Dear Mark Driscoll:
You were once one of my closest friends.
You were once my trusted mentor and benefactor.
You were once someone who preached the Gospel with a fierce and captivating passion and purity.
You were the one who inspired me to be a preacher – a church planter.
In 1996 I was working as a missionary in West Africa when my mom sent me a recording of you speaking at the Northwest Christian Education conference. I was intrigued, captivated, and a bit disturbed by what I heard. You deconstructed my tidy neat little worldview and described the church as a mission outpost that exists between the gospel message and various cultures. That message convinced me that I could be a missionary at home, and so I returned.
I started attending Mars Hill with my family, driving an hour each way from Mount Vernon down to Seattle. Mars Hill was maybe a 100 people back then. I played on the worship team sometimes and listened intently to the vision you cast… a vision built on the Core Values of “Meaning, Truth, Beauty, Community, and Mission”. Those core values were such an invigorating breath of fresh air:
I longed for deeper meaning than the trite, mainstream Christianity-lite I was experiencing.
I longed to hear Truth boldly proclaimed.
I longed to be able to express art in beautiful contagious inspiring ways.
I longed to be a part of genuine, committed, Christ-centered community.
And yes, I longed to be on this great mission of the Kingdom of God, together.
I bought in.
Many of us bought in.
I remember you and Grace coming up to my house and challenging me to transition the awkward college-age ministry thing we had, and to plant it as a church. I remember your assurances that you would walk beside us, and I remember distinctly how Grace said that “As long as we continue to give God the glory for whatever happens, He will continue to glorify Himself through what is happening.” That resonated with me, and for many years you walked beside me faithfully. We were your first church plant, and for awhile, there was even some discussion about our church going with the name Mars Hill North.
I listened closely as you preached the virtue of Biblical Eldership, where men proven to be of sound character, pastor the church together and hold each other accountable, a supposed safe-guard against any one person lacking accountability or taking over.
It fit perfectly with what I saw in Scripture and was what I was drawn to myself.
I remember Leif Moi doing that with you.
I remember Mike Gunn doing that with you.
And I remember how excited you were when you first identified Paul Petry and Bent Meyer as men who could do that exceptionally well: “wise, older godly men, who would add a degree of credibility” were your words to me.
I also remember when my brother-in-law Brian Kirkman went through the eldership process. Brian, known to me as one of the most faithful, loving, gracious, godly men I know, and yet I believed your lies and how you characterized him. He was unjustly removed and the way the Kirkman family was treated foreshadowed the shunnings that would occur with the Petry’s, the Meyer’s, and others. I have since gone to Brian and Liz to confess my complicity in how they were treated. It was so incredibly unjust.
My other two brothers-in-law would become elders as well, though both have since left. My sisters all led worship at MH, and were involved in various ministries asdegree to which my family was involved with Mars Hill cannot be overstated.
They all fully bought in as well.
Soon I began traveling the nation with you, speaking at various conferences, seminars and events. It was such an honor. We became involved on the ground-floor of this new movement that was shaping the landscape of evangelical Christianity. We were on the board of Young Leader network together. We were on the Terra Nova project together. We were working with some pretty amazing people. These were the early days when there was talk of the postmodern era, and the Emergent church started “emerging” and New Calvinism had yet to emerge as a thing. It was heady stuff. It was also dangerous, as some of it started wandering far from historical orthodox Christian belief and practice.
But then I listened as you slandered and maligned the men and women we worked with behind their backs -who though we didn’t agree with some of them theologically- were wonderful people, and never deserved to be spoken of, or treated the way you did. People who I know would have considered you a friend and have no idea how you really felt about them. I have personally tried to go back and apologize to people who were “kicked to the curb”, along the way, and yes, I do feel I was complicit to your actions; guilty by way of association and being silent.
For that, I could not be more sorry.
I remember one day you called and mentioned that your book Radical Reformission was coming out the next day. You started talking about how excited you were and then in a roundabout way, mentioned that you had used the parachurch/fundamentalism/liberalism concepts I had developed off the gospel/church/culture model. It took me a moment to realize that you were saying you had used those ideas in your book and hadn’t cited me, and were both thanking me and smoothing things over. I was honestly flattered, but I also had this uncomfortable feeling that you knew what you had done was wrong. But at this point, what was I gonna do about it? Like most things, I just let it go.
