More than 60 current and former members of Seattle-based Mars Hill Church protested and prayed outside the church's main site, demanding change in leadership and structure.
Carrying signs that read, "We are not anonymous" and "Question Mark," the demonstrators called for the resignation of controversial pastor Mark Driscoll.
"Driscoll has disgraced himself and the church by association," said one protestor who preferred to remain anonymous. "It's time for him to resign from the ministry."
Mark Driscoll founded Mars Hill in 1996 as a Bible study class in his rented home in Seattle, Washington. Today, the church boasts of 6,000 members and 15 locations nationwide. The worship style is charismatic; including a rock band, large screen TVs and disco lighting.
"Mars Hill is the largest, most influential church in Seattle," said former attendee Meredith Tarpinian. "Several years ago, Mark Driscoll was king. What he said was emulated by pastors around the state, because what he did worked."
However, since last year Driscoll has been embroiled in seemingly endless controversy, all of which has gained major media attention. Last year, allegations surfaced that the controversial pastor had plagiarized parts of his book, and later used church tithes to hire a firm and by copies of his book to boost sales. After publically apologizing, Driscoll once again embarrassed himself by handing out copies of his literature at a conference led by another prominent pastor. Most recently, vulgar comments he made fourteen years ago concerning women and homosexuals were revealed, forcing the pastor to once again apologize for his "shameful actions."
But the strongest criticism of Driscoll has come from within the Mars Hill body, as former members accused him of bullying and a practice of shunning members who raise questions or disagree concerning his leadership style.
Part of what sparked Sunday's protest was a video posted on the church's website, in which Driscoll said he could not address some member's discontent in what he called a "season of learning" because the complaints were anonymous.
Judy Abolafya, a mother of three, said she quit Mars Hill church last March after 14 years of membership.
"It is not okay for him to be arrogant, abusive or prideful." She said, adding that Driscoll was "inadequately transparent about church finances."
Anthony Iannicielo, an elder of the church, noted that church leaders are working with Driscoll in a grace-filled manner, and is saddened by the demonstrations.
"We have been around 18 years, and today, somewhere between 9,000 and 13, 000 people will show up, and there will be a lot of people who are connecting," Iannicielo said. "Some of this [criticism] goes with the territory."
I don't want to get into a back-and-forth. It's sad," he continued. "To be honest, you never want that, you never want people to feel that way. We love them and we want the best for them, and we want to make it work."