Mars Hill Church thanks Rob Smith for partnering with them in the gospel in 2014

working together

Mars Hill Church just said “Thank You” for all that I had done for the kingdom of God during the year. This at the same time that they refuse to meet with me.

The letter thanking me was accompanied by my giving receipt for the year. I faithfully gave to Mars Hill Church every week that I attended between Mark Driscoll’s resignation and the decision to dissolve the church (two weeks).

In the letter, which suggests that we can “celebrate 2014 as an incredible year” and says that my gift has helped “sown a great harvest.”

The letter outlines some of what I and other donors paid for in 2014. Here are some of the items:

5 Mars Hill Churches were launched/planted in January of 2104.

5 sermon series were taught from the Bible.

67 evangelists were supported in Ethiopia.

33 church planters were supported in India.

11 independent churches planted in January 2015 (the remaining campuses).

Looking at that summary, the largest number is those who received the least amount of money: the Ethiopian evangelists and Indian church planters. The costs of supporting these 100 evangelists and church planters was about 5% of the deceptively promoted Global Fund, and far less than one half of 1% of the budget of the church.

Missing from the cheerfully worded letter was what happened to the $3 million raised for the Jesus Festival, and answers to questions that I and others have asked about the amount of our donations that paid for massive severance packages for the three Executive Elders, and, who now owns all the intellectual property paid for by my and other donors’ money.

Also glaringly missing was any attempt to take responsibility for the deep systemic abuse that led Paul Tripp to resign his position as Board Director and refer to Mars Hill Church as the most abusive that he had ever worked with.

Also missing was any attempt to reach out to those who were abused, including any comment regarding the still-in-effect shunning order against Paul Petry. To their shame, the leaders of Mars Hill Church want to shut down all operations while still leaving the Paul Petry shunning orders in place, and not retracting their official defamatory statements about him and Bent Meyer.

We may never get answers to our questions regarding the finances, and we may never see justice done for Paul Petry, but seeing that my questions throughout 2014 have been so warmly recognized as being a part of building Christ’s kingdom, I shall keep asking that we see full transparency and a redress of the grievances of so many of us donors and members.

Mars Hill Thanks Rob

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Where is the credibility of ECFA?

 

no credibility

Will the ECFA* have any credibility left after staunchly standing by Mars Hill Church?

What are open and transparent ministries that pay the ECFA for its stamp of approval thinking as they see the ECFA continue to declare to donors that Mars Hill Church meets the transparency and accountability standards that ECFA supposedly requires?

What sort of financial scandal has to become public before the ECFA decides that it will no longer give its once esteemed stamp of approval to Mars Hill Church?

How is it possible that the Mars Hill Global Fund deception has been clear and obvious to many church members, ex-members, news reporters and bloggers, yet not to the ECFA? This includes the hasty repackaging of the Global Fund by MH leadership stating that the Global Fund was never a fund that was intended to fund overseas mission work in places like Ethiopia and India, but rather a fund that could be used for any purpose that the top leadership at Mars Hill Church desires, including the general fund.

The recently leaked memo about the Global Fund confirms the intent to deceive and withhold information from donors. Subsequent supportive figures and statements from the church demonstrate that church leaders intended to raise monies using the sympathetic African backdrop implying where the money would go – yet spent it locally, not on overseas missions as implied. It begs the question: is this sort of blatant deception and “cooking of books” enough for the ECFA to realize that its stamp of approval should be removed?

The 2012 and 2013 financial statements and the open admission by church leadership confirm that a preponderance of the money raised was spent in the US for local expenditures. The memo confirms the blatant intent to deceive donors. The memo reveals a calculated scheme by church leadership to “pull the wool over the eyes” of donors, as well as other churches considering joining the Mars Hill franchise, by using a trifling percentage of funds raised to be spent on the appearance of supporting overseas mission work.

The memo proposed limiting the amount earmarked for overseas missions to about $10k per month to buy the silence of critics (which is a pittance, a mere five percent or less of what was raised), and then using the lion’s share of the funds for whatever domestic spending church leadership desires – in effect co-mingling the Global Fund with the general fund to pay for salaries, real estate acquisition, etc. Yet the ECFA stands by its approval of Mars Hill Church.

In the light of this latest revelation of financial shenanigans at Mars Hill Church, will the ECFA choose to keep its stamp of blessing on the church, like it did despite knowing of the deception by church leadership using $210,000 of church funds to hire a company to “game” the system and buy books in a manner intended to deceive the New York Times bestseller list?  And, as that deception worked, deceive the public that Mark Driscoll was in fact an author that deserved to be listed among that elite number?

Add to that the plagiarism found in several of Mark Driscoll’s books, which of course is deceiving readers that the uncited work was the work of the author. And add to that the refusal to open up the books of the church to members, thus keeping hidden the allegedly exorbitant compensation packages of the Executive Elders or the exact amount of the overseas mission expenditures of the Global Fund.

