Q&A With Former Mars Hill Church Executive Pastor Sutton Turner

In 2014, I could not get a comment from anyone at Mars Hill Church in Seattle about anything. I am sure that most of the leaders there saw me as a serious problem since I wrote so much about the church and problems in leadership there. Eventually, the church closed and distributed assets to several autonomous churches which had been part of the Mars Hill network of locations.

Sutton Turner was one of the executive pastors who presided over growth and decline of the church. Since the closing of the church, Sutton and I have had several friendly conversations about the church and his role in the situation. Because of that, I felt comfortable calling on him to discuss a recent positive move in his life.

Yesterday, I saw an announcement that Sutton has joined Vanderbloemen Search Group, a Christian job search company as Vice President of Candidate Relations. In the announcement, Mars Hill Church is mentioned but there is no direct mention of the downside of the organization. Curious, I asked Sutton some questions about what he had learned at Mars Hill. He was kind to answer them today.

Throckmorton: In the Vanderbloemen announcement, what you learned at Mars Hill is credited with fueling your passion for healthy churches. Could you expand on that?

Turner: I have 23 years of experience leading different organizations in business and ministry.   I have seen the best and worst cultures.   I have been a part of start-ups where I was able to create the culture and walked into cultures that I did not create but tried to improve.   All leaders find themselves in these two categories today.

After Mars Hill was divided up into independent churches in 2014, I began to meet with former members and staff from Mars Hill who wanted to meet with me.  I had moved to Texas, and some of these conversations first took place on the phone.   I also flew back to Seattle several times at my own cost.   Many people were former members before my time and Mars Hill, some were leaders that worked alongside me, and some were faithful members of the church.  The deep hurt felt by these members over the loss of their church cannot be understated.  It was a HUGE loss in their lives that continues today.   It affected their kids, marriage, and community.   Some people walked away from attending church all together from their Mars Hill experience.  These face to face meeting profoundly affected me and motivated me to help avoid another Mars Hill experience in the future.  I then wrote a series of blogs in 2015 to bring another perspective to what happened at Mars Hill and perhaps help others in their healing process.

Over the last year, I read William Vanderbloemen’s book “Culture Wins.” I absolutely love the focus around creating a great environment and culture of an organization. William’s company, Vanderbloemen Search Group (Vanderbloemen), has a great culture and wants to help other organizations create culture.  I am grateful to be able to join a culture and company trying to help others.   Vanderbloemen provides search and consulting for churches, non-profits and mission-based businesses.   As I join Vanderbloemen, I hope to use all of my experience to assist other leaders and organizations.   However, my first role at Vanderbloemen will be to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their search process.

Throckmorton: Many on the outside and inside at the time have questioned the health of Mars Hill. First, do you agree that Mars Hill while you were there was not a healthy church? In what ways did that lack of health manifest itself?

Turner: I believe until we get to heaven, there will not be a “perfect church” with a “perfect culture.”  All churches have areas to improve, just like all Christians have areas to improve.   I loved Mars Hill and I love the people of Mars Hill Church.  During my time there, I saw a faith family grow in their knowledge of the Bible, their heart for worship, and their service to others.  But Mars Hill had many areas to improve that were never addressed, some of which led to its closure.  Culture quickly is created by the decisions of leadership, and once the culture is created, it is very difficult to change.  Culture can be changed, but it takes committed leadership to make that happen.

Since the closing of Mars Hill in 2014, I have made many trips to Seattle to meet with hurt former church members.  Some members attended Mars Hill before my time.  I have learned a great deal through these meetings about how their lives were affected by the church.   I wrote several blogs to communicate what I have learned and help people with their healing.   As I stated in 2015,

Early on in my time at Mars Hill, I unfortunately operated in a sinful way that was consistent with the existing church culture that had grown and been cultivated since the early years of the church (late 1990’s). Instead of being an agent of change for good, I simply reinforced negative sinful behavior.  (I am responsible for my own actions, and do not blame my actions on the culture.)

I am planning another trip back to Seattle this fall to meet with more leaders and former members to continue the healing process.  I hope to continue to learn from what happened at Mars Hill and use this experience, along with my other leadership experiences, to help churches, non-profits and mission-based businesses while at Vanderbloemen.

