Mark Driscoll on Writing “Doctrine” and Losing a 1000 Members

Blogger and Editorial Director at Crossway, Justin Taylor interviewed pastor Mark Driscoll on the so-called New Calvinism and his latest book on Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe

In response to the first question posed to him, Mark Driscoll answered thus:

Like all of my writing, this project was born out of my work as one of the elders at Mars Hill.  We have enjoyed an ocean of God’s grace at our church.  As we expand to more campuses, states, and possibly even nations, I wanted to do all I could to ensure doctrinal fidelity and clarity for our church.  As the tree grows and the fruit increases, the roots need to sink deep as well. So, when our attendance was at about six thousand people a few years ago, we did something unprecedented.  We canceled out the membership of everyone in our church and I preached the Doctrine series for thirteen weeks.  Each sermon was well over an hour and included me answering text-messaged questions from our people.

Pastor Driscoll continues,

Those who made it through the entire series were interviewed, and those who evidenced true faith in Christ and signed our membership covenant were installed as new members. We had always had a high bar for membership, but I wanted to raise that bar higher as we pursued our goal of becoming, by God’s grace, a church of fifty thousand. In so doing, we lost about a thousand people, dropped to five thousand total, and missed budget for the first time in our church’s history. We then rebounded over the next few years to ten thousand people a week and as many as thirteen thousand on our peak weekend.  We had pruned, which hurt, but then we harvested, which was healing.  It’s not all about the numbers, and we were willing to lose a lot of people, but God proved that there is power in the gospel and that a people united around core biblical doctrine can be used by God to bear much fruit by grace.  We now use the book and its small group questions as our membership process for Mars Hill.  (read more, emphasis added)

Now this is what you call Radical Discipleship—ensuring that all your members are on the same page on key doctrines.

Apparently for Mark Driscoll and the Mars Hill Church, the Lord honored their radical approach to discipleship by adding thousands—actually exceeding the thousand they had lost.

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36 Responses to Mark Driscoll on Writing “Doctrine” and Losing a 1000 Members

  1. “Now this is what you call Radical Discipleship—ensuring that all your members are on the same page on key doctrines.”

    Maybe. I’d call it “lots of people saying they hold the same ideas.” Jesus defines discipleship as obedience, “teach them to obey all I have commanded,” not adherence to shared ideas. Having lots of people in the same big room looks to me like conventional American practice. Hard to say what might be really going on.

  2. Sometimes I think Driscoll is inspired. Sometimes I think he a little nuts. 😉

  3. T.C. R says:


    That quote is a bit tongue-in-cheek, on my part. Yep, obedience that is fueled by right doctrine on key issues, right?


    I’m with you. I think the man is a unique church planter and visionary – a bit unorthodox, at times. At any rate, this depends on perspective. 😉

    • Well, better obedience fueled by the living presence of Jesus and a vision of the kingdom setting a right context for hearing. Some are too invested in a scholastic framework that serves to reinforce a sub-Christian worldview and praxis. I havae a hard time understanding Driscolls vision of the kingdom. I always see way too much Mark and not enough Jesus.

      • T.C. R says:

        Well, better obedience fueled by the living presence of Jesus and a vision of the kingdom setting a right context for hearing.

        I really don’t think Driscoll has worked out the vision of the kingdom yet. If he has, he hasn’t gotten it yet.

  4. Acidri says:

    Its hard to make a comment on Mark to be honest. One moment he really is orthodox…the next moment he is camping in murky waters with a smile.Its harder to comment on a book called Doctrine when you still have a Bible steaming with orthodoxy.

  5. T.C. R says:


    Driscoll seems to be one of those guys who is doing theology as he goes (though I’d call him an overly-zealous Calvinist and complementarian).

  6. Impressive stuff. Hats off to him for his courage and his trust in God.

    My question is if he’s lifting the bar a bit too high for church membership? Is there biblical basis for that? Personally, I don’t think so.

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  8. Wondering what happened to the “pruned.”

    This seems such a catch-22. We don’t want people sitting in church week after week without a clue on what they believe, but unless they flat out say, “church is for the birds” or “I don’t believe in Jesus,” what do we do with them? Put them in an old new-members class to be discipled. Maybe a “my theology doesn’t quite line up with the church class, but I like coming” class. Of course this is the reason that rolls are NEVER pruned and names are NEVER discarded in some churches – but those are just as bad because those people still aren’t dealt with.

    I guess I like the general idea of the concept, but the realities raise a lot of questions.

  9. So it sounds like he lost 1000 people when he started doing long sermons on doctrine because the people were bored and then when they moved onto something else they began growing again. Ummm, something seems a bit off there. I think it’s interesting that he calls that pruning.

    I always find Greg Boyd’s story of how they lost a whole lot of members when he started preaching the series that The Myth of a Christian Nation to be particularly compelling. That’s actually people leaving ’cause he pissed them off or they didn’t like his vision of Kingdom minded Christianity. Crazy.

    • Lou says:

      That’s what Mark makes it sound like. But the reality is that most of the 1000 who left were already in agreement with his docrine (ie, members in good standing), but who did not think his changes were biblical (ie, firing elders, removing accountability, and taking a purpose driven approach).

  10. T.C. R says:


    I believe the impetus of all this is what is commonly called “regenerate church membership.” As Mark and his leadership understand/stood it, it meant/s assent to a list of doctrines that they so defined.

