“Negative Media Attention” and Mars Hill Church

Spin

Mars Hill Church leadership has decried “Negative Media Attention” and blamed it for a decrease in both attendance and giving.

For us ex-members and perhaps many members we see the following “trustworthy table”. The most untrustworthy from our perspective would be considered negative, and the most trustworthy would be considered positive. We consider truth as positive, and self-serving spin and obfuscation as negative.  We will look at the media spin about the current Mars Hill mess from negative to positive.

News source
General Characterization
Comment

Mars Hill Church  communications
Very untrustworthy
Full of accusation to dissenters and bloggers, lack of transparency, hides truth often.

Other Christian New Outlets (World Magazine excluded)
Untrustworthy
Usually are printing puff pieces seemingly written by Mars Hill PR firms and surrogates.

Daily Beast/Huff Post
Moderately Untrustworthy
Seems to like to pick the sensational and skew perspectives toward a biased view.

New York Times
Trustworthy
Solid journalism

Forbes
Trustworthy
Solid journalism

The Seattle Times
Trustworthy
Solid Journalism – keen to correct any errors

The Seattle Weekly
Trustworthy
Solid and caring journalism.

The Wartburg Watch
Trustworthy
Written with a heart for abused people

World Magazine
Very Trustworthy
Warren Cole Smith has become the nation’s foremost investigative reporter within Evangelical circles.

Wenatchee the Hatchet
Very trustworthy
A totally accurate narrative with keen observation and a ferocious commitment to accuracy.

Warren Throckmorton
Very trustworthy
Daily reading for most members and ex-members of Mars Hill Church and the rest of the evangelical world

The Stranger
Very trustworthy
No tabloid journalist spent more time to make sure that he understood the context and accuracy of the events at Mars Hill Church than Brendan Kiley (Link)

Who would have thought that the least trustworthy of media would be Mars Hill Church and other Christian outlets, and the most trustworthy The Stranger?

The .01% that supports the 99%. Hail Mary?

Hail Mary

In its 2012 annual report, Mars Hill Church reports that .01% out of 12,172 attendees gave over $100,000 to the church in the 2012 fiscal year. That means just one person gave that much or more. This is the same year that executive elder, Sutton Turner, stated in a recently discovered memorandum, that the church’s finances were in a “big mess” (link).  Turner also said that every December, the organization commences a “Hail Mary” giving push.

2012 giving range

The push likely does result in some additional giving from members, but there is no doubt that the real “Hail Mary” is a single donor who gives over $100,000 per year that the church relies on.

If the stats in the 2012 report from Mars Hill Church are correct, there is only a single donor who gives over $100,000 per year. The report shows the percentage of every level of giving. It gives the reader the percentages of attendees that give nothing, as well as the percentage of each giving range. The report gives the exact percentage of each category. The following tables show what the numbers look like. The first table assumes a high average giving for each category (75% above median) in order to reduce the single donor contribution. So the 0 to $500 range is assumed to average $375 (as opposed to $250 which is more likely statistically).

2012 giving analysis above average

If the 2012 financial report is correct, and .01% of donors out of 12,162 people (which is 1) gave above $100,000, then that single donor gave $4,574,991.  Total campus giving, according to the report, was $19,709,462. The giving percentage chart doesn’t specify what total is being used, so it is possible, using this high average, that the single donor gave $229,698.

Of course, the likelihood is that the numbers average out normally. In such a case, the single donor gave a lot more.

2012 giving analysis average

In order for the percentages given to us by Mars Hill Church to be accurate, a single giver gave as much as $8,958,432 toward the total amount given. If the pie chart from the report reflects campus giving, then that lone donor likely gave $4,613,139.

It is clear that there is a single donor who has propped up Mars Hill Church significantly. Without this donor, the burden of promoting Mark Driscoll as “the brand,” and the burdensome costs promoting Mark Driscoll’s book, Real Marriage, that Sutton Turner mentioned in his memo, would have been crushing.

This mystery donor is very vested in Mars Hill Church.

Historically, members have been aware of a single donor who has donated sound systems that are worth over $100,000 in value. There have also been revelations of a single donor who has flown elders around in private jets and hosted elder retreats that would amount to over $100,000 per year. Statistically, if there is only a single donor who gives over $100,000 per year, then the above mentioned gifts likely come from that single donor.

It would seem then that a donor, with private jets and expertise in musical equipment, has donated substantially toward the branding and success of both Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll. He or she is likely very close to Mark Driscoll and has been a significant help and influence in his life and his success.

Imagine the sense of loyalty of that donor to Mark Driscoll.

What must that donor think as the independent (according to ECFA standards) members of the Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) consider whether Mark Driscoll’s days as the lead pastor and “The Brand” are over?

There is nothing more sacred when charges are made against a person then to have an impartial and independent panel of adjudicators reviewing the evidence. This safeguards the verdict and makes it fair, credible and honorable.

