Blog Theme: Mars Hill Church – Interview with Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas, Part Two

In this concluding video, former Mars Hill Church executive elders Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas talk about incidents not discussed publicly before. They also describe more personally their feelings about their actions at the church and their hopes for the future.

In this portion of the interview, we cover Mars Hill Global Fund, how public relations were handled at the church, their perspective on Mark Driscoll’s leadership style, James MacDonald’s and Paul Tripp’s resignation, being evicted from the Acts 29 Network, the findings of the investigation of formal charges against Driscoll, his resignation and move to Phoenix. They also weigh in on whether or not they ever saw Driscoll wear a bulletproof vest. There’s a special Easter egg for those interested in James MacDonald.

For those who are interested in Mars Hill because you lived it, or because you want to know how to prevent it, these are important discussions. Here is part two.

Watch part one here.

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Blog Theme: Mars Hill Church – Interview with Dave Bruskas and Sutton Turner, Part One

In the category of unlikely interviews, this one is near the top of the list. Today, I publish the first part of an interview with Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas. Turner, Bruskas and Mark Driscoll made up the three executive elders of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. Driscoll was also the president of the corporation and clearly in charge. Turner was the financial guy and Bruskas occupied the number two spot. Given amount of leaked information I was reporting on Mars Hill, I imagine I was public enemy number one for this trio in 2014.

Nonetheless, after the church closed, neither Turner nor Bruskas were hostile when I contacted them. Over the years, they have talked more about how they have reached out to Mars Hill people and tried to mend fences. I don’t know all about it, but I don’t need to.

I do know that they have a perspective that I never was able to get while I reported on Mars Hill. Almost everything they have told me vindicated the reporting I did. But with that out of the way, I wanted to know how it was to try to function in what Paul Tripp called, “…without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.” They did not evade their own responsibility as you will hear.

So I hope you will hear them out in both parts of the interview (part two coming Thursday). In part one, we discuss Dave Kraft’s first charges, the Strange Fire Conference, “big brother” James MacDonald, the Janet Mefferd interview, the Result Source Bestseller scheme, Driscoll’s content management system and Driscoll as “The Brand.”:

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Coming This Week: An Unlikely Conversation with Dave Bruskas and Sutton Turner

On Tuesday (7/28) and Thursday (7/30) of this week, I will publish parts one and two respectively of an interview with former Mars Hill Church executive elders Dave Bruskas and Sutton Turner. Sutton and Dave were the executive elders in charge of Mars Hill along with Mark Driscoll.

Six years ago, such a conversation could not be imagined. I was writing several times a week about Mars Hill Church. Exactly six years ago, I examined media coverage of Mars Hill’s critics and their finances. On July 30, 2014 I reported that noted biblical counselor Paul Tripp resigned from the church’s Board of Advisor’s and Accountability. As Turner and Bruskas describe in our interview, the following month of August in 2014 was a terrible month for the church.

Recently, Sutton and Dave approached me with a desire to set some things straight. The result is this interview where we examine key events from 2013 through October 2014 culminating in a discussion of Mark Driscoll’s resignation. We also take on a few residual issues relating to the church.

Here are some excerpts of part one:

In part one, we discuss John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference, James MacDonald as Mark’s big brother, the Janet Mefferd Interview where she accused Mark Driscoll of plagiarism, Mars Hill’s content management system, Mark Driscoll as “The Brand,” and the Result Source New York Times Bestseller List scandal. Watch for this on Tuesday, July 28.

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James MacDonald’s Mansion – Notice of Foreclosure

This document showed up on Twitter today and appears to be the notice of foreclosure of James MacDonald’s million dollar mansion.

You can also see the documents here: Page one, page two.

The house and property at 14N306 Highland Ave, Elgin, IL 60124 are quite stunning for anyone, especially the pastor of an evangelical church. Currently, the house lists for $1.6 million and has 5 bedrooms and 6 baths and a roomy 5,250 sqare feet.

 

Lawyer Takes James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel to the Woodshed (UPDATED)

I don’t know any other way to describe the report written by Sally Wagenmaker about the financial and governance practices of Harvest Bible Chapel during the tenure of former pastor James MacDonald.

MacDonald recently defended himself against the church action of declaring him disqualified as a pastor.  He may have to write another Facebook post or ten with asbestos gloves to handle the fire in this report.

If interested in a blistering report about a megachurch in disarray, you must read it for yourself. Here are some spicy appetizers to help you decide:

Based on our law firm’s review of available information, we determined that a massive corporate governance failure apparently developed over several years at HBC, primarily due to the following factors:
• MacDonald’s powerful and subversive leadership style;
• His development of an inner-circle leadership group through which he could control HBC;
• His marginalization of broader leadership, particularly the former HBC Elders; and
• His other aggressive tactics that thwarted healthy nonprofit governance.
Directly resulting from such problems, MacDonald appears to have extensively misused HBC’s financial resources for improper financial benefit.

