Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, is facing new criticism over the claim that his church paid at least $210,000 in 2011 and 2012 to hire a marketing firm to help get his book, "Real Marriage," on the New York Times best-seller list, among others.
According to World, a Christian news magazine, a document obtained by the outlet shows that Result Source Inc., a book marketing company, strategically designed a "a best-seller campaign" around the project, written by Driscoll and his wife, Grace.
Image source: Thomas Nelson/Mark Driscoll
In addition to the New York Times list, the document, reportedly signed Oct. 13, 2011 by Result Source staffer Mat Miller and Mars Hill Executive Pastor John Sutton Turner, is said to have included a pledge to ensure that the book made its way onto Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other popular best-seller lists as well.
World's Warren Cole Smith called the details of the agreement "complicated," noting that Result Source received $25,000 to mobilize "book buyers" who then purchased "Real Marriage" at various locations in an effort to "generate reportable sales for various best-seller lists."
The report claims that Mars Hill paid for 11,000 books at the tune of between $18.62 and $20.70 each, adding up to a total of $123,600 for books bought by individuals and $93,100 for books bought in bulk.
It is unclear whether these funds came directly from the church.
The contract did reportedly ask the author to provide 6,000 names and addresses for individual orders and 90 names and addresses for the remaining bulk orders.
"The purpose of this instruction appears to be a way to outsmart systems put in place by The New York Times and other list compilers to prevent authors from buying their way onto best-seller lists," World reported. "Result Source apparently uses other techniques to work around the safeguards of the best-seller lists."
"Real Marriage" did end up spending a week on the New York Times best-seller list, though it is unclear how much this purported arrangement impacted sales. While there is nothing illegal about the practice of implementing best-seller campaigns, Smith told TheBlaze that some view it as unethical, especially for a Christian pastor.
"What we're talking about here is a quarter of a million dollars that apparently Mars Hill Church spent," he said. "This is a very unusual practice ... I think many people find the practice distasteful if not immoral."
Smith said he was given the contract by past staff members and elders at Mars Hill Church, though he declined to name them on the record.
Mars Hill spokesman Justin Dean told World in an email that Mars Hill "has made marketing investments for book releases and sermon series, along with album releases, events, and church plants, much like many other churches, authors, and publishers who want to reach a large audience."
"We will explore any opportunity that helps us to get that message out, while striving to remain above reproach in the process. Whether we’re talking about technology, music, marketing, or whatever, we want to tell lots of people about Jesus by every means available. That’s what we’re all about and have been since 1996," Dean said. "Pastor Mark’s generosity has never been in question and both our board and senior staff [are] convinced that the church benefits both spiritually and financially from this writing ministry."
Pastor Mark Driscoll (Image source: @PastorMark on Twitter)
Calls to Result Source went unanswered, though the company advertises best-seller campaigns on its website.
"What would a Bestseller do for your brand? Your business? Your future? Publishing a book builds credibility, but having a Bestseller initiates incredible growth -- exponentially increasing the demand for your thought leadership, skyrocketing your speaking itinerary and value, giving you a national (even global) spotlight, and solidifying your author brand as the foremost leader in your niche," a description reads.
This is not the first controversy to surround one of Driscoll's books.
He was was cleared of plagiarism claims in last December by Tyndale House Publishers surrounding allegations over his latest book, “A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?”
Featured image via @PastorMark's Twitter account