Let us all pray that the BOAA has the independence to render a fair and just verdict once the Board of Overseers has completed its investigation of the numerous charges against Mark Driscoll.

 

 

The big E’s on the Mars Hill org-chart

Big E on the eye chart 1

Everyone has now seen the memo that Sutton Turner wrote to his fellow executive elders, whom we shall refer to as the big E’s on the org-chart. (link)

While Turner’s memo discloses many troubling issues, including a transparent look at what was actually happening behind the scenes versus what was reported to the church congregation and the public – which I am sure will be further analyzed in other and future blogs – the big E on the org-chart was missed.

Most noticeable is how Turner is very critical of employees who used church resources for their personal benefit. He is not critical, however, of the biggest E on the org-chart, Mark Driscoll, who used $220,000 of church monies to deceptively buy himself a spot on the New York Times bestseller list and used substantial church resources to promote his book, Real Marriage.

Turner repeatedly mentions the cash flow burden of promoting Real Marriage, but he mentions this because of the heavy cost to Mars Hill Church and not out of concern that the promotion of Driscoll’s book was wholesale use of church resources to personally benefit Mark Driscoll.

The Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) insisted that “all monies from the sale of Pastor Mark’s books at Mars Hill bookstores have always gone to the church and Pastor Mark did not profit from the Real Marriage books sold either at the church or through the Result Source marketing campaign.”  (link)

Given the fact that the “Noble Nine” elders who called for Mark Driscoll to step down also accused the BOAA of being misleading (especially board chairman Michael van Skaik) (link) and of being non-transparent, one has to examine the BOAA’s statement very carefully.

The BOAA stated that “all monies from the sale of Pastor Marks’ books at Mars Hill Bookstores have always gone to the church…” The church bookstores? The bookstores are in each campus and of course the sale of those books would go to the campus. But the books bought by the Result Source contract were not sold through the Mars Hill bookstores. Furthermore, the books at the bookstore would have been purchased wholesale, and any royalties would be a part of the cost.

The royalties of the book actually go into various trusts. The BOAA did not say that trusts received the royalties from the sale of the books. What they said was that Mark Driscoll himself did not profit from books sold at the church or through the Real Marriage contract. According to the Noble Nine elders, the BOAA has proven to be less than transparent. The BOAA statement is technically correct because the trust, On Mission, LLC, got the royalties and not Mark Driscoll himself. (link)

Any Real Marriage book sales not through the Mars Hill bookstores or through the Real Marriage campaign would likely profit Mark Driscoll. Yet according to Sutton Turner’s memo, the church was bearing the heavy cost of promoting Driscoll’s book,Real Marriage, while the copyright is not in the church’s name and it is likely that Driscoll owns the intellectual property rights as well.

Mark Driscoll said “Mars Hill gets half of all the royalties…[of] the books that I publish.” (link) 

So church resources being used for the personal benefit of the lead pastor – the big E on the org chart – is acceptable? But it is not acceptable for anyone else to use church resources for their personal benefit?

Big E on the eye chart 5

 

Finally – an ounce of transparency from within Mars Hill Church.

emperors_new_clothes

Today a letter from Sutton Turner to the fellow executive elders Mark Driscoll and Dave Bruskas was posted by Warren Throckmorton (link).

It is stunning. It will momentarily give you some respect and sympathy for the newly-hired-at-the-time Sutton Turner.

There is much to process as a former Mars Hill member reading of the extravagance of eating at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and treating wives to the spa using church funds.  But there are two things that stand out.

  1. The extravagant spenders Sutton was concerned about were not Mark Driscoll or the executive elders. The culture of using the church to further their own personal benefit that was pointed out was at the level of the rank and file elders. These are the same men that are calling for the disqualification of Mark Driscoll.
  2. Sutton claims that there was a “culture of using the platform created by Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church to build a staff member’s own personal ministry”. He seems to gloss over the many times he repeated the Real Marriage Campaign which clearly used church funds to build Mark Driscoll’s personal ministry (and fortune). It is clear that to Turner the ministry of Mars Hill Church and the personal ministry (and the personal inurement that resulted) were one and the same. It reminds me of the reports where Mark Driscoll said to his elders, “I am the brand” (link).

Bear in mind that the elders who have charged Mark Driscoll with various sins and are calling for his head were elders who were employed by Mars Hill Church in 2011 and 2012, and who were using church monies to eat and live lavishly. It is no wonder then, that so very few of these elders have added their names to the repentantpastor.com site.

It would seem that now that this letter is out, we should see many of the elders step up to the plate and show repentance for their misuse of church funds and the neglect of other pastoral duties, including the support of the firing of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer, the shunning of the Petry family (which is still in force) and the changing of the bylaws that created this culture of runaway unaccountability.

