The ends don’t justify the means

In the late 1990s, with our church newly planted, I remember being challenged about a decision I was proposing for the church. I was playing golf with a good friend, a Canberra public servant and a member of our leadership group, and we were chatting about church. He said something like this to me: “I like the decision you have made and where you want to take the church, but I’m not happy with the process, and so I will be opposing the decision.” Wow! That was a lesson for me. My ends didn’t justify my means. The way we do things is just as important as what we do.

I was somewhat immature at the time and objected to his response. I think I put it down to his being a Canberra public servant who had procedures and rules for everything. But over time, I’ve grown to appreciate his words and taken them to heart. In fact, other people felt the same way as my friend, they didn’t come out and say it so explicitly.

I’ve been considering some lessons to be learned from the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. The ends don’t justify the means in these three areas.

Leadership

The church was growing at enormous pace. Demands on staff and leaders were growing and changing all the time. The end was ‘growth’ and the means was whatever needed to be done to keep growing. One aspect of this was the repeated ‘firing’ of so-called ‘under-performing’ staff. Driscoll boasted of the bodies piled up behind the Mars Hill bus. This is a huge theme in the podcast and the bodies include some of those closest to Driscoll. 

I believe God would have us build a culture of leadership that is servant hearted and honours those entrusted with responsibility for others. The congregation should show such an attitude, but so must the lead pastor. The church is a body, a community, held together by relationships. It’s not a factory with machinery to be replaced when more effective or efficient parts are needed.

Authority

Mark Driscoll wasn’t content to build a church. He wanted to build a large church, a multi-site church, a movement of churches. And he wanted it built his way. To do this he needed the authority to make more and more executive decisions. People needed to get out of the way, not question his plans or intentions, but get with his program, or suffer the consequences.

There is an African proverb that says

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

This proverb must be heard today. Mars Hill’s meteoric rise, and overnight closure, are a warning about the catastrophe that comes with unchecked authority. It describes a leadership structure of fear, threats, paranoia, and pressure.

As much as I too like to get my own way, I’m reminded that God is calling his leaders to firstly be followers, to be sheep in need of a Shepherd. We must submit ourselves to our Sovereign Father and keep in step with his Spirit. We must remember that we are only ever under-shepherds, taking care of God’s sheep, waiting for the Chief Shepherd to appear.

Preaching

Sometimes there is a fine line between grace and law, between gospel and legalism. Even the Apostle Peter crossed this line and was rebuked by his brother in Christ, the Apostle Paul.

It’s difficult to work out when Driscoll is faithfully preaching Scripture and when he is preaching his own ideas. I remember listening through Driscoll’s series on Proverbs and asking the same question: How much of this is Biblical and how much is simply Driscoll’s ideas? 

Mark Driscoll is an extraordinary communicator. He’s quick on his feet, funny, intelligent, edgy, and has no problem holding an audience for more than an hour. People clamoured to hear him speak. But there is also a dark side. Members of Mars Hill describe listening to preaching as feeling like they’d been beaten up, shamed, and bullied into responding. 

Our churches are to be safe places for the spiritually sick and wounded. We are called to be hospitable, providing hospital-like care for people’s souls. There will be times to confront, correct, rebuke, and call for repentance. People need to hear what it will be like to be a sinner in the hands of an angry God. There will be a place for calling our hypocrisy or complacency. But people need most of all to hear of the Saviour, who took on flesh, shared in our pain and suffering, endured the hate and violence of sinful men, hung on the cross, rose from the grave, and invites us to come to him in faith and repentance.

Only in God himself do the ends truly justify the means, and that is because he alone is a Holy God. His ends are pure, and so are his means.

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