The so-called Global Fund raised over $10million. Repeated pleas to donors were made via 20 or more videos utilizing backdrops of impoverished Ethiopian villages.  Church members were repeatedly solicited both online and from the pulpit to give over and above their tithes to help build churches globally. When it was discovered that hardly any of the money actually was spent on overseas missions, Mars Hill leaders came back saying the fund was actually “international givers” as opposed to an international fund.  

Then came the hasty removal of the Global Fund videos showing Mark Driscoll asking members in Seattle to give to the fund in addition to their normal giving, as well as videos showing executive elder, Sutton Turner, standing in front of a thatched hut in Ethiopia soliciting viewers for donations to the Global Fund.

Such blatant deception.

Such calculated exploitation of poor Africans.

Such intentional suckering of donors.

Yet the ECFA still creates the deceptive illusion that there is transparency and accountability of the finances at Mars Hill Church by putting the ECFA stamp of approval on the organization. If Mars Hill Church qualifies for ECFA approval, then ECFA approval is meaningless. Every church which bears the ECFA stamp of approval becomes suspect of financial shenanigans.

What does the ECFA stand for these days? Surely their approval is losing its value. Every organization that pays its annual dues to the ECFA should start wondering if those days are numbered. If Mars Hill Church is still being approved by the ECFA, what does this tell donors who have been trusting the ECFA as they ponder where and how to be good stewards of their giving?

* Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA)

Mars Hill Global (non) Fund… really…there is nowhere to run.

Global Fund Confusion

Sutton Turner and Mark Driscoll have gone from soliciting funds from Mars Hill members for the Global Fund, to now saying there has been no Global Fund since 2009, and that “Mars Hill Global” refers only to donors that are global who give to the general fund.

Mars Hill Church has raised over $10 million through solicitations to donors to the Global Fund, and yet it is estimated that less than $350k of this went to Ethiopia or India, despite Mars Hill’s media blitz that employed videos showing scenes in Ethiopia and India to solicit donations to “Mars Hill Global.” Mars Hill Church has apologized for confusing donors, yet the confusion is a result of changes in their story of the fund itself.

Mars Hill Church has admitted that the preponderance of the money was spent on local campuses and within the general fund, and not on international outreach as was made clear in Mark Driscoll’s solicitations of 2012 (see the video below).

There is no doubt that the fund has existed as a restricted fund after 2009, and there is no doubt that Mars Driscoll pitched the fund as a “beyond your tithe” gift from members of Mars Hill Church in 2012. There is no doubt that Sutton Turner did the same in late 2013/early 2014 (Link).

That both Sutton Turner and Mark Driscoll have solicited Mars Hill Members to donate to Mars Hill Global as a fund that is separate from the general fund is without question.

Now they are saying that the fund either never existed or ceased to exist years ago, and that since 2009 “Global” merely meant donors around the world who follow Mars Hill online.

Mars Hill Church leaders, rather than admitting that they solicited donations for one purpose – a Global Fund for global outreach – and then spent the preponderance of the $10m raised on another purpose, the general fund for local campus expansion and other expenses like lucrative compensation packages for themselves, choose to now say that the fund was not a fund.

As mentioned, based upon their own statements, it is likely that less than $350k has been spent on Ethiopia and India, not much more than the $210k spent on another story that kept changing, the deceptive manipulating of the sales of Driscoll’s book, Real Marriage, to secure a New York Times Bestseller spot.

Mars Hill Church leadership is determined to stick to its new line, and is removing all recent solicitations from the web to the Mars Hill Global (link).  Why are they so anxious? Are they just embarrassed at the fact that they have been caught, or are they afraid of the consequences of being caught?

Either way, they have been caught.  Rather than rushing to spin the story, it would be so refreshing (and, sadly, surprising) if they would just admit the truth and seek forgiveness. Is that not what the gospel is all about?

THE CURRENT STORY LINE:

 “During fiscal years 2009-2014, over $10M dollars has been given to Mars Hill Church by the Mars Hill global family.” (link)

“WHAT HAPPENED TO THE GLOBAL FUND?

Since 2009, we have used the term ‘Global’ to help us distinguish between donors who attend our churches and donors around the world who follow us online.”

“During fiscal years 2009-2014, over $10M dollars has been given to Mars Hill Church by the Mars Hill global family.”  (link)

(emphasis added)

YET IN 2012 THE LINE FROM MARK DRISCOLL:

Mark Driscoll: “we want to start Mars Hill Tacoma, and up and around Bothell/Kirkland…In addition, I want to tell you some things that are going on with Mars Hill Global...we’ve been working in a partnership to help plant churches in India…support 23 church planters in India…in Ethiopia…we are now funding over a dozen church planters.” [Clearly presented as something in addition to local campus plants. “In addition” – this is what the Global Fund is pitched to support] (link)
(emphasis added)

AND IN 2014 THE SAME LINE FROM SUTTON TURNER:

Sutton Turner, “We encourage you to give above and beyond your tithe, to Mars Hill Global” (link)    
(emphasis added)

While ECFA looks away, Mars Hill’s deceptively marketed “Global Fund” is certainly getting attention.

 

Ethiopian children

23 out of 25  Mars Hill videos promoting the Global Fund are about Ethiopia and India. This was a designated fund when started, but now, Executive Elder, Sutton Turner, has redefined the Global Fund. It has been redefined to mean “Global Donor” as opposed to Global Fund.

