Christianity Today launched a new podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill to analyze the factors that contributed to the closure of the mega-church in Seattle, Washington. I decided to start listening to the podcast because it has been the starting point of several conversations with other clergy members.

For this first review, I’ll be looking at the first three episodes of the series. You can find the full series online here.

Episode 1: Who Killed Mars Hill?

The opening episode of the series talks about Mark Driscoll’s resignation from Mars Hill and the collapse that followed his exit. His preaching style, paranoia, and rise to fame were all explored in this episode.

One thing that struck me about this episode was that many people interviewed had genuinely good experiences with Mark. Yet those positive experiences only intensified the pain they experienced due to his unraveling and departure from Mars Hill.

This reminded me of some of my own experiences with toxic leadership. It would be easier to write these individuals off as all bad. However, some of what makes the experience so bad is previous positive experiences.

I particularly appreciated the commentary in the series about how conflict is handled in the church. All too often, we blame the hurting people for disrupting the peace by voicing their concerns. Yet it is the abusers in the church who are actually hurting the witness of the church.

Episode 2: Boomers, The Big Sort, and Really, Really Big Churches

In the second episode of the podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill explores the events that led to the rise of Mars Hill church and Mark Driscoll. The increasing prominence of the suburbs were a major factor in the creation of giant megachurches.

Megachurches developed out of a need to critically engage both the church and culture. However, in our digital age, young pastors of large churches could rise to prominence before their character has been built.

In cases like these, a pastor’s success can outpace their character. When others see their success and charisma, the success confirms the authority they’ve gained. Unfortunately, this can leave many churches with pastors who have not developed the character to cope with the notoriety.

Episode 3: “You Read the Bible, Ringo?”

The third episode of the series begins to unpack some of the things that happened in the last days of Mark Driscoll’s ministry at Mars Hill. While he was always aggressive and filled his sermons with crude language, Mark Driscoll became increasingly paranoid and hostile during his last days of ministry at Mars Hill.

He began to frame things in “us vs. them” terms, viewing anyone who opposed him as a threat. Most significantly, one of his staff members suggested that he surround himself with older men for counsel. Seeing this as a threat, Driscoll accused her of heresy and she was immediately fired.

Overall Thoughts

I’ve been somehow insulated from information about Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll until listening to this podcast. One of the things that stood out to me, though, was the hostile and condescending way he speaks in the clips shared on the podcast.

One person noted that he often took the pulpit and spoke like he was an insult comic, ranting against weak men and people in the LGBTQIA+ community. He used graphic descriptions of sex and derogatory comments about women, all of which were inappropriate.

I look forward to listening to further analysis of the situation. In the first episode, there was an expressed desire to help prevent similar abuse from happening in churches around the country. I hope that these later episodes will give more concrete tips to help spot and remedy potentially abusive structures and people within the church.