Then you met Pastor David Nicholas. Remember David Nicholas? The “co-founder” of Acts29, who often has been written out of the Acts29 story. The one who actually came up with the name Acts29 and already had a church planting system in place. Soon we were flying back to Boca Raton Florida to figure out how we could work together with this seasoned older PCA pastor (Presbyterian Church of America), you with your connections to all these church planter candidates flying under-the-denominational-radar, and David with his years of experience, his connections (friends like Tim Keller and Amway founder Rich DeVos), and his very wealthy church resources. I loved David, and he loved us. He was fatherly to us. He could barely relate to our strange Northwest culture, and yet he partnered with us out of a passionate commitment to church planting.
I remember during one of our conferences somewhere around 2002, sitting at the table with you there in Boca, when you interviewed Rich DeVos on how he structured his business model. I remember soon thereafter when you started talking about how it wasn’t that important that you knew your people or led them yourself, but that you “led the people, who led the people, who led the people”. Unlike the Chief Shepherd who knows all His sheep by name, knows their voice, and they, His, you distanced yourself from them. In fact, I remember you bragging about how you had this back corridor between your office and the stage and you didn’t have to be interrupted by anyone before or after church. I was so confused. I bought in to the meaning, truth, beauty, mission thing. I certainly didn’t buy into this.
I had always tried to read all the books you recommended, but soon they became less and less about theology or pastoral practice, and more and more about marketing, professionalism and big business. (I also remember recommending John Piper’s book “Brothers We Are Not Professionals” back to you, but it wasn’t enthusiastically received. If only.)
And then all hell broke loose.
In the fall of 2004, my then wife had an affair with another pastor on staff (who was also one of my closest friends). Our church had serious problems as it was, many as a result of my failing to lead properly. Many of the things at the church were shaped by your influence, and some of that influence I still recognize as inspired, Biblical, and even prophetic at times. Again, it is hard to express how much you helped us.
Much of that influence however, was very unhealthy and systemically flawed. It took me many years of distance and separation to truly gain objectivity and see just exactly how flawed. For instance, I was patterning my/our discipline process after what you were doing. One of those situations was with a man in leadership named Dale. I will always grieve over the heavy-handed way we dealt with Dale. Not only was it ungracious and unfair, it was hypocritical. Again, something for which I’m profoundly sorry.
Add to all that, some significant personal weaknesses and sins of my own, and I/we needed serious help. I asked you for that help, and in customary fashion, you dropped the hammer. When all of your recommendations on discipline weren’t followed, you came unglued. You cursed me up one side and down the other. You threatened and berated me. I have never been spoken to the way you did to me then. It was vicious and startling. I was reeling and devastated from what I had just discovered with my wife and close friend.
Then you involved yourself in our Eldership in a most irresponsible and reckless manner. In hindsight, it never should have gotten to that point, and I accept full responsibility for that, but what I needed was trustworthy, Biblical accountability, and instead I got slander, threats, and verbal abuse. We had good elders who were caught between a pastor dealing with personal and familial sin, and an outside accountability that was reckless, irresponsible and ultimately had a destructive influence on a once unified eldership. I know it all now. I’ve read the communication you had with the other elders behind my back. Ugly, slanderous, defaming lies, Mark. I thought you were my brother and you treated me like scum.
On March 17, 2005, I sent a letter of grievance to the Board of Acts29, asking them to address what I had come to realize over time, were serious character flaws of yours. I made the case that Biblically you were unfit and disqualified as an Elder. A case based off long established patterns of pride, lack of self-control, sexually vulgar and slanderous speech, exaggeration that bordered on deception, gossip about others and confidentiality issues. An excerpt from that letter stated: “The fact that Mark is an incredibly talented leader and charismatic personality, cannot in any way substitute for the simple Biblical requirements of being Christ-like, much less the qualifications of being an Elder. I can make a Biblical case from Titus regarding his being overbearing, quick-tempered, self-controlled, upright, and holy, as well as 1 Timothy regarding being above reproach, self-controlled, respectable, not quarrelsome, and a good reputation with outsiders.”
