Mars Hill Church Member: 12 Steps to Rebuild Trust with Members

These days I interact with many current and former Mars Hill Church members. Often these current and former members express their aspirations for Mars Hill and wish that change would take place. Many of them are ambivalent about the church; they enjoy the relationships there and often believe the teaching is helpful to their lives, but they also are exasperated with the financial problems, emphasis on the Driscoll brand and lack of transparency from the leaders. They often believe big business somehow invaded their church and not for the betterment of the ministry. Some have rejected the church due to doctrinal reasons, but others believe the church should survive if trust could be reestablished with members.
The following letter was written by a current Mars Hill Church member. For a variety of reasons, including concerns about retaliation, this person did not want to be named in publication. However, I know the person and decided to publish this because the recommendations give expression to the many conversations I have had with current, on the fence, and former Mars Hill members. Many of them, such as this person, believe they are fighting for their church when they speak out.

“Dear Pastor Mark: Grow A Pair.”
(Or 12 Steps You Can Take To Rebuild Trust With Your Mars Hill Church Members)
Dear Pastor Mark,
Campuses closing, staff laid off. Front page headlines in the Seattle Times (for the wrong reasons). Elders quitting. Community groups down in attendance every week. Giving way down. Attendance overall way down. Hope for Mars Hill members is at an all time low.
Kind of a mess, agreed?
How about we put a stop to all this?
I am writing as no one special; not a pastor or elder, just an average Mars Hill member who has finally reached the breaking point. Over the past 9 months I’ve spoken directly with 40+ members and heard second hand about the thoughts of dozens more. We are not the folks who protested, or casual attendees; we are or have been official Mars Hill members. Some of us have now left Mars Hill; others are hanging on by a thread. After that many conversations, some common sense ideas begin to emerge, which I will share here. Of course not all members will agree with what I have to say here, but enough will that it’s worth the effort to speak up.
Those of us in average Mars Hill member land have waited for months, thinking “surely the Mars Hill Executive Elders will see what we all see”, but as each day passes, it seems clear that something is broken…you just aren’t getting it.
So let me lay it out clearly: in a nutshell, this is about trust. Executive elders, you once had our trust. Now, we’re just not sure if you deserve it or not.
So in a spirit that wants Mars Hill to move past all the insanity as quickly as possible, not dwell on the negative, and rebuild that trust, here are “12 Steps You Can Take To Rebuild Trust With Your Mars Hill Members”:
1. Fire the PR firm. Churches need to tell the truth, not spin it. Please tell us that members aren’t paying for the PR firm?
2. Hire an independent CPA firm. They should be experienced with churches/non profits; have them thoroughly audit Mars Hill financial records for the past 5 years. Then publish their findings in plain English so we can all read them. Forget about the ECFA endorsement; that doesn’t seem to provide much real accountability. At this point, we don’t know what to believe about the money; however there’s enough funny sounding stuff to make us feel pretty uncomfortable and not be very excited to give more money. Time to put all speculation to rest and just lay out the facts to us.
3. Let Sutton Turner go. Paul Tripp seems to think that you and he are not a great combination and that he may be in over his head. Sutton should be thanked and allowed to move on to another job gracefully.
4. Scrap the current governance system. Come up with a new governance system; pretty obvious to everyone but you that this one ain’t working.
5. Report All Progress Through The Patheos Blog. You’ve made us all daily readers of the Patheos blog. Why? Because we feel ‘spun’ when we read much of the Mars Hill official stuff. Patheos may not be 100% Mars Hill friendly; however it does seem to give us more of the straight scoop on what’s going on than the official Mars Hill information channels.
6. Report monthly on the progress with the 21 former pastors/elders on Patheos. It appears that you have an independent arbitrator handling the process with the 21 former pastors/elders, which is great. Now have each of the 21 report back directly through Patheos as each case is resolved. We just want to hear it directly in their own words that “things are fixed”. We want to see progress.
7. Give up your current 6 week “stepping down” review process. Most of us average members don’t really think this review process is that independent, even the newly announced BoE (Board of Elders). Both the BOAA and the BoE are hand picked boards judging those that picked them. What happens to those who disagree in this process? Of the nine men who signed the now infamous letter, eight are gone. Eight very good men. It’s tough to trust a process where dissenters seem to just disappear. Time is too precious; stop this process so we can focus on real solutions.
