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

giving members the finger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is he serious?

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

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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.

The Mars Hill Global Fund. Surely it would be easier just to tell the truth?

Whiplash 2

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.

Huh?

Huh 1

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.

More lies from Mars Hill Church leadership.

The truth please

To say that someone has lied is using very strong language.  Since the deceitful and coercive way that Mark Driscoll and former executive elder, Jamie Munson, along with former elders Tim Belz and Scott Thomas, changed the bylaws in 2007,  it seems that being deceitful is something that occurs with routine frequency at Mars Hill Church.

Mars Hill Church leaders seem to lie whenever a scandal hits the news. In almost every case there is no repentance at first. Eventually, if the stories they tell do not stick, they finally offer a statement that shifts blame but states that the events that led to the scandal were not good but some outsiders fault, or that there are regrets that people are hurt and an assurance that God is at work in the hearts of the leaders.

Why keep pointing out the lies, you might ask? What axe is there to grind? The answer is simple. There are hurting people, including the still shunned Petry family, that are bleeding emotionally and spiritually because of the abuse they received at the hands of the Mars Hill Church culture. Injustice leaves a wound that simply does not heal until repentance and restitution occur.

I find no joy in digging up the discipline case that hit the news in early 2012.

The attached article in Christianity Today recaps the basic story (link). A young man named Andrew sinned against his fiancé, felt convicted and confessed. Confession was not good enough for his leaders and he was given hurdles he had to jump to “prove” his repentance – which was never good enough. Eventually, after being asked to document and share his entire sexual history with Mars Hill leaders, he had the sense to walk away from such treatment and leave the church.

He was then publicly shunned. I happen to know the young man, and his story is similar to many of us who have been shunned. The sudden isolation, the immediate lack of community, not knowing where you stand with all of your close friends, is humiliating, isolating and very painful. It is also not biblical if you have repented of your sins as this young man had.

You may ask, what has this to do with Mars Hill Church and lies?

Well, the headline of the Christianity Today article is the lie. “Mars Hill Says It Released Leaders Over Church Discipline Cases”.  The initial implication was that two leaders got fired over the handling of this particular case. Mars Hill Church stated that the men were fired before the story broke, again implying that they were engaged as soon as they saw the abuse and immediately fired the elders responsible.

I remember the story, and I actually felt deep sorrow for the abused young man. I also, however, felt sorry for the elders who were merely patterning themselves after what they were learning from Mark Driscoll’s abusive style. They themselves have now been ruthlessly fired rather than taught a better way.

Well, I have since met the young man, and met with three of the elders and community group leaders involved. It is they who were quick to tell me that Mars Hill simply lied in their statement regarding elders being fired. The truth is that nobody was fired as a result of the case that hit the news.

So why the lie from Mars Hill Church? My guess is that it is because it is what they thought needed to be said to settle down the raucous in the press.

The lie shifted blame to two elders that overstepped their authority and therefore were fired. So the fault was not the leaders of Mars Hill Church, it was these two rogue elders who were immediately terminated. Problem solved. (Side note: remember two elders getting fired in 2007?) (Link)

The sad part is not just that Mars Hill lied in that two elders were not fired as a result of this particular abusive episode, but that Mars Hill Church scrambled to fabricate a story to pacify the questioning and criticism, but did not scramble to make things right with the young man.

So Mars Hill Church actually recognized that two elders overstepped their authority (euphemism for “were abusive to a member”) and failed reach out to the abused members and put things right.

This is the pattern. The leaders lie to explain and deflect responsibility. Even when it is clear people are hurting, there is no addressing the hurt bodies that have been thrown through the wood-chipper and left under the bus. Here is Mark Driscoll delighting in the fact that, “by God’s grace, there will be a mountain of bodies under the bus” (link)

On final note… in this particular case, Mars Hill statements also progressed and changed. It seems that if the first “story” is not effective, Mars Hill will make further statements that are contradictory to the earlier statements. We have seen this lately with the three differing statements relating to the deception and misspending of church finds to manipulate book sales in trying to secure a Bestseller spot on the New York Times list.

We have also seen it in the various attempts to explain away the fund that Mars Hill leaders had been heavily soliciting donations for with clear implications that the fund was to be used for international outreach (with solicitations all set in an impoverished Ethiopian village). As it has become clear that a minuscule amount of the millions raised actually want to international outreach (maybe $300k), the story went from Global Fund including the U.S. plants and campuses, to the fund not actually existing and Global actually meaning global donors.

The retelling of the story is so obvious and non-believable to anyone paying attention, that I commented that it appears that they are being outwitted somehow (link).

It is my prayer that the level of lies and corruption within the leadership forces the remaining members and elders to bring the changes that are needed to ensure that Mars Hill Church recovers from its current implosion and troubles.