I am delighted that not only have we got Mark Driscoll coming to our conference in Brighton this summer (and be quick if you want to get in because bookings are coming in so very fast – over 3,000 booked already!) but also we have been able to interview him in advance.
My son Joel was able to be in touch and I am pleased to share the results of that interview with you over the next few days. It will soon be published in our Newfrontiers magazine but why don’t you enjoy a foretaste of what I feel is an outstanding insight into our guest speaker at this year’s Leadership Conference.
JV: Mark, it’s a privilege to be in touch with you in advance of your anticipated visit here in July. We so look forward to hosting you at the Together on a Mission conference. We understand you ordinarily limit your time outside the States strictly. So why did you feel it would be good to prioritise a UK trip this year?
MD: I pray a lot over the trips I take. With a growing church (www.MarsHillChurch.org), church planting network, five young children, book deadlines, and most of all a wife I really enjoy, time away comes at a great cost for me. But, on this trip I anticipate both serving and being served. What I mean is that Newfrontiers has been faithfully planting churches for a long time with great success. And I anticipate that I will learn a great deal about ministry and church planting while making some great friendships and kingdom partnerships.
JV: Could you tell us some of your story? You were raised in a Catholic home, but got saved at college. Is that right? How did you meet your wife?
MD: Yes, I was born October 11, 1970. My parents were young and went on to have a total of five children (three boys and two girls). I grew up in a hard-working Irish Catholic family where my dad was a construction worker and my mom stayed home with the kids. I attended Catholic church growing up and attended Catholic school for a few years and served as an altar boy. In my teen years I grew bored with church and essentially stopped going. At the age of seventeen, I met a young lady in school who I was drawn to in every way. She bought me a Bible and I was saved while reading Romans at the age of nineteen while at college.
I was shortly thereafter called by God into ministry as He literally spoke to me telling me to marry the lady (Grace), plant churches, train men and preach the Bible. At the time I was in a wonderful church with a brilliant, humble and godly pastor who loved me and taught me the Scriptures faithfully. Grace and I married at the age of 21 and graduated at the age of 22. We moved back to Seattle and did ministry, and worked for a few years before starting the church.
As an encouraging aside, I know that some Catholics do love Jesus and are Christians, like my mom was when I was growing up. But, many of us Catholics did not know or love Jesus and I have seen many members of my immediate and extended Catholic family become Christians, including my dad who attends our church with my mom.
JV: Could you tell us a little about how you integrate family life with your calling to lead churches and preach?
MD: When we first started the church, things were very small and Grace and I had no children in our early to mid-twenties. She was very involved but has pulled back since the church has grown over the years and our family now includes five children. My goal for my lovely wife and our children is to simply be mature active church members. My wife and children love our church and do serve, but I am very careful not to put pressure on them to conform to a role that the Scriptures do not define.
There is no office such as pastor’s wife or pastor’s children and I work very hard to ensure that our family remains our top priority over the church. Too many pastors put their ministry above their family and their wives and children get active in the church just so they can be close to their husband/daddy which is tragic. We have a normal fun family life and by God’s grace my wife and kids love Jesus, me and our church.
JV: Having heard your preaching online and read your books, one sees the influence of great reformed men in your theology. How about the areas of leadership and missiology? Have you any stand-out mentors and role models when it comes to these aspects of your calling?
MD: Insofar as my theology is concerned I glean a lot from Augustine (especially on predestination), Calvin (especially on city transformation), Luther (especially on the gospel), along with the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards and, my favourite person outside of Scripture, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. More contemporary influences in missiology include Lesslie Newbigin along with Tim Keller and Ed Stetzer, and influences in theology include JI Packer, Francis Schaeffer, John Stott, Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, DA Carson, John Piper, David Wells and my writing partner Gerry Breshears.
Personally, I have also gotten a lot of good systems training from Larry Osborne, personal growth from CJ Mahaney, and learned a lot on Biblical Counselling from men such as David Powlison, Tim Lane and Paul Tripp. To be honest, God has allowed me to meet and learn from some of the most helpful people in the world for what I am doing, and they have kindly extended a hand of friendship and been wonderfully supportive.
JV: Some would regard you as a rare combination: reformed and charismatic (or ‘charismatic with a seatbelt’ – as you put it …). Do you observe this becoming more common in our generation?
MD: The September 2006 issue of Christianity Today declared that the two hot theologies for young pastors was Emergent (eg Brian McLaren, Rob Bell etc) and the New Reformed. The New Reformed was marked as being missional, urban, church planting focused, complementarian and charismatic. I am gladly in that stream of conviction. As reformed theology walks away from some of the goofy legalisms of fundamentalism, returns to a more robust Biblical theology ala Geerhardus Vos or Calvin that is not tied to all of the philosophical speculation that plagues modernistic academic reformed theology, and seeks cultural renewal in cities through church planting, it will become more and more attractive. The key will be: as it succeeds can it remain humble? If so, it could win the day for the current generation of pastors rising up.
JV: Do you have a theology of revival? I guess many would see the rapid growth at Mars Hill (and some of the Acts 29 work) as taking on revival proportions. Is this how you would see it, or are you looking for something further (or do you even see revival as a helpful category)?
MD: I do. I have read both Jonathan Edwards and Iain Murray on this, for example. I have also studied many church movements such as the Methodists and Jesus Movement. I do believe that revival is akin to Nehemiah stacking the old stones that had lain unused for many generations. My city (Seattle) is still pre-Christian so technically I would say that we are more of a missions movement than a revival movement. But, as we spread through our campuses and church plants around the nation and world, I guess that is possible.
