Pastor Dude's Mega-Church Draws Crowds

With sermons about sex, evangelical pastor at mega-church draws huge crowds.

January 22, 2009, 6:08 PM

SEATTLE, Jan. 23, 2008— -- At first glance, Mark Driscoll seems like a typical Seattle, Wash., "hipster" dad, from the biker boots to the shades to his calling his 3-year-old "dude."

But nothing about Mark Driscoll is typical -- and neither is the church he presides over.

Driscoll, 38, is the pastor and figurehead of Seattle's Mars Hill Church. The church, founded by Driscoll in 1996, is now nearly 8,000 strong and among the fastest-growing in America.

Most of his parishioners call him "Pastor Mark" but, Driscoll said, "You can call me Pastor Dude if you want."

Whatever you call him, Driscoll is the "indy rock star" of the evangelicals. His flock is a colorful bunch in their Sunday best: torn jeans, tattoos and 20-something avant-garde fashion statements. They're not just there for the dress code; they come to hear sermons with an edge.

"You're being saved, you're being born again," Driscoll shouted in one sermon. "Like a mother in the travails of childbirth. It hurts, you're screaming, you're bleeding, you're weeping, you're crying, it feels like you can't go on."

And Driscoll takes on topics that would make the Pope blush.

"On the subject of masturbation, I will say this," he preached. "The Bible doesn't say anything. I had one guy quote Ecclesiastes 9:10: whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might."

Driscoll admits his preaching can sometimes be summed up with two words: sex and Jesus.

"I like both ... for the record," he said. "Sex with my wife. And I dig Jesus. Absolutely."

Driscoll's blog posts on the church Web site include a variety of often graphic topics but he doesn't think there's too much sex in the Mars Hill Church and is adamant that premarital sex is a sin.

"I think that married people should have free and frequent sex," he said. "That's what I think. And we encourage our people to get married and enjoy one another."

Jesus Was a Rebel

Driscoll has five children and works most days from home to help raise them. His wife Grace was his high-school sweetheart and today she finds herself in the sometimes difficult position of being married to a pastor who likes to talk about sex.

"We did have some discussions, just talking about how far we want to go, what all we want to say," she said, adding that she's no longer embarrassed sharing those intimate details.

"I used to be more private about that sort of thing. I know we have a lot of young couples that need to work through that stuff. So if we can be of help to people, that's great. Otherwise, we don't need to talk about it," she added, laughing.

Driscoll does have some critics who accuse him of lowering the moral standard in his ministry.

"I preach for a living," he said. "If you don't have a critic, then you probably aren't saying anything."

And then there are the things he has to say about Jesus -- Jesus according to Pastor Mark.

Driscoll calls the mainstream church's portrayal of Jesus "a hippie-Christ. A neutered and limp-wristed popular sky fairy of popular culture that would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell."

According to Driscoll, Jesus was an outcast who didn't play by the rules.

"Jesus is typically portrayed as very effeminate guy, kind of long, flowing hair wearing a dress, always smiling, [making] pithy Zen statements that read like fortune cookies at a Chinese restaurant," he said. "And the truth is that he was a construction worker. He was very controversial and got murdered."

The image of Jesus as a rebel seems to strike a chord because the Mars Hill Church isn't just growing by leaps and bounds -- which it is -- but it's drawing in people who otherwise didn't have much interest in organized religion.

A number of parishioners told "Nightline" that they didn't attend church in the past.

"I considered myself a Christian since I was a little kid but I've never really liked a church as much as this church," said RC Decosta. "This is the first church that I've been to that really, I stick by."

The church is as hi-tech as it is hip. While Pastor Mark preaches in the flesh at the main building, thousands come to see him each Sunday on the big screen from a half dozen newer locations throughout the Seattle area -- churches that include pretty nifty coffee shops and free Wi-Fi inside.

'People Are Really Going to Hell'

The facilities may be cutting edge and the topics might appear liberal but Driscoll points out that his beliefs are strict. He is a Calvinist, and believes that people's fates are predetermined.

"I believe that Jesus is God, I believe the Bible is true, I believe people are really going to hell," he said. "Those things in our culture are seen as crazy.

"If you are not a Christian then you do not have eternal life," he implored in a sermon, although it's not all fire and brimstone.

From his home office, filled with an impressive library, he showed some of his most cherished possessions, including a game-used Reggie Jackson baseball bat and a hand-written letter from Charles Haddon Spurgeon in 1873.

"He's kind of one of my heroes," Driscoll said of the influential British Reformed Baptist preacher known as the "Prince of Preachers."

"He had the first mega-church in the history of the world. Five thousand people."

Whether it's the message or the messenger, what's clear is that today, this punk rock preacher's church has taken off. Driscoll acknowledged that he has to work to keep his ego in check.

"I think, to be honest with you, humility is something that, by God's grace, I'm learning," he said. "I would not pretend to be an expert in humility."

Like him or not, Mark Driscoll knows how to draw a crowd, and he knows how to sell a message. A message he hopes to spread, to a neighborhood church near you.

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