Mars Hill Church: True religion does not abandon orphans and widows in their distress.

Marc Fulmer with childAgathos Internationaln Logo

This post has taken a long time to write. There are many reasons for it and I trust that each reader will understand as they read it.

In February of 2007, Mark Driscoll preached a sermon about Boaz, who he referred to as the “Dude of dudes.” Toward the end of the sermon, called “Redeeming Ruth – God’s hand in our luck,” at 58 minutes into the sermon, he says the following:

58:48 to 1:04:50.. and I will tell you in conclusion of a Boaz kind of guy who’s doing a Boaz kind of work…and I will give him some, some backup today. His name is Rob Smith. Working with him is a man named Marc Fulmer [pictured above]…they are both members of this church. Rob was a guy who grew up between Africa and the United States of America – he’s been a member of this church for a long time with his family – many of you know him – he’s a great guy – I love him – he’s a dear friend – and he saw the AIDS epidemic in South Africa, in Africa…knowing that about 20% of people are HIV positive and that there are eleven million orphans…and many widows in Africa. And so he devised a plan sort of taking the gleaning principle of Leviticus and Deuteronomy and Ruth saying “we need to have a farm that produces a harvest that is an ongoing source of food and life…and on that farm we need two things…we need an orphanage and a church. The church to be the church and love people and raise them and to teach them sexual chastity and raise kids to love Jesus so that this epidemic stops…and also an orphanage so that these kids are loved and have a roof over their head and food in their stomach…and a mother and father figure in their life – that being the pastor as well as these widows. We move in widows and orphans…and we care for widows and orphans because that’s the heart of God…and we do that as the church on a self-sustaining farm sort of taking many of the principles from a book like Ruth. So he started this organization – go to Agathos Foundation.org – or grab paperwork on the way out – and he’s got this concept called “One Church One Village” where a church in the US partners with a church in the village to get a farm…to plant a church…and to open an orphanage…and money goes from us who have the wherewithal, like Boaz, to help…out in the field.

So Mars Hill…we’ve done this in the past…you probably don’t know this…some years ago you all purchased a large piece of land in India that now has on orphanage with 100 kids on it and you purchased the land. So this is kinda what we do… So in Africa we partnered and we have an orphanage there that now has – I think it is – 32 kids and 140 people in Mars Hill give monthly to help support them. What am I saying? Do your part with the people in your life, give to your church, beyond that have a global heart for widows, orphans, the poor and those in need…

I am going to ask you to support some widows and orphans in Africa, We have an orphanage, we have a village…members of Mars Hill have actually moved there to take care of widows and orphans.

My involvement in the last year of standing up and speaking out against the well-documented abuses at Mars Hill Church was never about revenge or getting even. It was not about me or Agathos Foundation, which was the orphan care ministry Mark Driscoll referenced in the above 2007 sermon, which I founded in 2002 and which also was the year Merle and I became members of Mars Hill Church.

For six years after leaving Mars Hill Church I had no public voice. My open engagement in the story began in December of 2013 when I began to hear of the repeated abuse of others at Mars Hill Church. This includes standing up for many men who still will have nothing to do with me. This is partially because of slanderous attacks leveled against me and Agathos after I appealed to the elders to conduct a fair trial for Paul Petry in 2007.

As some are aware, the result of me pleading for a fair trial and arguing for due deliberation when changing bylaws was that Mark Driscoll, in an abusive and vile manner, threatened to destroy me and my ministry. He threatened to make sure that I could never be in ministry again.

In December 2007, Merle and I quietly left Mars Hill Church.

This was not due to the kindness of the elders (who told us we could not leave because we were under “church discipline”). It was because of a backfire in strategy by then executive pastors Jamie Munson and Scott Thomas, who handled my “discipline case.” They did not want us to leave. In attempting to keep us from leaving they recruited the largest donor to Agathos (who was also a large donor to Mars Hill Church) to encourage us to stay. When that donor eventually supported our decision to leave peaceably, Jamie Munson was in a pickle. He could continue the stance that we could not leave because we were under discipline and offend the large donor, or he could let us leave in peace and not offend the donor. So we were “allowed” to leave in good standing. The full story of the endless meetings that got us to that point is a post for another day.

