Are the Lead Pastors of Mars Hill Campuses Lions or Hyenas?

Lion surrounded by Spotted Hyenas

Being from Africa, I know a little about lions and hyenas.

Hyenas eat what the lions leave behind. The lions feed until they are satisfied, and the hyenas will wait patiently until the lions are done, and then they eat the leftovers.

The current lead pastors of Mars Hill Church campuses are all standing by quietly while waiting for the spoils from the upcoming dissolution of the church. Rumors abound that they have been told that they will not get any spoils if they do not fall into line. That means they must wait patiently and quietly like hyenas and not rock the boat.

The pastors that have spoken to me or others are posturing as being “very busy” tending to “their” flock. They are too busy to talk. They claim to not really know what is going on behind the scenes and act somewhat confused. These are men who are poised to become the leaders of their new “replant” in a few weeks time. They are about to transition from being quiet followers into pastoral leaders. They are currently ineffective leaders who are somehow going to transform into true shepherds that effectively care for their sheep.

Do these men not currently care for the many sheep that have been forced out of their campuses and hurt under their watch?

I personally know members who have left the Everett, West Seattle, Downtown and Bellevue campuses. I have also spoken to some of the pastors. They insist they are caring for “their” sheep. They act as if the widespread problems of abuse and coercion were mainly at the other campuses.

And so they currently demonstrate no regard for the members under their care who have left – many hurting deeply and with unanswered questions.

Why do these men not rise and demand closure for their members? Why are these so-called shepherds not rising up and insisting on full transparency from the remaining leaders of Mars Hill Church? Why are they not insisting that Paul Petry and others who have been unjustly shunned be fully restored and the public shunning order lifted immediately?

Is it because they think that by acting like hyenas for the rest of this month it will allow them to enjoy the spoils of the carcass of the dissolved Mars Hill Church? Do they think that after they have received their portion they can finally roar like lions in their “replanted” status?

I implore the lead pastors to stand up and protect the sheep that have been harmed. If the dissolution takes place under your watch and you remain silent, you will be participating in allowing wounds inflicted by the “most abusive and coercive” church, to use Paul Tripp’s words, to never be fully healed.

It is time to speak up.

lions and hyenas 2

“I am Spartacus!” Let us stand together to end the Mars Hill Church abuse redemptively.

Sparticus 1

In a pivotal moment in the movie Spartacus, all the slaves stood up one by one, and each declared that they were Spartacus.  It is time for members, ex-members and donors of Mars Hill Church to rise and call for a just and righteous dissolution of the church.

We need to band together for one last time! Please support the legal fund effort to cover upcoming legal fees that will be incurred in an attempt to prevent Mars Hill Church in its determination to rush to dissolve and disburse its assets without justly addressing the many grievances expressed and the massive call for transparency.

A week after the leader of the “most abusive and coercive church” that former Board member Paul Tripp “had ever worked with,” declared that he could not reconcile with people who have been hurt because they “remain anonymous.” on a beautiful sunny August 3, 2014, former members of Mars Hill Church stood up to say,We are not anonymous!”

Had there been a single voice, the protest would have had no effect. Because of the many voices, the abuse Paul Tripp referenced has been exposed and Mark Driscoll has resigned in an apparent effort to avoid the proposed verdict of the Board of Elders.

The current Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) have decided to dissolve the corporation called Mars Hill Church, sell all of its assets (of which the net value is over $20million), and whatever is left after dissolution will be given to the campuses that will survive the crash and continue as “new” churches – none of which are allowed to be branded “Mars Hill Church” in any way.

The dissolution date is set for December 31, 2014.

In planning to end the church, the BOAA has shown no inclination to take action to correct many of the wrongs that members, ex-members, and donors have called to be addressed.

