Driscoll to take 'extended focus break' from Mars Hill Church

Driscoll to take 'extended focus break' from Mars Hill Church
BELLEVUE, Wash. - Senior pastor Mark Driscoll is taking an "extended focus break" of six weeks' duration from his Seattle-based mega-church while charges against him are investigated by a process prescribed by church bylaws, Driscoll told the 8:30 a.m. Sunday service at Mars Hill Bellevue.

The controversial evangelical said he is meeting with "a professional team of sincere Christians" in evaluating his conduct. But Driscoll said he will not take to public media to answer "the criticism of me" and keep his expressions directed at the Mars Hill flock.

"I have confessed many of my sins, shortcomings and God has been forgiving," Driscoll said, his voice breaking at times.

He went on the quote Romans12, in which St. Paul instructs: If it be possible, much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." Said Driscoll: "I am genuinely and deeply sorry for those occasions when I have not lived peaceably with all men."

Driscoll seemed intent on shoring up the home base, what has become in 18 years one of the nation's fastest growing evangelical churches with 15 campuses in 5 states. "I love you and I really appreciate you," he told the flock of about 500. They gave him a standing ovation.

Driscoll has recently been dropped from the program of four upcoming "Act Like Men" gatherings of evangelicals. He will not be giving the closing address at the annual Gateway Church Conference in Dallas-Fort Worth. And his publisher has indefinitely put off publication of his next book.

"I will not be doing any outside speaking for the foreseeable future," he told worshipers. Driscoll said he is "postponing"publication of his next book.

The six-week leave would seen less than the "extended" withdrawal from ministry recommended by directors of Acts29, a nationwide evangelical "church planting" organization that dropped Driscoll and Marsh Hill from membership earlier this month.

Driscoll, 43, seemed to expand on previous mea culpas he has issued, when charged with anger or berating subordinates, when he hired a consultant to artificially pump book sales - to get on the New York Times bestseller list - and when he used a pseudonym on a church chat page to rant about how America is becoming a "Pussified Nation."

"I was new in the faith when I started this church," he said. Of the Pussified Nation remark, he added: "What I did was wrong. How I did it was wrong."

The bottom line. Driscoll says he has changed, or as he put it in March, his "angry young prophet days are over." He wants to ask Jesus - the real "senior pastor" at Mars Hill - for forgiveness and, in Driscoll's words, "own it, confess it and move on."

"I thank God I am not the man I was then," he said, elaborating on the use of the pseudonym to put down liberal Christians on the chat page.

Driscoll moved away from the pulpit as he read the statement. He had earlier, however, preached a sermon on the Gospel of St. John in which he used allegory to seemingly liken youthful headstrong conduct by the apostle Jesus loved to his own.

Among the 12 Apostles, noted Driscoll, Judas betrayed Jesus. Peter renounced Jesus. Thomas doubted Jesus. "The 12 that he directly educated did not all prove to be faithful friends," said Driscoll. But John stayed loyal, and was at the base of the Cross.

Twenty-one former pastors at Mars Hill filed charges against Driscoll earlier this month, charging him with abusive behavior and threats and retaliation when faced with disagreement. They specified that some of the objectional behavior was recent.

The apostles James and John were "bigger than life', "overbearing" and "sometimes a little scary," said Driscoll, noting times when Jesus had to curb their headstrong ways.

As John grew older, however, "His main tone, his disposition is more like a loving father . . . The 'Son of Thunder' turns into a loving father."

In his March mea culpa letter to the Mars Hill flock, Driscoll specifically said "my angry young prophet days are over to be replaced by a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father."

On Sunday, Driscoll sounded the same theme preaching about John, followed by an allusion to his own life:

"He (John) would say, 'My dear child, love one another.' God, I get that, He is growing that in me. It was the love of God that turned John into a loving man like Jesus. Jesus' love transformed John from a 'Son of Thunder' into a loving father."

Driscoll began his later statement with a long drawing of breath, and the word: "Whoa."

The senior pastor is, however, submitting himself to a structure that he himself created and has tightly controlled. It includes three executive elders including Driscoll. A Board of Advisors and Accountability threw out previous charges against Driscoll lodged by a former pastor at Mars Hill. Two outside members of the Board have recently resigned.

"The current climate is not healthy for me, and this church, and is not healthy for any church," he said.

But, Driscoll argued, the Lord has "brought me a long ways," made him "deeply sorry" for times when he has been angry and insensitive, and ready to look ahead. "I hope the longer God leaves me on this earth, the more I will love God and his church."