Rob Asghar at Forbes on Mars Hill Church: The Enron of American Churches

Forbes’ contributor Rob Asghar takes no prisoners in his articles today on Mars Hill Church.
The first titled, “Mars Hill: Cautionary Tales From The Enron Of American Churches” analyzes the situation from the perspective of toxic leadership, and the second titled, “How Toxic Followers Enable Toxic Leaders” takes a hard look at the precursors to the recent decline at Mars Hill Church and wonders why so many missed the signs.
While hindsight has a distinct advantage over prophecy, Asghar pulls out some of Driscoll’s statements that have repeatedly been raised by ex-members. For instance:

In his investigation, Welch cited a public boast by Driscoll that should have been an adequate preview of unattractions to come. “There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus, and by God’s grace, it’ll be a mountain by the time we’re done,” Driscoll said. “You either get on the bus or you get run over by the bus.”

There are several links to this blog as well as the Seattle Times Sunday article by Craig Welch.
All in all, if you are following this saga, the article is a must read. Asghar ends with a guarded prognosis:

Mars Hill’s story is far from finished. It need not end up being another Enron. But it does face enormous challenges to recover any sense of health and stability.

James MacDonald Regrets Wrongful Discipline of Harvest Bible Chapel Elders

Perhaps James MacDonald can do more good for Mars Hill Church off the Board of Advisors and Accountability than he did for the church while on it.
This is an extraordinary account of repentance and apparently reconciliation at Harvest Bible Chapel reported in Christianity Today late yesterday. CT’s article begins:

On Sunday, prominent pastor James MacDonald told his 13,000-member Harvest Bible Chapel congregation that he and his elder board were wrong for how they publicly disciplined three elders last year.

“For many months, we have labored under the awareness that our church discipline of a year ago was a failure in many respects, not the least of which was the complete lack of biblically required restorative component, which wronged the brothers that we were attempting to help,” MacDonald said in a videotaped message.

Harvest’s elder board has now “lifted all discipline” from the former elders (Scott Phelps, Barry Slabaugh, and Daniel Marquardt), apologized to them, and been reconciled to them after “outside Christian leaders” recently brought everyone back to the table, MacDonald said.

“Although the remaining elders of Harvest agreed to the need for such discipline, we almost immediately realized that we erred in the manner in which it was done and in what it implied,” said MacDonald. He noted, “We delayed making this confession, not wanting to worsen matters as we prayed for a true reconciliation. Praise God, that reconciliation happened meaningfully and mutually this week.”

The video from MacDonald and former elder chair Robert Jones is here.

I suspect this is difficult for Paul Petry, Bent Meyer and Lief Moi to watch, but perhaps hopeful as well that such a result could also come to Mars Hill Church.

Gofundme Account Set Up for Former Mars Hill Church Pastors Ryan Kearns and Ryan Welsh

A GoFundMe account has been set up for former Mars Hill Church pastors, Ryan Kearns and Ryan Welsh.  They were laid off in the recent round of layoffs at Mars Hill and they both signed the infamous letter directing Mark Driscoll to step down and enter an elder directed restoration plan. According to the GoFundMe page:

Pastor Ryan Kearns and Pastor Ryan Welsh were both laid off from Mars Hill Church on Monday, September 8th and only given one month’s severance. Both men were amongst the nine pastors who put their jobs on the line by writing and signing a letter sent to the Full Council of Elders on August 22nd that called for major changes in Mars Hill’s governance and for Mark Driscoll to submit to a restoration plan. 

The two Ryans spoke up at Mars Hill and were laid off. Other pastors were given chances to transition to other positions. The bold ones were not. Eight of nine who wrote the letter to the executive elders are now gone.

Capital Gazette (MD) Columnist: Michael Peroutka is Not a Republican

Mike Collins, columnist for the Capital Gazette, has a helpful summary of Michael Peroutka’s statements which build to the conclusion that Peroutka can be called many things, but Republican is not one of them. Peroutka is running for a seat on Anne Arundel County Council, founded the theocratic Institute on the Constitution and is a member of the Southern secession group League of the South.
In an odd twist, I suppose you could call him a RINO.
Collins exhorts his fellow Republicans to consider the impact of their vote:

Before Election Day, I ask Republicans in District 5 — and throughout the county—to think through some questions: Do you want this wretched man to take on the proud label of Republican? Does he truly belong in the party of Lincoln and Reagan? Does he have a real allegiance to our party?

