A few interesting things to note that may help people understand why so many contrary reports are coming out, and why any change is going so slow:
1. Mark owns the rights to many things at Mars Hill including his sermons. He’s insistent they take them down (and they’re more than happy to oblige). But a complication is that Mars Hill will now have to do a whole redesign of the Web page while also recognizing there will most likely be more redesigns in the near future.
2. They’re seriously considering filing bankruptcy because of the amount of debt facing the church.
3. Ballard may become the “hub” once again. In fact, it might be the only church left with the name and legal ownership of Mars Hill.
4. Several of the LP’s on the BOE felt Mark was disqualified. In fact, they felt it was obvious once they heard the stories. Unfortunately, they chose to “submit” (read: cowardice) to the overseers and read the collective statement. They violated their own consciences in doing so, but many of them are still submitting to the false view of “submission” to leaders that Mark taught.
5. Several more elders are set to resign. They are disheartened with the cowardice they see displayed by the LPs.
6. Lastly, people should insist - INSIST the BOE release their findings. Every CG leader at every sync should insist on this. Every member should demand this. Every LP (but specifically those on the BOE) MUST be asked why they did NOT declare Mark DQ’d. They are violating their own consciences and most of these men will not be able to stand up and answer pointed questions about something they themselves do not believe. In particular, talk to Ed Choi, Alex Ghioni, Miles Rhode, Alex Early, and even (surprisingly) Tim Smith and AJ Hamilton.
This is VERY important. Especially if you are a CG leader. They cannot handle more people leaving and they realize that now more than ever they are going to be held accountable by the members. So stay. Pray. And don’t stop demanding transparency and answers. It is having an effect. [emphasis added]
Before 2007, no one had heard about this twisting of Reformed ecclesiology. It seems to have begun at David Fairchild’s and Drew Goodmanson’s Kaleo church in San Diego, and, like a grassfire, quickly spread to Acts 29, fueled by the convenient gas thrown upon the fire by Mark Driscoll, who used the teaching to consolidate power into the hands of a few handpicked “kings.”
I cannot describe the teaching in a nutshell better than my learned and wise friend Paul Petry, who, as everyone knows, ended up being the brunt of this perverted teaching when he opposed it and was duly expunged from Mars Hill Church in what has become the most documented ecclesiastical trial of the decade:
It is a mutation of a theological theory promulgated by John Frame in his analysis of Jesus being Prophet, Priest, King, and then applied to analysis of church ministries. If a ministry has a preponderance of one type of function, rather than a balance of all three – it is dysfunctional/imbalanced. That is an EXTREMELY condensed version. Frame’s theoretical analysis is really very intriguing. The problem is when megalomaniacal leaders get ahold of it and apply their own perverted version of the theory and make it a practical reality to strengthen their abusive hierarchical control and authority over the flock of God’s sheep entrusted to their care.
If the Reformed resurgence of the last decade is going to avoid imploding, it will need to fully understand why Mars Hill Church is smoldering in the aftermath of Mark Driscoll. Rather than throw him out and pretend like he never existed, groups like Acts 29 and The Gospel Coalition need to dig deep into what they have embraced and identify, extract, and destroy the little Driscoll DNA foxes that have been destroying the vineyard.
These men would be wise to seek outside help in this, as they have tended to be “the blind leading the blind.” There are young restless men all over the world embracing “Triperspectival Leadership” after attending an Acts 29 boot camp or downloading such from the lofty websites of these and other groups in the neo-reformed camp.
If they do not expunge this unbiblical and certainly unreformed view of leadership, we will see ten thousand abusive Mark Driscoll clones follow in his wake. Sadly, rather than bad ecclesiology getting the blame, the blows will land on those beloved and time-tested doctrines that define the great gospel and the abundant life that it promises.
There has been a significant outcry nationwide about Mark Driscoll resigning without repenting for the abuse and other sins with which he was charged. There is grave concern that as a result he will just rebrand himself and just keep on trucking rather than repent and take the needed time off to seek help as a part of his restoration to brotherhood.
Less noted by those watching the cascading events surrounding Mars Hill Church, is the sad reality that before Mark Driscoll left without a sign of genuine repentance, a long list of elders, all parties to the abuse in one way or another, also left the church without genuine repentance for their sin of abusing members and their culpability in bringing about the demise of Mars Hill Church.
Since I have taken a more open role in calling Mark Driscoll to repentance, I have received countless stories of abuse from ex-Mars Hill members. Most of this abuse was dished out by ex-elders and community group leaders, some of whom are on the list of elders who charged Mark Driscoll with similar sins.