Not surprisingly, we got a response letter from the Board of Acts29 informing us that they would accept our resignation from Acts29, as we had made our continued participation in the network contingent upon their dealing with your issues. Apparently, they lacked the fortitude and resolve to deal with your out-of-control behavior, and so became complicit themselves. How the board of Acts29 abdicated their responsibility in this, is beyond my comprehension. In addition, I was heartbroken as there were so many guys in the network that I loved. Guys that I came to miss dearly over the next few painful, depressing years. You asked me not to contact any of the guys and be “divisive”. I never did, you know. When I finally did just recently, I discovered that you had completely misrepresented what happened in my situation. Thus, what I had seen you do to others, finally came full circle around to me. It sucked. I didn’t like it at all.
The loss of those friendships, combined with the loss of my wife, my best friend, and my church, led me into a few of the darkest years of my life. A season I only survived due to the inexplicable buffer of God’s grace.
That wasn’t the only grievance letter that the Board of Acts29 received regarding you either. Co-founder and Acts29 President David Nicholas sent one as well. David was a mentor to you… he was your pastor I remember you saying. Yet over time, Pastor Nicholas came to have grave misgivings about your character and conduct, personally brought it to you on multiple occasions, and finally wrote about them to the Board. Yes, David was an imperfect, strong-willed, stubborn man sometimes, but he loved you.
David Nicholas is Not Anonymous.
David wanted the Board to come help our church work through this situation, but you wanted to do it your way. That added to the growing conflict between the two of you. He had said that the Board would be coming to meet with our Elders during the Reformission conference, and then suddenly, somehow, you took over as President of Acts29. I remember talking to David on the phone afterwards and him being stunned at what just happened. You somehow had enough support to vote him off of the board. Rick McKinley (a very good man) wanted nothing to do with any of this, and pulled out of the board and Acts29 altogether. How you got the other guys to go along with that move, I’ll never know, but it foreshadowed a similar move that would happen with your own Eldership in 2007.
You consolidated power once more.
You chose to become pragmatic instead of principled.
You became opportunistic instead of obedient.
You mishandled sacred things.
You have abused theological positions as much as you have abused individual lives. You can’t run roughshod over people in the name of being “all about Jesus”.
For you, the ultimate endorsement was always driven by numbers, and we were like the Israelites of old who proclaimed to want a King like David, but were drawn to a King like Saul. We all need to own up to the fact that we helped empower you to become what you have, through our willingness to eagerly endorse what you are, and you were more than happy to let us. 2 Timothy 4:3 describes a time when “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” You had the right words. You said the right things, and strangely, the right people kept endorsing you.
And yet your words rarely matched up to how you live:
You can’t preach Jesus and curse people.
You can’t preach Jesus and threaten people.
You can’t preach Jesus and be sexually vulgar.
You can’t preach Jesus and denigrate women.
You can’t preach Jesus and then shun people.
You can’t preach Jesus and give rich people special privileges.
You can’t preach Jesus and steal people’s material.
You can’t preach Jesus and approve the use of funds for your desires instead of the donor’s desire.
You can’t preach Jesus and cheat your way onto bestseller lists.
You can’t preach Jesus and then force your people to not compete with you in spreading the gospel.
You can’t preach Jesus and then force people to either stay silent or not be paid.
You can’t preach Jesus and seek to become the “greatest of these.”
You just can’t. You see that right?
It can’t be “do as I say, and not as I do” for a pastor.
We need to see you be like Jesus, more than we need to hear you say, “It’s all about Jesus.”
It really is this simple: to preach Jesus, you have to be like Jesus.
The final straw for me was this video you just released where you cited these anonymous detractors. To the masses watching, you may get away with “sounding sorry”, but to the hundreds…thousands even, who have been actually victimized, they need actual Biblical confession and repentance, the kind that is specific and identifies actual people and actual sins against them. Evasive generalized statements only worsen the hurt. Spin doctoring and ‘damage control” is just more of the same big-business marketing tactics that led to this systemic pattern of cancerous abuse in the first place. Worse, it desensitizes and inoculates people to what real, genuine repentance looks and feels like.
