Remember Mark Driscoll?
Driscoll is the former Seattle-based Mars Hill Church pastor who was charged by 21 of his former elders back in 2014 with an abusive style of leadership. There were two groups of leaders at Mars Hill Church who were involved in deciding what to do with Driscoll. The group of elders who investigated the charges found that he should be disqualified from ministry. Another group of overseers loyal to Driscoll did not want to communicate to the church that he was disqualified but wanted to keep him from the pulpit for a break. That group had not been a part of the investigation process and had not heard the evidence. In the middle of the several days these two groups were in disagreement, Driscoll resigned from the church without entering any process of restoration.
In short, a jury of his elder peers found him to be disqualified to be a pastor-elder. Instead of being restored by those elders, he left the scene and eventually started a new church — The Trinity Church — in Scottsdale, AZ.
It should come as little surprise that Mark Driscoll’s new church apparently has solved the elder problem which led to his demise at Mars Hill. Just don’t have any.
During the past couple of weeks, several former members of The Trinity Church in Scottsdale have contacted me to talk about about aspects of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. They contacted me due to my coverage of Mars Hill from late 2013 until 2015. They tell stories remarkably similar to those I heard from former Mars Hill members during that span of time. There is one major difference. In the current church, there are no elders who are putting on any brakes. There are no elders to whom appeals can be made. Several former members and staffers have told me that The Trinity Church does not have elders.
Some things do sound the same. Non-disclosure agreements are again being used. Money is again conditioned on silence. People are describing abrupt decisions about membership without due process. Friends and family who are considered disloyal to the church are being shunned. At some point, these stories may be told. For now, according to former members and staff, the pastors who are there in addition to Driscoll are not elders in the decision making sense of the office. If elders hold you accountable in one place, eliminate them in the next place.
Doctrine: Who Needs It?
Over the years, Driscoll has taught often about elders. On The Trinity Church website, Driscoll has his book with Gerry Breshears — Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe — available for download. In that book, he discusses the biblical role of elders in a local church:
“The church is organized under qualified and competent leadership. The senior human leaders are men called elders (pastors).” (p. 309)
“The Bible describes the office of elder-pastor or overseer as the highest office in a local church, a position charged with the responsibility of overseeing the doctrinal soundness and spiritual health of the church. There is no end of confusion over the title pastor. It is often used for leaders of the church who get paid for their ministry, or specifically for the preacher. Negatively, this false understanding separates pastors from elders, the biblical term for senior leaders.” (p. 319)
“The duties of elders revolve around two major areas of responsibility: pastoral care (including equipping Christians for ministry and oversight of the church) and guiding and guarding the teaching of the church (including the preaching of God’s Word when the church assembles). The elders are the senior leadership team in a church and as such they bear primary responsibility for the well-being of the church’s people, resources, and doctrine.” (p. 319)
“It is important to note that the Bible always speaks of elders in the plural. This follows the New Testament pattern that ministry is to be done by teams so that everyone is under authority, including those in authority. While there will almost always be one man on the team of elders who is the leader of the elders, a “first among equals” elder, he does not hold a categorically different office from the other elders.” (p. 320)
There is more, but it should be clear that a local church as envisioned once upon a time by Driscoll and Breshears should have more than one elder. The Trinity Church does have pastors – in fact, the church lists five pastors: Brandon Anderson, Eden Fine, Darien Bennett, Carl Steele, and Landon Chase. However, as noted, nowhere are they referred to as elders. I wrote The Trinity Church asking about this without answer and the church bylaws are not available online. The former members and staff I spoke to said the bylaws are not available to members. Naturally, if the church has an alternative perspective, I will add it to the post.
So what is The Trinity Church? One former member I spoke to said it appears to be more like a family business. And indeed it may be. As I documented in prior years, the religion business can be quite lucrative for some. And if that is what a person wants in their Sunday morning activities, it is a free country. However, others would like to know if what went around before is coming around again.