Take, for example, the 22 elders who participated in the unjust firings and trials of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer. Of the 17 who have left Mars Hill Church, a large number have not openly repented of the pivotal role they played in creating the abusive environment that governed the church, and the devastating effects their actions had on these families and the entire church.
Most of the elders on that list who have left the church have continued in some form of ministry. Five of those elders remain as elders at Mars Hill Church. They continue to minister, while Paul Petry, the elder whose firing and unjust trial is now common knowledge, and his family remained shunned by the church.
I received a lengthy email today about a family who was abused at the Portland campus. But I have heard no confession from the Portland campus, whose lead pastor voted to shun Paul Petry in 2007.
Now we get news of recently departed elders starting new churches. Again, these are “pastors” who appear to be doing what every one has criticized Mark Driscoll of doing. Leaving without repenting. They voted to shun Paul Petry, and now leave while failing to repent in a public way, and then move on and remain in ministry.
Paul Tripp stated that Mars Hill Church “… is without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with,” Every elder that has recently left Mars Hill Church was a part of that “most abusive ministry culture” and complicit in helping create it. The elders who voted to shun Paul Petry in 2007 ushered in the bylaws that have led to the abuse.
Yet they move on to continue in professional ministry as if they had nothing to repent of, while they point to the lack of repentance on Mark Driscoll’s part.
I would love to see genuine repentance on the part of Mark Driscoll. But I have little confidence I will see such from Driscoll based upon the lack of repentance we have seen on the part of the many Mars Hill Church elders who have also left and simply found another place of ministry, while the Paul Petry shunning continues and countless members and ex-members still suffer.
There have been a handful of ex-elders that have openly repented. These are men that truly understand the gospel and have an understanding of the amazing healing that true repentance brings – both in the lives of those that were abused as well as in their own life as an elder.
A KING 5 News report by Alison Morrow spotlighted former members calling for ex-members to return to Mars Hill Church to work together as brothers and sisters now that Mark Driscoll has left our church.
Justin Dean quickly responded.
Did he acknowledge the wide spread abuse of Mark Driscoll or the victims themselves, including the members mentioned in the report? Did he respond to the call to be reconciled and move forward with ex-members who left due to Driscoll’s abuse? Did he warmly accept the ex-members back with brotherly love?
In a series of phone calls to Alison Morrow, Justin Dean challenged the reporter’s facts as to whether I was ever an elder. He stated that I was never more than just a member.
At a time of crisis and a time of opportunity to reconcile with ex-members willing to return to the church, he “strained at gnats while swallowing camels.”
Of course, being a member at Mars Hill Church has historically meant that you are among the least. Paul Petry was charged with disqualifying sin and endured a humiliating trial for discussing the bylaw changes with a lowly member. That member was me. Talking to a member like me cost Paul Petry his job.
What kind of elder would deign to discuss such matters with a member? He failed to realize how little being a member meant, and thanks to Justin Dean, we are being reminded again of the insignificance of the member. Rob Smith, he assured Alison Morrow, was nothing more than a member. A mere member.
Alison Morrow added this to her report:
Editor’s note: After this story aired, Mars Hill told KING 5 that Rob Smith was never an elder or pastor at Mars Hill. According to Smith, he was asked to serve as the pastor of community groups for Wedgwood campus, a position he accepted and started two weeks before he was placed under church discipline for asking that another pastor have a fair trial. Soon after, Smith left the church.
After the 2007 bylaw change, even being an elder meant very little. Once those bylaws were changed, an elder could be dismissed by an arbitrary decision of the Executive Elders. An elder was nothing more than an “at will” employee of the church.
So according to Justin Dean, Rob Smith was nothing more than a member – the lowest in the social order caste at the church: A person who had no say, no relevance other than to obey the rules, be a faithful giver of time and money, and submit to the elders, who, after 2007, themselves had to submit to Mark Driscoll and the revolving door of cohorts he handpicked to carry out his abuse.
So just for the record, I will correct Justin Dean, who along with most of the current leadership of Mars Hill Church, were not at Mars Hill Church in 2007 when my wife and I last attended.
Merle (my dear wife of 36 years) and I joined the church in August of 2002.
In December of 2002 I founded a ministry called Agathos that began to care for orphans in South Africa. The work of Agathos continues to this day (link).
In 2003, Mars Hill Church began to send members to the orphan village on short-term mission trips. There are relationships between members that participated and the children (some now adults) that we cared for.
In 2005, Mark Driscoll endorsed an Agathos Initiative called “One Church One Village” and I began to talk about this at Acts 29 conferences.
In 2005/6, my dear wife began to counsel women at the church 25 hours a week as a volunteer, and she was made a deacon.