8. Tell us what the Executive Elders earn. We all saw the outside of your house on KOMO TV news recently Pastor Mark. Million dollar house KOMO said, which was new information to many of us. Looking at your million dollar home, it does raise questions in our minds. You are telling us to contribute more since giving is down. That’s fine; however first show us the money trail, including all EE salaries, book deals, everything. No hiding money in special trusts or backdoor channels. Complete transparency.
9. Show us a current up to date Mars Hill balance sheet. We want to know what assets Mars Hill owns and what it owes. People are being let go and campuses closed to live inside budget. Fine. You are asking us to give more, fine. But if we have assets that can be tapped into or sold, we would like to know what they are. Sources on the internet say that Mars Hill owns real estate valued at over $10 million. If you want shared sacrifice, we need to understand the full picture of what we have to work with. Publish this on the Patheos blog for all to see; if we are walking in the light, what do we have to be afraid of?
10. Make Pastor Dave Bruskas lead/preaching pastor of the church for the near future. Make him the interim lead pastor and preaching pastor, if he’ll accept the job (he would be subject of course to the new governance system).
11. Hire Paul Tripp. Let him set up a process to fix the ministry culture at Mars Hill. When Mars Hill sent us the email recently saying how angry the elders were that the 9 pastors’
letter was leaked, it kind of missed the point that we all saw plain as day: Paul Tripp thinks our church is the sickest he has ever seen and we are hung up on how the letter got leaked? Doesn’t that kind of prove Tripp’s point a bit? Don’t we all just want the truth here? Paul Tripp needs to have a secure role in partnership with a new elder board of some type to do what he and they think needs to be done, and then report back to us about progress independently.
12. Voluntarily Step Down Pastor Mark. For as long as Paul Tripp and whatever new elder board that is created think you need to. You don’t get to decide your fate at Mars Hill, they do. In your own Pastor Mark like terms, “time to grow a pair”. You’ve said you want to be at Mars Hill the rest of your life; now prove it. Have the stones to voluntarily step down now and submit to Paul Tripp and a new elder governance system so you have the time to get your own internal house in order. We don’t know what’s wrong with you Pastor Mark, but you and the Executive Elders seem to be the only ones who are not seeing the obvious: you need some help. No more hiding behind the skirt of self appointed internal review boards and governance rules you wrote yourself. No more PR firms. No more videos. No more explanations about how detractors are anonymous or blaming ‘negative media attention’ for our woes. We’ve had enough of that; it sounds like unmanly whining.
Pastor Mark, we don’t hate you; we LOVE you. It’s no shame that you need some help; we all do. You have helped us. This church has been our HOME. We love the people here; they are our FRIENDS. Our lives have been TRANSFORMED by Mars Hill. Much good ministry is happening even today at Mars Hill in spite of this mess. We have hope for the future of Mars Hill. Good people are still here and if this gets turned around, many people will return. We can forgive. We want Mars Hill to get back on track. Make us proud to
be Mars Hill members again.
You have taught us, correctly, that it’s all about Jesus. It feels that for some time now, it’s been too much about Mars Hill. Let’s repent of that and get back on track. Trust with us that Jesus will lead a reborn Mars Hill to a new season of Kingdom fruitfulness. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Who for the joy set before him, endured the cross. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.” Hebrews 12:2, 7, 10-12
We know you like Braveheart Pastor Mark; here is a quote from the movie to consider:
“Men don’t follow titles, they follow courage.”
Forget your title Pastor Mark; show us your courage. With love and hope,
Some Mars Hill Members
 

Mars Hill Church Board of Elders Investigate Charges Against Mark Driscoll

On Monday, the newly formed Mars Hill Church Board of Elders posted a message on the Mars Hill website written by Mars Hill Sammamish lead pastor Alex Ghioni. Ghioni had posted another version September 5 on The City (also posted on Reddit).
The versions are slightly different with perhaps the most interesting difference being the source of the charge for the Board of Elders. Last week to his congregation, Ghioni said the executive elders were responsible:

GoingForwardEEs

The current version says that the Board of Advisors and Accountability established the BOEs.

