Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Research Guide – Part 1 – Research Guide to Mark Driscoll’s Personal Issues

NOTE: Much of the research material on laws, organizational systems, non-profits, etc., from throughout this case study has had an updated version posted at Futuristguy’s Systemic Abuse Researcher Notes. For details of what that site covers, see the Table of Contents page there. It gives an overview of the main topics and pages, plus a complete list of pages and sections. The text in this case study has been left unchanged here.


I have compiled this information of select resources to provide what I think will be a helpful guide to those who want to research and decide for themselves about the serious set of issues involving Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, and other present and former leaders there. I have been tracking many aspects of this situation since at least 2008, some even earlier. This represents my best attempts to synthesize what I have learned and present it in an organized way that can help introduce the concerns to others. My tentative plan is to post four sections, with the first one in this article and the others probably in the near future.

Part 1. Research Guide to Mark Driscoll’s Personal Issues

Part 2. Mars Hill Church Organizational/Institutional Issues

  • Part 2A. Five types of organizational forms found in “Mars Hill.” Official source links and summary profiles.
  • Part 2B. General background on top legal problems for non-profits.
  • Part 2C. Five potential legal/ethical problems: inurement; misappropriation of funds solicited with a specified designation; spoliation of evidence; constitution, bylaws, and board structure; and conflicts of interest.

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Research Guide – Part 2D – Putting It All Together

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Research Guide – Part 2E – Research Guide Table of Contents

Synthesizing the “Mars Hill Research Guide” and “Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse” Series – Introducing the Capstone Articles and Case Study

Capstone Article 1 – A Critique of the Three Official Options for Dissolution of Mars Hill Church

Capstone Article 2 – Some Words for Discernment for Those from Mars Hill

Capstone Article 3 – Answering the Original FAQ List About Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill

Also, please note that all comments on this blog are moderated, and that I will block uncivil and off-topic comments. For more details, read my Comment Policies.



Formal Charges and Asking Key Questions

List of Official Charges

Statement of Formal Charges and Issues – Mark Driscoll. Note: Though the document states it is meant to be confidential, online sources at Warren Throckmorton’s blog noted that there was apparently no actions taken and no response until the Official Charges were posted/leaked/leaked on purpose. This 11-page summary document focuses primarily on Mark Driscoll’s personal issues. In some cases, these overlap with issues of Mars Hill organizational strategies and structures.

The Statement of Formal Charges and Issues submitted recently by 21 former Mars Hill elders states:

In the biblical passages cited below, we acknowledge that a single instance might not be a disqualifier from eldership; but an established pattern of such behavior supported and substantiated by eyewitnesses would be. We believe that Pastor Mark has a long-standing pattern of violating these eldership qualifications and has done so with dozens of individuals, including some of us. (Page 2.)

It then goes on to detail six biblical mandates for elders that they believe Mark fails to meet:

  1. Self-controlled and disciplined.
  2. Not domineering.
  3. Not violent, but gentle.
  4. Respectable.
  5. Not arrogant.
  6. Not quick-tempered.

That is followed by 25 concrete points of supportive evidence ranging in date from 2010-2014. These break down those six categories with specific details about his interactions with these former elders and other staff using words that allege he engaged in:

  • bullying,
  • insults,
  • slander,
  • shaming,
  • sexual harassment,
  • threats of termination,
  • organizational control,
  • arrogance,
  • domineering,
  • threats of violence,
  • coercion to ignore organizational conflicts of interest (that would involve inurement – Mark Driscoll personally profiting financially from expenditures of a tax-exempt non-profit),
  • gossiping, and
  • telling conflicting accounts about the ResultSource agreement for the Real Marriage book.

If you read other lists of charges/evidence against Mark Driscoll and about his inappropriate, leadership-disqualifying behaviors, you find very similar topics addressed. Similar incidents and charges go back to as early as the late 1990s and carry forward to the present day.

Questions to Answer

What are biblical qualifications for elders and others in public roles of leadership ministry? (See at least 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5 for lists of character qualities and patterns of behavior.)