In 2005 through 2007, Agathos hosted Acts 29 boot camps in South Africa and Zambia with Acts 29 pastors. Included in that number was co-founder of Mars Hill Church, Mike Gunn, and current lead pastor of the Mars Hill West Seattle campus, David Fairchild.
In 2006, I was made a deacon. I had no duties and the title was because of the orphan care and African pastoral care I was involved in through Agathos and Acts 29 in Africa. Mars Hill Church founder, Lief Moi, was a factor in this decision. Lief Moi was an avid and faithful supporter of Agathos.
In 2007, as Mars Hill Church became multi-campus focused, Mars Hill Church decided that the Ballard campus would commit to be the One Church One Village connection with Kwethu Village in South Africa. This meant that within the campus, $625,000 would be raised to support the village over a six-year period. Over one hundred members got involved in awareness and support. Kabyn Vykesland, now ministering to troubled youth in St. Louis, led the effort.
The Vine church in Redmond also committed to raise $625,000 to a One Church One Village relationship under the pastoral leadership of Jesse Winkler, now a pastor in San Diego, California. As some may know, The Vine Church became Mars Hill Bellevue in late 2007, and was therefore the second campus to embrace One Church One Village. Pastor Jesse became a Mars Hill pastor shortly before the trial of Paul Petry.
In mid 2007, a new campus was formed in Wedgwood, in northeast Seattle, under the leadership of James Harleman, currently a pastor at Refuge Church. Pastor James asked me to take the role of “Pastor of Community Groups” at the Mars Hill Wedgwood campus, a position that I accepted. All the other pastors of community groups were elders, and I was asked to become an elder, which I agreed to. Pastor Dave Kraft, a Mars Hill elder, began to coach me weekly through Ministry Coaching, Inc., a business entity that was coaching the elders and chaired by the current chairman of the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accoutability (BoAA), Michael van Skaik. Upon my introduction to the church in my new capacity, Brad House, the lead pastor of community groups, stumbled when introducing me as I was a pastor but was a couple of weeks away from completing the elder candidacy process. He called me something that those attending at the time still chuckle at. He introduced me as “Super Deacon Rob Smith.”
I attended elder coaching along with other elder candidates Tim Gaydos, Jon Krombein, Cliff Low, and Kerry Michaelis. They all became official elders immediately after the 2007 bylaws were passed.
So I was pastor of community groups and acting in that capacity, and was approved to the elder track, when everything hit the fan exactly seven years ago.
It hit the fan for me because I realized that Paul Petry and Bent Meyer, who had been fired and falsely charged with sins against the church, were not going to get a fair trial. I sent a private email to the elders appealing for a fair trial.
For that I was placed under church discipline. That process was most interesting, but thanks to a major donor in the church, I was spared the final humiliation of leaving the church with a bad standing.
Merle and I left the church in good standing, although Mark Driscoll, in the process, threatened to destroy me, Agathos, and ensure that I would never be able to be in ministry again.
At my last meeting, Jamie Munson and Scott Thomas assured me that they would not abandon the orphans that were being supported by Agathos through the One Church One Village commitment.
Three months later, Scott Thomas sent me a letter ending the Mars Hill Church/Agathos relationship.
So, I trust that this clear laying out of the facts makes Justin Dean happy.
I am most willing to describe in detail the painful and scandalous way that Merle and I were treated after being placed under discipline. It involves Mars Hill Church trying to get the largest donor to Agathos to influence our decision to leave. This donor is a friend and a major member of the Lucas Group. If Dean would like me to get into those details, I will do so. It is quite a story.
So Justin Dean, meet Super Deacon Rob Smith, More than a lowly member, more than a deacon – but less than an elder, but without a doubt a pastor.
Currently at Mars Hill Church there is the full Council of Elders, the Board of Elders, the Board of Overseers, the Board of Advisors and Accountability, and of course, the Executive Elders. Quite confusing. I am not sure where Super Deacon would fall within these lofty-named groups. But whatever that title means, it is not as belittling a title as “just a member.”
I suggest that rather than strain at gnats, we tackle the camels that have strangled the church we love, and work together. This will take humility and strength of character, something even a lowly member can reflect without even having a title as deacon, pastor, or elder.
I had strong reactions from both “camps” after my post calling for everyone to rise up and support our wounded brothers and sisters from Mars Hill Church – a church “reeling” in crisis and pain.
Those calling for Mark’s resignation and an end to the shunning of Paul Petry and his family were stunned by my call. There are still so many unanswered questions and such a distrust for the remaining leadership, which I share. Most spent a large part of the day yesterday making their case for continued resistance.
