his leadership to be qualified for a position of pastoral authority. This idea concerns me. Now, I’m sure the board has given a lot of thought to this situation and has reasons why they believe this conclusion is appropriate. There are few details contained in this statement, so I can’t discern what the board has concluded regarding how recently and frequently Mark has been guilty of these offences. And the board doesn’t tell me what they believe would suffice to disqualify a man or woman from pastoral leadership.

In my mind, one of the first reasons you would remove someone from a position of authority is if that person sometimes uses their authority in an destructive fashion—in a manner that disregards and undermines those around them. This is a congregational offense. If you leave domineering people in positions of power, you keep enabling them.

Now, that doesn’t mean that someone who has acted in a domineering fashion can never be put in a position of authority again. But if someone has exhibited a repeated pattern of improper leadership, they almost certainly need to step out of their authority role until they get to a healthier place. They’re not qualified for leadership until that problem is addressed.

In discussing how church leaders are to be chosen, Titus 1:7 (ESV) says that

He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain

Again, it’s hard for me to know exactly what the board concluded regarding Mark’s behavior. But it’s troubling to me that two of the words used in Titus to describe who should not be a leader (arrogant, quick-tempered) show up in the board’s description of how Mark has transgressed. The most favorable explanation I can come up with is that perhaps the board doesn’t believe that arrogance and quick-temperedness are traits consistently exhibited by Mark, even though Mark has sometimes displayed them.

Stepping back a bit, I’ve heard too many stories of domineering Christian leaders. I hope more Christians will recognize the need to seriously confront instances of inappropriate exercise of authority within the church. When we stand by and allow leaders to use their power in ways that silence others or promote their own gain, we enable them to continue their destructive practices. We allow them to leave behind a hidden trail of bruised and broken victims of their recklessness. Nothing excuses this. It doesn’t matter how inspiring their vision is, how great their teaching is, how many people they attract.

And it shouldn’t take a sex scandal for us to put a stop to it. It’s all too easy to focus on only the more easily measurable commands: don’t commit adultery, don’t be a drunkard, don’t be violent. But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that these are the only things that disqualify a church leader. Or else we may be surprised by the trail of destruction we eventually find.