Read the Formal Charges document. Now, at least assume for the moment that the allegations of these 21 elders (and the 20+ others who have volunteered to serve as additional witnesses) are (1) accurate, (2) illustrative of how Mark Driscoll has treated others, and (3) representative of ongoing patterns that have been present in his leadership for at least 15 years.

  • Based on demonstrated character and patterns of behavior, is Mark Driscoll qualified, unqualified, or disqualified from eldership at Mars Hill Church?
  • Similarly, is Mark Driscoll qualified, unqualified, or disqualified by character and patterns of behavior for a role of national/international prominence?
  • If so, what is the overall response that congregations should take?
  • If not, what is the overall response that congregations should take?
  • How can you tell the difference between a mere point of apology, and a genuine process of repentance?
  • Does forgiving a sinner who happens to be a leader guarantee them being restored to their leadership role? Why or why not?
  • Given Mark Driscoll’s highly documented and verified pattern of angry outbursts, threats, and control, what actions from here and forward would disqualify him from public service, according to scriptural qualifications of elders?

Resources for Tracking Mark Driscoll’s Character Issues

I have narrowed the reading list to those posts that are the most relevant and clear, with only a few for each topic. I have given preference to sites that feature “primary sources” (first-hand personal accounts that verify allegations and/or provide other documentation).

Summaries of key personal and/or organizational issues

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church removed from Network, asked to step down and seek help. The most comprehensive overview of key issues I’ve found to date, given in bullet-point list format.

Inside Mars Hill’s massive meltdown. Probably the most comprehensive overview of key issues I’ve found to date, presented in narrative format.

Mars Hill Church Reddit. Ongoing list of links to online articles about Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll.

Timelines and documents for issues going back to early 2000s

Joyful Exiles Timeline. Key source for people and events surrounding the change in Mars Hill Church by-laws which resulted in basically autocractic control of the non-profit by Mark Driscoll and his hand-picked two internal Executive Elders and four external members of the Board of Advisors and Accountability

Some key first-person accounts – 1990s and early to mid-2000s

Ron Wheeler: I Am Not Anonymous. A recent open letter from Ron Wheeler, a former protégé of Mark Driscoll.

Timeline for Young Leaders Network and Terra Nova Project. This timeline lays out the beginnings of the “emerging” church/ministry movement in the mid-1990s through the early 2000s, and gives a framework for understanding where Mark Driscoll fit in with that unfolding movement and how it settled out into multiple “streams,” including “New Calvinism” that he came to represent. It also helps interpret some of the historical narrative offered by Ron Wheeler, a former protégé of Mark Driscoll who suffered spiritually abusive behavior from him.

We Love Mars Hill: Karen Schaeffer – A Letter to Mark Driscoll. From Karen Schaeffer, who served as Mark Driscoll’s Executive Assistant from 2002-2003. She opens with the following statement:

There has been much “spin” out of MH [Mars Hill] about Mark’s ungodly behavior being a thing of the past. That has now been refuted by the document written by the 21 Elders and many stories that illustrate more recent cases of abuse and misuse of authority, including some posted at this site. The point I want to emphasize, however, is this: The “root” of Mark’s behavior has never been eradicated and it has been evident from the beginning of the rise of MH, when I was Mark’s assistant.

Resource sites with many first-person accounts and analysis

Surf these sites for what they share about personal stories of enduring spiritually abusive behaviors from Mark Driscoll and/or at Mars Hill Church.

Joyful Exiles

Mars Hill Refuge

Musings From Under the Bus

Practical Theology for Women

Repentant Pastor

We Love Mars Hill

Announcement of August 24, 2014; background information; and interpretations

An Update from Pastor Mark. The official Mars Hill Church site, with video and transcript of Mark Driscoll’s announcement of a minimum six week leave while the Formal Charges are being investigated.

Announcement: Mark Driscoll Will Take At Least Six Weeks Off. Some background plus video, audio, and link to transcript of Mark Driscoll’s announcement.

