Mark Driscoll (Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, founder of the church planting network Acts29 and the new missional web resource Resurgence, and author of Radical Reformission) emailed me a couple of months ago and asked if I wanted to read and blog review his new book Confessions of a Reformission Rev: Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church. I was pumped, agreed, and received a pre-publication version of the book in the mail from Zondervan and read through it near the beginning of January.
I'm going to approach the review in three phases.
The Boring Details: how long, when published, etc.
II. Themes, Quotes & Content: hitting a few themes and highlights.
III. My Take & Recommendation: why you MUST read this book.
I have found this to be a difficult book to put in a one-post review. I considered doing multiple posts, but since the book isn't out yet I would end up giving up too much of the content and you would have to take my word for it. I would rather you read the book. So consider this an extended trailer that should encourage you to pick up the book. Consider this a tray of Turkish Delight. I want you to read and be hungry for more.
So away we go.
I. The Boring Details
The book is due out on May 1st, 2006 and is Driscoll's honest look at the 9 year run of Mars Hill (planting and pastoring). The church has gone from a few people in his living room to more than 4,000, and he has a strategic plan to take it to 10,000 and more.
Mark has already posted a brief excerpt from the book as well as the table of contents. I won't repeat those here. Suffice it to say the chapters are based on attendance, so he deals with issues at each stage of numerical growth. Each chapter is followed by reflection questions, and these are actually ones you won't skip. Very helpful.
Before the "meat" of the book you get Chapter Zero, which is "Ten Curious Questions" and deals with lingo, theology, and ecclesiology to build a missional foundation before talking about their church story. The first appendix is called "The Junk Drawer" and deals with common questions people have about Mars Hill. The second appendix lists distinctives of larger churches. There are endnotes as well. All-in-all the book is about 200 pages long.
II. Themes, Quotes & Content
Emerging Church Issues
Driscoll early on points out his connection to the Emerging Church Movement, but he is careful to distance himself from Emergent. He says, "I myself swim in the theologically conservative stream of the emerging church" (p 22), but also says, "the emergent church is the latest version of liberalism. The only difference is that old liberalism accomodated modernity and the new liberalism accomodates postmodernity" (p 21).
I assure you that I speak as one within the Emerging Church Movement who has great love and appreciation for Christian leaders with theological convictions much different from my own. And because the movement has defined itself as a conversation, I would hope there would be room in the conversation for those who disagree, even poke a bit of fun, but earnestly desire to learn from and journey with those also striving to be faithful to God and fruitful in emerging churches. Standing with my brothers and sisters in our great mission, I hope this book can in some small way help the greater church emerge in biblical faithfulness and missional fruitfulness. (p 23)
Knowing and Hearing God
In Confessions you can't miss the idea that God is not silent in the work of Driscoll and Mars Hill, and that He speaks in amazing ways. Driscoll speaks often of "The Ghost" (his Holy Spirit term).
He tells us why he started Mars Hill, "God had spoken to me in one of those weird charismatic moments and told me to start a church" (p 39). Before they launched their first service Driscoll had a "prophetic dream" that told him to ditch a guy who would eventually try to take over as pastor. Driscoll showed up to the first service and found the guy in the exact circumstances of his dream and told him to get lost before the service even began. Not the best way to build a welcoming atmosphere, but necessary.
Driscoll later tells the story of a demon-possessed guy who came in the service and disrupted it. God told Mark to go to the front of the church during a time of prayer just before the demon-possessed guy started acting out. The book is sprinkled with these sorts of stories, talk of spiritual attacks and "bad angels" talking to his daughter, prophetic dreams (both from God and Satan), even "words of knowledge" (p 121). Sure to be provocative.
Mistakes & Frustrations
Mark confesses his major mistakes in starting and leading Mars Hill. At first they had no clear leadership structure, relationships were too connected to him, he didn't draw clear theological lines, and the church was broke. With some clearly articulated goals written out by Mark, they began to work toward a more biblical church, and it began to grow. Driscoll is open about his mistakes throughout the book.
Driscoll talked about his frustrations being in an immature church with less than manly men. He tells one hilarious story of a guy who called him in the middle of the night upset because he watched a porno and masturbated. Well, that's not hilarious. But the way Driscoll talks about it is hilarious, and his response to the guy was, "A naked lady is good to look at, so get a job, get a wife, ask her to get naked, and look at her instead" (p 60). This is typical Driscollian bluntness, and it works for him. He seems to use frustrations to push him toward prophetic sorts of responses. You will laugh at his strangely courageous moments, and wonder if you are being too soft with those who frustrate you. Will you do what Jesus wants or what the people want?