So, why am I saying this to you now, Mark?
Why am I saying it like this, and after all this time?
Well, because you are unreachable through any other means. I’ve tried. Talk about being anonymous. Who knows where you are, or where you live? You have isolated yourself behind your ministry fortress and this is the only way to have a hearing. I don’t even know if you’ll read this, but this is more about my being obedient to speak the truth of what I’ve experienced, and letting it be at that.
I’m also saying this because, like the apostle Paul, I know what it feels like to consider myself “the chief of sinners.” I am firmly committed to the doctrine of total depravity, primarily because I know my own depraved self. I know that it was only God’s kindness that led me to repentance. I have been brought low and learned to embrace having my own prideful ship dashed upon the rock of God’s discipline.
I don’t miss the man I once was. I’m so, so very thankful for how God has refashioned and restored me. Yes, I lost a lot, but I gained even more, and the only way that happens is through confession. True confession that abandons all justification, that repudiates all excuses, and embraces the revealing light of the Holy Spirit. I lost my marriage. I struggled with ugly patterns of sin and rebellion in my life. I was lonely, depressed, confused, and stunned. I flirted with temptation, and easily could have jumped off that cliff during those dark, lonely years, but somehow God preserved me. Only God preserved me, that I know for sure. It was terrible path, and yet it was exactly where God needed me, to do the long, painful work of surgery that my soul required. I remember you saying how you’ve never really had to suffer. Well, perhaps this is that season. It is a path I am begging you to embrace. I hope and pray more than anything that you will not allow pride to have a stranglehold over your life.
You’ve destroyed people, Mark. You’ve ruined people’s reputations. Through your own perverse interpretation of “God’s grace,” you’ve cast people aside who you decided were not “on mission” spoke of “a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus.” The pragmatism backfired. What you won them with, is what you won them too, and now there are thousands who have been hurt, and who have hurt others. Beautifully, many of them are finding forgiveness and healing as they reconnect with each other and grow in grace.
Please Mark. Just stop. Step down. Resign. There was a brilliant post today on Dave Orrison’s blog Grace for my Heart that defined the difference between a narcissistic apology and a real apology. The center of the narcissistic apology is the offender saying “I am hurting because of this.” The real apology sees the victim in the center and says, “You are hurting because of this.” The difference – and a critical one – is empathy. As my wife so insightfully noted, “a narcissistic apology is when the apology itself is actually abusive.” It’s extremely manipulative.
The real problem is that this isn’t about an apology, and that’s what so many just don’t seem to understand. An apology might be at the center of the issue, but it’s not the circumference of the issue. This ultimately is about confession and repentance… something unique to our faith. It may initiate with an apology, but it MUST transition into deep, honest confession that ultimately bears long-term fruit as the changed life of repentance.
In an excerpt from an email you sent to our elders on 9/4/2004 regarding my situation, you said: “Repentance will take time, even years. Confession is agreeing with God, and repenting is changing.” Do you remember that? Those are your own words, and they are spot on. I know. I went through the process and it did take years! Longstanding patterns and habits must be refashioned. Repentance must be proven genuine and sincere through things like restitution and exoneration of people wronged. All I’m asking you to do is to take your own advice.
Go to your brothers and sisters you have specifically offended and make it right. There’s no other way. If you do, I will gladly stand with you as a brother. Anything else is simply too little, too late. I believe that everything hinges on the integrity of your response to this crisis.
You could begin by exonerating Paul Petry, and Bent Meyer. Refute that mockery of a trial and end their shunning. I hurt over how you treated Leif Moi as well. Such a loyal brother to you.
I once was afraid of what you might do to me if I spoke up. I’ve come to the place where I care more about the truth being known, and healing and restoration beginning, than anything else. The sharks are circling now, and it appears there are many who want only your destruction. I don’t. I want to see brokenness, humility, and change that I can support.
I love you and your family, and will be earnestly praying for you in all of this.
I have the same phone number and email. You know how to find me.
My name is Ron Wheeler.
I Am Not Anonymous.