The MH wounded… where are Acts 29, TGC, T4G, and real shepherds?

“The credibility of the church will rise and fall on how it treats the weak and wounded. Mark Driscoll called former friends and former pastors ‘bodies under the bus’ and was hoping for a mountain of them. I know of no high-profile pastor who has publicly called for prayer for those bodies.” Matt Redmond writes in an excellent post (link).

The sheep continue to hurt as men who propped up, enabled, supported, lauded, and benefitted from Mark Driscoll make comments about praying for and supporting Driscoll while they have no words of concern for the sheep.

As the discussion continues within the church analyzing how the Mars Hill Church rise and fall happened, certain men are going to have to speak. It would be healing to all if they spoke words of comfort and prayer for the thousands who have been harmed in so many countless ways.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Here are some of the men we need to hear from:

Pray 2  pray 4pray 5   Pray 8

Pray 7   pray 11 dacarson 2pray chan 1   pray dever 2pray keller and piper 1   Pray rick warren 1pray tripp 2   pray wilson 1

 

pray breshears 1   pray breshears 2

pray darrin ed   pray stetzer

 

and finally… just for the sake of a little humor…..

Pray - humor

I have a dream! [With enormous respect to the great Dr. King.]

I have a dream

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the Gospel.

I have a dream that one day this church will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all elders are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of Mars Hill shunned members and the sons of Mars Hill members will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the Bellevue Campus, a church sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day belong to a Mars Hill church where they will not be judged by the nature of their questioning but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Ballard, with its vicious shunnings, with its pastor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Ballard, little shunned boys and disciplined girls will be able to join hands with little elder’s boys and lead pastor’s girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the church with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our church into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to coffee together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning,

Come thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Streams of mercy never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise!

And if  Mars Hill Church is to be a great church this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening buildings of Bellevue!

Let freedom ring from snowcapped Mount Ranier over looking Tacoma!

Let freedom ring from the Sandias’ slopes of Albuquerque!

But not only that; let freedom ring from downtown Seattle!

Let freedom ring from Leary Street in Ballard!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of  Huntington Beach. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s Mars Hill Church children, members and ex-members, employees and ex-employees, elders and ex-elders, executive elders and board members, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Mark Driscoll and his two executives do not trust the elders of Mars Hill Church

broken trust

[UPDATE: Within minutes of this post from Musings – coincidently, Mars Hill Church posted their bylaws on their website. This is a change – hopefully for the positive (link).]

The elders of Mars Hill Church cannot see their own bylaws, according to the latest departing elder, Pastor Dustin Kensrue (link).  As it now turns out, the bylaws of a church that handles millions of dollars can be simply rewritten by the three executive elders at will – without church members or elders even knowing about it.

How can anyone be held accountable if they can simply rewrite the bylaws at will?

This is beyond a joke.

Here is how it happened.

  • The entire membership was betrayed in 2007 with a rogue change in the bylaws. The church that we joined, because it had a plurality of elders (i.e.: a safe church) and had given millions of dollars to and countless hours of effort toward, changed its bylaws in a coercive and despicable way.
  • The new bylaws became repeatedly changed despite church members being required to agree with them. As the bylaws changed, members were not notified and the bylaws become increasingly hard to find.
  • The current bylaws are now withheld from the elders of the church. So who is responsible, and who reports to whom? How is the church governed?

Mars Hill Church has members who are expected to agree with the bylaws, but the bylaws have become as secretive as the lucrative salaries being paid to the three Executive Elders. The last bylaws we did see (link) show that members are “members” in name only. Under the terms of the 2012 bylaws, the only “actual” legal members of the church were the elders. Church members were defined as “members only in a spiritual and theological sense,” but not actually members in a civil sense.

In classic Orwellian doublespeak, members are not actually members, except for the purpose of giving their dollars and time to the actual members (the elders) to spend as they choose.

It would appear that there are now new bylaws where the elders at Mars Hill Church are not actually elders from any Reformed point of view. They have no say in how the church is run and have no right to see the bylaws or to change them.

Because the bylaws are hidden from almost everyone now, this raises serious questions. Questions like the following:

– Who actually owns the property that the church keeps buying with the members’ (non) donations?

– How does the money get spent? What happened to the money that was raised for the Jesus Festival?

– While employees are getting laid off, are the Executive Elders still getting their full salaries?

– What are the cash reserves of the church?

– Who decides to buy new property?

– Who owns the church properties if the church locks its doors?

None of these questions are likely to be answered under the present bylaws, because the Executive Elders are the only actual members of the church. Non-members, who think they are members, and non-elders who think they are elders, have no right to information like this.

And the ECFA continues to endorse the financial accountability of Mars Hill Church.

Yup!! That is what I was thinking too.