GoingForwardBOAA

I don’t know what to make of this change, and perhaps Ghioni was confused about who established the BOE. However, Mark Dunford in his resignation explanation letter stated that the executive elders constructed the BOE:

This, after the Executive Elders (of which he is one) added three additional members to the board that would adjudicate his charges and having created/restored the Board of Elders to investigate those charges. I want to be clear that the elders themselves are not involved with selecting who would serve on those boards. Again, it was the EE who made those decisions.

By bylaw, both the BOAA and EEs have the power to establish ad hoc committees. So does it matter who selected the BOEs?

Yes, I believe it does. Dunford’s assertion that the EEs chose the investigation committee, if correct, is important. If those who are to examine charges were chosen by their fellow elders, then those selected have a greater likelihood of being representative of the sentiment of the Full Council of Elders (including at the time, those nine elders who called on Mark Driscoll to enter an elder directed restoration process). It seems more likely that all voices and views would be heard if all 50-60 of the Mars Hill elders were involved in selecting the committee to examine the charges. However, according to Dunford (as well as other insiders I have spoken with) and Ghioni’s first communication, Mark Driscoll, Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas selected the group who are charged with investigating Driscoll. This does not sound like a process marked by objectivity.

Furthermore, according to Article 12 of the bylaws, the BOAA’s independent members are the ones who are supposed to investigate charges against Mark Driscoll, not an ad hoc committee.

article12b

This article was written solely to address charges against Mark Driscoll. In it, the board of overseers (independent members of the BOAA – Michael Van Skaik, Larry Osborne, Matt Rogers, Jon Phelps) “shall be responsible for establishing its procedures, for conducting the investigation and rendering a decision.” However, according to Alex Ghioni’s communication, the BOEs will conduct the investigation.

Goingforward9514

In his September 5 communication, Ghioni indicates that the BOE will investigate and then present their findings to the board of overseers. In the September 8 web posting, Ghioni/BOEs expand the description:

  1. Elder Transitions – The BoE will receive, investigate, report and make recommendations to the BoAA on any charges brought against an elder in the church. They will also arbitrate in situations where the charges brought against an elder are contested. Very importantly, you should know the BoAA has approved a significant change where charges against an Executive Elder will be first investigated by the Board of Elders, followed by a decision from the independent members of the BoAA. This affords increased accountability of the Executive Elders with the rest of the eldership. I believe it is important for you to know this was a change that Pastor Mark, Pastor Dave and Pastor Sutton initiated themselves as a sign of mutual submission and accountability.

I really don’t understand how it helps establish accountability to learn that Mark Driscoll and his executive elder colleagues wanted a group of hand picked subordinates to examine the charges.
It appears to me another problem exists for this process. Given that the BOAA are responsible to investigate the charges, bylaw change should be required to allow them to pass this duty off to another committee. However, a quick check of the bylaws posted on the Mars Hill governance page shows no such change. The Going Forward documents seems to clean up the earlier document posted by Ghioni but it is not clear at all that the process is operating in accord with the bylaws of the organization. Given the admitted lack of transparency at Mars Hill, there is reason to question what is really happening behind the scenes. In both accounts, it appears clear that Mark Driscoll and his fellow executive elders have chosen a group of subordinates to investigate the charges against him. This will be at least the second time the BOAA has had charges against Mark Driscoll presented to them which they have not personally investigated.
In the second communication on the Mars Hill website, Ghioni anticipates some of these concerns:

Some have questioned my, and other BoE members, impartiality in conducting this investigation. I want you to know that I and the other board members know that we will stand before the Lord and give an account for our service to His church. Ultimately His opinion of how we conducted ourselves in faithfulness to his word will be are our guide (1 Timothy 5:19-20, Matthew 18:15-17, Proverbs 18:17, Deuteronomy 17:8-9).