This includes

  • Disclosing to donors exactly how the Global Fund monies raised were spent.
  • Full disclosure of the compensation for Executive Elders.
  • Ending the shunning of Paul Petry and his family.
  • Acknowledging the shunning and the emotional and psychological mistreatment of hundreds of families.
  • Being transparent about the current liquidation of assets.
  • Expressing repentance and providing restitution to the many harmed members and ex-members of the church.
  • Fully investigating and being transparent about the use of church assets and money to inure its own lead pastor and possibly other executives.

Should the church dissolve without addressing these and other issues, the many who have been harmed will have unresolved wounding and harm for many years to come. It is repentance and restitution that brings healing, not burying the truth by dissolving and running.

The countless efforts to encourage the BOAA to respond to the grievances of its members, former members, and donors continue to be ignored. Even most of the current elders of the church have no idea what is happening, especially as millions of dollars is created  and dissipated through the selling of church assets.

Members of the BOAA who have stood by and have been accused by sitting elders of the church for being deceptive, are now dividing the spoils of the church that crumbled under their corrupt and incompetent watch. It is time for good and godly men and women to stand up and say with me with loud voice:


We will do this together as we go to the only venue that the BOAA cannot ignore, the civil court. Please consider standing up and supporting the legal costs that will be incurred. The GoFundMe fund has been created to cover these costs.

Our prayer and hope is that the leadership of Mars Hill Church will come to the table and settle matters as members of the body of Christ. Despite the overwhelming body of evidence supporting Paul Tripp’s claim of abuse, the loud call for redress of grievances, and constant plea for financial transparency, they have not allowed any form of reasonable discourse to occur.

Thank God that we live in a country where the civil courts create a just and civil environment where all the facts are laid out in the open through the discovery process, and an independent jury, made up of peers of the church, are able to see the truth and render a binding decision.

If this is the only way to obtain transparency and closure, then the process will be of great value and bring healing to many. If the BOAA remains defiant and non-repentant, the process will bring rebuke.

Please pray that the better path to reconciliation and repentance is chosen in the last days of the church. Please consider supporting the effort to see this happen.

Let us stand together.

Sparticus 2

It is a shame to sue… 1 Corinthians 6. What a shame!

law book and gavel

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8

Despite many appeals to Mars Hill Church leadership to address several grievances, it now appears that it will be necessary to take legal action to see that these grievances are addressed – since the leaders of Mars Hill have unilaterally announced their intention to dissolve the church by the end of the year and divide the assets amongst themselves with no apparent accounting or transparency. Donors, ex-members and members are preparing to pursue this alternative only because all other avenues for resolution of grievances have been futile. These donors, ex-members, and members are setting up a fund which would be used to pay for the legal costs of such a pursuit.

Mars Hill Church has also used non-disclosure agreements to silence ex-employees with valid grievances. This fund would also be used to defend any ex-employee that is sued by Mars Hill Church for violating the terms of their non-disclosure agreement.

Once all matters are settled, the balance of this fund, if any, will be shared between the advertised recipients of the Mars Hill Global Fund (Ethiopian and Indian pastors) and with Agathos International. That portion of any donor’s gift to this legal fund will be tax-deductible.

We are attempting to schedule a meeting with  Mars Hill representatives in an effort to avoid litigation, and it appears that this meeting may take place.

In discussion with former Mars Hill Church member Brian Jacobson regarding those times when Matthew 18 fails to settle matters, or when the offending party insists that the offended party should agree to be defrauded, as Mars Hill Church leadership has insisted thus far, Brian offered the following thoughts:

There will be much pushback from the Christian community regarding the lawsuit. The following are several responses to this.

First, I would point out that when Jesus saw religious leaders harming His people or leading them astray, He did not gently lead anyone to vague conclusions. He entered full-on attack mode and spoke His mind very clearly. We are to have the mind of Christ and His empathy toward those who are abused.

Second, in Galatians 1:8-9, Paul said if anyone preaches a different gospel, let him be accursed. Mark Driscoll perverted the gospel of Christ by making Mars Hill all about him. He used bullying and slander to maintain control of the church and he misappropriated resources for personal gain.

Third, it is possible that criminal acts occurred at Mars Hill that will only be revealed by a lawsuit such as this.