By God’s grace, we are multi-denominational and having what seems to be a positive and helpful influence on many churches, denominations and networks for which we praise God. In the end, we’ll see what God does. We’re off to an encouraging start but the game is far from over and maybe one day when I’m dead someone can write the report of what happened and see if it qualifies as something akin to a revival. For now, I’m just trying to follow Jesus, love my wife, enjoy my kids, pastor my church, preach my Bible, confess my sins, write my books and have my fun.
JV: Given your vantage point, what would you predict for the development of evangelicalism in the West over the coming 20 years?
MD: I would hope to see a robust gospel, love of church planting, and call for dudes to act dudely.
JV: What are some of the weaknesses of the Western church scene?
MD: There are so many that it is hard to whittle down. First, there is a theological weakness that makes many churches and Christians prone to false teaching of every sort from prosperity to feminism, and even homosexuality and paganism. Second, there is a focus on results (eg growth) over cause (eg Spirit-enabled gospel power). Third, the old line fundamentalists are becoming more vocal, more vicious, more uninformed and more embarrassing when it appears they speak on behalf of all Christians. Fourth, there is a growing disdain by some for any form of authority such as parental, pastoral and preaching. The result will be (and in some cases already is) the proliferation of cults under the guise of new small church forms.
JV: And what are some of the things which encourage you?
MD: I am honoured to see a generation of young men rising up with amazing gifts and a willingness to learn from godly older men. I am encouraged by the returning zeal for church planting. I am also excited by the opportunities technology affords us to get the gospel and gospel training out to the world cheaply and instantly. Lastly, I am personally encouraged at the huge sales of my books such as Vintage Jesus*, a growing online audience to my sermons and teaching, and just glad to be of any help to anyone for Jesus.
JV: Is Bible preaching making a comeback in the West?
MD: In our church planting network our men preach an hour of exposition as a general rule and they are doing a great job. Our experience is, the longer and harder you preach the younger and more secular the crowd you draw, providing you keep it all about Jesus.
JV: What are some of the things no one is saying but you wish would get said?
MD: I wish we had a functional definition of a false teacher so that some of the wingnuts, nutjobs, oddballs and wolves writing and speaking on behalf of evangelicalism could be taken out back and shot.
JV: You guys in Acts 29 have chosen to state your commitment to distinct male/female roles in family and church as a non-negotiable value (not unlike ourselves). Could you tell us what has influenced that decision?
MD: A deep love for God’s Word. The Bible is clear that men are to lovingly head their homes, and elders are to be the best men whom God calls to do the same in the church. We are routinely criticised for this belief. But, our men and their wives and the fruit of their ministry speaks for itself and is the best apologetic for the truth because the truth simply works.
JV: What would be your aspirations for Mars Hill and Acts 29?
My goal for Mars Hill is to be a church of people who live new lives out of regenerated hearts with Jesus. Numerically, we are currently pushing 7,000 a Sunday and opening our 6th campus. I preach live at one, and we simulcast via video to five others. Going forward I can see dozens of campuses around the world and I can see at least 30,000 people in our church if God wills.
As far as Acts 29, I want to stress that I cannot take credit for the church planting that occurs. Our network churches plant churches and I am honoured to be among those men, but they are doing most of the heavy lifting. That being said, I am praying for 1,000 churches planted in the US running an average of 250 people for a movement of 250,000 people in the US plus overseas plants in addition. By God’s grace, we’re working on our second 100 church plants and 1,000 seems attainable before I am really even that old.
JV: Acts 29 have clearly combined a successful emphasis on church planting with a good deal of remarkable church growth in many US cities. How can we plant thousands of churches while growing churches of thousands?
MD: We feel like the little boy who gave his lunch to Jesus.
JV: You seem to keep connected with some creative missional thinkers as well as conservative reformed theologians. Not all reformed leaders would want to learn from the church growth movement. Does that create a tension?
MD: When you only listen to your team, you are being proud and defensive. The key is to have the humility to learn from people unlike you, and the discernment to know what to adopt and what to reject.
JV: You’ve achieved an unusual writing and teaching output, while leading Mars Hill and Acts 29 – how? You must have a remarkable crowd of leaders around you. How does that work?
MD: We recently rewrote the bylaws of our church and reorganised everything. I resigned as the legal president of the church, head of the elder board and lead pastor. Much of my power is now entrusted to other godly men with a good structure to ensure health and growth simultaneously. I feel very relieved at the outcome, encouraged for our future, and have deep trust with our elders. They are doing a good job and do love Jesus and our church very deeply.
Furthermore, they are building great systems and training great leaders. This allows me to focus on vision, writing, preaching, teaching and studying along with some travel. This year I will preach some 40-42 weeks at Mars Hill five times a Sunday, travel and also publish six books and do a lot of media interviews and conference preaching. I do feel the time is ripe, I am young, my health is good, my church is maturing, and so I am doing all I can to do what I can by God’s grace.
JV: Do you ever envisage your non-USA role expanding?
MD: Yes, and it already is. One of the reasons I am coming to the Newfrontiers conference and then heading to Australia in August is to see what God is doing and find more opportunities to expand the kingdom and plant churches. I have a global heart and vision and am seeking opportunities to find out what that means practically.
JV: Thank you! We very much look forward to having you among us in July.