You will want to hear that story.

But despite leaving peaceably – we had crossed a line. To use Mark Driscoll’s oft spoken words, we had “pissed him off.” For merely appealing to Mark Driscoll and a small handful of the lead elders, including the recently repentant Pastor James Harleman (one of my dearest friends at the time), the attacks on my character began. And the attacks on Agathos began.

A little background about Agathos.

In 2002, Agathos began as a ministry to rescue orphans in Africa during the peak of the “out-of-control” HIV/AIDS crisis. Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church were highly supportive of the ministry and gave Agathos favored exposure within the church and throughout Acts 29.

Over time, as we worked we grew from a young start-up ministry learning from our experiences and our mistakes. In early 2007, Agathos proposed a “One Church One Village” model of linking an American Church with an African Church in the rescue and care of orphans. The commitment of the US church was to raise $625,000 over six years for the orphan village it had “adopted”, and the commitment of the African church was to be the hands and feet on the ground caring for orphans in distress.

The first two American churches that committed to this was Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and The Vine Church in Redmond, Washington.  Mars Hill Church committed itself to Kwethu Village in South Africa, along with its 32 children and their caretakers, some of whom were young widows who themselves were impacted by the HIV/AIDS crisis. The Vine Church, led by Pastor Jesse Winkler, committed themselves to a new orphan village to be constructed just south of Ndola, Zambia.

Within weeks of the agreement, Mars Hill Church took over The Vine, and Jesse Winkler became the lead pastor for Mars Hill Bellevue. We were all excited as Mars Hill Ballard took over the relationship with the South African village under Kabyn Vikesland and Mars Hill Bellevue took over the relationship with the new proposed Zambian village. The future for Agathos looked bright, as discussion with executive elder Scott Thomas included plans to have each campus support an orphan village, and each Acts 29 church encouraged to do the same.

The vision for 1,000 orphan villages to be supported seemed possible. It was so encouraging. Agathos was now five years old and many Mars Hill members had been to Africa to visit the children rescued, and many more threw their support behind Agathos. This was usually by committing to $25 per month.

This all happened in August 2007 – one month before the infamous trial of Paul Petry.

When Paul Petry and Bent Meyer were fired, I heard that they were going to be put on trial. Many were asking questions, and it became clear that they were not going to receive a fair and impartial trial. The charges against them were unclear and seemed trivial. They were not going to be allowed to attend their own trials so that they could defend themselves. Their accusers were also members of the jury that would convict them. No witnesses were allowed.

It was clear that the trials would occur in such a way as to have long term bad consequences for the church. So I wrote a private email to the elders pleading for a fair trial. It was not written to defend Paul Petry or Bent Meyer. It was written to protect Mars Hill Church from the long term consequences of an unfair trial. I wrote that an “unfair trial would leave a shadow that would not easily go away”.

I was told that I had sinfully “inserted” myself, and that what I had written was written in “pride” and therefore disregarded. I was told that I should have gone to only one elder, (James Harleman), and that by going to all the elders I was actually trying to cause division among the elders. I was therefore placed under church discipline for being “divisive.”

The elders that dealt with my “case” were James Harleman, Dave Kraft, and Tim Reber. All have since repented of their role in the treatment of Paul Petry. None have addressed their role in my discipline, or their passivity in what followed regarding Agathos.

The last meeting that I had at Mars Hill Church was after both the trial and the changing of the bylaws. At the meeting was Jamie Munson, Scott Thomas, James Harleman, a man who for now will remain unnamed who was a major donor to both Agathos and Mars Hill Church, and the unflappable Will Hofman who supported me as a witness to the discipline process I was placed under by church leaders.

After Jamie Munson and Scott Thomas agreed with the donor that Merle and I should be free to leave the church peaceably, I raised the question about the continued support of Agathos. After all, the “One Church One Village” effort was led by members of the respective Mars Hill campuses. I had little to do with it. The support was widespread throughout Mars Hill Church.

