Monday, August 25, 2014

The Seventh Day: The Mark Driscoll Saga and the Clergy's Desperate Need for Sabbaticals

I've written pretty extensively on the unfolding trainwreck that has become Mark Driscoll's ministry at Mars Hill in Seattle on a couple of recent occasions, and this time, it is after the news broke yesterday of his six week leave of absence from ministry at Mars Hill while the accusations against him (largely of abusive behavior and of abusing his power) are investigated by the church.

And while my criticisms of him in my previous posts remain both vehement and intact, I honestly don't have any sort of a visceral reaction to this news.  Exulting in a colleague's fall from grace isn't exactly Christian of me, even if I still think he had all of this coming.

Nor is it really a time for me to talk about grace and forgiveness, because my forgiveness is not the forgiveness Mark Driscoll needs.  He needs to be forgiven first and foremost by God, but then also by the people whom he has directly wronged and hurt (of whom it appears there are a great many).  A number of accounts I have read of people who were spiritually abused at Mars Hill strike the tone of them wanting reconciliation as a part of Driscoll being held accountable for what he has done to them, and while seeing true reconciliation happen would be a great joy to witness, that is not at all up to me.

Instead, I think that this leave of absence was certainly coming, certainly necessary, but also almost certainly not enough in terms of either time or accountability.

Driscoll himself outlined eight steps that are being taken by him and by Mars Hill in response to the allegations against him, and the first is him submitting to the process proscribed in the church bylaws for accusations against him, but as has been noted by Warren Throckmorton over at Patheos, that process has been made more difficult for those who are stepping forward, and potentially impossible for those whose employment at Mars Hill has since ceased.  Pastor Mark notes that these bylaws were overwhelmingly approved by the church eldership, but a majority does not inherently confer legitimacy (just look at any number of awful decisions democracies have made over the centuries).  Submitting to that process by itself is nowhere near enough, and so seven other steps are detailed, though we also don't know just how much power over him the pastors he is seeking to counsel him will actually have.

In the final step, though, the eighth step, Driscoll discloses this:

I have never taken an extended focused break like this in my 18 years as your pastor. (emphasis mine)

All of the sudden, some of this actually begins to make at least some sense to me.

Now, far be it for me to armchair diagnose Mark Driscoll (who likely needs the counsel of people far above my pay grade), but a number of the sins he has been found to have committed as of late: the plagiarism, the gaming of the New York Times bestseller list, the potential misappropriation of other church funds all scream of behavior of a pastor who is utterly burnt out on ministry, because it is so, so, so incredibly easy and tempting for a burned out minister to begin believing that the ends justify the means.

Clergy burnout is a subject I have blogged about here in the past (most recently here), and it is a subject that I firmly believe has to be taken with the utmost care and seriousness by churches today if the body of Christ is to continue to grow, flourish, thrive, and ultimately make a difference in God's kingdom.  No longer can pastors simply limit their job descriptions to baptizing, teaching, marrying, and burying people: we are now functioning (and over functioning) as writers, bloggers, commentators, community organizers, coaches, social workers, building managers, event planners, and any untold number of other tasks.

And it is difficult to see a lot of that because outside of Sundays, a lot of a pastor's work is invisible to the 70 percent or so of the congregation who only sees their pastor one day a week.  Which means that the only people who really know how emotionally, spiritually, and even physically draining parish ministry really is are, well, other ministers.

That's why there has been such a strong movement across a variety of churches, denominations, and traditions over the past decade or two for clergy sabbaticals, not unlike the sabbaticals that tenured professors take. The standard that is recommended by my denomination is a three month sabbatical after every five years of service, and that is what is included in my own contract.

By that standard, Mark Driscoll should have had three different times set aside for sabbatical during his tenure as Mars Hill's cofounding and teaching pastor, and been well on his way towards a fourth sabbatical.  Instead, by his own admission, he hadn't even taken one.

And make no mistake: six weeks is NOT a sabbatical.  That's a leave of absence.  Honestly, Driscoll should probably consider taking three or four months away, even if the investigation completely clears him.  Considering how prolific his writing is, my guess is that it will take him at least a week or two to fully wind down from all of his responsibilities, which will finally allow him the freedom to look inward and discern what God is asking of him, but by that point, he's already maybe a third of the way through his leave.  These sorts of things can take time...heck, Moses spent forty years in the wilderness before finally being called out of it by God.

Part of the problem with American Christianity is how we fetishize what Max Weber called the "Protestant work ethic."  A work ethic is admirable and necessary for earning a livelihood, but overfeeding it can come at the expense of, well, so much.  Work requirements have drawn some of my own congregants away from the joy and fellowship of Sunday morning worship, and I both wish that it wasn't the case and resent their employers for making it the case, because when work always comes first, it is people who inevitably get relegated to second class status.

But God still rested on the seventh day.  And so should we.

At least from the outside, it looks to me as though Mark Driscoll's work may well have taken precedence over his own spiritual well being.  And in that respect, I feel bad for him.  I really do.  Burnout is a terrible, terrible thing.  It doesn't excuse what he has done (and certainly some of it, like his William Wallace II diatribes, are likely attributable to other serious factors), but it does make some of it somewhat understandable, at least to me.

Because I have seen firsthand from seeing other colleagues crash and burn what burnout can do to a minister.

And it isn't pretty.  It seldom ever is.

So my hope and prayer for Mark Driscoll is that he finds sufficient time during this period of leave and investigation to adequately seek out God's will for him, and that those whose task it is to hold him accountable do so with the utmost honesty and transparency for the sake of all involved.

And my hope and prayer for those whom he has so painfully hurt are able to achieve whatever measure or degree of reconciliation they are seeking that has so long been denied to them, and that this reconciliation and this holding of their spiritual abuser to account will result in a sense of wholeness...or, at least, a moving towards wholeness once more.  Because while I am writing largely about Driscoll here, our focus and care also needs to be on the people whom have been hurt by him.

I don't know what the future will hold for either Driscoll or Mars Hill, and that isn't really for me to speculate on.  But I do hope that it represents a turning point from power to humility, and from discipline to reconciliation.

Because that is what sabbaticals can do...they can be a turning point for God's servants in the courses of their ministry.  It is a great power that they possess, and it is a power that more of us pastors, in all honesty, need to experience and witness.

Yours in Christ,

1 comment:

  1. Right on Eric and well said. May this be, "a turning point from power to humility, and from discipline to reconciliation."