Fourth, there is a God-given role for civil authorities to play. They exist for the benefit of society – to protect the general public by maintaining good order. Romans 13 speaks to this. Summarizing the first few verses of that chapter, the Westminster Confession states, “God ordained civil magistrates for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers.” The actions of the Mars Hill Church leadership put them in the category of “evil doers.”

Fifth, regarding 1 Corinthians 6, this scripture is related to settling personal disputes – disputes between individuals. The lawsuit would be against the Mars Hill Church corporation and its officers. 

The following paragraphs are from Larry Burkett’s website:

Since there were no corporations in existence when the Bible was written, the best we can do is relate the principle to the closest parallel of that time: a government agency.

It seems clear from the book of Acts that Paul recognized both the authority and the responsibility of the government of Rome. Twice, when he was falsely arrested, he relied on application of Roman law to regain his freedom. He also clearly used the implied threat of that law to punish his antagonists (Acts 16:37).

When he was falsely accused by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and jailed by the Roman authorities, he appealed to the law of Rome to defend himself. The Roman government was an entity, not a person, so Paul felt he was clearly within his rights to use Roman law against that entity.

A corporation or a business is also an entity, not a person. Although the entity may be controlled and often is solely owned by a person, it appears that a corporation or a business has no rights under biblical guidelines, except the rights of prevailing law. Therefore, to sue a corporation in order to require that it meet its legal responsibilities is not unbiblical.


Mark Driscoll was charged with sexual harassment – what was the verdict?

Sexua Harrassment 1

A total of 42 former elders of Mars Hill Church asked if Mars Driscoll was guilty of sexual harassment.  This charge was presented by 21 named elders plus 21 unnamed witnesses.

Many of these men are currently pastors in other churches. It is their charges that were being investigated by the Board of Elders (BoE), whose unreleased report has been reported to be in conflict with the findings of the Board of Advisors and Accountability (BoAA).

Failure to adequately address this issue will give complimentarians a black eye, and divert valid criticism away from the crass and sinful sexual harassment of women that occurred at Mars Hill Church.

Here is what the 21 former elders wrote in their formal charges against Mars Driscoll.

5. Sexual harassment of another Lead Pastor by way of inappropriate comment about his sex life.

10. Is Pastor Mark guilty of sexual harassment in the form of sexual immorality in speech (Eph 5:3)? We are aware of a number of credible reports of inappropriate sexually-oriented comments that Pastor Mark has made to and about other men’s wives, particularly in casual social settings.

My wife has been a part of a closed women-only group on Facebook that has women ex-members of Mars Hill Church sharing their stories. Only now, after a similar group posted in the Facebook group, re:Connect, have I been able to read the accounts.

They are eye-opening.

The level of denigrating women as sex-objects and objectifying them in so many subtle ways is deeply disturbing. I am deeply moved and long to see this harm to women corrected by the Mars Hill Church Board of Elders. They can do so in the following way:

1. Clearly identify and admit the problem.

2. Hold Mark Driscoll to account for his actions and teachings (a sample of which is outlined in the above-referenced and recent charges against Mark Driscoll, and of course, there are the “William Wallace II” rants).

3. Reach out to the women who have suffered hurt and make amends on behalf of the church.

4. Immediately release the verdict of the Board of Elders relating to these particular charges.

On behalf of hundreds of women that have attended Mars Hill Church, I appeal to the Board of Elders to release their investigation of these charges.

Sexual Harrassment 3

By their leaders’ own words, Bellevue Church is simply Mars Hill Church continued…

Lipstick on a pig

In announcing the formation of Bellevue Church, Matt Rogers (who sat on the board that did not want Mark Driscoll to resign and deems him to be qualified for ministry) said the following:

“This Bellevue church is known around the world for the way you have served and loved one another and the broader church of Jesus Christ.”

So, world, this is the same church.

Other than the fact that Mark Driscoll has resigned, what has changed?

We will know what will change by what has been confessed and corrected. Other than an “unhealthy culture” there has been almost nothing confessed and no transparency forthcoming.