Translating Mark Driscoll. [UPDATE: Be sure to see Jason’s comment and my response to better understand why I’ve included this particular link.] An insightful blog post by a woman who recently began working with perpetrators of domestic violence. She “translates” from parallel kinds of apology strategies from her clients to interpret the transcript of Mark Driscoll’s statement to Mars Hill of August 24, 2014, in which he states he will be taking at least six weeks off while the formal charges against him are investigated. This is included in part because the author is skilled in discerning tactics of manipulation by those who abuse power and authority. Also, it appears her analysis and interpretation piece is being linked to and shared widely within both the Mars Hill Church survivor community, and spiritual abuse survivor communities in general. That, plus the survivors’ comments about her article, provide some important pieces of evidence about intellectual, relational, and emotional responses to abuse.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

NEXT POST: Part 2 – Research Guide to Mars Hill Church Organizational/Institutional Issues. This article will cover some of the organizational strategies and structures of Mars Hill Church (the tax-exempt non-profit entity) and some of how it relates to other organizations (LLCs, CRUT, etc.). It will also cover potential internal and legal issues of the organization that are central to whether Mark Driscoll is qualified or disqualified from leadership. It will use a similar “research guide” format that organizes key links and poses the main questions that need to be answered.


09/06/2014 – Additional website links added.


6 thoughts on “Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Research Guide – Part 1 – Research Guide to Mark Driscoll’s Personal Issues

  1. Brad, this is a valuable contribution. Counsel within MH would be wise to use this as a resource to a broader perspective than they have been willing to consider thus far.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Linda. From conversations and messages I’ve gotten over the past year, I know this situation has been agonizing for many people at many different levels. But my heart’s been especially inclined to help those who are wrestling with the core questions, the confusion, the ambivalence. And I’ve been there myself — a complex church-split situation in my early 20s. I hadn’t been a born-again Christian for all that long, but still had to figure out what had gone wrong to create such a mess of a situation, and how I was going to respond. So, maybe that’s why and where I can make a difference for others who’re going through something like that. Hopefully the systems approach I take in this series, plus selecting articles that get to main concerns, will give practical frameworks to sift through mountains of material about Mars Hill. Plus I pray we all exercise a lot of wisdom, and a lot of perseverance *with* the saints, in figuring out and doing the right things to please the Lord, even if we don’t know right now exactly what that is …

  2. Hey Brad,

    First, thanks for the resource! I’ve been reading through the articles, and found them helpful. I’m a bit disturbed by Natalie’s “Translating Mark Driscoll.” Maybe it’s because I don’t know who she is, or her background? I looked on her site, and I wouldn’t even know her first name if a responder hadn’t called her by it. My initial reaction to her translation was to I can see where she’s coming from. But somewhere deep in me I felt the nagging question rising up, “Isn’t taking what someone said and then translating their ‘intentions’ what the Bible would call ‘Judging?'” I’ve been to Mars Hill, been through their Church Planter Assessment, and have my own thoughts about what they do and how they do it, as well as what Driscoll does and why he does it. But to share those thoughts in an authoritative manner is conjecture and, well, impossible. Only God knows the intentions. It may well be Natalie’s purpose to do good. I can’t tell. But if you read the comments below the article and the way they move towards spousal and familial abuse. Near the end of the comment thread, some people actually pick up on this and ask the question about reading intentions into what is said.

    So, the reason I comment at all is to say, all the resources you cited really put things out there in an informative and seemingly “here’s the facts” kinda way, except this one piece. I didn’t feel like it kept to your main purpose, “I have compiled this information of select resources to provide what I think will be a helpful guide to those who want to research and decide for themselves about the serious set of issues…” The “Translating Mark Driscoll” piece didn’t seem to be in keeping with that.

    Again, thanks for your pain-staking research and for providing a forum where people can find good info on a topic that many are watching.


    • Hi Jason, and thanks for your very thoughtful response. I appreciate your feedback and push-back, and I think this will be helpful for others. It points up some very different and conflicting ways that whole groups of people are seeing the situation at Mars Hill and with Mark Driscoll.