You need to do so because a vote for Peroutka will make him not only your representative, but also your responsibility — and our party’s.


Has Mark Driscoll's Verdict Already Been Decided?

A key to broad acceptance of whatever decision is made regarding charges against Mark Driscoll by the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability is the perception that the BOAA is objective. In light of remarks by BOAA chair Matt Rogers and reported in the Seattle Times yesterday, some former Mars Hill leaders are questioning the BOAA’s objectivity. Rogers told the Seattle Times:

“The hard part is that some of what’s out there is true, and he’s owned it and apologized for it and is trying to correct it, and some is not,” said Mars Hill Pastor Matt Rogers, who chairs the church accountability board examining accusations against their leader.

“If someone went through and dragged out every example of where I’d been short with my wife, or rude to a co-worker or done something stupid, and trickled that out week after week after week for months, you would have no respect for me, either.”

According to the most recent reports from former pastors close to the situation, the investigation is only at the very beginning stages with some interviews scheduled but few, if any, conducted as yet. In other words, the jury should be out. However, Rogers appears to have his mind made up about the nature and accuracy of the charges.

There is at least one more reason to raise questions about conflict of interest. According to former elders and unknown to many in the pews, Rogers was almost tapped during the summer to be lead pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue. Lead pastor Thomas Hurst announced a sabbatical in June but according to reliable sources had planned to resign. Rogers was slated to move into the role of lead pastor to take Hurst’s place.  During Hurst’s absence, Rogers led the services over the summer and attended the lead pastors’s July retreat in CA. In addition to other communications to the Bellevue campus, Rogers wrote a response to the demonstration which occurred on August 3.

Rogers’ response to the demonstration is noteworthy. According to witnesses at Bellevue, Rogers was not at Bellevue the Sunday of the protest. However, he wrote the rebuttal as if he had been present, alleging that the demonstrators left trash behind. At the time, I asked Rogers and Mars Hill Church if he was present at Bellevue but received no reply. On the substance of the matter, Rogers took the role of an advocate for the executive elders:

From Pastor Matt Rogers:

This past Sunday outside our building about 60 professing Christians led a protest, left a bit of trash, and slandered good men. Inside the building our church family worshipped Jesus. Let that image be what defines us. Others will cast aspersions, but we will worship Jesus.

Instead of openness to the concerns of the demonstrators (many of which are the same as in the charges filed by the 21 ex-pastors), Rogers said “good men” were “slandered” and accused the demonstrators of casting “aspersions.”

Then after attacking the demonstrators, Rogers wrote:

We cannot let fear rule our church. We must choose love. Choosing fear would lead us to attack those who are attacking us. Instead we will choose to love them by praying for them. Choosing fear will drive us to anger and bitterness which will spill out in how we talk about them, engage with them and eventually even with each other. Choosing love will be our witness to all the outsiders watching us right now that we forgive just as God in Christ forgave us. By refusing to give into fear we will commend Christ to our city.

Choosing fear shapes how we interact with each other as well. Choosing fear leads to second guessing and distrusting the statements of our leaders. Choosing fear leads to not standing up for the truth and the honor of good men because of what might come our way. Choosing love will enable us to show grace toward one another, to trust the Spirit at work in one another, and encourage each other to do the same.

Rogers message to his flock was to trust the leaders. He added that the congregation should stand “up for the truth and honor” of the leaders.  Rogers ends by providing his assessment of the charges against the executive elders:

As elders we should have done more to communicate with you. By not saying more clearly that much of what you read online is slander, half-truths and gossip we left you in a place of wondering what is true. When this recent storm began a few months ago I looked into all of it because I had a responsibility to as an elder. What I have consistently seen is a pattern of repentance when sin was present, growth when errors were made, and patience when the accusations were false.
Let me say very clearly that Pastor Mark, Pastor Dave and Pastor Sutton are honorable and trustworthy men. I count it a privilege to serve with them not because I have anything to gain, simply because it is true.

According to Rogers, he has already looked into the situation and made up his mind that nothing has happened which would disqualify the executive elders. Without being specific, Rogers says some of the charges are false, and some are slander, half-truths and gossip.

Although Hurst declared his resignation again during the most recent full council of elders retreat, he has remained on while Rogers was appointed to the BOAA. Recall that the BOAA consists of the executive elders and at the time two independent members, Michael Van Skaik and Larry Osborne. At the time of the appointment, I pointed out that Rogers was already serving in a volunteer elder role at Mars Hill and may not fully meet the criteria for independence.

