Pastor Dustin Kensrue, in his letter of resignation from Mars Hill Church, says that the Mars Hill Church “bylaws need to be radically changed…” (link)
These bylaws were changed to consolidate power in 2007, following the ruthless firing and “trials” of two elders – part of a manipulative scheme to coerce young elders to vote for the change or lose their jobs. There is broad consensus and substantial evidence that this was essentially a power grab by Mark Driscoll and his designated “lead pastor” Jamie Munson.
Dustin Kensrue had the courage to say what many of us have been saying for years: That there was a theological shift that reflects “a deliberate and deft grab for power.”
This shift happened in 2007. Up until 2007, the elders were the highest authority in the church. The church was ruled by a plurality of elders who had an equal vote in all church matters. The executive elders were delegated limited authority by the full council of elders and were completely accountable to these elders.
Mark Driscoll and Jamie Munson, in a 145-page document defending the new bylaws (after many members complained and ultimately over 1000 members left the church) accused Paul Petry and Bent Meyer of “jockeying for power.” This is fascinating, as after Driscoll argued that he was giving up power, even though he had no more power than any other elder, ended by saying that “it has…been absolutely amazing to see all but one of those men humble themselves and give up what is best for them [power] to do what is best for Jesus and our entire church.”
So for opposing the bylaw changes, Mark Driscoll accused Paul Petry and Bent Meyer of jockeying for power. What these men were opposing was what Driscoll was amazed at by his own words, that the elders were giving up their power. Driscoll said he was giving up power in the new bylaws – bylaws that gave him more power and totally stripped the elders of any power whatsoever and then he told us that he is amazed that the elders gave up power. So everyone was giving up power with the new bylaws – according to Mark Driscoll. The wordsmithing is subtle and Pastor Kensrue hit the nail on the head. The Executive Elders made a deft grab for power.
The end result was that the new 2007 bylaws ended up leading to a situation wherein Mark Driscoll and his two executives, Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas, have all the power and the elders at large have no power.
Pastor Kensrue is correct. There was as theological shift that reflected a deliberate and deft grab for power. Sadly, it was significantly misrepresented to the members in a 145-page document full of half-truths and untruths (link).
In defending the firings of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer in 2007, Mark Driscoll, along with the pliant elders at the time, stated the following:
– To make matters worse, there was a growing disrespect among some elders who were jockeying for and abusing power.
– The illusion of unity our eldership had maintained over the years was kept in part by my tolerating some men who demanded more power
– This meant that I needed to give up a great deal of power and trust other elders, deacons, and members to care for the church with the same passionate affection that I have for our people.
– To begin this process I had to go first and divest myself of a great deal of power.
– Sadly, it was during the bylaw rewriting process that two of our elders…chose to fight in a sinful manner in an effort to defend their power and retain legal control of the entire church.
– …my research indicated men commonly respond by sinfully seeking power, money, preference, control, and information as ways to exercise pride and fight for their interests over the interests of the team, church, and mission of Jesus Christ.
– … some church members even began accusing the other elders of grabbing power and not caring for the best interests of our people, which is nothing short of a lie and contradictory in every way to the entire process we were undertaking
– It has been painful to see a few men whom I loved and trained as elders become sinful, proud, divisive, accusatory, mistrusting, power hungry, and unrepentant.
– It has, however, been absolutely amazing to see all but one of those men humble themselves and give up what is best for them [power] to do what is best for Jesus and our entire church.
– There are two groups of elders that are giving up “civil authority” (not biblical authority) in the adoption of the new bylaws. The first is the Full Council of Elders which consists of every elder from every campus.
. What actually happens in a system like that is that fewer and fewer people continue to get power because with so many elders you can’t get anything done and as a result the red tape increases, bureaucracy ensues and shortcuts begin to be developed so that things can actually happen.
In specific Pastor Mark is giving up the most individual authority and power. Previous to these organizational changes he was the Lead Pastor, Preaching Pastor, Head of the Elder Board and the President of the non-profit corporation. With these changes the only current role he holds of those previously held is Preaching Pastor. The intention is to not hoard power but rather share it so that many elders and many leaders can hold positions of influence based on their individual gifts and callings.
Pastor Mark has stepped down on his own initiative as lead pastor as an example for us all. He has less power and has more accountable systems around him. There is a growing sense of health among the elders as we wrestled with the Bylaws and the recent investigations. The new bylaws provide less chance of an individual elder or a small group of elders thwarting the mission of the church.
The 145-page document is a masterpiece of obfuscation and spin-doctoring. Simply put, the 2007 bylaws are at the root of the current problems facing Mars Hill Church, where brutal leaders cannot be stopped by qualified elders who have been called to serve, protect and rule the church. It is simply a recipe for corruption and abuse. Or as Bent Meyer prophetically noted in 2007, they are “a formula for mischief.”