The Acts 29 church network, founded by Mark Driscoll (below) and David Nicholas in 1998, announced this morning that they are removing Driscoll and his church Mars Hill from their network and affiliations.
The statement reads:
It is with deep sorrow that the Acts 29 Network announces its decision to remove Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from membership in the network. Mark and the Elders of Mars Hill have been informed of the decision, along with the reasons for removal. It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network. In taking this action, our prayer is that it will encourage the leadership of Mars Hill to respond in a distinctive and godly manner so that the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored.
The Board of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network
Now, Acts 29 as an organization and network is problematic in ways similar to Mark Driscoll — they, too, have similar issues of dude-bro culture and pastors who use intimidation and bullying to impress and manage their congregations, and this is well documented by spiritual abuse watchdog bloggers. But this step is a big shift, and an interesting one.
Warren Throckmorton rightly observes that Acts 29 and Mark Driscoll haven’t necessarily had a rosy recent history, saying:
In 2005, when Driscoll headed the group, charges were filed against him by Ron Wheeler. Wheeler planted the first Acts 29 Network church in Mt. Vernon, WA and was an early protege of Driscoll’s. However, Wheeler later became disillusioned with his former mentor and asked Acts 29 to discipline Driscoll. Yesterday, Wheeler posted a lengthy open letter to Driscoll asking him to resign based on his experience with the Mars Hill pastor.
This is further seen in the full text of the letter sent to Driscoll by the Acts 29 board (from Throckmorton as well):
As the Board of Acts 29, we are grateful to God for the leadership, courage, and generosity of both you and Mars Hill in not only founding the network but also sustaining it through the transition to this board three years ago. The very act of giving away your authority over the network was one of humility and grace, and for that we are grateful.
Over the past three years, our board and network have been the recipients of countless shots and dozens of fires directly linked to you and what we consider ungodly and disqualifying behavior. We have both publicly and internally tried to support and give you the benefit of the doubt, even when multiple pastors in our network confirmed this behavior.
In response, we leaned on the Mars Hill Board of Advisors & Accountability to take the lead in dealing with this matter. But we no longer believe the BoAA is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out. Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming. We now have to take another course of action.
Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help. Consequently, we also feel that we have no alternative but to remove you and Mars Hill from membership in Acts 29. Because you are the founder of Acts 29 and a member, we are naturally associated with you and feel that this association discredits the network and is a major distraction.
We tell you this out of love for you, Mars Hill, Acts 29, and most significantly, the cause of Christ, and we would be irresponsible and deeply unloving not to do so in a clear and unequivocal manner. Again, we want you to know that we are eternally thankful for what you as a man and Mars Hill as a church have meant to our network. However, that cannot dissuade us from action. Instead, it gives added significance and importance to our decision. We hope and pray that you see this decision as the action of men who love you deeply and want you to walk in the light—for your good, the good of your family, and the honor of your Savior.
Shortly after sending this, we will be informing the members of Acts 29, your Board of Advisors and Accountability, and your elders, as well as putting out a public statement on the Acts 29 website. It brings us no joy to move forward in this direction, and we trust that the Lord will be at work in all of this.
In sorrow and with hope,
The Board of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network
Here’s what I find fascinating: when similar situations arose in Sovereign Grace Ministries with CJ Mahaney, the organization he founded (and other leaders in the New Calvinist movement) instead circled the wagons around him and supported him unquestioningly. His church, however, removed him from leadership and disaffiliated from SGM in the space of about a year.
I’m not sure if we can say that Acts 29 is learning from the mistakes of SGM, but I will note that the support voiced for CJ during his “scandal” by other neo-reformed thought leaders is surprisingly absent in the situation with Driscoll.
Now the question remains: Will Mars Hill support their abusive pastor in his power trip, or will they remove him from leadership, as they should? I give it six months before we have a clear answer.