    At any rate, the Lord knows those who are his.


    I believe in 40-50mins sermons – just ask Greg Boyd. 😉

    But I like Boyd’s vision of the kingdom much better.

  11. carl sweatman says:

    I know it’s a bit pedantic and slightly annoying (admittedly, those two often go together), but I am simply struck by the arrogance of the book’s title–i.e. what we SHOULD believe. This obviously comes to mean: we should believe in the beliefs held and espoused by Driscoll; because, after all, this book on doctrine is founded on what he believes/understands/thinks/conjectures/etc. Sure he masks it with cute little phrases like, ‘doctrinal fidelity’ and ensuring ‘church clarity’; but this really means: ‘believe what we (or, I) believe’. 1 Cor 1.10-13 comes to mind.

    Also, and I know I’ve said this before (or, at least something like it), but I’m not sure I want to be told what I SHOULD believe by someone who is meagrely qualified to formulate and expound on Christian doctrine. Moreover, I’m not sure I want to be taught doctrine by someone who is compelled to flaunt his successes and make mention of his accolades (see his PDF bio from the MarsHill site). If Driscoll has reason to boast, Paul has more; and all of Paul’s more he counted it σκυβαλα.

    Sorry, I’ll stop ranting now. Just had to get that off my chest. 😉

  12. T.C. R says:


    Some rants are in order – like this one. 😉

    Perhaps, Driscoll is assuming too much.

  13. carl sweatman says:

    And we all know what happens when one assumes. 😉 I’ll leave that one alone.

  14. Pingback: When members don’t agree « Jack Of All Trades

  15. Salas Ted says:

    Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
    — Luke 15:3-7

  16. diglot says:

    The title of the book does sound rather presumptuous – “Doctrine: What Christians SHOULD Believe.”

    I would like to glance at the book sometime. I wonder if one of the things Driscoll believes you have to believe is the Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty in salvation. I wonder how much wriggle room people are given on doctrines.

    Bryan brings up a good point about Greg Boyd. He also lost a thousand members of his church when he preached on his vision of God’s kingdom, whereas Driscoll losing a thousand members seems to be more about not holding to specific doctrinal views. Unless one is willing to strongly equate doctrinal stances to kingdom living, then I would say Boyd’s loss of membership was healthy for his church, whereas Driscoll’s loss isn’t. (That made more sense in my mind)

  17. T.C. R says:


    Sad to say, but Driscoll is a hard-nose Calvinist.

    Regarding Boyd, I do agree with the general assessment.

  18. diglot says:

    I knew Driscoll is a Calvinist,but I wonder if he made that part of the Church’s official doctrine in the book. I have always wanted to go visit his church but seeing as I live in Minnesota its a bit too far away.

  19. Lionel Woods says:

    Church Membership? What the Hades is that? Does any church/person have the right to exclude those Christ has accepted? I think Paul thinks otherwise, but hey Sola Scriptura right? Wrong!!!

  20. T.C. R says:


    Sola Scriptura still. Here’s why: our local churches should only be made up of regenerate believers. These regenerate believers should be in one accord on key doctrines. Perhaps this is how Driscoll and staff were reasoning. 😉

  21. Lionel Woods says:

    1. What key doctrines?

    2. We can’t guarantee all are regenerate, nor does the bible EVER say that. Not even once not even insinuated.

    3. There is only one church.

    4. If a person is received by Jesus can we reject them, even if they disagree with “our” key doctrines?

    • T.C. R says:

      Well, he’s got 13 chps of what he deems key doctrines – there’s a start.

      Personally, I don’t think anyone should presume on having a church of only regenerate believers. I mean that would be cool, but not the Driscoll-way.

      But I do think Acts 2:41 and 47 point to saved baptized believers being added to the visible church. That’s a starting point!

      You should send that last question to Driscoll. 😀

  22. Jerry B. says:

    Just how do “cancel” everyone’s membership? Being Baptist, we could never “cancel” anyone without the vote of the church body. Hard to imagine every member voting to “cancel” their membership.

  23. T.C. R says:

    Jerry B,

    It seems like a leadership decision without the input of the church body. Just a guess.

  24. Lionel Woods says:


    Driscoll has the power and authority to do as he pleases LOL! And to second guess him could get you removed as a pastor.

  25. Sarah Pacheco says:


    These aren’t just “lots of people holding the same ideas.” An idea is an indefinite or unformed conception. An idea is formed from man’s knowledge, which is limited. But Doctrine are the truth-claims revealed in Holy Scripture. These are God’s commands and God’s truth of who He is. These are black & white matters that should not be up for debate because it is revealed in scripture. “Teach them to obey what I have commanded.” – That is exactly what Mars Hill Church is doing. I really respect and admire the high calling to truth of the leadership at Mars Hill Church.

  26. Radiance says:

    Pastor Driscoll is clearly a gifted man, but I personally appreciate my drastically smaller church precisely for its size. (Less than 50 members!) I am not saying “mega-churches” are bad, but I just don’t want people to judge the merits of a pastor simply by how huge his crowds are…

  27. Sammy Davies says:

    Hey there. What was your source for the quotes you included? I checked the blog post you linked to but couldn’t find this section of the discussion.

    I’m actually writing my masters disertation on the theology and practice of church membership of some large churches, Mars Hill Included, so this would be very helpful, Thanks

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