I asked former pastors and leaders for their reactions to Matt Rogers’ comments and I received three replies. Some declined to comment on the record but expressed concerns about the objectivity of the process. Former deacon Rob Smith told me:

There are two reasons that demonstrate that Matt Rogers should not be on the jury that decides Mark Driscoll’s fate. First, he has already cast his judgment before looking at the evidence in his comments both to the Seattle Times, where he has stated that what is true “out there” has been owned and apologized for by Mark Driscoll already and trying to correct, and the rest is not true, and second, he accused the people who protested at his campus of littering and slander despite not being there. He is clearly biased.

Dalton Rorabeck, former community group coach at Mars Hill reacted to Rogers’ words, saying

This statement alone should disqualify Matt Rogers from heading up the BOAA.  He has already claimed that the charges/false accusations are not true and that Mark, Dave, and Sutton are trustworthy men. It won’t matter in the end though.  I pity these men who are more interested in protecting their jobs, their friends, their paychecks, and their legacy’s rather than stand up for the Gospel and for truth.

Former Mars Hill Orange County executive pastor Kyle Firstenberg told me:

It is discouraging that once again, Mars Hill has placed a leader in a position to investigate Mark Driscoll who minimizes his sin. Matt Rogers gave the example that if someone were to talk about him being short with his wife or rude to a co-worker that people would have no respect for him also. That may be true, however we are not talking about that level of sin. We are talking about elder disqualifying sin, and not just one incident, many over several years. He also stated that Mark has owned his sin and has apologized for it. I would be very interested in how he has owned it! It seems to me that you would need to have conversations with some of the people you have sinned against in order to own it.

To summarize, Mr. Rogers joins a panel where two members of the BOAA dismissed prior charges without interviewing anyone (2013, Michael Van Skaik, Larry Osborne), and one member is the largest donor to the church in Mars Hill’s history (Jon Phelps). As I have written before, I like Mr. Driscoll’s chances with this BOAA.

UPDATE (9/16): Although the information about Bellevue lead pastor Thomas Hurst is not central to this post, I want to include a comment he made about it on Mars Hill’s chat site known as The City.

From Pastor Thomas Hurst:

Bellevue Family,

A couple hours ago I received an email making me aware of a blog that was posted today quoting a “former” elder who thought it was important to share how I intended to resign from my position at Mars Hill Bellevue. The former elder spoke of two different instances where I was going, or did, resign. I’m saddened that someone I know deemed this helpful for all of you to know – not because I wanted to hide anything, but because none of you need any more confusion in your life. I don’t understand why making this known was in anyway helpful to the critical situation and conversation at hand apart from bringing even more confusion and chaos into the confusion and chaos that already exists.

I do want to address this with everyone so you can know from me what was happening in my heart and mind with regards to my considering resignation, my resigning, and why I’m still here…but before I can share all this I get to be a daddy to my three boys and put them all to bed. I will post another letter later to all of you tonight.

I love you and please don’t allow your own hearts and minds to leap to any conclusions on this topic until I’ve had a chance to share it directly with you.

Pastor Thomas

If I get any more information on this I will pass it along. I will provide all sides to the issues raised here.

Mars Hill Church Member Speaks Out About Lost Trust

Michael Redfield is a current Mars Hill Church member. He recently posted a couple of lengthy comments on my blog which include his assessment of Mars Hill’s leaders, and their response to the recent crisis.  They seem to express what many former and current members are saying to me. Redfield told me that he also posted these comments to the church feedback website.
His first comment about 6 days ago regarding the “Financial Challenges” page on the church website:

Below is my just posted member comments on the Mars Hill church site, this fully tipped me off the fence –
RE: “Financial Challenges” As a member for about seven years I have in the past been both thrilled and disturbed by several things related to my and my family’s experiences here in Shoreline. None has to date enraged me more than the arrogant, blame shifting, non-contrite attitude expressed in this page today. With all that has transpired to state essentially that the closings and staff cuts are because you “sheep” have failed to give enough is appalling. This on top of statements like giving is down due to “negative media attention” clearly show that the current leadership doesn’t get it and I will not be surprised if the whole Mars Hill Church meets its demise soon with such attitudes continuing. Where is a statement from the mysterious EE stating that “these cuts are a direct result of the mistakes we have made and are endeavoring to correct” or “in light of the current situation we are cutting our salaries’ by X starting today”??? If it was in question before, there is no doubt – you leaders have now totally lost my trust. As a former Elder there, today I now also understand what I could not before – why God saw fit to deny Esperance Baptist Church’s facility to Mars Hill Church. It is so sad but understandable with these attitudes that the lampstand is being withdrawn.