This of course remains to be seen. All one can do is observe the process and communications about the process to the present. According to these communications (which have changed in the space of four days), the executive elders asked for a committee of subordinates to examine charges against Mark Driscoll. The EEs, either with or without input from the rest of the BOAA and no vote of the Full Council of Elders, chose pastors who are subordinates to be on the BOE. In contrast to the bylaws requirement that the BOAA investigate the charges, the BOE are currently investigating the charges and will report their findings to the independent members of the BOAA. The BOAA, which includes two people who dismissed charges after calling no witnesses the last time charges were lodged, a sitting volunteer elder and the most generous donor in Mars Hill’s history, will then decide the verdict.
If Mark Driscoll wants to come back as lead pastor, I like his odds “Going Forward.”

Ken Ham Headlines Institute on the Constitution Conference

Founder of the young Earth Creation Museum Ken Ham accepted the donation of a dinosaur from Michael Peroutka’s foundation in May 2014. Now Ham is going to headline an event with Peroutka and David Whitney and put on by Peroutka’s Institute on the Constitution.
Peroutka is a member and former board member of the League of the South; Whitney is the chaplain of the Virginia/MD chapter of the League. The League of the South advocates for the Southern states to secede to form a homeland for whites of European heritage. Peroutka has pledged the resources of the IOTC to the work of the League, and Peroutka defended the League as a Christian group.
Just over a year ago, fellow right wing luminary General Jerry Boykin pulled out of a conference because of the presence of IOTC speaker David Whitney on the program.  Ham is a frequent speaker at right wing functions. Ham’s decision to partner with IOTC indicates the reach that the IOTC has developed within the Christian right.
The IOTC claims to properly represent and teach the Constitution. However, David Whitney teaches that only Christians should be allowed to be citizens:

Loving thy neighbor means protecting their God given rights as Exodus 12:49 commands. That means preserving the structure of civil government from all who would pervert the civil government into an agency of legalized plunder, whereby the God given rights of no one would be safe and secure. This means, as we have seen in the commands of Scripture, that we restrict citizenship to those who, because they are committed to the Covenant of Disciples of Jesus Christ, are willing to submit themselves to serve in the roles of responsibility in choosing leaders who will preserve God ordained order.  Those who will serve as Jurors, committed to do justice in judging the law by the eternal standard of God’s Law.  Those who will serve when called up as Representatives to serve in civil government to do justice by God’s Law, and those who will put themselves in harms way serving in the Militia – only in just wars as defined by God’s Law.

Citizenship should be restricted, according to Whitney and the IOTC, to those who are”disciples of Jesus Christ.” This is no small error and should be rejected by anyone who values the Constitution (see especially the First Amendment and Article Six).

The Statement of Former Mars Hill Church Pastor Ryan Welsh

Ryan Welsh is one of the nine pastors who called on Mark Driscoll to submit to an elder directed restoration. He is also one of the pastors recently laid off. Today, he posted a brief statement on his public Facebook page which both expresses concern for the church and leaders while at the same time standing by the letter he signed and delivered on August 22. His statement:

My time at Mars Hill Church has come to an end. I want to briefly explain my feelings and convictions regarding Mars Hill and what’s next, as many have asked me to explain. I do not intend to add any fuel to the very hot fire that is burning in and around Mars Hill right now. So I will first share this:

1. I love Mars Hill Church
2. I love the visitors, members, deacons and elders at Mars Hill Church
3. I love and deeply care for Mark Driscoll, Dave Bruskas and Sutton Turner
4. I believe in the vision and mission of Mars Hill Church
5. I praise Jesus that He has used Mars Hill Church to bring, literally, thousands of people to salvation.
6. I pray for Mars Hill Church to be healthy once again 
7. I hope and pray that Mark Driscoll has 30+ years of preaching ministry ahead of him
8. I believe that Jesus is still on His throne and that He remains not only sovereign, but also good 
9. I feel blessed that I was given the opportunity to serve alongside some great and godly men and women over the past two years

