Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll announced Sunday he will step down for at least six weeks while Mars Hill Church leaders review formal charges leveled by a group of 21 former church pastors saying Driscoll abused his power, Religion News reported.

The 43-year-old preacher has never been a stranger to controversy since Mars Hill steadily rose in stature over the last 18 years, but Driscoll recently has come under a great deal more fire in the media — particularly in blogs and social media forums — concerning charges of plagiarism, inappropriately using church funds to secure a bestseller status for a recent book, and a pattern of bullying behavior toward staff and church members.

Mark Driscoll (Image source: YouTube)

Mark Driscoll (Image source: YouTube)

“I want to say to my Mars Hill family, past and present, I’m very sorry. I genuinely mean it,” Driscoll noted in a lengthy prepared statement. “I’m very sorry for the times I’ve been angry, short or insensitive. I’m very sorry for anything I’ve done to distract or detract from our mission by inviting criticism, controversy or negative media attention.”

Driscoll added that during his six-week time of reflection he will spend more time with God and his family and seek out what his next steps should be.

“I have begun meeting with a professional team of mature Christians who provide wise counsel to help further my personal development and maturity before God and men,” Driscoll told the congregation.

His announcement resulted in a wide range of reactions consistent with the war of comments that have sprung up on social media this year. One commenter to the Religion News article identified himself as Tom and wrote, “I won’t be happy until he’s a used car salesman. Mark Driscoll is a bigoted sleaze.”

Another Religion News commenter had a different take: “Mark Driscoll is a brother on Christ, and I love my brother; Jesus says love each other as I love you. Why is that so hard? As hard as it is, now I must pray for those who hate.”

Mark DeMoss, an Atlanta public relations consultant and former adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, has been brought in to work with the congregation, Religion News reported.

“I think he’s a gifted, biblical communicator who has done effective church work in an unchurched part of the country,” DeMoss told Religion News. “I like him, I believe in him, and if I only worked with ministry leaders who were faultless, I would be out of business tonight.”

“Storm clouds seem to be swirling around me more than ever in recent months, and I have given much thought and sought much counsel as to why that is and what to do about it,” Driscoll noted in his address. “Some have challenged various aspects of my personality and leadership style, and while some of these challenges seem unfair, I have no problem admitting I am deserving of some of these criticisms based my own past actions that I am genuinely sorry for.”

A front-page New York Times story this weekend observed that Driscoll’s empire was “imploding”; days earlier 21 former Mars Hill pastors filed charges against Driscoll, saying that engaged in a pattern of abusive and intimidating conduct and has not changed, Religion News noted.

And Lifeway, the second-largest Christian book retailer in the U.S., pulled Driscoll’s books from its website and 186 stores.

“He was really important — in the Internet age, Mark Driscoll definitely built up the evangelical movement enormously,” Timothy Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, told the Times. “But the brashness and the arrogance and the rudeness in personal relationships — which he himself has confessed repeatedly — was obvious to many from the earliest days, and he has definitely now disillusioned quite a lot of people.”

Mars Hill Church has claimed as many as 14,000 members at 15 locations across five states each Sunday, Religion News added.

In addition, earlier this month he was removed from Acts 29, a church-planting network of more than 500 churches Driscoll helped found, after board members said they found a pattern of “ungodly and disqualifying behavior,” Religion News noted.

Acts 29 leaders also encouraged Driscoll to step down.

Here’s Driscoll’s full statement to Mars Hill; he zeroes in on his decision to step down at about the 11:45 mark:

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