MacDonald’s strong and persuasive role as authoritative senior pastor, along with his close inner circle, insulation from proper accountability mechanisms, and key changes to the church’s operational structures, resulted in a highly problematic culture. Policies, formal and informal, were put into place to reinforce this unhealthy power structure.

We were provided with extensive salary information for MacDonald and the HBC Compensation Committee’s year-end meeting minutes, reflecting summary approval for executive compensation, housing, deferred compensation, and the housing allowance for MacDonald. The Committee unanimously approved an overall 2015 compensation amount
of $1,240,000, a 2016 compensation amount of $1,370,000, and a 2017 compensation amount of $1,387,500. For year-end 2017, we provided with a “Memorandum of Understanding and Documentation” dated December 19, 2017, reciting “commitments and pledges given in good faith [that] represent a contractual and covenant commitment” to MacDonald, plus a statement that “Walk in the Word and the respective assets are a bible teaching ministry of Dr. MacDonald.” For year-end 2018, the minutes of the “Elder Executive Committee Compensation Committee,” reflecting a total compensation package of $1,270,000 for 2019.

In a word, this is obscene.

Within this context, a leader who receives a tangible personal benefit as a result of a decision affecting the church’s operations or assets has an inherent conflict of interest that must be fully addressed through disinterested, independent leadership decision-making. Based on our legal evaluation, MacDonald seems to have acted in his own personal interests – reaping significant personal financial benefits, avoiding accountability to any governing board, and with heavy-fisted exclusionary leadership. His close inner circle of HBC leaders helped him to do so and without the important accountability measures needed for effective nonprofit ministry governance.

Although I am not an attorney, I would be worried about my legal liability were I formerly involved in leadership at HBC.

UPDATE: James MacDonald responds:

James MacDonald Responds to Disqualification Decision

Last Sunday, the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel announced that they had found former pastor and church founder James MacDonald to be biblically disqualified for pastoral ministry.  Today, MacDonald posted what appears to be a response to that announcement on his Facebook page.

MacDonald begins with a vague reference his “former church”:

I trust this timing finds you well in the Lord and growing in your awareness of how good He truly is. Our efforts to work through existing channels in our former church have reached an unsuccessful end, leading to this release of words we have long sought to express.

MacDonald addresses various concerns raised by Harvest’s weekend statement. Specifically, he confesses “sinful patterns of fleshly anger and self pity that wounded co-workers and others.” He adds that his decisions involving the lawsuit against Julie Roys, two former elders and their wives, his media ministry and Harvest Bible Fellowship were “regrettable.”

In the end, however, he continues to contest the statements from Harvest and remains in arbitration.

Decisions by the current Elder/staff, along with inaccurate announcements and recent public condemnation, signaled clearly the timing to communicate our message directly. With sadness we accept that no face-to-face confession or truth-advancing interaction will be forthcoming.

The above matters are now in Christian arbitration where impartial believers will hear and give a written, objective ruling. As we cannot give specifics, we are trusting the Lord for truth to be revealed in His time, and we covet your prayers.

Despite the words of confession and findings of HBC, it appears MacDonald is gearing up for a return to ministry of some kind.

After waiting many months in hope of a pathway toward restoration, we have been welcomed into the congregation of New Life Covenant Church in Humboldt Park, Chicago. A multi-ethnic church under Pastor Wilfredo DeJesus, New Life has embraced us in love, offering us a place to serve and the beginnings of healing community.

In a recent Naples Daily News article, I was quoted as saying that James MacDonald would be back in the ministry saddle.  That interview was conducted in May. It is not that I think disqualified pastors should go back into the pulpit. I don’t; but this is the pattern that has become well traveled.

James MacDonald Used Nonprofit Funds for That Perfect Gift (Updated)

On the heels of Harvest Bible Chapel’s loss of membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, check this out.

Former HBC pastor James MacDonald gave Ed Stetzer a vintage 1971 Volkswagon Beetle. Then, Ed Stetzer found out the money for the gift came from MacDonald’s non-profit Walk in the Word. Stetzer did the honorable thing and reimbursed the ministry. Joe Thorn is a minister friend of Stetzer’s. You have to click on Stetzer’s note twice to read the whole story.

I seriously doubt any donor to Walk in the Word gave with the intent to buy Ed Stetzer a VW. Given the questions about finances at HBC and this story about WITW, donors should consider asking the Illinois Attorney General to investigate the use of funds and/or file a complaint with the IRS.

HBC and WITW appear to have moved an undetermined amount of money around without regard to donor intent. This kind of activity is what should bring in regulators and auditors for a thorough review. Donors beware.

UPDATE: Julie Roys has published additional information about the gift from MacDonald to Stetzer, complete with a photo of the VW in question. The value of the VW was calculated at $13K.

 

 

VW Image: Lothar Spurzem [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)]

Superintendent of Harvest Christian Academy Issues Statement About James MacDonald’s Actions with Students

In 2017, former pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel James MacDonald taught Bible classes at Harvest Christian Academy. While there, on January 25 2017, he was recorded harshly confronting and physically grabbing a student during one of his lessons. This video recently surfaced on social media and in a blog post by Julie Roys. Here it is:

I wrote the current superintendent of HCA, Talbott Behnken, to find out what happened as the result of that incident and if such behavior was in violation of HCA’s policies.  Earlier today, he sent a statement that he requested be printed in full.