      And yes, the “Translating Mark Driscoll” piece doesn’t fit with the overall emphasis on primary/first-hand fact sources. It’s a jump into a secondary/analysis and interpretation source. I did frame it as an interpretive piece and that it was being shared a lot in the spiritual abuse survivor communities, which means there’s something there that resonates. And that in itself is crucial information – as is your gut reaction questioning whether this was just judging by reading intentions into Mark Driscoll’s words.

      My brain was processing things so fast that I really didn’t get output onto e-paper at the time. I’ll try to do some of that now from thoughts at the time of why I included it, merged with some thoughts of this morning. It’s probably going to be quite a “thought chunk,” but hopefully worth it … This is what my friend Dr. Kathy Koch talks about as “externalizing” – writing or speaking out about our thought process so others can understand how and why we concluded what we did, and maybe routes we thought about but didn’t pursue. [Sidenote: For those who hate the long and just want the short of it, you can skip down to the section that starts KEY IDEAS and go from there to the end.]

      I didn’t discover Natalie’s piece on my own. I saw an ex-Mars Hill person link to it. They were really excited about it because, in their view, she totally got it in “reading” what was going on underneath the announcement.

      So I went to take a look, and immediately saw the same thing in it that they had. But that was because of my own background. I’ve been research writing on spiritual abuse extensively since 2008. I’ve seen how, eventually, a lot of us who write on this topic seem to connect the dots about common underlying issues of power and control that show up in a lot of forms of abuse – spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, moral perfectionism theologies.

      For me, many of those dots were pre-connected, so Natalie’s approach as interpreting the mind of a manipulator/abuse perpetrator made sense. It’s her job. She has to apply those skills on an everyday basis. Me? I started learning about domestic violence in the mid-1970s when my sister started working with survivors. This topic was very hidden back then, even more so in theologically conservative and evangelical churches. She was really a pioneer, and her advocacy for battered women added child abuse prevention, as she realized that many of the women who ended up with abusive men were survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

      I helped my sister in what ways I could, editing materials, talking through ministry ideas, meeting some of the women she worked with. I gleaned a lot from them about the twisted dynamics in relationships of control. Late 1980s onward for a decade or so, that knowledge base got expanded while working with recovery ministries for Christian men dealing with gender and sexuality issues. It included a few guys struggling with pedophilia (sexual attraction to children) and ephebophilia (attraction to adolescents). Then, on a parallel track of my experiences in dealing with spiritual abuse from “malignant ministers and ministries,” I got multiple doses of manipulation first-hand.

      So, when I started reading Natalie’s piece, it immediately struck me as an important perspective. I didn’t have to review my whole history of studies on interpreting how a manipulative person can twist a veneer of words to seduce others; the framework was just there … rightly or wrongly — or could it perhaps be something in between?

      KEY IDEAS. And that’s one of the main issues we’re wrestling with here, isn’t it? Are we/they “evaluating and discerning,” or are we/they “projecting and judging”? What framework(s) do we bring to the table automatically? How are they affecting our perception? Do we have gaps that need to be filled in, or excesses that need to be filed off? Does someone else’s perspective have something I’m missing? So, the real question becomes, Is my framework for seeing things from God’s perspective large enough to be relatively accurate? Being a disciple is partly about letting the Lord stretch our perspectives.

      We are all bundles of perspectives and assumptions and opinions based on our background. And I trust we’re all trying to move toward Christlikeness – but from different “personal GPS” coordinates as our starting points. Our goal is the same, but the pathway getting there is different, based on where we’re starting from.

      If we look at Mr. Driscoll’s statement through eyes of total skepticism, and a framework of knowing about power differences in manipulative relationships, it “reads” entirely different from looking at it in a way that takes it entirely at face value. Natalie (who’s only been posting for two months, I noticed from her blog archives) read it from an extensive framework of relating with known manipulators. It’s an important snapshot to consider.

