Casual but Direct, Mark Driscoll Has a Message
Written by Kelli Gillespie
If you’re looking for the truth, Mark Driscoll is your man. Tackling topics from depression and pride, to online dating and hearing the voice of God, this devoted husband and loving dad is one of the most watched and listened to pastors in the world. With more than 10 million downloads a year, many are hungry for his teachings, which come directly from the Bible, and his sermons regularly rank #1 on iTunes for Religion & Spirituality. There was no topic off limits as Risen went deeper with conversations of trading lies for truth, relationships, and looking for unicorns.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine in San Diego, California
Risen Magazine: You’ve talked about stints of depression, especially early in your ministry and I think many struggle with the same stronghold, or an addiction of some sort, or feelings of insecurity…How did you work through it and is it something you think someone can ever fully recover from? Is it something that you still deal with now and would recognize?
Mark Driscoll: It’s interesting. The scriptures talk a lot about depression. The old term is melancholy. Also when you read a lot of older literature they talk about melancholy as their word for depression. As you read the Psalms categorically, the number one category of [the book of] Psalms is lament; people who were depressed and praying it out or singing it out. So it’s a pretty dominate paradigm in scripture, but in culture we tend to think if anybody is sad or depressed then there is something that’s wrong. And biblically, it’s fairly common. Prophets like Jeremiah; well that’s just kind of his whole personality, pretty melancholy. For me, there are two kinds of depression categorically. There’s just the biological where you know, your mom died, you’re sad. You live in a place like Seattle where the sun doesn’t come out for 10 months a year, [laughter] and you’re just bummed out. Sometimes it’s hormonal or chemical, especially for women whose bodies tend to be a little more sensitive than guys to certain factors.
And then the flip side for a lot of young adults, I think it really comes out of an identity crisis. They don’t know who they are. The next book I’m working on is, Our Identity in Christ, based out of Ephesians. I think it really is an identity crisis and the depression comes in when you’re trying to be someone so you can have an identity and then it doesn’t come together. You end up having people and things become the source of your identity, so they become your idolatry. It’s like, “I’m a good student. But then I become depressed because I didn’t score well. I’m on a career track. Now I’m depressed because I didn’t get the LSAT scores I was hoping, and now I can’t get into the school that I want. I’m in a relationship. Oh, they just cheated on or dumped me, now I don’t even know who I am. I feel alone. I’m healthy and independent; I can take care of myself. But now I’m sick and struggling and life is hard.” Usually, if it’s not sort of environmentally or chemically conditioned, it’s an identity crisis. People will feel great until their thing doesn’t work. I always say, “Your identity exposes your idolatry.” You’ve rested your hope and the definition of who you are in someone or something and when that goes away, you’re destroyed; you’re lost. So for some people your identity is “I have to be in a relationship, I can’t be single.” To be single then is to be spun into complete depression. You’ve got to be with somebody which is why sometimes gals will end up with guys that are abusive and total losers because it’s better than being alone. That’s what they’ve grown to think.
Risen Magazine: You are so good about trading out the lies for the truth, and whether people agree with it or not, it’s secondary. Has this always been your style? How did you get bold enough to speak truth and not let any other factors sway you?
Mark Driscoll: For me, I didn’t grow up in the church so I didn’t know that the preacher wasn’t supposed to tell the truth. [Laughter] I got saved reading the Bible and everybody in there seemed to get killed. So I guess you just go for it. I always need to work on saying things in a way that is provocative but not over the line, being humble, and not manipulating my opportunity. I’d never say I’ve always gotten it right. We do punish people for going too far; we don’t punish people for not going far enough. For me it’s like, “Mark, you crossed the line.” Yeah, well there are a hundred-thousand guys who can’t even see it they are so far away. I would rather try and dance on the line and cross it occasionally then play it so safe and close to the vest that nobody ever got upset, because that probably means there wasn’t much courage going into it. I believe too, as you make mistakes, you apologize, and I might not get it right, but I tried my best. Once I got saved at 19, it was the truth that really wrecked me. You know, I thought I was a good person until I realized that sin was pride. And if sin was pride, then I’m like a Major League sinner. The truth is what changed my life.