A couple of days later, Redfield posted the following comment in response to the note from pastor Alex Ghioni:

Dear Mars Hill elders,
Forgive me if after all the ill hearted recent missteps and outright blunders that I don’t embrace the long overdue humility with  immediate trust.  I sent a message expressing my extreme disappointment yesterday based on the original “Financial Challenges” post.  As is the pattern, I received no Mars Hill reply nor do I expect to get one.  However when I posted those comments on Pathos site (instrumental in exposing many of our issues and without the likes of we may have continued in for who knows how long?), I received almost instant support and replies.
The pastoral spirit in the update and today’s post “Going Forward” are steps in the right direction, and I hope not too late to save this church.  Questions and answers I am sure will be asked and answered must include:  When will the crisis management, spin, and self protection end?  Have you been grooming submissive clones for leadership and removing the others?  What are EE salaries and concealed expenditures?  What were the Global Fund, Jesus Festival, book royalties, etc., monies true and actual amounts and were the uses proper and legal?  Were disqualifying sins committed?  Is lying one of those?  How can so many pastor/elders leave without explanation or thankful sendoffs?
Obviously many things must be addressed.  Included we  must eliminate any “non-compete” clauses – (we are first and foremost commanded and led by Jesus not Mars Hill Church).    We must re-establish real biblical leadership including bylaws.  Provide real procedures where member questions will be asked and answered not just deemed divisive.
While I technically remain a member since my family and I have not landed permanently elsewhere yet, I like so many, have lost trust in leadership.  Especially the EE, but increasingly so in our remaining local elders who either kept their heads in the sand, chose to implicitly ignore issues that many less informed members like myself began to notice some time ago.  Or worse, they out of self preservation, disregarded God’s promptings that as leaders they should address.  For the most part the more courageous ones found or were shown the door.
Better to have never given reason for lost trust but failing that it will take much longer to regain it.  Therefore I do also take issue with not hashing out issues in social media.  How and why is that increasingly taking place?  In MH redemption group the biblical mandate was emphasized to live in the light.  When I sought answers  from leaders to some of the issues that are decimating MH church today I was politely told the leaders were aware, to check my own heart, and not to be divisive.  When issues perpetuate that leaders fail to address privately or publicly, leaving quietly fails to honor the heart God gives some of us.  The MH Church doors seem closed to exposing hurtful wrongs, cover ups and silence were the norm, so people like me feel led to seek justice.  The internet, although prone to abuse, provides that opportunity.
God is great and does not blink an miss things, He has an uncanny way of fulfilling Romans 8:28.  My job is to follow him and I fear you leaders would still be managing crisis in your closets without the unwelcome light shining by the internet.  Here’s praying the elders of MH will match their talk to live in His light.  That’s it for now.

Does it sound like Michael would like more transparency?

Someone Tell Matt Rogers That the Investigation of Mark Driscoll Isn't Over

Craig Welch of the Seattle Times has an lengthy article on Mars Hill Church that provides a nice summary of the events since November, 2013. In his reporting, Welch got an interview with Matt Rogers, newly tapped chair of the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability. Even though Rogers and the BOAA passed off the investigation of Driscoll’s charges to the recently created Board of Elders, Rogers seems to know the facts about Driscoll. He told Welch:

“The hard part is that some of what’s out there is true, and he’s owned it and apologized for it and is trying to correct it, and some is not,” said Mars Hill Pastor Matt Rogers, who chairs the church accountability board examining accusations against their leader.

“If someone went through and dragged out every example of where I’d been short with my wife, or rude to a co-worker or done something stupid, and trickled that out week after week after week for months, you would have no respect for me, either.”

As I understand it, the investigation of charges against Mark Driscoll is just getting underway. However, I’m not sure I understand why the Board of Elders need to interview those picky elders, since Mr. Rogers already has the situation figured out. Seems like it would have been better public relations to at least seem like he was waiting on the results of the investigation to determine what is true and what is not.

The article I described above is on the Seattle Times front page today:

driscoll seattle times