Then there are the members who are staunch Mark Driscoll supporters who are equally stunned. “How dare I you even think of showing up to gloat – do you not even have a heart?” Within 20 minutes of posting a call for a massive show of support on the FaceBook site, Let us Encourage one another – Mark Driscoll, I was removed and banned. I have been a member of that group since the day it started.
It seems that if we cannot learn lessons from what Jesus would have done, perhaps we can learn lessons by asking, “What would Nelson Mandela do?”
Nelson Mandela forgave his prison guards. I forgive the elders of Mars Hill Church, who have ignored and rebuffed me for seven years, and who watched Mark Driscoll withdraw the support of Mars Hill Church to the orphans and widows that they had committed to in 2007.
Nelson Mandela forgave his enemies. I forgive Mark Driscoll, who slandered my name and who slandered my organization’s care of orphans in such a way that the support from both Mars Hill Church and the broader community of my orphan care vanished, leaving me with debt and a struggle to care for our orphans, orphans who loved and looked up to Mars Hill Church.
Nelson Mandela went back into a white dominated economy and society that had harshly discriminated against minorities, and said to both blacks and whites in South Africa “We need each other. It is time to forgive and create a new South Africa.” I am willing to go back to Mars Hill Church and encourage a thousand hurt ex-members to join me.
Mars Hill Church, we need each other and I am willing to put the past behind me and put my effort and influence toward seeing Mars Hill Church rise up and become a healthy and safe church, where sinners like me, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore, can see Jesus ready to save me, full of pity, love and power.
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.
Yes, Seattle, it is all about Jesus.
The survival of Mars Hill Church needs a clear declaration by the elders at Mars Hill Church that the 2007 bylaws are invalid. They were coerced into existence by and for a man has now left Mars Hill Church, and the current bylaws, crafted to allow that man to run amuck without accountability, are not only meaningless without that man, but are confusing, inappropriate and harmful to the church.
Join me and sign this petition to the elders of Mars Hill Church.
With regard to my involvement in the saga of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church I was once called a “one-trick pony”. If it because of my incessant call to repeal the 2007 bylaws then that characterization is totally accurate.
The 2007 bylaws are like the Berlin Wall. The bylaws led to the collapse of Mark Driscoll’s ministry and the crippling of Mars Hill Church.
The 2007 bylaws are meaningless. We have seen behind the curtain and all that is left are the tatters of the so-called Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) under whose watch this calamity has occurred.
By rising up and exercising their biblical role, the elders must simply tear up the ever-changing and useless bylaws that the beleaguered BOAA has to now interpret to figure out a way forward, and revert to the 2006 bylaws, which although might need adjustment, are sound and give the elders equal authority to rule the church.
For months, Mike Wilkerson and Scott Thomas have been telling me that they are working on a document signed by a majority of the elders who were coerced under duress into unlawfully changing the bylaws in 2007. They intend to acknowledge that they were coerced and that they wish to exonerate Pastor Paul Petry and Bent Meyer, whose ruthless and firings and subsequent trial were the tools used to carry out that coercion.
I am not sure why we have not seen that statement, but I can tell you that a vast majority of the elders at that time attest to the grave mistake of not following their conscience during those events. We know, from none other than former BOAA member Paul Tripp, that Mark Driscoll led and created a church that was “the most abusive and coercive” church that Tripp had ever worked with.
Not only are the current bylaws rather useless now, as they were designed to prop up, protect, and reward Mark Driscoll, but they are invalid because they were abusively coerced into existence.
Nothing will help create the governance required and action needed to save Mars Hill Church from total collapse more than the elders rising up and reinstating the rightful bylaws of the church.
By declaring the 2007 and subsequent bylaws as invalid the following benefits can occur:
- The actions of the BOAA and the reigning Executive elders can be immediately stopped.
- Six-figure severance packages for men who are millionaires can be stopped – at least until a full analysis of the finances can be assessed and members and donors be assured that no personal inurement has taken place. (This would prevent a court injunction to that end which is quite probable at this stage. It might also placate a growing crowd that is calling for the Attorney General of the State of Washington from starting its own investigation).
- The elders can not only exonerate Paul Petry and Bent Meyer, but all shunned elders and members. These men got it right, and need to be exonerated.
- All previous elders ought to be implored to return and be immediately reinstated to help Mars Hill Church recover. Some will be willing and they are sorely needed.
- The Noble Nine should be asked to be the Executive Elders (under the 2006 bylaws).
- An advisory council should be put together of local pastors to provide counsel and their protective hearts as Mars Hill Church rises from the ashes. I am sure there are many more, but these are some that would I would invite onto that council.
- Bill van der Merwe (Pastor – WestGate Chapel, Edmonds)
Pastor Bill knows how to minister to the shunned and hurting.