My story, I don’t tell this much, but I come from a pretty crazy family line, all the way back in County Cork, Ireland. We were a rebellious bunch. We were actually pirates. In Baltimore Harbor my relatives would go out and rob liquor ships – yes, we robbed liquor ships, that’s our claim to fame – we had castles, and we’d go to war, we were pirates and we’d steal wine. Then we left County Cork, Ireland, during the Great Famine and my great, great, great grandmother as far as I can tell, starved to death. And that’s how we got to the States. I think it’s just down deep in the genes; I’m kind of a fighter by nature. But once I learned the truth, it showed me that my whole family history and heritage was wrong. A lot of the men are alcoholics and wife-beaters, and real violent dangerous men and so apart from the truth, I’d be a completely different man. I’d treat my wife very different, if she was still with me, and I would be a horrendous father. So for me, I’m pretty stubborn and tough, I need the truth unvarnished for it to be any good to me. You can dilute it down to where it’s still true, but it’s so weak, it’s like ice tea with 50 ice cubes that’s been out in the sun for an hour. By the end, it doesn’t even taste like ice tea. And I think a lot of people do that with the truth. They get to the point where it’s so diluted I don’t even know if they can taste it.
Risen Magazine: Since you didn’t grow up in a Christian home, I’m sure there are many things you would’ve liked to have known then, that you understand now. Is there one thing that stands out that you would really want someone who doesn’t know the Lord to grasp? Something that you wished someone would have just grabbed you by the shirt and said, “Listen!”
Mark Driscoll: I thought I knew who Jesus was and I had no idea. I think a lot of people think they know who Jesus is, but have no idea – even a lot of people who did grow up in the church. They’ve rejected somebody that they don’t even really know. And sometimes it’s the result of bad teaching; maybe Jesus was not presented as he truly is, so what they rejected was not Jesus, but a false characterization, or caricature of him. I mean I thought Jesus was a very feminine guy in a dress who just walked around with lambs. It was like, “Do you want to be like that?” Um, not really. “I don’t know what to do with lambs, I don’t want to wear dresses, and being very tender is not really my highest priority.” But that’s not who Jesus is. Jesus is a construction worker – I didn’t know that. Atoned for the sin of the world – that’s pretty cool. And he’s coming again as a king to judge the living and the dead, he’s going to ride a white horse, he’s going to come with a sword, and he’s going to put to death all his enemies – that sounds like a good team to be on; much better than playing with lambs, wearing a dress.
And if sin was pride, then I’m like a Major League sinner. The truth is what changed my life.
Risen Magazine: You’ve been able to show Jesus to the world through technology with 10 million downloads a year and your sermons usually rank #1 on iTunes. Is this an area you kind of “geek” out on or do your advisors share trends? How do you stay on the cutting edge leading the online pack?
Mark Driscoll: I paved my way through high school and college as a journalist. I’ve got a Communications degree from the Edward R. Murrow School of Communications – which is one of the top five in the country. So I went to college as an unbeliever to study communication, speech, journalism, advertising, marketing – but the weird thing is that I’m so old, I actually got my degree before the Internet.
Risen Magazine: [Laughter] That’s not that old Mark.
Mark Driscoll: The Internet came out in what, ‘96/’97, somewhere in there. Well I graduated high school in ’89 and college in ’93. By the grace of God, I’m in Seattle, planting a church, when the Internet goes up. And everybody in my church is a young tech-head who is working at a place called Microsoft. We started our church in ’96 and within months had our website up where people could start downloading sermons. Part of it is the people that come to Christ in our church tend to be young, entrepreneurial, college-educated, tech-savvy, artsy types – it’s just Seattle. It’s always raining so everybody is indoors on their computer, literally. They sit indoors, work on their computers, and drink coffee; that’s Seattle.
Risen Magazine: Come visit. [Laughter]
Mark Driscoll: No need. Let’s just iChat. [Laughter] So unintentionally, we’ve always positioned ourselves to ride those waves. When we started giving sermons away, everyone [else] was charging. We said there’s no way we can do that. And my audience is young. The intentionality is really to reach college age, young singles that may not have a ton of money, so we want to give stuff away and influence early before they get married and have kids and make some tragic life choice decisions.
Risen Magazine: Speaking of technology and relationships, what are your views on online-dating?
