MH & Groupthink


It’s easy to get cynical about the church these days (much less humanity!), and going to seminary didn’t help any. So, word to the wise, if you have tendencies toward pessimism, don’t go to seminary.

Ahem. Moving on.

Suffice to say that my heart aches for anyone who has been under the influence of foolish church leaders, become led astray, and even abused. This has indubitably been the case at Mars Hill for many, and for quite a while now. The situation(s) there are particularly close to me, because I was geographically close for several years, and in my seminary whippersnapping days, I attended several Mars Hill services. But not only that, I thought the sermons were passing (I mostly went for the music), and many of my friends thought Mars Hill was cool. And not only that, but I have personally interacted with devoted Mars Hill members, a family of which had been excommunicated last year.

I have been observing various threads discussing the latest news with some interest and sadness, and I have been thinking for the past year about what went wrong with Mars Hill Seattle.

Every time I observe a post on FB about Mars Hill (MH) and/or Mark Driscoll (MD) and the next thing he blew up or the next leader that MH has fired because of a power play, I notice a common reaction from those still active in a MH church, along these lines:

  1. Don’t slander!
  2. Don’t do this publicly!
  3. Don’t go by hearsay!

It does not matter who started which thread. I watched two unrelated MH threads explode with these same reactions from current members, and it told me one thing: groupthink. Which leads to the next question: whence comes groupthink?

That should be fairly easy to answer: manipulation and fear tactics. Parishioners are told repeatedly (explicitly and implicitly) to say and behave in certain ways in certain situations, and because MH members are “all about Jesus”, when the authority of Jesus is invoked, well, it is an unquestionable mandate.

And whose fault would that be? Easy: leadership executes those orders. But okay, what’s wrong with the leadership? On this issue is where I’ve ruminated the most. I’ve noticed some themes in MH leadership.

  1. Mark Driscoll, of course, whose personality is another blog post.
  2. Fairly young leadership.
  3. Male, because of gender hierarchy/complementarianism.

It is easy to indoctrinate young minds to prime them for leadership, and MD’s domineering “man’s man” (whatever that means!) personality is quite attractive to like-minded young men. And when you put young, impressionable people in charge, they will support and defend the Leader without question. I can definitely see this at MH, and to me, it is the one giant red flag that points to a cult mentality.

Others with more experience than I have written more detailed posts on why MH may be a cult. I don’t have that experience, but even if one begins to look at just the leadership structure, something starts to smell cult-y.

Thoughts? Not looking for arguments, but rather any leadership patterns you’ve experienced or noticed (in general, not just within the MH context) that could go rotten quickly.