- Rose Madrid-Swetman (Pastor – Vineyard Community Church, Shoreline
Pastor Rose has actively cared about the crisis at Mars Hill Church.
(don’t get your knickers in a knot.. even complimentarians recognize that Israel needed Debra at a time of crisis.)
- Dean Hellekson (Pastor – Redeemer Church, Lynnwood)
Pastor Dean has had a lot of bruised ex-members come to his church and he knows how to minister to them.
- Pastor Dave Kraft
- Pastor Mike Howerton (Pastor – OverLake Christian Church)
Pastor Mike knows the journey of a church from the ashes.
- Pastor Sam Ford (Pastor – Restoration Road, Sonohomish)
Pastor Sam knows the details well, and deeply cares to see restoration.
- Pastor Alec Rowlands (Pastor – WestGate Chapel, Edmonds)
Pastor Alec preaches Jesus and has led a mega-church for enough years to offer solid help and guidance.
- Pastor Wes Johnson (Pastor – Bethel Baptist Church, Everett)
Pastor Wes loves the ordinary person and faithfully served in a downtown Everett church for decades.
- Bill van der Merwe (Pastor – WestGate Chapel, Edmonds)
Join me and call for the 2007 bylaws to be repealed (link to petition).
Mark Driscoll has resigned and nobody is happy.
Seven years ago there were twenty four elders who were responsible for ruling Mars Hill Church. As is now common knowledge, Mark Driscoll fired Paul Petry and Bent Meyer in a coercive move that enabled him to force the remaining elders to vote in new bylaws that consolidated power in Mark Driscoll.
By abdicating their biblical responsibility they laid the groundwork for all that has happened at Mars Hill Church.
Those 22 elders who voted to remove biblical accountability from Mark Driscoll created the environment that has led to the tragedy of the situation we now see at Mars Hill Church.
Despite all the emotion, the anger, the grief, and heartbreak of this journey, it is time to pray the prayer of Jesus and forgive these men for their incompetence and abandonment of their duties.
“Father, I forgive the elders of 2007, for they did not know what they were doing.”
I do forgive them, and sadly, I do believe that they had no idea what they were doing.
Then there is the current leadership.
18 months ago, Dave Kraft filed credible charges against Mark Driscoll. Michael van Skaik essentially ignored any reasonable due process in looking into the charges and a statement was issued that basically told the church that nothing he discovered disqualified Mark Driscoll from ministry.
At that time the church appeared to be strong. Had Mark Driscoll either resigned or been suspended at that time, the church would have been impacted, but it was in a good condition to weather the severe impact of Mark Driscoll’s departure. It would have been tough, but the church was in a strong position to survive it.
Instead, under the leadership of Michael van Skaik, James MacDonald, Paul Tripp, and Larry Osborne, the charges against Mark Driscoll have escalated.
Scandal after scandal emerged. Charges of plagiarism first trickled in, then showed up in multiple books. Stories of abuse and bullying began to be told. Lots of stories of abuse and bullying. Then the Result Source scandal rocked the church. Then the Global Fund scandal and the accompanying spin to explain the deceit. The sad story of the treatment of Pastor Ron Wheeler. Add to that the William Wallace II rants.
Than came Mark Driscoll lying to the camera saying he would reconcile, but said that those with whom he should reconcile “remained anonymous.”
21 former elders filed credible and serious charges against Mark Driscoll. Acts 29 threw him out of the organization he co-founded. And, nine current elders called for his suspension and filed new charges against him.
The church, under the watch of the Board of Advisors and Accountability, has been crippled by the abusive leadership of Mark Driscoll. Under the watchful eye of the BOAA, hundreds, then thousands of members leave. Elders are fired. The stories they tell are stunning in their combined voice against the abusive leadership of Mark Driscoll and the awful culture of Mars Hill Church.
Mars Hill Church falls to its knees as these men lead. Hundreds call for Mark Driscoll to be suspended and to be removed from being able to continue his abuse.
These men had opportunity after opportunity to remove Mark Driscoll. Yet they wait until the church is in shatters, and then they deliver the results of their investigation into the multiple charges against the pastor of the church that Paul Tripp said was the most abusive and coercive church he had ever worked with.
They declare that he is still fit for ministry.
As angry as I feel emotionally at these incompetent and pathetic men, I am choosing to forgive them.
“Father, I forgive the Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus left the ninety nine sheep to seek and find the lost sheep.
I believe that in the aftermath of the news of the departure of Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church, and in the light of the crippling condition of the church he has walked away from, that Jesus would encourage true shepherds and caring people to leave the one and return to tend to the ninety nine sheep that are scattered and bleeding in the fold.
It is time to rebuild the crumbling walls.
It has been seven years.