Mark Driscoll: I think it can be a very good tool. If you’re a single woman, it’s a pretty terrifying thing to just meet some guy and go out. You don’t know who he’s going to be and whether or not you’re safe. I think the technology allows you to get to know something about somebody and allows things to develop a little more safely. It’s interesting too because I will log onto eHarmony and certain sites, not because I’m looking for a relationship [laughter], but just out of curiosity to see what it’s like to be single today, because half of our church is single. It’s amazing because even if you go under “religious preference” on certain dating sites and say “Evangelical Christian – Are you open or closed to pre-marital sex?” The majority will say “Evangelical Christian, open to premarital sex.” They put it right on their dating profile. It’s interesting to know that publically there is not even an understanding among those who are Christians. To start with, “Hey I’ll sleep with you,” is probably not the best place to start a Christian relationship. But it can be useful and a lot of people in our church use it, and several of our friends have met that way too.
Risen Magazine: So apparently relationships definitely need some serious attention. What do you think is one of the biggest struggles with young adults?
Mark Driscoll: Sexual addiction. I can’t overstate the porn epidemic. It’s not just men, it’s also women, but the number one consumer of online pornography is 12-17 year-old boys. So if you figure the average guy marries at 28 and if he started looking at porn at age 11, which is average first exposure, that’s 17 years as a porn-head and then he marries a woman… it’s going to have some serious effects on how that marriage goes.
And the other is sexual assault. One in four women and one in six men report being sexually assaulted. It’s the most under-reported crime with only 5-40% cases reported. You’re looking at a whole generation of guys who are sexually addicted, and a whole generation of girls who are sexual assaulted. My opinion is most college campuses are pretty much rape cultures. Gals with eating disorders, putting out sexually to be popular with boys, who are very immature, addicted to porn, putting alcohol in them, meant to loosen their inhibitions. Put all of those ingredients together, broken family, no father involved… and then they are thinking marriage; it’s pretty catastrophic at times.
We tend to think of the grace of God as just covering our sin, which it does. But the grace of God also empowers our lives.
Risen Magazine: So many people say they are followers of Christ, but don’t live like they are – how can lukewarm Christianity be combated?
Mark Driscoll: My spirit says the majority of lukewarm Christians are not Christians. They come from a Christian subculture or Christian family. The key is when you’re a kid you kind of borrow your parent’s faith for a while, and then you’ve got to come to your own. And if you never really come to your own, you really probably haven’t been born-again. You probably haven’t really been saved. I was raised Roman Catholic so I would’ve said, “Yeah, I’m a Christian.” My family was Catholic, and I believed in God, and I tried to be a good person, I got baptized when I was a baby… but I didn’t know Jesus, I wasn’t in the church, I wasn’t in scripture, I wasn’t growing, I was completely lost. And so for people who grow up with Christian heritage, sometimes it like being Greek or Italian, that’s our family we were brought into and it’s part of our culture. But it’s not really a personal, born-again, commitment to Jesus. For a lot of people too I think Jesus becomes a concept, and not a person. [Those people would say,] “I believe in Jesus, oh yeah he’s the guy that died.” Is he a person that is alive that you know? He’s an idea, more than a person to them. I always tell people if you’re lukewarm or uncertain, just stay on the side of caution and assume perhaps you’re lost and you need to come to faith, rather than wrongly assuming that you’re okay.
Risen Magazine: I think most believers understand prayer, but have a harder time listening and distinguishing God’s answers/directions/leadership. Sometimes they think only pastors have this gift. What tools or advice can you share to help people better hear God?
Mark Driscoll: That’s a good question. I’m theologically charismatic. I believe in the Holy Spirit and all the spiritual gifts. I don’t believe God has to speak outside of scripture, but I think he does when chooses; he’s certainly free to. I’ve had God speak to me audibly on some occasions and in dreams and stuff like that. Relationship with God is like every relationship; it’s all about communication. The primary way God talks to us is through scripture. So I’m always reticent when someone is not deeply rooted, founded, and grounded in scripture. If they say, “God told me…” I think, “I don’t know because you don’t spend enough time in the scripture to really even know the voice of God.” And if you’re avoiding, or not devoted to the primary way God has chosen to communicate, I’m not sure he would honor that by using secondary modes of communication. And sometimes it’s just convictions and impressions. So practically for me, before I decide what I’m going to be preaching on next, I take a day of silence and solitude and I’ll journal, I’ll pray, I’ll walk, and I’ll talk out loud to God. And sometimes that will take a couple days and then I’ll feel a deep attraction toward a book of the Bible or toward a topic. I just feel like if that is a place of strong, compelling curiosity for me, then I’ll take that as from the Holy Spirit. And I’ll take that [topic or answer] back to my elders and I’ll submit it to spiritual authority. I would never say, “God told me.” But I would say, “I think I heard this from the Lord.” And this is for certain church decisions too.