Throckmorton: What can you tell us about what you learned in your position at Mars Hill which can help you help others develop a healthy church?

Turner: Over the last 4 years, I have studied the culture from Mars Hill and talked extensively to people that were negatively affected by the culture and its leaders.  I am building a set of material from this research to help other organizations which I have shared with several pastors and leaders.  They have identified one or two of these areas they see in their own church culture that needs improvement.   I hope to use my experience to help other leaders and pastors in the future while at Vanderbloemen.

Throckmorton: The growth of the church was remarkable, and yet the implosion was also remarkable. What observations can you offer about the rise and fall of Mars Hill?

Turner: Well, this is exactly the material I have been working on.  Trying to research the elements of the culture of Mars Hill and see what can be learned by its dramatic rise and fall.   Mars Hill started in the late 1990s.  The culture was created over the decade before Pastor Dave Bruskas and I joined senior leadership.  However, I fully believe that as John C. Maxwell says “everything rises and falls with leadership.”  In 2015, I wrote several blogs about what I learned and stated:

I have written about my personal journey of repentance and forgiveness (Part 1 & Part 2). Many will say that Pastor Dave and I did not do enough to change the culture; which is fair and certainly true, but only those who worked within the inner circle know how hard we tried.

Right now, I continue to research and document what I have learned from the Mars Hill experience.  I continue this effort to help people heal and help other leaders learn from the culture of Mars Hill.   No one wants to see what happened at Mars Hill ever happen again.  As a leader that was front row to the last 4 years of the church and created the plan to disband the church into independent churches, I have a good perspective to hopefully use my experience to help others.

Reflections

These are probably hard questions to answer. It is difficult to address the culture at Mars Hill without talking about Mark Driscoll. Although much water is under the bridge, Turner gives witness that there are still people who went to Mars Hill who are not over it. There is unfinished business for Driscoll to attend to in the Northwest.

On the bright side, in 2014 I never thought I would be reflecting back on Mars Hill with Sutton Turner (I have also had some nice exchanges with Dave Bruskas).

To read my posts on Mars Hill Church, see this link: Mars Hill Church

To read my posts about Mark Driscoll, see this link: Mark Driscoll

Like this article and want to see more like it? Support this blog at Patreon.com.

Mark Driscoll Gets His Charisma On

Mark Driscoll is getting us ready for a big announcement. Check it out:

His next big book could be part of the fun. According to Christian Market Weekly, Driscoll is signing with Charisma:

Pastor Mark Driscoll is returning to publishing by signing with Charisma House. His new book, Spirit-Filled Jesus, will release in October 2018.

No doubt the Jesus-loving, Youtube-filming, Charisma-publishing Driscoll brand will be big. Even though the trail of busted stuff in Seattle is still there, it is easy enough in the big Evangelical circus to pitch your tent somewhere else and start a new show in a new season.
A resurgence of Driscoll branding is probably coming at about the right time. I have noticed in my little corner of the Christian world less awareness of him and the Mars Hill history. Just this year I asked a class of undergrads how many had heard of him and not one hand went up. That had never happened before and is a problem for The Brand.
For those coming late to this party, there are several links to get you started.

More Articles on Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church

Wenatchee the Hatchet. – This blogger has followed Mars Hill Church for many years and has a wealth of information and detail about church history and various players who have been associated with the church over the years.
Mars Hill Church Blog Summary – This link will lead to all blog posts about Mars Hill Church. My posts started in late 2013 after Mark Driscoll’s disastrous interview with Janet Mefferd.
Daily Beast – This link leads to my series of articles at The Daily Beast on Mars Hill Church. For those wanting a quick summary on Mark Driscoll’s plan to place his book Real Marriage on the New York Times bestseller list, this is a good place to start. Also, these article provide a summary of the fall of Mars Hill Church.

