When I was an impressionable tween, my home church (First Baptist Church, Lake City, Arkansas) lost one beloved pastor and gained a new one. As many pastoral transitions are, the period was somewhat tumultuous. The pastor whom we called became a cherished mentor, and his sons became my dear and lifelong friends. He served at FBC Lake City throughout my Junior High and High School years, and well into my further education.
He had taken a cut in pay to come to FBC Lake City, but came anyway because he believed that God had called him there. He worked hard. During his ministry at the church, a heavy snowfall caused structural damage leading to the condemnation of the sanctuary. This man hammered more nails, cut more boards, and hung more sheet rock on the new facility than did anyone in the congregation. He visited the sick. He witnessed to the lost. He kindled a warm fellowship at the church. He worked hard at preaching and teaching.
After his tenure at Lake City came to an end, he moved back to Mississippi, where he continues to this day (far past retirement age) to serve as a pastor of tiny country churches. If he has uttered a curse word in the past thirty years, I didn't hear it (even if I knew some people in the church worthy of one or two such syllables!). He never embarrassed the church. He never caused anyone to doubt his morality. If people ever criticized him, they did so to suggest that he was too good, too cautious not to offend or to cause anyone to cast aspersions on the Lord and His church. He has spent a lifetime living cautiously and wisely.
But, God never called him to a large church.
Pastor Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle has been the focus of Southern Baptist headlines this week. If Pastor Driscoll has made mistakes, we ought to be gracious about them. I have faults. You have faults. We all make mistakes. If unwholesome words come out of his mouth, we ought to be gracious about that. If his church's web site will lead you to pornography in three or four clicks, then we ought to realize that they may not realize that—that they don't create the content of the sites to which they link. Clearly this is a man who wants to proclaim the gospel to people, and like all of us, he meets that task with personal foibles intact and in the way.
But here's the thing: A great many Southern Baptists and some of our institutions have come to the conclusion that people like Pastor Driscoll are exemplary pastors, while my former home pastor is not. This conclusion is put on display by the fact that Driscoll is invited to speak at seminary conferences, is featured in media coverage, is extolled by SBC trendsetters, etc., ad nauseum. My former home pastor and the thousands like him never were and never will be.
How big your church is and how "cool" you are—that's what some segments of our convention value. Respectfully, I wish to submit that these are the wrong values. And thus, the question before us is not whether Pastor Driscoll ought to be tarred and feathered. He shouldn't be. But neither should we be putting him up before ministers-in-training as an exemplary pastor. The line of people more qualified than he for that honor is far too long, and far too many of them have gone completely unrecognized.