And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly--not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don't lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. - 1Peter 5: 1-4 (NLT)
It saddens me that this even has to be written but I am increasingly concerned about the level of pastor worshiping that goes on in modern Christendom today. For those who do not know Pastor Mark Driscoll, he is in charge of the mega church in Seattle known as Mars Hill. He is part of the brash younger pastors today, trained on Rick Warren theology, who seemingly does not care about who he might offend. Besides speaking from the pulpit about topics better saved for pastoral counseling, Driscoll has also been quoted as bragging about the "pile of bodies behind the Mars Hill Church bus." The quote is a reference for what happens when people disagree with him; quite pastoral. Recently there were charges of obvious plagiarism in his book writing but he unabashedly brushed them aside. Yet the stories emanating from Driscoll just keep on coming.
It was reported and verified this week that Driscoll's church entered into a contractual agreement with a California marketing company to ensure that his book, "Real Marriage" ended up on the NY Times best seller list. To accomplish this, the company would use all sorts of different book buying strategies to avoid detection from the Times. The contract specified that 11,000 copies would be bought in a one week period alone. I do not want to rehash the specifics here because a simple google search will turn up the articles already posted about it. The essential background of this story is as follows. The NY Times bestseller list is generated from total book sales as a measure of popularity and overall success of the book and author. It is a prestigious event to actually get your book on the list. Authors dream of writing a NY Times bestseller their whole lives without accomplishing the feat. It also lends immediate credibility to the author. It is a milestone that can never be taken away. You go from being just an "author" to a "NY Times Bestselling Author." That credibility alone can lead to bigger book deals, bigger advance bonuses, and increased future book sales. It is an extremely big deal.
Now, the marketing company is not doing anything illegal. In layman's terms, it is taking the system in existence and gaming it. It is for all intents and purposes - cheating. The contract spells out in detail all of the different ways they can avoid detection to accomplish the goal. It results in a book that otherwise never would have sniffed at the top ten appearing to be something it is not. It results in an author essentially paying his way onto the list and buying credibility that his writing would never earn him. By the way - it isn't cheap either. Mars Hill Church appears to have paid at least $210,000 to this "marketing" company to ensure that Pastor Mark become "Best Selling Author Pastor Mark." When I say the church, I mean the church paid. Not Mark Driscoll but the church itself. This essentially means that tithes and offerings were used to buy Mark Driscoll onto the NY Times bestseller list. Not only that but unless I am missing something, this would mean that tithes and offerings were used to pay the company, who then purchased the books in bulk through third party companies such as Amazon, to make it appear as if real people were buying it. Now since Driscoll is the author, he profits financially from the book sales, so I am confused how this is not essentially stealing from your own congregants. When outreach attempts were made did Pastor Mark see the error of his ways? Did he have that David moment when confronted by the Prophet Nathan? Was the response bathed in humility and embarrassment? If you know Mark Driscoll at all, the answer to those questions was a resounding "no." No, Driscoll, through a church spokesman, doubled down:
"Mars Hill has made marketing investments for book releases and sermon series, along with album releases, events, and church plants, much like many other churches, authors, and publishers who want to reach a large audience. We will explore any opportunity that helps us to get that message out, while striving to remain above reproach in the process. Whether we're talking about technology, music, marketing, or whatever, we want to tell lots of people about Jesus by every means available. That's what we're all about and have been since 1996."
OK, let's sift through this carefully parsed public relations statement. Problem number one is this is not marketing. I do not care what the company calls itself. Marketing is when you advertise something to convince people to buy it. Not when you pretend to be the people and actually buy it yourself. Once again, that is simply cheating, fraudulent, and dishonest to the core. The point about other churches committing similar expenses seems rather juvenile and only highlights the sad state of the pastoral office today. Thirdly, this was not an "opportunity to get the message out." If that was the case, why not simply give the book away? Why charge $22.50 and make a profit at all? I am not against charging money for your writing work but do not then hide behind pious nonsense about only wanting to reach as many people as possible. Fourthly, if you are striving to "stay above reproach" perhaps you should not have cheated to begin with. What about the 11 th best seller that week? What about what you cheated that author out of? Fifth, this was not about telling as many people about Jesus as possible. This was so your pastor can claim to be something he really isn't. If you really just wanted to tell as many people as possible then people would not be reporting that there are boxes of these books collecting dust around Mars Hill. Better yet as I said, just offer the book for free? The church also tried to muddy the issue further:
Driscoll's books have generated more than $200,000 in income for the church. Pastor Mark's generosity has never been in question, and both our board and senior staff [are] convinced that the church benefits both spiritually and financially from this writing ministry."