Top Ten Blog Posts of 2017

In 2017, the following ten posts received the most page views:
10. K-LOVE’s Pledge Drive: Money Behind the Music (2017)
9. Former Newsping Pastor Perry Noble Incorporates Second Change Church (2017)
8. American College of Pediatricians v. American Academy of Pediatrics: Who Leads and Who Follows? (2011)
7. After the Demise of Mars Hill Church Mark Driscoll Landed on His Feet with Over One Million in Donations (2017)
6. IRS and Postal Service Agents on Scene at Benny Hinn’s Office (2017)
5. Mark Driscoll Spins the End of Mars Hill Church (2017)
4. A Major Study of Child Abuse and Homosexuality Revisited (2009)
3. Former CFO at Turning Point Claims David Jeremiah Used Questionable Methods to Secure a Spot on Best Seller Lists (2015)
2. What’s Going on at Harvest Bible Fellowship? James MacDonald Resigns as President of HBF (2017)
and the #1 post is:

  1. Open Letter to Gateway Pastor Robert Morris from a Former Member of Mars Hill Church (2014)

 
Some past posts have aged well. The 2009 post regarding child abuse and non-heterosexuality has been in the top ten nearly every year since 2009.counseling image 2 Readers continue to be interested in Mars Hill Church and various players surrounding the demise of that church.
Although the page views don’t show it, the story that continues to be covered here and almost nowhere else is the Gospel for Asia saga. The target of federal scrutiny and two RICO lawsuits in the U.S., GFA has also initiated and been involved in various legal actions in India. Although the scope of the GFA empire dwarfs other organizations I have examined, it continues to fly along under the radar.
For a profile of my work and the role blogging has played in it, see this lengthy article by Jon Ward in Yahoo News earlier this month.

To follow the blog on social media, check out and like

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To like the Facebook page dedicated to the book Getting Jefferson Right, click here.
The learn more about the sexual identity therapy framework, go here.

After the Demise of Mars Hill Church, Mark Driscoll Landed on His Feet with Over One Million in Donations

Screen capture from Mars Hill Church video, 2014
Screen capture from Mars Hill Church video, 2014

If her article at the Washington Post today is any indication, columnist Kirsten Powers is more than a little peeved at my blog host Patheos for taking in Pastor Mark Driscoll as a blogger. In the piece, Powers smartly summarized Driscoll’s history of misogynous utterances and then opined:

Any outlet that promotes him as a respectable teacher is as complicit in our culture’s misogyny as other abusers’ enablers.
But what do I know? I’m just a woman.

As her article shows, Powers knows a lot. But she might not know how much cash one can pull in even with a reputation as a purveyor of toxic masculinity. Stay with me, I am about to show you.

Mark Driscoll Ministries

According to the 2014 and 2015 IRS 990 forms required to be filed by nonprofit organizations, Mark Driscoll Ministries pulled in $1,132,009 from November 2014 to December 2016 (figure comes from adding all donations and speaking fees).
MDM 2015 front page 990
Of course, it takes money to run a “ministries” (why is one guy’s ministry called ministries?) so he didn’t get all of that million, but most of the donations went to his compensation, moving expenses, and housing allowance. His new church got $25,000. I wonder how many donors thought they were helping to plant that church with their donations.
Former Mars Hill Church members: you might be interested to know that much of current content of Mark Driscoll Ministries website was paid for by your charitable giving. Just recently on the Patheos blog, his posts have been recycled from his books and the Resurgence website. Mars Hill fundsMDM patheos disclaimer paid Docent Research Group and a team of people at Mars Hill to provide the research for the content of the books. These materials have been recycled and keep on giving Driscoll returns on your investment.
So don’t worry about Driscoll. After he resigned from Mars Hill Church rather than comply with his elders’ recommendations in October 2014, his brand seems to have recovered well. Now all he has to worry about is people who remember things and write about them in the Washington Post and of all places Patheos.

A Citation Error by Fellow Blogger Mark Driscoll Is a Blast from the Past

Screen capture from Mars Hill Church video, 2014
Screen capture from Mars Hill Church video, 2014

After reading the most recent post by my Fellow Patheos Blogger Pastor Mark Driscoll™ last night, a frequent reader of my blog informed me that the new post recycles lots of material from Driscoll’s book on doctrine. Indeed, there are several paragraphs in his Patheos post on evil in Las Vegas which first appeared in his book with Gerry Breshears titled Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe.  For instance, Driscoll wrote in his post:

The Bible uses a constellation of images to explain sin as everything from rebellion to folly, self-abuse, madness, treason, death, hatred, spiritual adultery, missing the mark, wandering from the path, idolatry, insanity, irrationality, pride, selfishness, blindness, deafness, a hard heart, a stiff neck, delusion, unreasonableness, and self-worship. Sin and evil are not rational or reasonable.