When I asked the question there was a stunned silence for a minute. Jamie Munson then looked at the donor and asked “What do we do about Agathos?”

“We continue to support Agathos!” came the reply.

Scott Thomas, who at the time was the head of Acts 29 and very active in both the trial of Paul Petry and the changing of the bylaws, looked directly at me and said emphatically, “We will never abandon our orphans!” As he said that he brought his hands together and interlocked his fingers.

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It was heartwarming.

Little did these men know that Mark Driscoll had threatened to destroy Agathos, along with threatening to destroy me and any future ministry endeavor.

So the infamous ad hominem attacks began. They had begun earlier at the trial of Paul Petry. It was me who Paul Petry sought out to discuss the “church discipline” wording in the proposed bylaws. This was one of the charges brought against Paul Petry. He allegedly had “violated elder protocol” by allowing a lowly member to see the proposed bylaws. Imagine that! The wording Paul Petry proposed on the rights of a member under discipline was actually written by me.

I had been approved to be an elder of Mars Hill Church. I was the pastor in charge of community groups for the new Mars Hill Wedgwood Campus. I had faithfully served Agathos and Mars Hill Church as a member for the previous five years. Yet it was a crime against the church for Paul Petry to consult with me regarding the new bylaws.

So at the trial of Paul Petry the attacks began. “You have no idea who Rob Smith is…”, stated Mark Driscoll at Paul Petry’s trial, “You do not know him like I know him..”, he continued. “He is the biggest troublemaker in Mars Hill’s history!” And so the attacks began.

And so did the attacks on Agathos. I hear them still today.

Little matter that I had just been approved to be an elder. Little matter that James Harleman had offered me a paid position as an elder at Wedgwood starting in 2008 if I would accept the position. Little matter that hundreds of members were supporting our orphans in Africa, and many could witness the ministry first hand.

None of that mattered.

Not a single elder stood up to ask how I could have been vetted for eldership one week, and be “the biggest troublemaker in Mars Hill’s history” the next. How was it that in February I was a man like Boaz, dude of dudes, and now ten months Iater I was pariah? No elder cared to ask.

Within a few months most of the members of Mars Hill Church withdrew their support of orphans under our care. The emails we received were similarly written. “We have been led by God to support another ministry.” Almost all of them pointed to God’s “leading.” It certainly looked like they had been coached on what to say.

At that time, although I led Agathos, I was not taking a salary from Agathos. We hunkered down and prepared ourselves for the impact of Mark Driscoll’s threat. It came swiftly and with great effect.

In February 2008, less than two months after his promise not to abandon “our” orphans, we received a letter from Scott Thomas. Mars Hill Church was ending its relationship to Agathos. What I did not know, was that Jamie Munson and Scott Thomas had called Marc Fulmer, who leads Agathos to this day, and threatened to pull support unless I resigned from Agathos and Mars Hill Church took it over and re-branded the ministry as a Mars Hill ministry. They proposed to keep Marc – but I had to go. Marc turned the “offer” down and we received the letter from Scott Thomas shortly thereafter.

Letter from Scott Thomas 1

So Agathos lost about 85% of its support.

I recently ran into Scott Thomas and asked him about his promise to never abandon “our orphans.” He was no longer at Mars Hill Church and was himself suffering a level of abuse from the Mars Hill Church leadership. He appealed that he had no say in the matter. He said that his hands were tied.

I recently had coffee with a staunch Mark Driscoll supporter who has chided any criticism of Mark Driscoll and strongly challenged me for every apparent infraction of the last year, yet at the same time vigorously excused or defended every one of Driscoll’s “mistakes.” The supporter said some awful things about me and Agathos, particularly its “misuse” of funds. I asked where he got such information. He had no idea. He had simply accepted the rumors. Rumors that circulated after the trial of Paul Petry. I also have recently spoken to another ministry leader involved in orphan care in Africa. She was warned not to work with Agathos. She came to me in sorrow that she walked away from a relationship with Agathos after that Mars Hill warning.

Ad hominem attacks.