      [And Jason – if you’ve found posts that share the opposite viewpoint well, please let me know and I’ll see about posting at least one so there’s a balance. That would add a “here’s a fact” picture of how some people interpret the situation, which is important “secondary source” information for helping us bridge people who view things differently. Which is, in the Body of Christ, maybe one of our main tasks?]

      All of this is why some of the answer to the discernment-versus-judgmental dilemma is found in shifting to patterns of demonstrated behavior. Instead of looking at just one “snapshot” like Mark Driscoll’s announcement, it’s looking at the “video” of his ongoing actions – both when he’s knowingly “on camera” and also “behind the scenes” when it’s easier to forget that it’s being recorded.

      In fact, I think that’s exactly what is freaking out some of my friends. They’ve listened to Mars Hill podcasts and been helped by the teaching. But the apparent picture of abuse that emerges from behind closed doors of Mark Driscoll’s interactions with elders and staff seems unbelievably different from the edgy yet constructive teaching that tends to come across to them. It’s soul-jarring. How do you put those two things together?

      So, that’s the reason for suggesting (1) think through key New Testament passages on elder qualification, (2) look for points and patterns in Mark Driscoll’s behavior, and (3) compare the two and decide what to do.

      We may not agree on the interpretations of motives, but the words and deeds themselves can make a good checklist of eligibility indicators. So … demonstrated behavior patterns, compared with what we understand to be the standards for someone in a position as a leader and role model, and figure out what that means for the future.

      You mentioned the Church Planter Assessment you went through, Jason, and I’m assuming it’s based on the assessment system Dr. Charles Ridley developed, where it’s all about practice – not theory. (I used to do some Level 2 Assessor work, specializing in analysis of communication skills. Story for another day.) You don’t find a candidate with probable success in church planting by asking, “So, what’s your theology of leadership?” but by asking, “Tell me about some times when you were in a position of leadership and people were following you. How did that work out? What problems did you encounter? How’d you work those out?” The Lord will sort out the motives; we can assess the activities and impact.

      Okay, I’ve run out of coffee. My signal to stop this and shift into vocational writing for most of the rest of the day.

      Jason, again, thanks for your insightful comment. Hope this has been helpful and feel free to follow-up if you don’t feel you got what you needed from my response. I’ll do what I can, when I can.


      P.S. If you happen to be a movie guy, you might enjoy watching the action thriller Vantage Point to engage with the concept of “parallax” – how different people can be at the exact same event and yet “see” something completely different in it. But their pieces do fit together to give a more full picture.

      And watch Maid in Manhattan – yup, I don’t mind watching or recommending chickflick RomComs – to consider how someone could (mis)perceive one thing from having just a single encounter or snapshot, versus what is perceived by watching the videotaped security footage.

  3. Thanks for linking to We Love Mars Hill. It’s been tough gathering, reading, and posting all these stories.

    We have a new one up today from Lief Moi, who was one of the co-founders of Mars Hill and Mark’s close friend for years (before being forced out and shunned).

    • You’re welcome, awygle. I know from having shared in person and in writing about my own experiences of spiritual abuse and recovery how scary, difficult, and sobering it can be. So much self-examination is hard, and how to communicate suffering clearly … wow. I had many symptoms of post-traumatic stress, and thinking back (or avoiding thinking back!) often dredged up excruciating emotions at unexpected and inconvenient times.

      But here’s the thing: If no one communicates the depth of human pain inflicted by intimidation and anger and bullying, people can’t get a living picture of what it looks like. When they hear our stories, it helps calculate the costs that can happen when we cause harm to others – even if it was in the process of trying to do good. And, it also gives a living picture of how transformation still can come out of suffering.

      I have some idea of what it means to you all at We Love Mars Hill to put together narratives that are challenging without being contemptuous, hopeful but not harsh, redemptive instead of revengeful, taking personal responsibility where needed and not deflecting it all onto others. This requires a deep work of humility and listening to the Holy Spirit. So, thank you all for doing that willingly, to bring light into communities that are struggling with an often dark situation.

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