Today is the anniversary of the trial of Paul Petry. The decay that we see today began when the men and women of Mars Hill Church failed to do the right thing.
I am calling the thousands of Mars Hill members who left bleeding and hurting to set aside your pain and rise up to rebuild the crumbling walls of Mars Hill Church.
I am calling on current members who have been waiting for the BOAA to do the right thing NOT to leave in disgust, but to stay to rebuild the walls of the broken church.
I am calling to every man and woman who has heart for the hurting, to pray and support the changes needed to see Mars Hill Church rise up and demonstrate the true power of being all about Jesus.
If is all about Jesus, we need to show up on Sunday.
If it all about Jesus, we need to cry to the Lord to lift up our hurting brothers and sisters reeling from the tragic events of the last several months.
If it all about Jesus, we need to be like Nehemiah. He left the comforts of his home and position, and returned to the mess of broken Jerusalem, and with brave men and women he worked to rebuild the city.
If you have ever loved Mars Hill Church, as I have, I would urge that you join me to support a hurting church.
I urge every elder that was fired or who has resigned to show up on Sunday. I urge every member that left wounded, or left in disgust, or just left out of sheer weariness, to set aside your deep wounds and hurting heart, and reach out to those who may even still despise you.
I beg you to leave the comforts of your new church and rush back into the ruins. People are hurting. Even people who may despise you are hurting.
Set aside your pain, your anger, your theological differences, and your comfort.
Mars Hill Church needs you. Mars Hill Church needs me.
This Sunday we can be like the Pharisees and avoid tending to the wounded man who had been beaten on the road to Jericho. Or we can see the wounded and beaten Mars Hill members and leaders and roll up our sleeves and tend to their wounds, risking the blood and gore of their torn bodies, and bind their wounds with care.
I will be attending Mars Hill Church on Sunday.
It is my prayer that I am not the only bruised and wounded soldier limping back to be an encouragement to a church filled with stunned and hurting members.
And remember, the good Samaritan paid the innkeeper to tend to the wounded man, and left extra money in case more was needed. So on Sunday, I will bring my checkbook with me.
Seven years ago the Seattle Times headline was “Firing of pastors roils Mars Hill Church”, yesterday it was “Mars Hill Church reeling as Pastor Mark Driscoll quits”
It is my hope and prayer that the next headline will be “Mars Hill Church rises as its walls are rebuilt.”
Wow, it seems that every explanation that we get from Mars Hill Church to clarify the Global Fund just raises more questions.
Perhaps the current members of Mars Hill Church as well as the ECFA have got the story figured out in their heads, but for the rest of us who no longer have an emotional stake in keeping up the façade, the stories are getting more and more confusing and contradictory. The spin is almost laughable.
At least Mars Hill Church admitted that New York Times Bestseller List deception was wrong. Yes it took three attempts to say so, and yes, we still do not have sufficient transparency to believe that Mark Driscoll did not personally profit from the infamous misuse of $210,000 of church funds to purchase his book at retail price in a way that deceived the New York Times bestsellers list into believing that the book was a best seller.
But at least in the third attempt to explain it to the church Mark Drsicoll admitted that it was wrong. Once Driscoll came out and stated that it was wrong the matter settled down and we found it in our heart to accept the painful truth.
He was sorry, and the church no longer had to spin various stories to make the actions acceptable or excusable. The moral wrongness of what was done certainly has long-term consequences, but at least the story from Mars Hill Church finally matched the obvious facts, and true confession was heard and accepted by all.
It was simply wrong, and everyone was relieved when Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church finally, after two attempts to say otherwise, admitted the sin.
But with the Global Fund, it seems that Mars Hill Church is determined to keep re-spinning and explaining the truth in an endless volume of contradictory statements.
The more they say, the more obvious it is that they are trying as hard as they can to run from what seemes like an elaborate and obvious deception of donors. The facts seem to point to a deliberate attempt to deceive both members and non-members into believing that they were donating to supporting missionaries and church planters in Ethiopia, India and other foreign missions.
The deceptive strategy is clearly laid out in the leaked memo that appears to have set the ground rules for the “sleeping giant” of income sources – Mars Hill Global (link).
The strategy was simple. Attract people who want to support foreign missions, and lead them to believe that their money was supporting foreign missions by funding a few missionaries and benevolence projects. The token amount was to be kept from the public and would be about $10k per month.
“of the money that comes into the Global Fund, designate a fixed percentage for highly visible, marketable projects such as mission trips, orphan care, support for pastors and missionaries in the third world, etc… This percentage should be flexible (not a tithe), and not communicated to the public.