I am sure that there may never be a full recovery when one’s name has been intentionally slandered. That is why God takes such seriously. It is similar to theft. The stealing of a man’s good name has severe consequences, some of which are almost impossible to overcome. That is why it is an awful sin against someone.

Agathos has survived and our children have done well. But it was not easy.

For several years we put ourselves under a good ministry called Pilgrim Africa. This action removed our orphans from the slander we were enduring and we encouraged our remaining supporters to support Pilgrim. In 2009, Agathos then closed its doors and Kwethu Village continued under Pilgrim.

In 2014, Agathos was reborn as Agathos International.

There were two reasons for this. First was that while Pilgrim willingly supported our orphan village in South Africa from 2009 to 2014, their ministry is focused in Uganda, so Kwethu Village was somewhat outside their scope. The second reason was a strong sense that Agathos had always had a broader ministry to the broken and poor in the communities we served. and we felt the need to reemerge and serve that purpose.

So after seven years since leaving Mars Hill Church, Agathos is once again supporting Kwethu Village. Some of the orphans that were rescued by Agathos through the early support of Mars Hill members are now entering university. The stories are amazing! New orphans are being accepted as the village grows.

Because of the intent behind the early vision of Agathos, the monthly support costs are strikingly low. Most support comes from local activity in the village. It is wonderful. Local support and local economic activity pays for most of the costs of the care of the the village.

I encourage readers to consider supporting Kwethu Village with a monthly contribution. We are looking to raise a total of $3,000 per month for the village. As you see the precious lives of children in distress being impacted and stabilized, you will agree that this is a great value for so little per month.

Please consider becoming a monthly supporter of our orphans. The fruit of your support will be eternal.

Agathos International is also committed to creating economic life for the broken in the areas that God has placed us. So we are working to address poverty both in the countries in Africa where we have impacted orphans and the poor, as well as in the U.S. where we are beginning to call successful businessmen and businesswomen to engage the issue of poverty through our “Freedom, Wealth, and Poverty” events that we host in the greater Seattle area.

Agathos is run on a voluntary basis with no salaries being paid on the U.S. side. This allows over 95% of what we receive to go into program. Please feel free to contact me for more information.

Agathos Internationaln Logo

Rob Smith

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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.

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.

A change.org appeal to the ECFA to remove its approval of Mars Hill Church.

GlobaL Fund 3

Join this Change.org petition to ECFA.

WE APPEAL TO THE ECFA to suspend its approval of the Financial Accountability and Transparency of Mars Hill Church.

Despite scandal after scandal, and repeated calls from Mars Hill elders, ex-elders, members and ex-members for transparency, Mars Hill Church refuses to open its books to answer questions raised by both members and donors.

Recently it seems that every month more evidence of financial deception is revealed, yet the ECFA continues to certify to donors that Mars Hill Church has met the ECFA requirements of transparency and accountability.

IN THE LIGHT OF of the calculated deception revealed in the appeal for donors to give to the Mars Hill Global Fund, renamed Mars Hill Global, and more recently Mars Hill Go, the fact that donors gave over $10 million for purposes that were deceptively pitched, leading donors to believe that the monies would be spent on oversees missions, especially in Ethiopia and India,

AND IN THE LIGHT OF the admission by Mars Hill Church that the preponderance of the money raised was simply added to the General Fund and used in the US,

AND IN THE LIGHT OF the memo where Mars Hill Church senior leadership laid out the intent and methodology to deceive donors, a memo with clear instruction to be vague about the exact amount of monies that were going to foreign missions, and clearly laying out that the amount needed to be merely a token amount not to exceed a relatively small amount in relation to the total monies projected to be raised (less than 5%) so as to deceive donors and potential member churches or placate critics,

AND IN THE LIGHT OF over 50 former elders calling for the leadership of Mars Hill Church to repent of failing to be transparent in its financial dealings,

AND IN THE LIGHT OF the dishonest and changing statements of Mars Hill Church regarding the Global Fund, impacting 6,000 donors, and regarding use of $210,000 of donor money to purchase 11,000 copies of Mark Driscoll’s book “Real Marriage” at retail price to deceptively manipulate the New York Times Bestseller list into believing that the book was in fact a bestseller,