The dissolution of Mars Hill Church means that Bellevue Church has no need to answer questions that its own members and donors have. As Matt Rogers said, “We are establishing a new 501c3 corporate entity, creating new bylaws, selecting a new name, establishing a new structure and setting up new financial accounts.”

Bellevue Church is moving forward with the only two active members of the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability (Matt Rogers and Dave Bruskas) and the only remaining Executive Elder (Dave Bruskas). These men are the only elders who have the answers to the many questions being asked by us donors or members.

Rather than answer the demand for transparency, their choice is to dissolve Mars Hill Church in an apparent attempt to permanently bury the truth, and then merely continue the same church with a different name.

So the many questions that still trouble donors or members are not likely to come from these leaders of Mars Hill Church/Bellevue Church. These questions are well articulated by the best source of telling the truth emerging from the dark bowels of the Mars Hill Church inner leadership sanctum, Dr. Warren Throckmorton. He has outlined the questions that hound Mars Hill Church and will hound Bellevue Church and its leadership as they continue to fail to provide transparent answers.

  • Question: How exactly was the Global Fund money spent? Over $10 million was raised. Where is that money?
  • Question: What were the salaries, compensation and severance package deals made for Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner?
  • Request for transparency: Release the Driscoll Investigation Report.
  • Request for transparency: Release the many ex-elders and ex-employees that signed onerous NDAs.
  • Questions about Paul Petry and Bent Meyer: Now that 18 witnesses to the firings and trial of Bent Meyer and Paul Petry, and the removal of eldership and shunning of Paul Petry, have profoundly born testimony and established the violent sins of the church against these men:
    —–        When will they be exonerated and restitution be made?
    —–        How will this testimony impact the sinful actions of A.J. Hamilton, Tim Smith and Bubba Jennings, all elders in good standing at Mars Hill Church?
  • Question: How will either Mars Hill Church or Bellevue Church process the charges of deception leveled by Mars Hill Church elders against Michael van Skaik and the other members of the Board of Advisors and Accountability?
  • Question: What charges will be brought against Dave Bruskas for his role in the various scandals that have humiliated Mars Hill Church?
  • Question: Matt Rogers has said that those who have accused Mark Driscoll (such as those that participated in the August 3rd protest) were slanderers. Will Mars Hill Church or Bellevue Church call for Matt Rogers to clearly explain his accusation of slander? Who were the slanderers, and what was the nature of their slander?

Or are the new leaders of Bellevue Church, who are the current leaders of Mars Hill Church, hope that all these questions disappear with the so-called dissolution of Mars Hill Church?

A.J.Hamilton, Tim Smith, Bubba Jennings and Bill Clem – 18 witnesses reveal your sins against Paul Petry.

Four pastors that have not repented

Now come 18 men who are bearing witness to the enormity of their own sin of participating in the firing, trial, disqualifying as elder, and the shunning of Paul Petry, and the firing and trial of Bent Meyer. These 18 witnesses have now publicly acknowledged their complicitness in false accusations and slander against two inncocent men. These sins were as serious as the 18 witnesses describe. The sins were devastating not only to the Petry and Meyer families, but the to the church as a whole.

These 18 men now bear witness to the sins of the four pastors mentioned above, who, by the very testimony of their colleagues, participated in these sinful acts.

The following men participated in the sinful and harmful acts of 2007, and had the opportunity to share in repenting, yet turned it down. Yet they continue to be considered qualified to be pastors!

Pastor Bubba Jennings.  Bubba Jennings is the pastor of Mars Hill Church Tacoma.

Pastor Tim Smith. Tim Smith is the pastor of Mars Hill Church Portland, who recently fired Mark Dunford of the Noble Nine within hours of the call of the Noble Nine to discipline Mark Driscoll.

Pastor A.J. Hamiliton. A.J. Hamilton pastors at Mars Hill Church Huntington Beach.  He has not talked to Paul Petry since 2007, and recently told me that Paul was “fine” and had a great community around him. He completely dismissed the sin that 18 of his colleagues have now attested to.