Do I have concerns? Of course I do! Eight other elders and myself wrote and signed a letter of concern to the elders in late August. This letter presented in detail the convictions and concerns we held. I remain behind every word that we wrote in that letter. In the simplest form, the issues are surrounding repentance and church structure. I long for the day when the Holy Spirit’s conviction is what leads Mars Hill to repentance, rather than negative media coverage. I wait eagerly for the functional Trinity of Mars Hill Church to return to Father, Son, Holy Spirit from what seems to have become Father, Son, Holy Media.

I am a sinner. I am a horrible sinner. I am worse than any of you think I am. I, in no way, deserve God’s grace. I do not, therefore, share my concerns and convictions with Mars Hill to throw stones, but rather as a plea from one sinner to another, “to see our sin, to acknowledge our sin, to be transparent and to ask for forgiveness.”

Here is what I commit to do:
1. I will pray for the leaders of Mars Hill Church
2. I will pray for the people of Mars Hill Church
3. I will continue to repent of my sins and thank Jesus for His undeserved grace
4. I will continue to anxiously wait for Jesus to return and take us home

Many of you have asked me “what’s next?” My answer is very simple, I don’t know. Kate and I are praying and discussing and processing through some different possibilities right now. Please continue to pray for us and please continue to pray for Mars Hill Church.

Thanks,

Ryan Welsh

Will Mars Hill Church Heed Sutton Turner's Advice?

Yesterday, I posted a must read 2012 memo from Sutton Turner to his fellow executive elders. The memo described a serious financial crisis at the time with tentacles that have grown into a worse situation today. In the document, Turner provided suggestions, some of which he set in motion at the time. Note:
TurnerMemoPayroll
In the second item above, Turner said he would revised the budget of each church for the rest of the fiscal year. He said, “This will cut back their staff spending and staff payroll.” What other meaning can this have but that salaries would be cut or raises not given? At the time Turner did not anticipate layoffs within the 2012 fiscal year. However, did he cut pay?
This seems interesting in the light of the recent drastic layoffs at Mars Hill Church. Clearly, the church is now in dire shape. Lay offs have come, but will salary reductions follow? It is striking in this memo, given the level of pain Turner was about to unleash, that he did not mention executive salaries. And during the recent distress, there has been no indication that executive and other high level employees are experiencing similar repercussions. If this is happening, it seems highly likely that the leaders would make the congregation aware of it.
One of the wisest things written in the 2012 memo was this:

It is my belief that the reason we have such poor giving by our Church is the lack of stewardship in the Church staff. Churches with excellent stewardship see greater giving because people know that every dollar they give will go towards the mission of the Church. It is very clear this has not been the case at Mars Hill Church.

There is much they could do today to follow this principle and enlighten members. Will Mars Hill Church heed this advice?

 

Texas Textbook Wars Enter New Phase

Now it gets serious. Textbooks written according to Texas’ curriculum standards are slated to be evaluated in public hearings amid criticism from liberal groups, according to Politco’s Stephanie Simon.
According to Simon:

Texas students may soon be reading in their history textbooks that the American system of democracy was inspired by Moses, segregated schools weren’t all that bad and taxes imposed for programs like Social Security haven’t measurably improved society.

Those passages are among dozens of biased, misleading or inaccurate lessons identified on Wednesday by a panel of scholars commissioned by a liberal advocacy group to analyze dozens of new history, geography and civics textbooks up for review by the state Board of Education.

Unfortunately, the process appears to be about winning a political battle rather than historical accuracy. Might be time for the coalition of Christian historians to get involved. I definitely plan to raise this issue at the Conference on Faith and History later this month at Pepperdine University.