AND IN THE LIGHT OF many other scandals, including the rumored exorbitant salaries of the senior leadership of Mars Hill Church, a million-dollar home being paid for in cash, substantial remodeling of the home being paid for in cash, and other scandals that keep circulating due to the lack of financial transparency and accountability,

AND IN THE LIGHT OF the massive turnover of elders, including over 60 in the last 24 months, as well as the resignation of Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) member Paul Tripp, who called Mars Hill Church “the most abusive and coercive church” he has “ever worked with”, along with the resignation of James MacDonald from the BOAA,

AND IN THE LIGHT OF 30 elders filing formal charges against Mark Driscoll along with an additional 21 elders willing to testify to corroborate those charges,

WE THEREFORE APPEAL TO THE ECFA to suspend its approval of the Financial Accountability and Transparency of Mars Hill Church.

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)

All of the Mars Hill Church senior leadership need to resign!

 

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How is it possible that the senior leadership at Mars Hill has not yet resigned?

It is no wonder that Paul Tripp, James MacDonald, and now Sutton Turner have resigned from the senior leadership of Mars Hill Church.

The more the truth comes out, the more it is clear that the senior leadership, the Executive Elders in particular,  knew about and actively participated in the planned deception of donors, members, and the New York Times Bestseller list.

First, the leaked memo which revealed that elders within the church were alarmed and warned that the scheme to use church monies to purchase 11,000 copies of Mark Driscoll’s book, Real Marriage, at $20 per copy (versus a wholesale price of $7), might attract the IRS because of the personal inurement of the author, and “muckrakers” who would see through the deception and draw public attention to it.

Keep in mind that it was at this time that the author of Real Marriage was able to pay for a home costing well over a million dollars in an exclusive, upscale suburb outside of Seattle. The home is fully paid for.

Everyone now knows that the contract with Result Source was intended to deceive the New York Times Bestseller list, and therefor intended to deceive the public that Mark Driscoll is a bestselling author.

Sadly, the three explanations that were given to church members now appear even more deceptive than they were at the time they were released. One must review them in light of the recently leaked internal memo warning the senior leadership of the shenanigans.

Second, the recently leaked memo that laid out the scheme to use global backdrops to trick donors to give to global missions but used the money for local Mars Hill expenditures brought a new wave of outrage and disgust. The deception is blatant and clearly calculated. The overt strategy was to raise millions for global missions, but to actually give as little as 1.5% to 2% of the money received to actual global missions, with almost all the money going to fund business as usual in the US. The memo specifically strategizes that the amount actually spent on global mission should not be made public, and that the outlay for global missions should be about $10,000 per month – a fraction of the total take. The recent financial reports of Mars Hill Church reflect this strategy was used, with not a single dissenting voice within senior leadership to call attention to the impropriety.

This means that the 6,000 donors who gave a total of over $10 million to global missions in recent years ended up giving well over $9.5million to fund Mars Hill Church in the U.S. and hardly any money to global missions.

The wording of the memo evidences an unconscionable breach of trust and a callous intent to deceive donors. Such a violation by church leaders brings disgrace upon the church and dishonor upon the name of Christ. “As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'” — Romans 2:24

In the light of these deceptions, why are the senior leaders still in office?

Given the speed of which eight of the “Noble Nine” elders who recently called for accountability from the BOAA and the Executive Elders were either fired or resigned, and given the large number of elders and employees who were fired for merely questioning senior leadership, surely now that the calculated deception of the senior leadership has been well established, they should follow the lead of Paul Tripp, James MacDonald, and Sutton Turner and tender their resignations.

As Mars Hill Bellevue Pastor Thomas Hurst stated just a month ago, “In the end there are only two outcomes I will continue to partake in – seeing our church faithfully rebuilt…from the top down, or turning off the lights and locking the doors…”

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

 

Seriously?

Seriously 1

It seems that we have heard the word “seriously” a lot from the leadership of Mars Hill Church.