Pastor Bill Clem. Bill Clem is a pastor at Rick McKinley’s Imago Dei Church in Portland. Clem does not reference his tenure at either Doxa (now Mars Hill Church West Seattle) or Mars Hill Church itself. Bill Clem was one of the older men in 2007, who was complicit in and participated in the sinful actions perpetrated against innocent men, and has gone on with ministry without addressing his actions of 2007.

I mention these men because they are all continuing to pastor churches as if they had no responsibility for the sins that 18 witnesses now attest to.

These men ought to step down from ministry or face just and reasonable church discipline over their well-witnessed sins.

For the men that pastor Mars Hill Churches, at least until January 2015, the current bylaws allow any two elders to remove them from membership. Except for charges against the lead pastor, it seems that the current bylaws do not lay out how to handle charges against these men.

But at least the charges would be in line with 1 Timothy 5:19-21. Two or three witnesses are required. In this case, we have 18.

Mars Hill Church – Shunning members is like recruiting Satan on to your side.

Shunned 1

Shunning is evil and flies in the face of the Gospel. As a church, there is no quicker way to sow the seeds of your own destruction than to treat brothers and sisters with such a cruel and heartless “punishment”.

Paul warned us in II Corinthians 2 that this is the case. Treating brothers and sisters too harshly simply invites Satan to outwit you.

For such a one [this man was openly having a sexual relationship with his mother-in-law] this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.                                      – II Corinthians 2:6-11

Not only does the Scripture warn the church, I also tried to. I did so repeatedly in private and in public.

But the outwitting of Satan had taken ahold of the men who led Mars Hill Church.  The Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability seem to be reasonable and good men. Why would they be so stubborn and mule-headed in the way they treated people?

Perhaps it was because their failure to end the harsh treatment of Paul Petry and hundreds of other members simply gave Satan the ability to outwit them.

It is my prayer that true repentance, the glorious antidote to Satan’s tactics, is applied to their hearts and minds very soon. It is not too late for these men to begin to end the havoc that their actions have allowed Satan to have.

I pray, for their sake and the sake of their dear families, that they will fall at the foot of the cross and cry out to Jesus to forgive them for the shunning of Paul Petry. Jesus, who is full of mercy, may reach out and wipe out the foothold these men allowed Satan to have in the life of the Mars Hill Church and (even they may think to the contrary) in their own lives.

God, may you intervene in the lives of these men, and lead them to a genuine understanding your gospel, your forgiveness, and your abundant life.

Mars Hill Church leadership – giving members the finger to the very end.

giving members the finger

In a telling move, the final acts of the leaders left at the now defunct church have echoed Mark Driscoll’s words to his own elders and basically told members and donors that they simply “do not give a sh-t.”

After watching a lack of accountability and transparency bring Mars Hill Church to its knees, the leaders have decided to dissolve the church.  This decision was done without any consultation or input from the thousands of members and donors who have been implored to continue giving to keep Mars Hill Church going.

As was the case with Mark Driscoll and the way he and his executive elders ran the church, the members and donors have no say whatsoever.

Members and donors have been calling for an exoneration of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer, whose firings and the subsequent bylaws change in 2007 led to the current debacle at Mars Hill Church.

Members and donors have been calling for accountability and answers regarding several financial scandals, including full disclosure of where the Global Fund money went, and exactly how much personal inurement did Mark Driscoll get from the his activities at the church, and what were the salaries of the executive elders of the church.

In its place, the pleas of members and donors are disregarded and the decision to dissolve the church that many thousands of us gave years of our money and effort to build is made without any attempt to reach out to us.

Even more stunning, is that despite totally disregarding the input of members and donors in the decision to dissolve Mars Hill Church, and in the face of a willful stubbornness to continue to operate in the dark, Dave Bruskas asks members to continue to give to Mars Hill Church.

Is he serious?