In his Doctrine book, he introduces a section on sin with the same paragraph:
Driscoll Doctrine Sin

To Recycle or Not?

Recycling previously published material without citation is somewhat controversial in the world of writers. Journalist Jonah Lehrer had his career sidetracked over it. I discovered lots of it in Fellow Patheos Blogger Mark Driscoll’s™ books. However, in this case, I doubt many people will care that he is recycling previously published material at his new blog.
On the other hand, his co-author might care. Unless Gerry Breshears was not really very involved or just lent his name, the material claimed now by Driscoll might have been written by Breshears. Having a co-author is one reason why authors should cite the original source for recycled material.

Deja Vu All Over Again*

However, the same reader alerted me to something else I hadn’t seen before. It appears I found another “citation error” (some would call it plagiarism) in Doctrine (see this image for other such citation errors). On pages 149-150 of the 2010 book (see the page image here), Driscoll and Breshears wrote:

To help you understand sin, in general, and your sin, in particular, we will examine eight aspects of sin that the Old Testament teaches us.
1) Sin in the Old Testament is first a relational breach. This is painfully clear in Genesis 2–3 where, because of their sin, our first parents are separated from God and one another; they hide from God and one another, fear God, blame one another, and seek to cover their sin and shame while living their life apart from God.
2) Sin in the Old Testament is a social matter because shalom has been vandalized. This is evidenced by the litany of murder, perversion, drunkenness, the continual evil that precipitated the flood, and human attempts at an Edenic-like society without any regard for God that spring forth in Genesis 4–11.
3) Sin in the Old Testament is a covenantal rebellion against God and his authority. This is witnessed perhaps most clearly in Exodus 32 to 34, where following God’s liberation of his people, they dishonor, disregard, and disobey him by worshiping idols while God is giving them the Ten Commandments through their leader Moses.
4) Sin in the Old Testament is a legal transgression that results in guilt that necessitates punishment. One clear example is found in Deuteronomy 32, where in worshipful song Moses recollects some of the most treasonous behavior of God’s people and the price that had to be paid for justice to be maintained.
5) Sin in the Old Testament results in ritual uncleanness, pollution, and filth, marked by the use of words such as “filth,” “defiled,” “unclean,” and “whore.”18 Importantly, this defilement happens both to sinners and victims; we defile ourselves by our own sin and are defiled by others when they sin against us.
6) Sin in the Old Testament includes emotional pain such as shame and disgrace.19 This is first seen in Genesis 3, where our first parents sin and then hide in shame and disgrace, whereas prior to their sin they “were not ashamed.”20
7) Sin in the Old Testament is spoken of in historical terms as an accumulating burden whereby sin is piled up from one generation to the next.21 In this way, sin only worsens over time as people invent new ways to do evil more effectively.
8) Sin in the Old Testament is spoken of with the finality of death.22 Sin is deadly, and ends only in death. This is because when we sin and prefer created things to our creator God, we stop ruling over creation and are ruled by it so that in the end we lose and the dust wins.23
(The footnotes go to Bible verses not human authors as you can see in the page image)

Now read the same eight aspects written by Christopher Wright in a 2008 book about the atonement (Scroll down to Chapter Four “Atonement in the Old Testament” and read the first four pages of that chapter – See the page images for the relevant parts of Wright’s chapter here as well: one, two)

The eight aspects of sin described by Wright ended up in Driscoll’s book without citation. The explanations were gently reworded but reflect the same classification and meaning as Wright’s two years earlier. Some of the same key words, phrases, and Bible passages also remain used as Wright did, e.g., Adam and Eve, shalom, Exodus 32-34, shame and disgrace, accumulating burden, etc.  (See also this side by side comparison.)
It was as if I was transported back to 2014.
 
*”Deja vu all over again” is often attributed to Yogi Berra.
 