The Global Fund could be beneficial in a number of ways, besides the obvious gain of increased funding:
For a relatively low cost (e,g, $10K/month), supporting a few missionaries and benevolence projects would serve to deflect criticism , increase goodwill….”
We know that this was followed through and the Global Fund was pitched by Mark Driscoll to church members (link) and to potential online listeners. We also know that 6,000 donors gave to the fund (link) .
We also know that over $10m was raised, and that a preponderance of the money was put into the general fund for local church use and not international or benevolence projects. The 2013 audited financial statements show the amount in that year was $233,000, which included Mars Hill Church’s reduced commitment to Acts 29 (link). That number represents a mere pittance of the over $3m raised in the same fiscal year for the Global Fund.
Then comes Mars Hill Church telling us that the Global Fund, into which they admit 6,000 members and no-members gave money, is not and never was a “fund”, but was in fact merely non-member global donors. This despite the fact that local members were repeatedly urged by Mark Driscoll to support the fund (Mars Hill Church tried to remove the videos of Mark Driscoll asking the congregation to give to the Global Fund in addition to their tithes to the church) and that one could give to the fund online in a designated area (link).
Lets say that again. Mars Hill Church admitted that over 6,000 people gave over $10m to the Global Fund, which they then say never was a fund (link). It was just global donors giving to the general fund (link) despite repeated appeals to members to give to the fund, which is is not and never was a fund.
Then comes Mars Hill Everett in June of 2014 thanking the Global Fund for helping them buy their building (link). Wait a minute, we are being told the Fund does not exist, but for some reason, a year after the the building was acquired, the Fund is being thanked right after the Global Fund scandal broke? Yet the Fund, we are led to believe, does not exist.
And we are told that over $10m dollars was donated to the Fund that doesn’t exist, and a preponderance of the non-existent Fund was spent locally through the General Fund.
Along comes Mars Hill Tacoma in August 2014, also hastening to the quieten the criticism of where the Global Fund monies went. They do not thank the General Fund into which Justin Dean, spokesman for Mars Hill Church, says all the Global Fund donors’ money went, but the Global Fund, which supposedly does not exist (link).
These campuses are thanking a Fund that Justin Dean says does not exist.
This is getting exhausting. SURELY IT WOULD BE SIMPLER TO JUST TELL THE TRUTH?
Can the Mars Hill Church senior leadership not learn from Mark Driscoll’s eventual confession of sinfully misusing church funds to deceive the New York Times bestseller lists? He finally said he was sorry and that it would not happen again. He asked that the designation “NYT Bestselling Author” not be used in reference to himself, and he demonstrated a contrite heart.
Justin Dean, please end the agonizing spin and contradicting statements, and admit that the strategy to raise millions of dollars exploiting poor Africans and Indians while only directing thousands of millions of dollars raised was wrong. It was sinful. It needs to be repented of.
Only then can the story begin to go away and forgiveness and a redemptive way forward be found.
The fact that the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) approves churches as easily as it does other 501(c)3 groups should be a matter of grave concern to the evangelical church that the ECFA serves.
If the ECFA is going to maintain its integrity it will have to change its method of approving churches.
While I totally understand and agree with the position that churches should not be regulated by the government in any way or required by the government to be burdened with the same disclosure requirements as other 501(c)3 not for profit organizations, I do not understand the why and the how behind the ability of the ECFA to actually certify churches without requiring at least the same information that is available to the public on a standard I-990 form.
The argument, with which I strongly agree, that the government has no business regulating the church in any capacity because of the first amendment, should not mean that Christian groups like ECFA should not regulate or require information from the churches it certifies.
The freedom we are afforded here in the United Stated to keep the government out of our religious lives is a right, not a privilege. It therefore carries a risk that we as American citizens are willing to bear. That risk is that a certain number of charlatans will use this right to exploit people, especially their donors.
We are willing to bear this risk because this risk is a smaller risk than the risk of allowing the government to regulate how we exercise our religion. So we as citizens are left to navigate the risks without government intrusion.
Scoundrels and charlatans therefore have less to dodge as they are able to hide behind the first amendment as they try to get away with hoodwinking people to give money to support their “church” or special “Fund” in a manner that they may not get away with if they were not a church.
As we all know, such charlatans are able to have audited books every year, yet still hide basic information from the people that support them. Audits report numbers broadly, not specifically, so that a donor or church member cannot see specific expenditures, especially the salaries of the top dogs or whether a particular “fund” has been spent as promoted.
This is what frustrates many members and donors to Mars Hill Church.
Historically, Mars Hill Church has said they have open books, which meant a member could get a copy of the audited financial statements. To get more information risks the donor or member being branded as a troublemaker, unless of course that member is a large donor, in which case more information is carefully parsed out.
