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First pastor fired at Mars Hill foresaw fallout

Paul Petry was fired for "unhealthy distrust of spiritual authority."
Paul Petry

SEATTLE -- The first pastor ever fired by Mars Hill's founder, Mark Driscoll, says he is saddened but not surprised by the news of Driscoll's resignation.

Paul Petry gave up his law practice after Driscoll invited him to serve as a pastor for families and membership care. He was excited for the opportunity to try something outside of law.

"Now I get to play a healing role in people's lives, rather than be adversarial, I get to bring people together," Petry remembered.

He enjoyed three years serving at the Ballard campus. Then, in 2007, Driscoll pushed a change in the bylaws. Petry was concerned it would reduce the governing body from 24 elders to just four, with Driscoll at the helm.

Driscoll believed it would streamline decision making, Petry remembers.

"In corporate America, yes," Petry said. "We're talking about a church."

Petry challenged Driscoll on reducing the size of the elder council, and argued for an appeals process in the event a leader was reprehended or fired.

On the last Sunday in September 2007, Petry sat in church as Driscoll preached a sermon he found odd.

"Doesn't submit to authority, doesn't obey the chain of command, doesn't listen, doesn't do what he's told – just rebellious, stiff-necked, heard-hearted and stupid," Driscoll says in the sermon later posted to Mars Hill's website.

He continues later in that sermon: "There's a few guys right now that – if I wasn't going to end up on CNN – I would go Old Testament on them, even in leadership in this church."

"I listened to the sermon, and I thought, "Who is he talking about?'" Petry said.

Petry never imagined Driscoll might have been referring to him.

Within hours of that sermon, both Petry and another pastor who also dissented received an email about a mandatory meeting with Driscoll and three others that evening.

"There will be no discussion, only repentance, and he got up and walked out of the room," Petry remembers Driscoll saying.

The reason given, Petry says: "Unhealthy distrust of spiritual authority."

It was the beginning of a long line of Mars Hill career casualties as tens of pastors now report challenging Driscoll's leadership and subsequently losing their job.

According to Petry, he was given the chance for a trial, but not allowed to attend.

He wrote a letter to Mars Hill leaders, as he foresaw a darker time ahead for both the church and Driscoll.

"If you do nothing, the church will likely limp along in this sick dysfunctional manner for some time," Petry wrote. "Resist the power that is out of control."

Petry later returned to his law practice. He hopes the controversy that's made national news may spur Christians to feel less guilty, and more free, about asking tough questions when it comes to their church and its leaders.

Questions and challenges he raised 7 years ago, he says, because he saw it as an act of love not rebellion.

"I believe there was a failure of men to love the church and love Mark Driscoll," he said.