By any measure, pastor Mark Driscoll is wildly successful in the contemporary evangelical world. Mars Hill Church, which he co-founded in 1996, in Seattle, now boasts 15 locations from Seattle to Albuquerque. More than 13,000 people worship at a Mars Hill Church every week, often watching Driscoll’s hour-long sermons on large screens at the front of the sanctuary. Online, his sermons are heard about 15 million times each year. On top of all that, his 2011 book Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together was a No. 1 New York Times best-seller.
Alas: Last week, Warren Cole Smith of the conservative Christian magazine World reported that Mars Hill had paid at least $210,000 to a California consulting company to boost Real Marriage onto best-seller lists. The company, ResultSource, uses a variety of tactics to circumvent the systems intended to prevent bulk sales from influencing the lists. (Driscoll is not the only prominent pastor to be accused of boosting his own book sales using ethically gray techniques. In February, North Carolina megachurch pastor Steven Furtick was accused of a similar list-topping scheme.)
Even for a large church with a popular pastor, however, $210,000 is an astronomical amount to spend on marketing. “It certainly looks like a massive misuse of money,” theologian, pastor, and author Carl Trueman told me. “But when you have a church culture where one man is absolutely central to everything the church does publicly, then it’s really difficult to draw that line between the church’s mission and the man’s mission, and money spent on the mission and money spent on the man.”