Fall of Mars Hill Church: August 2014 Timeline (with a Bonus Section on Dealing with Bloggers)

August 2014 was a critical month in the demise of Mars Hill Church. Seven years ago this month, the church experienced multiple blows from which it never recovered. For those reliving that year via the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast, this post provides some context for what may have been the most consequential month of the year. The links take you to my blog posts in 2014.

August 1 – A former colleague and co-founder of one of the first Acts 29 churches, Ron Wheeler, accused Mark Driscoll of plagiarizing material from his work.

August 2 – The church announced that James MacDonald stepped down from the Board of Advisors and Accountability. The BOAA was basically a group of Driscoll’s friends who by bylaw had oversight of the church, but they did not attend Mars Hill. MacDonald has been a long time supporter of Driscoll and this was seen as a move that made Driscoll vulnerable.

August 2Christianity Today published an apology from Driscoll about comments he made on a Mars Hill Church message board calling the U.S. “a pussified nation.” This brought the mysoginistic William Wallace comments into public scrutiny again.

August 3 – A group of former members held a demonstration in front of the church with picket signs and media converage. Previously, Driscoll had told the church he couldn’t respond to many of the charges against him because they were made by anonymous people. This set off a wave of angry public responses from former members on Facebook culminating in this August 3 protest and a Facebook group that exists to this day.

August 7 – Planter of the first Acts 29 church, Ron Wheeler, penned an open letter to his former colleague Mark Driscoll and asked him to resign.

August 8 – Acts 29 Network evicted Mars Hill Church and former network co-founder and president Mark Driscoll from membership. I broke this story with the correspondence from Acts 29. Just prior to announcing their decision to remove the church and pastor from the network, the Acts 29 board said this: “Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help.”

August 9 – Lifeway Christian Bookstores confirmed to me that Mark Driscoll’s books would no longer be available via their bookstores.

August 12 – Popular biblical counselor Paul David Tripp broke his silence about why he resigned from Mars Hill’s Board of Advisors and Accountability. He claimed having outside advisors doesn’t work. Local elders are needed for accountability.

August 12 – Mark Driscoll was canceled from an Act Like Men conference.

August 14 – Mars Hill canceled their annual Resurgence Conference.

August 15 – Mark Driscoll was withdrawn as the closing speaker at the Gateway Church Conference.

August 18 – Public questions were raised about the cancellation of a promised Jesus Festival at the church since the church had raised millions of dollars via year end giving appeals. One major reason given for the appeal was to fund the festival.

August 21 – I published the charges brought against Mark Driscoll by 21 formal elders. These charges formed the basis for a later investigation by a group of current elders. They found him guilty and declared him to be disqualified as an elder. They offered him a plan of restoration. While Mars Hill’s two board haggled over the matter, Driscoll resigned without accepting the verdict of the investigating board.

August 22 – The New York Times covered the formal charges story.

August 24 – Mark Driscoll announced that he will take at least six weeks off while the charges against him are investigated.

August 28 – Nine current Mars Hill elders wrote a lengthy letter to the rest of the elders, executive elders, and Board of Advisors and Accountability with recommendations that Driscoll enter a plan of restoration (instead of just take time off), the communication from the BOAA become more honest, and the church to change their governance avay from non-local governance. The document laying out these demands was leaked to me and published on this date.

August 29 – A petition started by former member Dave Lester called on the Mars Hill leadership to follow the recommendations of the nine current elders regarding a Driscoll restoration plan, governance change, and more clear communication from leadership of the church.

August 30 – The Mars Hill Executive Elders released a statement saying that donations were down due to an “increase in negative media attention.”

As a bonus, I will add the advice I gave Mars Hill then to decrease negative media attention. They didn’t follow it and The Trinity Church isn’t following it now. But I think it is still pretty good advice. What do you think?

To decrease negative media attention, follow these tips:

1. Don’t use church funds to manipulate literary best seller lists to make your pastor appear to be a best selling author.  In a related tip, don’t cover it up and threaten staff not to disclose this fact. Furthermore, when it is revealed, reduce the number of explanations from three to one that is accurate.

2. Advise the lead pastor to avoid offending people with vulgarities, name-calling and bullying.

3. Don’t spend dedicated funds meant for ministers in third world nations on nice facilities to expand the Mars Hill brand.

4. If you say you are raising money for a Jesus Festival, you should have a pretty big party.

5. Don’t ignore requests for information from media and members. When members want to see the bylaws or know where their money was spent, comply. When media ask for an accounting of how you spend money, disclose that information. Remember, it wasn’t your money and the information is in the public interest. Refusing to disclose looks like you are hiding something. It is not too late to follow this tip.

6. Don’t make technically correct, but misleading statements to the public and press. The press and the public are smart enough to see through that. Eventually even people who want to give you the benefit of the doubt will see through it.

7. Going forward, revamp the whole Board of Elders/BOAA thing. Most of the people who have been appointed to these positions are known vocal and financial supporters of Mark Driscoll. This will all come out soon. The verdict, if favorable to Driscoll, will invite another “increase in negative media attention.” For the sake of balance and fairness, you should appoint some of the nine elders who wrote you a letter to the group who will examine the charges against Rev. Driscoll. Another possibility is that everyone who has presided over the church during the season of increased negative media attention should step aside. The BOAA should change the bylaws to allow the current elders to elect new executives and get a fresh start. I suspect that would lead to a decrease in negative media attention.

I may think of some additional tips. I imagine that people who comment on this post will add some as well.

In short, be more transparent about what you are doing in the name of God. Mars Hill Church has become known for the mysteries it hides more so than for the mysteries of the Gospel it proclaims. This, brothers and sisters, should not be so.

Sound familiar?