You don't get the impression from the book that getting from a few people to 4,000 has been easy. It's been rough. There have been problem people ("nut jobs"), pastoral mistakes, spiritual struggles, and even the near miss involving Driscoll, a massage from a hot lady, and the decision to run from rather than receive sexual favors (p 128). Driscoll's openness to his own problems is helpful.
Ecclesiology is a big issue in the book, especially dealing with church polity. Of congregational ecclesiology he says, "As I studied the Bible, I found more warrant for a church led by unicorns than by majority vote. Practically, it seemed obvious that a congregationally governed church would not be led but would instead make decisions by compromise to appease all of the various interests in the church" (p 103). Driscoll instead holds to elder ecclesiology and his thoughts should be challenging to those with other positions. He should also be challenging as a complementarian who believes the biblical view is for male eldership.
A term that comes up time and again is "buzz." Different events in the history of Mars Hill created a "buzz" that brought in curious people, and some of those people would keep coming, get saved and join up. My impression throughout the book is that the buzz they have at Mars Hill is usually created by either weird people doing uncontrollable things or by God's people doing bold and biblical things. "Buzz" was a result, but I don't think ever spoken of as something to be created.
Driscoll believes that comfort is an enemy at Mars Hill and so he has to keep the church ready to charge hell with their squirt guns instead of becoming complacent. To do that Driscoll and the elders strategically blow up the settlements of MHC and push toward risky and bold goals. They buy more property, add more services, and decided that Mark should stop being the pastor of everyone and instead transition to being more of a "missiologist-preacher." They have now begun to move toward so many venues and services that some are video rather than Mark preaching each one. And they are adding a bunch more elders and some staff to serve and lead the church. They have decided not to be happy with where they are.
Their mission is much bigger than growing a megachurch of more than 10,000. Though they have a lot to focus on internally (Driscoll says they are like a "kite in a hurricane"), they have a church planting network and are continuously planting churches and discipling new planters.
III. My Take & Recommendation
This has been one of the most important books on church and ministry I have read, and I think will hold a unique place among books about ministry. My advice? Get this book. Read it. Reread it. Give it away. It's most helpful for pastors and planters since it deals a lot with dealing with preaching, logistics, pastor's family issues, church growth, etc. But I highly recommended for all church leaders and thoughtful Christians.
Where could this book be better? I don't know. Some people will be offended at Driscoll's "in your face" approach. Some will disagree with his reformed theology, his ecclesiology, his charismatic tendencies, his complementarianism, and more. I have my concerns with some of the practicals, like video venue preaching. I'm concerned that a lot of Driscoll's ministry is founded upon his personality. I'm concerned that there may be better ways to go than to build a monstrous church. These are some of the things I've wrestled with in this book and found myself wondering if there might be a better way to go.
But I don't answer to God for Driscoll and Mars Hill. Driscoll does. And I don't have his growth problems, unfortunately. And one of the things he points out in the book is that he has learned to be more careful in his criticisms of others (such as Rick Warren) because it's easy to disagree with the big church guy who is seeing so many good things happen that there are few ideal options open. Instead of considering how to disagree with Driscoll's directions, I encourage you to read the book, be thankful for what God is doing, and learn from it.
Now some positives. Conservative evangelicals need to learn from Driscoll's willingness to identify with the "emerging" church while distancing himself from movements within it that he finds problematic (at the least). By considering himself an insider, he has influence that many evangelicals who only scold the ECM will never have.
I hope this book will be read by many who are practical (or theological) cessationists. Driscoll's "Ghost" stories will be shocking to much of the frigid American Church. I hope this book sparks discussions on the miraculous, the supernatural, the voice of God, the will of God, and more. I hope this book will be widely read and cause many of us to say, "How is God speaking to us?"
For all I've written about, I've neglected so many good things in this book. I've left out lists and charts and stories and systems and ideas that have already become a part of my thinking with my local church. It's a theology book, a missiology book, and a practical book. You will find help no matter what kind of church you are in, where you are located, or what size you are.
I think most of all Confessions is a Jesus book. You cannot help but to read and feel that Jesus is the focus of Driscoll and Mars Hill around every corner. Driscoll writes, "My answer to everything is pretty much the same: open the Bible and preach about the person of Jesus and his mission for our church" (p 86). Good advice.
I think many who read this book will be awakened from their bland Christian slumber to ask good questions of ourselves and our churches. May we hear and respond to the voice of the Ghost, preach Jesus and be on His mission, and have our churches buzzing from the work that God is doing.