Sutton Turner in 2012 on Mars Hill Church’s Financial Situation: “We are in a big mess”

It is my belief that the reason we have such poor giving by our Church is the lack of stewardship in the Church staff. Churches with excellent stewardship see greater giving because people know that every dollar they give will go towards the mission of the Church. It is very clear this has not been the case at Mars Hill Church.
Sutton Turner

On Monday, Mars Hill Church leaders told the congregation that the church is “now facing the most serious budget challenge in our history.” However, according to a 2012 Mars Hill Church memo from Sutton Turner to his fellow executive elders, the church has been operating from crisis to crisis for quite some time.  At the time, he wrote: “we are in a big mess. It is much worse that I could have ever imagined.” Perhaps, this assessment in 2012 provides perspective on the severity of the current “most serious budget challenge” the church history. 

Turner’s March 17, 2012 memo outlines his perception of Mars Hill Church as “a very broken and fundamentally financially unsustainable organization.” Turner identifies numerous problems including a culture “that is plagued by poor stewardship, entitlement, December’s Hail Mary strategy, and using of the Church to build a personal ministry.”

Turner delineates reasons for his opinions throughout the memo. For now, I want to focus on two issues, the Result Source campaign and what Turner called the “December hail Mary strategy.”

On the Result Source expense to rig the New York Times count of book sales, Turner notes that the church spent heavily on that campaign along with launching six new locations.

Then you put on top of these 6 churches launches a RM campaign and you basically have a company going to World War III. It is all hands on deck, spend whenever is needed and let’s win the War.

The decision to “spend whatever is needed” is an unexamined aspect of the Real Marriage campaign. Mars Hill Church had finished 2011 strong because of the 2011 “December hail Mary strategy.” Over the next 3 months, the church burned through that money to the point that in March Sutton Turner woke up in the middle of the night and wrote a doomsday memo to his colleagues. Media and communications staff were given the tasks of promoting the Real Marriage book, including scheduling and servicing speaking engagements, all on church time. In the memo, Turner complains about this aspect of Mars Hill culture:

Many times these personal ministries are done during staff time and using church resources. This actually encouraged when I first came on staff as it was explained to me that staff was able to take MHC time to do consulting work to supplement their income. At the very highest levels of the organization this was taking place and reproduced throughout the organization. So as a result, all staff members saw this as acceptable and now the established culture within Mars Hill Church.

There is no higher level of the organization than Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner had already participated in that culture by signing the contract with Result Source in October 2011 to rig the bestseller lists. On one hand, Turner is correct that ministers should not use the church to benefit them financially, but on the other hand, he had gone along with just such a scheme on a massive scale. At the end of the memo, he returns to the launch of six churches and the Real Marriage campaign as being a prime factor for the hole they were in.

The hole we are in today was set in course when we decided to plant 6 churches in 5 months on top of the Real Marriage campaign. Too much work for an 8,000 in weekly attendance church to undertake when there was a culture within the church staff of poor stewardship and a church body that did not financially support the church.

Another aspect of this memo that really stands out is the admission that the December end-of-the-year giving campaigns were designed to make up for giving shortfalls. Turner wrote:

From what I can tell by this past year’s budget, we have had a strategy of completing a Hail Mary every December with a big giving campaign. This has allowed the negative monthly financial performance to continue while we count on a Hail Mary giving push in December to make up for the annual deficit. Givers are giving to grow the body and plant more churches, but given our spending habits, their gifts just help us catch up. With the growth of the church, the 2011 version only allows for enough cash to run through June 2012 and is not a sustainable plan for December 2012.

Even though the church told the congregation that the December offerings were to be over and above tithes in order to fund extra projects, the money was not used in that manner.  Even though Turner complained about this fundraising style, the church maintained the “December hail Mary strategy” during the end of the 2013 with glowing descriptions of a Jesus Festival to be held in August. That idea was discarded without notice very early in 2014.