Radically change the bylaws…they represent a “deft grab for power.” — Dustin Kensrue

power 1

Pastor Dustin Kensrue, in his letter of resignation from Mars Hill Church, says that the Mars Hill Church “bylaws need to be radically changed…” (link)

These bylaws were changed to consolidate power in 2007, following the ruthless firing and “trials” of  two elders – part of a manipulative scheme to coerce young elders to vote for the change or lose their jobs. There is broad consensus and substantial evidence that this was essentially a power grab by Mark Driscoll and his designated “lead pastor” Jamie Munson.

Dustin Kensrue had the courage to say what many of us have been saying for years:  That there was a theological shift that reflects “a deliberate and deft grab for power.”

This shift happened in 2007. Up until 2007, the elders were the highest authority in the church. The church was ruled by a plurality of elders who had an equal vote in all church matters. The executive elders were delegated limited authority by the full council of elders and were completely accountable to these elders.

Mark Driscoll and Jamie Munson, in a 145-page document defending the new bylaws (after many members complained and ultimately over 1000 members left the church) accused Paul Petry and Bent Meyer of “jockeying for power.” This is fascinating, as after Driscoll argued that he was giving up power, even though he had no more power than any other elder, ended by saying that “it has…been absolutely amazing to see all but one of those men humble themselves and give up what is best for them [power] to do what is best for Jesus and our entire church.”

So for opposing the bylaw changes, Mark Driscoll accused Paul Petry and Bent Meyer of  jockeying for power. What these men were opposing was what Driscoll was amazed at by his own words, that the elders were giving up their power.  Driscoll said he was giving up power in the new bylaws – bylaws that gave him more power and totally stripped the elders of any power whatsoever and then he told us that he is amazed that the elders gave up power. So everyone was giving up power with the new bylaws  – according to Mark Driscoll. The wordsmithing is subtle and Pastor Kensrue hit the nail on the head. The Executive Elders made a deft grab for power.

The end result was that the new 2007 bylaws ended up leading to a situation wherein Mark Driscoll and his two executives, Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas, have all the power and the elders at large have no power.

Pastor Kensrue is correct. There was as theological shift that reflected a deliberate and deft grab for power. Sadly, it was significantly misrepresented to the members in a 145-page document full of half-truths and untruths (link).

In defending the firings of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer in 2007, Mark Driscoll, along with the pliant elders at the time, stated the following:

– To make matters worse, there was a growing disrespect among some elders who were jockeying for and abusing power.

– The illusion of unity our eldership had maintained over the years was kept in part by my tolerating some men who demanded more power

– This meant that I needed to give up a great deal of power and trust other elders, deacons, and members to care for the church with the same passionate affection that I have for our people.

– To begin this process I had to go first and divest myself of a great deal of power.

– Sadly, it was during the bylaw rewriting process that two of our elders…chose to fight in a sinful manner in an effort to defend their power and retain legal control of the entire church.

– …my research indicated men commonly respond by sinfully seeking power, money, preference, control, and information as ways to exercise pride and fight for their interests over the interests of the team, church, and mission of Jesus Christ.

– … some church members even began accusing the other elders of grabbing power and not caring for the best interests of our people, which is nothing short of a lie and contradictory in every way to the entire process we were undertaking

– It has been painful to see a few men whom I loved and trained as elders become sinful, proud, divisive, accusatory, mistrusting, power hungry, and unrepentant.

– It has, however, been absolutely amazing to see all but one of those men humble themselves and give up what is best for them [power] to do what is best for Jesus and our entire church.

– There are two groups of elders that are giving up “civil authority” (not biblical authority) in the adoption of the new bylaws. The first is the Full Council of Elders which consists of every elder from every campus.

. What actually happens in a system like that is that fewer and fewer people continue to get power because with so many elders you can’t get anything done and as a result the red tape increases, bureaucracy ensues and shortcuts begin to be developed so that things can actually happen.

In specific Pastor Mark is giving up the most individual authority and power. Previous to these organizational changes he was the Lead Pastor, Preaching Pastor, Head of the Elder Board and the President of the non-profit corporation. With these changes the only current role he holds of those previously held is Preaching Pastor. The intention is to not hoard power but rather share it so that many elders and many leaders can hold positions of influence based on their individual gifts and callings.

Pastor Mark has stepped down on his own initiative as lead pastor as an example for us all. He has less power and has more accountable systems around him. There is a growing sense of health among the elders as we wrestled with the Bylaws and the recent investigations. The new bylaws provide less chance of an individual elder or a small group of elders thwarting the mission of the church.

The 145-page document is a masterpiece of obfuscation and spin-doctoring. Simply put, the 2007 bylaws are at the root of the current problems facing Mars Hill Church, where brutal leaders cannot be stopped by qualified elders who have been called to serve, protect and rule the church. It is simply a recipe for corruption and abuse. Or as Bent Meyer prophetically noted in 2007, they are “a formula for mischief.”