James MacDonald was fired from Harvest Bible Chapel in February of 2019. Harvest Christian Academy had no authority to fire or discipline the then Senior Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, James MacDonald. That responsibility belonged to the elder board of Harvest Bible Chapel.

Prior to the time of the Bible class situation in 2017, I was not aware of James’s outbursts and issues to recognize that it would not be a good situation for our students. At that time, I believed that James was a gifted Bible teacher and it was a great opportunity for our students. Clearly, it didn’t go as we all had hoped. If I had to do it all over again knowing now what I know, I would not have permitted James to teach Bible at HCA. We have wonderful godly teachers and staff at HCA who pour themselves out for the Lord and our students everyday. These videos are not representative of our incredible teaching staff, our school, or our expectations. The people being hurt are our dear students, alumni, teachers, and staff. James MacDonald is not here to deal with any of the fall-out from his behavior. He has hurt our people enough.

The content of the videos speak for themselves and James MacDonald is responsible for his conduct and words. James MacDonald has not instructed HCA Bible students since early in the spring semester 2017 and will not be permitted to teach students at HCA again. Please direct any further inquiries regarding the behavior of James MacDonald to James MacDonald.

Former Big 4 Auditor: Dark Clouds Loom Over Harvest Bible Chapel

A former “big 4” accounting firm auditor is raising red flags about the future of Harvest Bible Chapel. Jason Watkins, who has analysed Gospel for Asia’s finances on this blog in the past, predicts tough financial times ahead.

Given reduced offerings and the outstanding $42-million in debt, the church may need to further reduce staff in order secure additional financing and live within their means. There is also the matter of severance payments for James MacDonald and other departing pastors which will encumber the church.

Watkins prepared a series of charts to depict the situation. They show that the church’s giving is 79% off from the budgeted amount for their Closer campaign. Regular giving is off by 50% compared to previous years. Here are two images with links to the supporting charts:

Donations are down 50% over 2016 and 2017 at the same time of the year.  More figures supporting these charts can be viewed here.

The response to the Closer campaign is even more distressing. Additional figures from HBC sources showing giving from 2016-2017 can be viewed here. That chart also shows the pledges for the Closer campaign.

Members and leaders of HBC face a reality check over the next several months. This information is provided in this format to assist members in this process. Faced with a similar reality, Mars Hill Church fragmented into autonomous local churches. Some didn’t make it and some have thrived. Perhaps HBC will follow that path.

It has been reported that Lawrence Swicegood from Gateway Church is involved in assisting HBC. Mr. Swicegood helped Gateway put a good face on their recent layoffs and he may find a way to assist HBC. A potential pitfall for HBC would be to be acquired or bailed out by Gateway and compromised in doctrine by such a link. In any case, it seems likely that dramatic changes are in store for HBC.

 

 

Harvest Bible Chapel Responds to Anne Green’s Allegations

This evening Harvest Bible Chapel’s leadership (whoever that is now) posted the following response to Anne Green’s allegations of sexual harassment against James MacDonald. Green disclosed an allegation involving James MacDonald in 2005 on Mancow Muller’s radio program earlier today.

Harvest Bible Chapel received a report in September of 2018 of an alleged inappropriate incident, which took place on a private flight in 2005, between Dr. James MacDonald and Mrs. Anne Green. The Elders took the matter seriously and began investigating immediately.

After hearing of the accusation, the Human Resources department of Harvest Bible Chapel proactively reached out to Mrs. Green on September 30, 2018, via email and text. Below is the email. Please note, for privacy, the name of the other woman on the plane has been omitted.

Dear Anne:

We have been made aware that you may have a concern about something from your time of employment or ministry involvement at Harvest. 

We care about all who have labored for the Lord with us, past and present and since it was not reported at the time, we want to offer an opportunity to tell your story to a couple of women who remain here and remember you fondly. 

I would like to schedule a call with you and [other woman on plane], maybe an Elder’s wife and myself, as I work in our HR department. We are offering a safe environment to share your story without fear and understand if you choose not to. Also, be assured this offer does not expire should you wish to talk with us in the future. 

Just know that we care for you and would appreciate some response at your earliest convenience – at least to know we have connected with you to express our care and support.

Mrs. Green did not respond to the email or text invitation. Additionally, Mrs. Green never filed a police report regarding the alleged incident.

The three other passengers from that flight were interviewed. The passengers stated that they did not recall seeing or hearing anything suspicious or inappropriate.

With no complaint filed by Mrs. Green, no report to the police and the testimony of three witnesses on the flight, Harvest Bible Chapel closed the investigation with the Elders considering the case appropriately vetted and no further action required.

In light of today’s radio interview that Mrs. Green provided to WLS Radio, Harvest Bible Chapel would like to reiterate a sentence from the email sent to Mrs. Green in September, “be assured this offer does not expire should you wish to talk with us in the future.”