I teach this to my kids as well. There are certain times with my kids when they are not listening or obeying. As a general rule, I have the best kids on the earth… but there are occasional moments. With my one son in particular, since he was a little boy, the more we talked, the worse it got. So I just told him to go sit in his room and pray and talk to Jesus. I’d say, “When you and Jesus have sorted it out, you come back and tell me what he said.” And he’s been doing that since he was three or four. And he’ll come down [stairs] tears in his eyes and say, “Okay here’s what he said…” And sometimes God brought scripture to mind, or a biblical principle, and sometimes he’d say, “I just feel like God told me I was being proud.” He’s twelve now and has a great relationship with Jesus. Part of when you’re looking as if it came from the Lord, you’re looking at content. If somebody comes down the stairs, with tears in their eyes and says, “I’m sorry for being proud.” You think, “Yeah, that’s probably the Holy Spirit.”
for people who grow up with Christian heritage, sometimes it like being Greek or Italian, that’s our family we were brought into and it’s part of our culture. But it’s not really a personal,
born-again, commitment to Jesus.
Risen Magazine: Talk to me about pride. I think this is something every American struggles with, and if they don’t admit it, then it’s probably really rooted in them. You speak a lot on pursuing humility with the grace of God, so when you’re a bestselling author, guest on national TV shows, overseeing multi-church campuses – basically at the height of influence, what have you found to help keep it all in perspective?
Mark Driscoll: Humility is something that I’m always working on. For me I think it really starts theologically where everything I have is by the grace of God. We tend to think of the grace of God as just covering our sin, which it does. But the grace of God also empowers our lives. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, “I worked harder than everyone and I got more done than anyone.” That’s weird. And then it says, “For it wasn’t I, it was the grace of God that is with me.” Paul’s got this confidence that is not arrogance. He says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If he just said, “I can do anything,” then that would be pretty arrogant. But he’s saying, “By the grace of God, I can do whatever I need to do.” And I think that’s the main difference between confidence and arrogance. Saying, “I can do that if that’s what God wants and he gives me the Holy Spirit’s power to do it.”
I felt like that many times, for many years. Especially I think when I was starting out just young and wanting to prove myself. I had never been to Bible college, never been to seminary, had no denomination – I’d never even been a member of a church. But I started mine [Mars Hills church] when I was a new Christian. I didn’t get paid for three years by the church… just working hard, slugging it out, feeling like, “I’m going to do this.” Yes, the motives were certainly mixed. Some of it was for God’s glory and some of it was to prove myself.
Where we’re at now, it is so ridiculously fruitful that it’s just beyond explanation. We’ve seed planted in the U.S. over 400 churches. We started in the least churched city in America [Seattle] – at the time there were more dogs than evangelicals. And I went after twenty-something, college-educated men as my focal point, and that was the least-churched demographic in America. See, young people will go to church because their parents drive them; married people will go because they are trying to have a family, single women will go hoping to find a husband, and single guys just don’t go. So I’m going after the least of the least. I’m out looking for unicorns, that’s what I’m doing. [Laughter] And now we average 15 thousand people on Sundays, we’re one of the 15 largest churches in America – it doesn’t make any sense at all. We don’t have any large buildings, we’re scattered all over the place, we don’t have any parking – and then my wife and I write a book and it’s a New York Times Bestseller [“Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together“]. Everything in my life is a lot of God’s grace. At this point to say, “Look what I did!“, well that would be pretty ridiculous. It’s like a kite in a hurricane saying, “Look what I did.” Yeah, not much, because you’re just the kite, not the hurricane. So the bigger it gets, the more obvious [that God’s the reason] why it gets done.
Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Summer 2012