Mark Driscoll is a pastor who finds himself at the center of controversy in Christian and non-Christian circles. His most recent book Confessions is “the story of the birth and growth of Seattle’s innovative Mars Hill Church, one of America’s toughest mission fields. It is also the story of the growth of a pastor, the mistakes he’s made along the way, and God’s grace and work in spite of these mistakes.”
Why the Controversy?
Driscoll doesn’t fit in any category neatly. Tim Challies writes, “I am not the only one confused by Driscoll who is varyingly described as emerging, missional, Reformed, sarcastic and vulgar (all of which are true of him).” At times it looks like Driscoll goes out of his way to offend everyone. On the other hand, Driscoll is refreshingly candid and bold. I love it, but it seems to be too much for some.
The story of many “successful” churches have been tidied before going to print. Not here. Driscoll says, “I have made so many mistakes as a pastor that I should be pumping gas for a living instead of preaching the gospel.” He begins with “Ten Curious Questions” designed to help clarify the church’s identity, gospel, mission, size, and priorities. For instance, he asks which gospel we will proclaim: “a gospel of forgiveness, fulfillment, or freedom?” “Do you have the guts to shoot your dogs?” (He advises: “Dogs are idiotic ideas, stinky styles, stupid systems, failed facilities, terrible technologies, loser leaders, and pathetic people…Be sure to make it count and shoot them only once so that they don’t come back and bite you.” Now you know why he’s controversial.)
For the rest of the book, Driscoll tells the story of Mars Hill from its start to the present and even his hopes for the future.
Takeaways and Memorable Quotes
- Foundational questions come before pragmatics. Some of the most important insights come from the ten curious questions at the start of the book. What is the relationship of church to culture? What is the gospel that we proclaim? Do we have our Christology and ecclesiolgy right?
- “Attractional churches need to transform their people from being consumers in the church to being missionaries outside of the church.” (p.27)
- “Leaders…must work from the conviction that comes from God and his Word instead of the guilt that comes from people and their needs.” (p.34)
- “The more I read the Bible, the more deeply the Holy Spirit convicted me that I had grievously erred by trying to figure out how to do church successfully by reading a lot of books, visiting a lot of churches, and copying whatever was working. Instead, I needed to first wrestle with Jesus like Jacob wrestled with Jesus and then discover what Jesus’ mission was for Seattle and repent of everything else…” (p.44)
- Developing biblical leadership to define, direct, and defend the mission is key (p.48). This requires toughness. “Sadly, the weakest men are often drawn to ministry simply because it is an indoor job that does not require heavy lifting.” (p.54)
- “I had to focus all of my time and energy on growing Mars Hill as a missional church for Seattle. Therefore I had to stop doing all other ministry work that was not accomplishing this objective.” (p.52)
- “What exactly had Jesus assigned to our church as our part in his mission to our city?” (p.50)
- “Over the years, I have accepted that I’m not really much of a pastor but rather am a missiologist studying the city who leads a church filled with missionaries who reach the city and with pastors who care for the converts.” (p.51)
- “Our church was not the people we had but primarily the people we did not yet have, and I needed to go to those people…Those people will never come to the churches, so the pastors need to go to those people.” (p.61)
- “Not only was having a church that catered to people between certain ages narrow, it was also sinful because God loves the whole world and not just white guys between their teens and late twenties.” (p.64)
- “I decided not to back off from a long-winded, old-school Bible preacher that focused on Jesus. My people needed to hear from God’s Word and not from each other in collective ignorance like some dumb chat room…There is enough power in the preaching of God’s Word alone to build a church from nothing” (pp.77-78)
- “I have learned that sometimes the most important thing a leader can do is to create strategic chaos that forces people to pull together and focus on an urgent need, thereby subtly getting rid of all their other missions and complaints in a subversive way.” (pp.82-83)
- “My answer to everything is pretty much the same: open the Bible and preach about the person of Jesus and his mission for the church.” (p.86)
- “In his ‘Rule of 150,’ Malcolm Gladwell states that the highest number of people the average person can connect with is 150…Therefore, any congregation committed to evangelism and the expansion of its ministry should expect to find it difficult to grow beyond that number.” (p.93)
- “We were deciding if Mars Hill Church was to be defined by the size of its mission to reach the lost or by the number of people we could gather at one time in one room.” (p.94)
- In congregational ecclesiology, “The staff and the pastor are essentially seen as employees of the congregation, to be fired if they do not meet the expectations of their employer, the congregation. As I studied the Bible, I found more warrant for a church led by unicorns than by majority vote.” (p.103)
- Spiritual attacks on missional churches and leaders are real.
- “Over the years, I’ve just accepted that if I do not quickly open the back door when God is trying to run people out of our church, I am working against God by keeping sick people in my church so they can infect others. Indeed, the church is a body, and one of the most important parts is the colon. Like the human body, any church body without a colon is designed for sickness that leads to death.” (p.131)
- “We learned that unchurched people tend to be the most traditional when it comes to church.” (p.132)
- “Preaching is like driving a clutch, and the only way to figure it out is to keep grinding the gears and stalling until you figure it out.” (p.133)
- “Slowly, the church will begin a cycle of decline unless it intentionally reinvents itself missionally to continue to grow by taking risks in an effort to reach lost people for Jesus.” (p.141)
- “The goal of the management phase is not to get the church organized and under control. Rather, the management phase is needed to eliminate the inefficiencies and barriers that are keeping the church from focusing back on the creative phase and creating a whole new set of problems to manage.” (p.142)
This book isn’t for everyone. I enjoyed it, and saw it as a friendly and encouraging kick in the pants. If the above quotes appeal to you, then Confessions is a book that will help you in your ministry.