Former Mars Hill Church executive elder Sutton Turner has posted part two of his reflections (he posted part one yesterday) on the decision to commit church funds to buy Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage on to the New York Times best-seller list.
In this post, Turner takes credit for changing Mars Hill by-laws to include the Board of Advisors and Accountability. The BoAA consisted of three executive elders (Driscoll, Bruskas, and Turner) and four outsiders (various members at different times, but including James MacDonald, Larry Osborne, Jon Phelps, Matt Rogers, Michael VanSkaik, and famously Paul Tripp). Turner asserts that big decisions (like the New York Times scheme) require leaders of big organizations to weigh in. In today’s post, Turner writes:
The board in place at Mars Hill in the summer of 2011 consisted of local elders who had been at Mars Hill for many years. They were inside the organization. I’m not sure what they discussed regarding ResultSource, but they needed outsiders who were experienced in big decision-making and who were outside of their context to help them.
I assert that ethical sense is more important in such decisions, but Turner attempts to make a case that outsiders help prevent groupthink. I cover groupthink when I teach social psychology and I disagree with his analysis. If anything the structure of the BoAA lent itself to groupthink. The board was small and insulated from the rest of the elders due to the control the BoAA had over the entire church. Their moves and deliberations were secret with no meaningful input allowed from the lesser elders or congregation. Moreover, preventing groupthink is primarily leadership responsibility. Solid leaders who do not need to be in control of all aspects of an organization can prevent the negative effects of group cohesion whether the board members have experience or not.
Turner’s advice to leaders in yesterday’s post is inappropriate if groupthink is a concern. Turner objected to the ResultSource contract but did not buck the system. He wrote:
What You Cannot Do
When the decision is legal, you cannot stay and complain that you did not agree with it. You cannot be divisive while continuing to remain on the team. If you are going to be divisive, you need to leave.
You cannot leave the organization and complain to your friends or through social media when you actually had an opportunity to fix it if you had stayed. I have seen many people leave Mars Hill who had positions of influence. They did not agree with decisions, resigned, and went to social media to try and bring about organizational change from the outside. To me, if you stay, you can be part of the solution, but if you leave, you need to leave and allow leaders who remain to make changes for the organization’s future.
One of the ways to avoid groupthink is to encourage dissent and disagreement. Worrying about being divisive when in fact you have principled disagreement is part of what fuels the cohesion that is at the heart of groupthink. Having a local elder board is a minor concern compared to the problems inherent in self-censorship and mindguarding (see this brief summary relating to groupthink).
Turner then outlines what he claims was the response of the BoAA to the ResultSource decision.
At our board meeting in August of 2013, I provided a detailed analysis and accounting of the ResultSource marketing plan. At this board meeting (six months before the signed ResultSource contract was leaked to the public), the new board agreed that this type of marketing strategy would never be used again. In fact, no other books that were published through Mars Hill used it. We, as board members, would certainly not always get it right. In fact, in the following months, we would even make mistakes around the public revelation of the ResultSource contract. (I desired for our first media response at that time to clearly communicate two things: my level of involvement in the decision and the BOAA’s decision to never repeat the practice. Unfortunately, this did not happen.) But six months before the public spotlight, this new board of outside leaders, who were unassociated with the ResultSource decision, evaluated the proposal afterwards and made the right decision: it was a bad idea and it was wrong.
In 2014, Justin Dean was the first one out with a statement about ResultSource and he claimed it was an opportunity. If the BoAA had made this decision, why wasn’t Justin Dean made aware of this fact? I would like to hear more from Turner about how and why three different opinions of ResultSource were communicated to the public in the space of about a week.