Why any member or donor would give another cent to Mars Hill Church after such a mule-headed display of utter disregard of both its members and donors is beyond me.

Psalm 51 and the recent confessions of Mars Hill Elders.

a broken man 2

Since everything has come crashing down, we are and will continue to see repentance coming from men who should have confessed and repented of their sin and failure of leadership at Mars Hill Church years ago. The reactions to these confessions and acts of repentance range from anger, skepticism and disappointment, to accolade and great rejoicing.

This brings us to Psalm 51.

This psalm is by far the most recognized statement of repentance in history. It is an amazing example of how to deal with sin.

It would do us good to review the raw facts leading up to King David’s repentance.

  • David becomes the kind of leader that no longer goes into the battle with his men. He is the King, and he delegates his leadership to others.
  • He sees Bathsheba bathing, and uses his position as King to violate her. She was a young woman, he was the king.
  • She becomes pregnant, and he calls for Uriah, her husband, to return from the battlefield so that he can sleep with Uriah’s wife and keep the adultery hidden.
  • When Uriah acts like a true soldier, and refuses to leave his men, David plotted and carried out his murder.
  • David marries Bathsheba, and prepares for the birth of a son.

David’s sin was calculated and tactical. He was not coerced or surrounded by peer pressure. He was not a young man, but a mature man who loved God and desired and experienced a profound walk with God.

Yet his repentance did not come until Nathan risked his life by confronting the King and calling for his repentance.

Psalm 51 was the result.

I am sure that Psalm 51 was no comfort to the family of Uriah the Hittite. I am sure they struggled with the wording. “It was not specific enough… David did not take enough personal responsibility… He failed to name his sins clearly… he seems to blame others…”

But his cry was sincere and pleasing to God.

So as I read recent confessions from the elders, I accept the words as from men who have been convicted by the crushing circumstances around them, and I will accept them at face value.

As the reality of David’s sin came into view, he was crushed with the consequence of his sin. The depth of the tragedy of the loss of Uriah, a good man. The crushing loss of his son. I am sure the pain of that never left King David. The negative consequences of his sin are legion.

But his confession was real.

I am sure David had to make matters right and repent and offer restitution to the family of Uriah. Psalm 51 was not his wording to that grieving family, nor was this how he faced his own family. So I trust we will see more from the Mars Hill elders as well. Having spoken to them personally, I am sure of such coming over the days ahead.

But I do accept their confessions, past and present, and I encouraged all to do so. They are being expressed as the reality of their sin against Paul Petry and Bent Meyer, and the tragic consequences of the sin of those 22 elders are beginning to be seen and understood.

I will also pray for these men, and pledge to help them in their walk of repentance. There is newness of life in true repentance and I long for such in the lives of every repentant man.

So help us God.

Mars Hill Church – please drop the religious talk.

religious talk

Seeing that most of the leaders at Mars Hill Church grew up around normal churches, it should not be too difficult, now that Mark Driscoll is gone, to go back to using normal terms and drop the manipulative religious talk.

Religious talk only has one purpose and that is to bind the hearer with a false sense of duty and obligation. True gospel talk leaves the listener free and without bondage.

Let us review some of the religious talk and show why it is just that – even though it sounds so right and holy.

“We love you Mars Hill Church.”

What is wrong with this religious saying? Well, the way that Mars Hill elders have grown accustomed to using it, is typically before a confession that is in incomplete and insincere. It is uncomfortable in a strange sort of way. We know that God loves us, and he proved that love by sending His son to die for us. But we are being told by a pastor that he loves Mars Hill Church, which is usually followed by a partial admission of wrongdoing, and a continued lack of transparency.

“We love you, but will not tell what Mark Driscoll earned even though many of you members have asked. We love you, but we are not willing to show our love by answering your questions about the Global Fund. We love you, and we want to say the Global Fund that 6,000 donors gave to never was a fund. Don’t think about our dodging the issues being asked about because, after all, we love you.”