Closer to the time of Turner’s memo was the 2011 end of the year appeal for $6.4 million for, among other things, the planting of four churches (happened), and to fund an animated children’s series (never happened). However, by March 2012, Turner was sounding the alarm that the church was in serious financial shape. He summarized the predicament with the following image:

financialchallenge2011
If Mars Hill Church is now in “the most serious budget challenge in our history” then things now must be much worse than anyone has stated publicly. Given the rapid acquisition of properties, Mars Hill could be very low on cash and be in danger of the same kind of problems that existed in 2012. My guess is October is a deadline of sorts along the lines of point #3 above.

My suspicion is that the past is prologue to the current situation. Turner predicted that the situation was unsustainable and it appears he was correct.

I will probably revisit this memo in a future post but for now, let me end where I began. I believe Turner was correct when wrote:

It is my belief that the reason we have such poor giving by our Church is the lack of stewardship in the Church staff. Churches with excellent stewardship see greater giving because people know that every dollar they give will go towards the mission of the Church. It is very clear this has not been the case at Mars Hill Church.

However, very little has changed since he wrote those words. The church has steadfastly refused to disclose Global Fund spending, the church attempted to keep information about the Global Fund hidden, executive personnel costs are closely guarded secrets, and up until recently, members and some elders could not get a look at bylaws. It is still true that “churches with excellent stewardship see greater giving because people know that every dollar they give will go towards the mission of the Church.” Perhaps even Turner would agree that, even in the present season, “this has not been the case at Mars Hill Church.”

Read the memo here.

Nine Mars Hill Church Elders Took a Bold Stand and Now Eight Are Gone

Add four more to the growing fraternity of ex-pastors after yesterday’s layoffs at Mars Hill Church.
According to reliable sources, Drew Hensley (University District), Ryan Welsh (Pastor of Theology and Leadership), Ryan Kearns (Director of Community Groups), and Cliff Ellis (Director of Biblical Living/Redemption Groups) were all let go yesterday.
Three of these pastors were directors, meaning they were responsible for ministries across Mars Hill Church and not just at one campus. All four signed the infamous letter that called for Mark Driscoll to step down and enter an elder directed restoration process. These pastors join Dustin Kensrue, Adams Ramsey, Gary Shavey (all three resigned their paid positions) and Mark Dunford (relieved of his volunteer elder status) in the ranks of ex-elders who signed the letter. James Rose, who is a volunteer at Ballard, appears to remain in place.
It is noteworthy that Mars Hill laid off key ministry leaders. The ministry directors were responsible for generating and leading much of the ministry programs (e.g., community groups, student ministry, biblical counseling, etc.) across all of the Mars Hill locations. At the same time, the church has spared the executive pastors who are largely seen as administrators of the franchise locations.  It also seems to be likely that laying off Kearns, Ellis, Hensley and Welsh related to their signatures on the letter calling on Driscoll to step down. Case in point: Matthias Haeuser’s Downtown Seattle campus was closed but he will have opportunity for a role at Ballard’s campus. Drew Hensley’s (a letter signer) University District location was shut down and he will be laid off.
One source (a current elder) tells me that executive elders’ salaries are not on the table for discussion. However, the 30-40 (unconfirmed reports tell me the number was higher) people laid off may not get severance pay and don’t have unemployment. The lack of comment from the executive elders about how they personally are going to help is louder than any amended statements could be.
The signers and their status:

Dustin Kensrue – Director of Worship / Worship Pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue (RESIGNED)

Drew Hensley – Lead Pastor at Mars Hill U-District Pastor (LAID OFF)

Mark Dunford – Pastor at Mars Hill Portland (ELDERSHIP REMOVED)

Ryan Kearns – Director of Community Groups/Pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue (LAID OFF)

Ryan Welsh – Pastor of Theology and Discipleship (LAID OFF)

Adam Ramsey – Director of Student Ministry / Pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue (RESIGNED)

Cliff Ellis – Director of Biblical Living / Pastor at Mars Hill West Seattle (LAID OFF)

Gary Shavey – Pastor of Biblical Living at Mars Hill Bellevue (RESIGNED)

James Rose – Pastor at Mars Hill Ballard (REMAINS IN SAME POSITION)

In this post, I provided twitter contact information for these pastors, I encourage Mars Hill stakeholders to contact them for their perspectives.