Seriously :

Adverb

  1. in a solemn or considered manner. “the doctor looked seriously at him”
  2. with earnest intent; not lightly or superficially.

First it was Michael van Skaik, whose integrity has been seriously challenged (along with Sutton Turner), who told us that the charges against Mark Driscoll had been taken seriously, the matter decided once and for all. He along with Sutton are been charged by nine pastors with being deceptive (i.e. lying).

Then we have repeatedly been told that the BOAA takes matters seriously, and of course they also cleared Mark Driscoll. No charge rose to the level of “disqualification.” Their decision was final. After all, they tried very hard to find witnesses, and only a handful spoke up, and these were mostly good reports. (Of course, this deceptive statement has now been challenged by the “noble nine” pastors).

Now we have the next level of seriously motivated men. These men are elders and pastors who are taking everything seriously, especially the seriousness of the leaks at Mars Hill Church. These leaks are very serious!

After all, unlike the numerous and well established sins of Marl Driscoll, and unlike the deception of Sutton Turner and Michael van Skaik, the leaks “tarnish” the gospel. Therefore they must be taken seriously. Very seriously.

Of course, we have already looked at the Mars Hill leadership’s understanding of the word “yearn”, where Michael van Skaik said that he and the BOAA “yearned for reconciliation.” (Of course, neither he nor they had actually tried to reconcile with any offended ex-member that we know of.) Just saying these words make them to be true.

Kind of like the name-it-and-claim it gospel. If we say we are serious, or if we say that we yearn, it makes it so.

Seriously?

It would appear that the Mars Hill leadership took charges against Pastor Mark Dunford’s role in the actions of the “noble nine” seriously. He was removed from office on Tuesday, just days after his “serious” actions. Surely if the clearly established charges against Mark Driscoll, Sutton Turner and Michael van Skaik are taken as seriously, we should see action very soon.

A last thought. How about considering that those who are telling everyone about the repeated and well-documented sins of the Mars Hill leadership, collaborated by Acts 29 and men like Paul Tripp, are taking 1 Timothy 5:24 & 25 seriously:

“The sins of some people are obvious, leading them to judgment. The sins of others follow them there.  In the same way, good actions are obvious, and those that are not cannot remain hidden.”

…and take 1 Timothy 5:20 very seriously:

“Those who sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. “

…the word “all” comes from the Greek word meaning “all…everyone…” (using social media if necessary).

Furrowed brow 2

How much does Mark Driscoll and his Executive Elders earn?

Money 1

It is merely a matter of time before the salaries and compensation packages of the Executive Elders become public.  Members have asked what those salaries are, but no answers have been forthcoming. Some members who have asked have in return been asked to leave the church.

To prepare the reader for the eventual news of how much Mark Driscoll, as lead pastor is paid, as well as Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas, I thought that I would give you the comparative salaries of some key top executives who run some pretty substantial organizations.

Organization Top Executive Salary Benefits Total Total Revenue
World Vision Richard Stearns $405,975 $50,743 $456,718 $1,009,722,239
Samaritan’s Purse Franklin Graham $440,927 $181,325 $622,252 $456,140,314
BGEA Franklin Graham $205,919 $34,722 $240,641 $106,000,000
Medical Teams Intl Bastian Vanderzalm $156,652 $28,892 $185,544 $150,000,000
Doctors without Borders Sophie Delaunay $142,015 $15,977 $157,992 $200,000,000
YMCA Niel Nicoll $456,633 $44,552 $501,185 $93,700,000
Average $258,303 $50,887 $309,190 $287,937,508

Note that the average revenue for these groups is $288 million dollars per year. The average salary and benefits for the CEO is $309,000.

To put this in perspective, Mars Hill Church’s revenue in 2013 was just over $20 million. This is a fraction of the average of the above organizations.

So, when you eventually hear what Mark Driscoll earns, keep in mind that the average leaders of the above large nonprofit organizations, who are managing organizations substantially larger than the size of Mars Hill Church in every respect, earn an average of $309,000 in salary and benefits per year.

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)