Mars Hill Church’s Justin Dean – Straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

camel

 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?

No.

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.

If any reader would like to learn more about Agathos, here is a link. If any reader is inclined to support Agathos, here is the link to do so.

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.

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7 thoughts on “Mars Hill Church’s Justin Dean – Straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

  1. Rob, I appreciate your appeal for humility and strength of character.

    I must say straining gnats and lying are two different matters. Representing yourself as an elder when you knowingly did not complete the track and were not installed as an elder is called lying.

    Mitt Romney was a candidate for the President of the United States. But being a candidate and campaigning did not give him leeway to refer to himself as “President of the United States” when conducting interviews with the press. In fact, people would have wrote Romney off as a lunatic had he made such a claim.

    Facts are stubborn things, my friend. I find it awkward that you so readily accuse Mars Hill and Driscoll of playing fast and loose with facts and then you turn around and engage in the same fast and loose play yourself.

    “Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued…”
    The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (1 Ti 3:8). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

  2. I have been following this more or less without comment as an observer since before the beginning of MHC, was hearing about the Driscoll saga while he was still in college and recently married to Grace Ann Martin. I don’t think removing Driscoll will fix MHC. The problems are systemic. This has been pointed out by numerous evangelical rock stars, not the least of which Phil Johnson and Carl Trueman. Your personal experience is ilustrative, a very grafic example of what many other experience. The best thing for individuals who have no power to influence the leadership is to vote with their feet and their wallet. Get out and quit feeding this dragon.

  3. Rob, did you take this to Justin Dean privately as laid out in Matthew 18? There have been so many cases of offenses that could (and should) have been kept privy to only those who were directly involved, and there would have been so much less damage than trying them in the online public court of opinion. I hope you did, my friend.

    • Lisa, if you have been reading my blogs you will know that I have tried to talk to the leaders at Mars Hill Church for years in private. In my opinion it has now got to the 1 Tim 5:21 stage where everyone hears. There is no need, after all the hidden problems and failure to walk in the light, to now follow Matt 18. The opportunity for that has long past. By the way, I have no desire to suggest I held some position at Mars Hill Church that I did not hold. This is clear after almost 100 blog posts. Justin Dean represents the church and if he had an issue with me he could have called or emailed me. I am through trying to quietly and passively work through Matt 18 when the church cannot even attempt to reconcile with Paul Petry, Bent Meyer, Lief Moi or myself. I do appreciate your desire to see a Matt 18 approach accomplish a good outcome, but it takes both parties being willing, and Mars Hill Church leadership is not willing.

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