September 21, 2020

Five Questions for Noel Heikkinen on the Mark Driscoll “Confessional.”

noelj.jpegOne of the most talked about posts in the blogosphere this week is Mark Driscoll’s report on his exhaustion, health problems and current explosive growth church situation. Reformed Catholicism and others wrote excellent responses. When I read Driscoll’s post, I decided I wanted to get the reaction of one of the pastors of one of the healthiest growing evangelical churches I know about, Riverview Church in East Lansing, Michigan.

Noel serves as one of five pastors at Riverview, a growing church with a uniquely Biblical and common-sense approach to leadership and preaching. Check them out.

Here’s my questions and Noel’s answers.

1) What’s your personal reaction to Driscoll’s post?

Initially, my reaction is sadness.

I have tons of respect for Mark and what he is doing for Jesus. He’s a polemic guy for sure, but his passionate approach to ministry is inspirational to a lot of young guys who are aspiring to do big things for the Gospel.

The two things that have bothered me for awhile, though, are the pace he seems to keep and the cult of personality that is being built around him. I don’t thing the latter is his fault, it’s just the nature of things. The former is most certainly because of his driven personality. The combination is what makes me nervous. Very few guys can sustain this for long.

Mark once said in a teaching that a pastor doesn’t have time for hobbies. I remember filing that away in the back of my head, wondering if his health or his wife would one day shut him down. I am so thankful that it seems like his body is beginning to say “no, dude, it’s time to slow down.” I hope he will be able to take the advice of his naturopath friend. It would be sad to have him burn out after one decade–he has many many decades of ministry ahead of him.

My second reaction to Mark’s post is encouragement.

It seems like he is diagnosing this well in his life before it has the chance to take him completely out. He’s getting counsel from people he respects and he is doing one of the healthiest thing he can do: he is being public about what he is going through. Just typing the words to his blog is therapuetic, I suspect. It also takes away from the superhuman facade and allows people to remember he is just a normal schmuck like the rest of us.

2) He calls you and asks what he should do. What do you say?

After, “why the heck are you calling me?” I would give him one piece of advice: Share the Pulpit.

Mark is a self-proclaimed Pulpit Hog. I can identify with him, because I am the same way.

If I was to be super honest, I would say that in my flesh I would love to preach every week. It is one of my favorite parts of the job. I feel like it is one of my strongest gifts. (Of course, I’ve never had to sit through my own teachings, so you’d have to ask people in my church about this.) But it would be flat out unhealthy for both my church and me if I preached every week.

This year, I will preach 19 weekends, one of my co-pastors Steve will preach 19 and the other guys will fill in the remaining 14. In the future, I may teach a bit more, but I don’t ever think it would be a wise idea for me to teach more than 50% of the year.

This shared teaching schedule gives me downtime between series’ to focus my energies on other aspects of the church. It also give me time to chill, time to be with my family, time to ride my bike. It is in these downtimes that I recharge enough to connect with God and seek His help in where to go the next time I teach. Each and every time I start a series, I am chomping at the bit to go after it again.

The other thing this does is it prevents the church from being built on my personality. Churches tend to take on a little bit of the personality of their most public pastor. That means both his strengths and weaknesses. It also inadvertently places that guy in an indispensable category.

I can say with all confidence that I if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, our church will go on and it will go on strong.

3) How is your church working to keep this from happening at Riverview?

See the last answer. A plural structure for the pastors along with a shared teaching ministry is our primary protection.

Over the course of the last five years, two of our five pastors have undergone significant crisis in their lives. During each of these times, we didn’t miss a beat because when one guy needed time to handle a tough situation, the other guys picked up the slack. In fact, I don’t think the majority of our church is even aware of these situations. There was increased burden for the other pastors for a season, so I’m not saying it was easy. These times were tough but manageable because of our structure.

4) What is your response to multi-site video church planting?

I’ll admit, my first reaction is nervousness. The reason is on the same thread as most of my answers here: the cult of personality. I’m afraid that without shared teaching, many of these churches will go down in flames if the main teacher eats a bad avocado and dies.

Now with that said, the idea is growing on me especially as an aid to church planting. The reason is that every young church planter thinks he can preach, and unless he has been involved in a church with a shared teaching platform (ahem), he will not have very much experience honing his craft. Those first few years of planting a church are the worst possible time to work on it! Planting a church is hard work and they should be spending the majority of their time with the difficult tasks of building relationships in the community, sharing the Gospel, and basically helping their infant church learn how to walk. If the main guy spends 25 hours every week working on a teaching, he is probably not using his time the best way.

A video venue, if used in the first few years of a church plant, can be a great tool. I would like to see more new church plants consider a modified model where they use video venue about half the time for the first few years to help them get off the ground. I think it is essential to ween the church off the video eventually, though, once they are able to do so.

5) What is your view of the interaction of church growth and church planting?

I used to think they were diametrically opposed, but I don’t anymore. It’s just harder for a growing church to devote money and attention to church plants. The internal pressures get greater and greater and it’s easy to focus on your own church to the exclusion of sending out more churches.

This can be overcome, though, as long as church planting is always held out front. That’s something Mark Driscoll has done very well and I have personally learned a lot from him.

“The churches that will cease to exist are not those who are doctrinally errant, but are spiritually errant. You can’t get away with it anymore. You can’t just talk about what the bible says, you better flesh it out or you are dead. That’s what’s exciting about the world in which we live. Only the viable church of Jesus Christ will survive, the inauthentic need not apply. I want to live in the world that if the church is not the revolution that Jesus died to establish 2000 years ago it ceases to exist. I want to live in a world where the church has no more crutches, or buffers to guard her from injury. I want a church where a culture no longer protects her. Whenever the gospel enters an environment, it prevails.”
– Erwin McManus

.:Noel Heikkinen:.



  1. Michael,

    Thanks for the info on Riverview. They are about 70 miles from here and I think I’ll check them out some Saturday. I would like to see first hand what they are up to.