I have never, in a “normal” church, heard the pastor or elders repeatedly say that they love the church, even though they probably do. It is not common pastoral speak, at least not to the entire body as an impersonal brand name, and repeatedly. When I was sitting in the Everett campus on Sunday, the “lead pastor” told us people sitting in the pews that he loved us. What exactly did he mean? Did he mean that he loves me, Rob Smith, personally, or did he love the members as a collective whole? If the latter, what does that even mean?

Madonna loves her fans, but in reality she doesn’t even know their names or who they are. They adore her, yet have no idea who she is as person. That kind of love is infatuation and impersonal. Mark Driscoll, in a similar way loved his fans, but didn’t like individual people. He really didn’t even love the church. He used it, and then left it in perhaps the worst way possible.

In the New Testament, the encouragement to love is always “one another” in a brotherly way. It is an active love, not an emotive love, and it never is used to set the church up for a confession or rebuke.

It would be closer to the truth for the current elders to say “Mars Hill Church, we have failed to love you”.

“Jesus is our Senior Pastor.”

This saying also seems so right. It gets said in a lot of abusive churches as well as good churches. But it is not a biblical teaching. Jesus is our prophet, priest and king (sorry Sutton Turner), but he has entrusted the role of pastors to us mere mortals whom he, by the Holy Spirit, has selectively equipped. He is no more the senior pastor than he is the senior evangelist or the senior janitor. These are tasks that he has given to us as members of his church.

I do not expect Jesus, the “senior pastor” of Mars Hill Church, to knock on Pastor Paul Petry’s door and repent of the way he was treated. But I would surely expect that of any Mars Hill pastor worth his salt. I do not expect Jesus to set pay for the staff at Mars Hill Church or to suggest that the music is too loud.

So why is this term which doesn’t mean much in practical terms or understanding used by churches that end up with unhealthy and abusive cultures? It is because there is a strong undertone of hierarchy when it is emphasized that Jesus is the Senior Pastor, and then under Jesus is the next level, getting their marching orders straight from Jesus. Under those men, totally submitted to Jesus of course and totally in charge of everyone else, comes the next layer of heirarchy. So everyone else ends up being required to submit to men who are carrying out the “senior pastor’s” wishes.

This is just pure manipulation. And it is even worse when everyone must submit to the “vision” that Jesus, the “senior pastor”, gives to a select elder, like Mark Driscoll or Steven Furtick. The vision must now be served, and so must the keeper of the vision, the pastor next in line to Jesus. So buck up and submit.

“First among equals”

While I appreciate what Alexander Strauch was teaching in his excellent book, “Biblical Eldership”, there is no teaching in bible that one of the elders is “first”. I understand that Strauch said the “firstness” was in gifting, not authority, but the reality is that first is first, and the bible does not teach this firstness. Jesus taught the opposite, that the first shall be last. The whole argument between John and James was who would be first.

If there is in fact a first among equals, no matter how much you may try to argue that it does not mean that he is really first, the reality that he is. We have seen that sad end result at Mars Hill Church.

Again, I understand that not all elders are equally gifted, but in teaching about biblical leadership let’s use that terminology as its meaning is clear. Being the most gifted in a particular area just simply does not mean that you are therefore first. It is a bad term that leads to bad outcomes.

“Lead Pastor”

This seemingly benign term is also not found in the bible. In fact even the term “pastor” as we use it (“Pastor John”) is foreign as a title in the bible. Jesus suggests that we do not call each other “rabbi”, saying that we have but one teacher, and we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.” — Matthew 23:8

Paul mentioned many different people in his epistles, including men that were likely to have been pastors and leaders, but he mentions only their name. He never included a title, even when referring to the apostle Peter. He does say that he is an apostle, so I would have no issue with a pastor saying, “Hi, I am John, I am a pastor.” But that is different to expecting everyone to refer to you as “Pastor John”.

Hopefully, as we look at the factors that made Mars Hill Church a church with a problematic culture, we will learn to identify those code words that sound good, but reflect the seeds of the authoritarianism that ultimately led to the demise of the church.