In the last two years Mars Hill Church, as its income and its executive salaries has soared, has now added the fact that they are certified by the ECFA and are therefore meeting the ECFA standards of accountability and transparency. This is intended to assure donors that Mars Hill Church adheres to the highest of ethical and biblical standards.
ECFA, by its very title, is telling members and donors that Mars Hill Church is being biblical in its transparency and accountability.
The problem is that a normal non-church 501(c)3 has to provide a lot of basic information via the government-required I-990 form while a church does not. In so doing a lot more information is available to the ECFA when certifying a non-church. There is a substantial amount of information that the ECFA has as it considers certifying a non-church 501(c)3. As a result the ECFA’s approval is helpful and meaningful. Most Christian 501(c)3’s desire this approval.
Thus the ECFA has earned a good reputation as it let donors know that the total information provided to it via the audited financial statements, the I-990, and the statements from the organization is quantitatively sufficient to warrant the ECFA’s blessing.
But the ECFA, some two or so years ago, decided to add churches to the type of organizations that it would certify. Yet despite the fact that information that is available to both the ECFA and the general public for most 501(c)3’s is not available in the case of churches unless a particular church chooses to make the information public, the ECFA failed to require much higher level of standard to ensure that donors were protected and informed.
This begs two questions. The first is why churches need the ECFA approval in the first place, and the second is why the ECFA is so actively pursuing churches to certify.
Churches ought to walk in the light. There should be no secrets or even the ability to hide information from members. So why would a church decide that it needs to be certified by the ECFA unless it has become a church driven by the need to broaden its donor base?
Surely a church with open transparency would hardly benefit from the ECFA seal of approval. If a church were not open with their books, as increasingly independent mega-churches seem to be, then a seal of approval from the ECFA would be a sure way to seem transparent, whether a church was or not.
From the ECFA’s perspective, adding churches without requiring at the very least the type of information that a standard I-990 would provide would be an easy source of revenue for the ECFA. Under the current requirements, church do not have to do much more than provide an audited set of financial statements, plus an assurance that they use some matrix in determining executive salaries.
So churches that are notorious for stubbornly refusing to be open to its members, such as Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church, Steve Furtick’s Elevation Church in Charlotte, and James MacDonald’s Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago can have minimum transparency, hidden executive salaries where the pastors live in million dollars homes, and yet also have the ECFA approval.
Basic information that non-church 501(c)3 organizations are required to provide via the I-990 form can easily be hidden by a church wishing to keep such information private.
Executive salaries over $100,000 per year are required to be disclosed for all non-church 501(c)3’s on the I-990 form. Certain specific expenditures are required to be disclosed, as well as disproportionate sources of income. The ECFA, as well as a curious donor or potential donor can find out a lot of basic information as he or she evaluates the organization.
In the case of churches certified by the ECFA, however, such basic transparency is not required and therefore easily avoided. The ECFA knows this, yet they fail to address the flaws in their certification process that allow accountability and transparency to accompany such certification.
Even the ECFA does not know basic information such as the executive salaries of the churches they certify.
Churches like Mars Hill Church may choose to pay the top dogs through a third party rather than out of the normal payroll accounts of the church. Like many corporations, they will outsource that function to a company that charges a single amount for all the top dogs. In this way even the accountants within the church will not necessarily know the specific salaries of the top earners within the church.
How it would work, as an example, would be as follows. For the sake of example let us use the rumored earnings that have been bantered around within Mars Hill Church circles. Many have suggested that Mark Driscoll earns about $1,200,000 per year and his two co executives Dave Bruskas and the recently departed Sutton Turner each earned about $400,000 per year. Rather than pay them directly from the same payroll account as the other employees, Mars Hill Church could pay them using an outsource payroll company, who then merely bills Mars Hill Church $2,000,000 over the year, plus their fees. So the bookkeepers would get a monthly bill for executive salaries of about $170,000.00 per month.
Even those doing the bookkeeping would have no idea who earns what, so the executives are protected from busybodies and naysayers (perhaps a good thing) but they are also able to hide specific earnings from everybody, even the auditors or the ECFA (not so good).
The ECFA knows that churches therefore are able to avoid transparency, yet they are aggressively signing up churches without addressing the reality that by doing so without requiring the same disclosure that the I-990 requires of all other 501(c)3 groups, they are rendering their certification meaningless.
Surely the ECFA knew this would need to be addressed. The fact that they have either willfully moved forward despite this obvious outcome, or have been blindsided by this reality, both show that perhaps it is the ECFA that needs to be scrutinized for letting the donor down by either its choice or its lack of wisdom.
Both reasons are highly problematic should cause grave concern to the evangelical church that the ECFA serves.