Additional notes: Cliff Ellis may remain as an unpaid volunteer elder for now. Drew Hensley is still active because he will stay until U-District closes down in October.

 

Mars Hill Church Announces More Layoffs; Blames People For Lack of Giving (UPDATED)

Today, on the church website, Mars Hill Church leaders announced additional layoffs. On a page titled simply, “Financial Challenges,” church leaders said:

Two weeks ago we shared in The Weekly some of the financial challenges we are facing at Mars Hill Church. While our church has been financially healthy for many years, we are now facing the most serious budget challenge in our history. Church budgeting is really a simple process in one respect: we are able to provide the level of staff and ministry programs that those who attend our church provide the resources for. In other words, it is ultimately our people, not our leaders, who determine how much “church” we are able to provide.

This announcement probably doesn’t help the leaders. This comes across as a rebuke to the people who are left in the pews. The “we-they” divide is clear. We (church leaders) can’t provide church if they (the non-leaders) don’t give more money. The implication of this notice is the layoffs are the fault of the people in the pews. This statement demonstrates no recognition of the reasons why fewer people are attending, or why the giving is down. The leaders here take no responsibility for providing the people in the pews with reasons to question what is going on among those who “provide” church (NYTs bestseller fiasco, secrecy surrounding finances, Global Fund, formal charges from current and former pastors, etc.).
The last sentence in the paragraph above completely glosses over the fact that the leaders decide how to spent the money they get from the people. The people have no input and very little knowledge.
Let’s review: the members of Mars Hill Church are not members for the purposes of participating in governance or helping to determine (or even knowing) how resources are spent. They are members for giving, volunteering, and obeying the leaders. Until just recently, the members were not allowed to see the bylaws, they are not able to know specifics about how their gifts are spent, and they are not allowed to know how much the senior leadership is compensated. Lack of knowledge and input might make people wonder if they are getting the church they have been paying for, to use the Mars Hill Church leader’s way of thinking.

The two largest expense items in almost any organization’s budget are facilities and personnel costs. Sadly, we now find ourselves in a situation where we cannot sustain our current staffing levels across the Mars Hill network of churches and must move forward with further reduction of paid staff. This will, unfortunately, also result in a decrease in the number of ministry programs we are able to provide beyond our weekly church services.

The notice expresses sorrow over the layoffs but insists the church must live within “economic reality.” There is another reality that I think the leaders must face. Beating the remaining sheep might have worked in the old days of Mars Hill but today is a new day and I suspect the sheep are tired of it.
UPDATE: Several hours after the original statement was posted, the following paragraph appeared on the Mars Hill website:

This update was published earlier in an effort to communicate this news to the Mars Hill community in a timely way. However, in our effort to communicate efficiently we were, perhaps, less clear than we intended to be. While it is true that the generous giving of our members funds the various ministries of Mars Hill Church, the original post below failed to acknowledge that the reason for much of the decrease in attendance and giving falls to us, the leadership of Mars Hill. We shoulder the responsibility for our past sins and mistakes—which has caused many to leave. As we continue to repent, learn, and grow in this season, we also bear the responsibility to lead differently as we move forward—for God’s glory and the good of his church. 

Well, that’s better but can it be trusted? Clearly, each reader will have to decide what this is about and what shouldering the responsibility would look like.

Seattle Times: First Mars Hill Will Close Churches, Then Layoff Staff

There is one cost cutting move I didn’t see in this article. See if you can figure it out.
On the eve of what will probably be a sad day at Mars Hill, the church revealed to the Seattle Times that layoffs are coming. According to the Times report, the church will cut between 30-40 staff on the heels of today’s church closings.
Justin Dean acknowledged that attendance is way down to between 8-9,000 per Sunday.