Sutton Turner is now saying that the way Mars Hill has been soliciting support for the fund (as a designated fund for what appears to be missions to the third world) is not what the “fund” ever was, and that it is simply the money given from the rest of the globe to the General Fund of Mars Hill Church.

However, as mentioned, if you go to the Mars Hill Church website and look at their own video selections that draw the donor to the “fund” you will find 25 videos. 23 of these videos are of either Ethiopia or India.

Sutton Turner pitching from Ethiopia

The clear message seems to be that your money will go to Ethiopia or India.  It is not clear that the purpose of the solicitation is to get the global Mars Hill community to give to the General Fund of the church. The strong pitch, with all the photos of Ethiopian children and huts in the background, is that the gift is for international missions, and most likely missions efforts to Ethiopia and India.

Donors have no clear idea that the money they donate will go into the same fund that pays for the three Executive Elders’ large salaries (rumored to be a combined seven figures – no member knows), or the same pool of funds that paid Result Source to deceptively purchase books in a way that ensured a spot on the NYT Bestseller list. The exception is the new June 7th video where Turner is giving donors the new pitch where Global Fund means “Global donor” and not a specific fund at all. The money goes into the General Fund, period!

This new video appears to be the only one that does not have an African or Indian setting. Once again, we are seeing Mars Hill leadership remaking the story. Your money that you thought was going to support Ethiopia or India, is going to the General Fund of Mars Hill Church.

This video is taken with Spokane in the background, and Mars Hill Global is now the larger family of Mars Hill participants. It is no longer the “Global Fund”.  “Currently your gift supports our 15 Mars Hill Church locations…,” says Sutton Turner. Yet the rest of the videos soliciting money were shot in Ethiopia or India as you can see.

Youtube VIdeos Mars Hill GLobal

 

Why the need to redefine the fund? Surely it is because, as happened when members found out about the church spending $210,000 to deceptively purchase a way onto the NYT bestseller list, this way of raising money appears as deceptive and has raised new questions about transparency at Mars Hill Church.

It is clear that at one time the fund was a designated fund. This appears to be before Sutton Turner arrived at Mars Hill Church. See note #5 on the income statement below.

Report Showing Global Fund restricted in 2010

 

Mark Driscoll, in a video dated 2012, after talking about local (US) church plants and new Mars Hill campuses, continued… “In addition, I want to tell you about Mars Hill Global. We’ve been working in partnership with churches in India…… in Ethiopia….”. He adds “Our goal is to continue, through Mars Hill Global, to take the resources and to get the news of Jesus to the nations, cause He said ‘We should be His witnesses where? The ends of the earth.’ ”

So the clear emphasis was a fund that was intended to support church planting internationally… to the ends of the earth. This hardly sounds like you are contributing to the general fund that pays for local salaries and buildings. Here is a video that clearly delineates a separate fund.

So the question is this. How much of  the millions raised from donors who thought their gifts went to missions efforts in Ethiopia and India actually went to these places?  If most of the money (by far) is spent buying buildings and paying U.S. salaries then is this not simple exploitation by any measure?

Surely transparency is reasonable and fair for a church with respect to its donors and friends?

As one that spends a lot of time in Africa, I have witnessed exploitative practices where money is raised showing poor African children being supported when in fact it was all staged. People are moved and give to the shenanigans of tricksters all over Africa. I have personally intervened when donors have realized that they were giving to orphanages that simply didn’t exist. This is exploitation of both the African children and of the donor.

So this raises some tough questions.

Is it true that very little, perhaps as little as two or three percent or less, actually went to serve pastors and church plants in these countries? Is it true that more money has been spent sending Mars Hill elders along with media teams (air flights, hotel, and food) to Ethiopia and India than has been sent to actually support pastors and church plants in these communities?

As one who travels frequently to Africa, I know the general cost to Mars Hill to send 12 pastors and a media team to Ethiopia. Tickets would cost about $54,000 (economy class) plus another $7,200 or so for hotels. Drivers, cars, and food would all cost more. Perhaps as much as $90,000 to $100,000 was likely spent on this trip. Has the “Global Fund” spent that much supporting the Ethiopian pastors themselves?

Did not Mars Hill Church raise over $2.3 million via the Global Fund in one year alone?

Surely rather than come up with a revised definition of what Mars Hill Global and the no longer referenced “Global Fund” actually are, why not be open and transparent with donors and members?

Until Mars Hill Church comes clean, this just appears to be yet another deceptive use of marketing. From plagiarism, to rewriting the history of the founding of the church, to evading questions and removing members who question from the church, to the blatant misuse of funds to buy a spot on the NYT best seller list, it seems that the current Executive Elders have a clear problem with truth-telling.

Not to mention the dishonest way that the bylaws were changed in 2007 and two elders’ lives and reputations smeared. The Petry family are still being shunned by Mars Hill leadership which is having a difficult time just telling us the truth.

“If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we will have fellowship with one another”. Until then, we just see more and more darkness as time goes on.