Reflections on TGC's Life After Mars Hill Church

DriscollBuildingToday, Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra posted a reflection on Mars Hill Church two years later. I started twice to write an article like this but didn’t get an answer back from some of those former pastors Zylstra quoted. I must still be associated with the opposition.
Overall, I think Zylstra did a fine job of weaving together a recognizable picture of Mars Hill Church. However, I don’t think this is the last word on the subject. Several more of these kind of articles will need to be written. Probably the whole situation requires a book.
For now, I will add some comments to aspects of the article. I’ll quote Zylstra and then comment.

Slow Train Coming

Then, in a few breathtaking months, the whole thing collapsed. Founder and lead pastor Mark Driscoll’s bent toward the provocative, which was part of his draw, increasingly came under fire, fanned by a series of controversies.

The collapse was a slow motion ride of over a year. There were multiple controversies and turning points but much of what became controversial was the exposure of a pattern of leadership which had taken place over many years. In the last year, many on the inside decided they had tried everything an insider could do. Those people started to talk, organize, and give witness to what they had experienced.

PDCSD – Post Dysfunctional Church Stress Disorder

The collapse of Mars Hill released a tidal wave of hurt, disillusioned people. Many quit Mars Hill; some quit church or Christianity altogether. Hundreds limped into other area churches, asking about church bylaws and pastoral pay structures before even introducing themselves.

A valuable aspect of this article is the documentation of troubled ex-Mars Hill people careening into new churches with church related PTSD.  The church’s structure wasn’t the reason for the problems at Mars Hill but in the last days, the drama was played out on the stage Mark Driscoll and his oversight board had created. No wonder ex-members were wary of how other churches do things.

Your Pastor is Not Your Father

“The biggest fear was that I was going to walk away,” he said. “The thing that hurt the most, that they couldn’t believe, was that Mark would leave them. The feeling that they lost their pastor was a hard blow.”
That’s because “Mark called us his kids,” said Huck, for whom Driscoll was a father figure. “He up and left his kids. That’s the hard part we’re still dealing with. I don’t need a public apology, but it would be nice to be acknowledged. It’s like your dad left and started a new family, and you’re here with your brothers and sisters. And you’re just confused.”

In one of my early interviews on Mars Hill Church, a former leader told me, “Mark recruited all these guys with daddy issues.” While there was much more to the demise of MHC, a fantasy about the role of pastor was a key feature. Driscoll cultivated a paternalistic stance with the congregation. At least some of those people longed for what they imagined a father figure would be, and Driscoll delivered. Even when Driscoll was harsh and outrageous, many excused the actions as a sign of paternal boldness. After all, “father knows best.”
Hopefully, the MHC affair will disabuse Christians of the wish for the pastor-father. Your pastor is not your dad. He or she is a person who can play the role of a shepherd regarding matters of faith but beware of the pastor who wants to be your father.

The Fall Out

No one took a survey, but by most estimates, about half of the former Mars Hill congregants stayed with their campus. Of those who left, most seem to have landed in different area churches. (Two were planted from the Bellevue exodus.)

I think instead of guessing, it would be valuable to do a survey. I doubt that most have landed in area churches. No doubt some have, but I don’t assume that most people have moved on and are still in church.

Well Taught or Well Conditioned?

But even though they’re wounded and unsettled, the Mars Hill diaspora has one enormous advantage: They’ve been well taught.

I hope that’s true but there are many ex-members who I am pretty sure will dispute this.

Mars Hill Church Was Where Jesus Hung Out

One unintentional and subtle message of Mars Hill was, “If you want to be part of what Jesus is doing in our city, then you should be here,” Sinnett said. “When we got out of that ethos and into the church-planting realm, I was blown away by the million things Jesus was doing in the city which were unnamed and unbranded but just as spectacular.”

No, I think this message was intentional and obvious. Perhaps Zylstra was being kind, but a consistent theme I heard from former Mars Hill leaders was that MHC was the best church, really the only church where it was all being done correctly.

We’re Sorry Now

“To a man, every one of them has struggled with what role of complicity they’ve had in the whole thing,” Fairchild said. “That has been very good for us. I have learned the difference between intent and impact—you can have good intentions, but that doesn’t always translate into helpful, gracious impact.”
The elders from Bellevue and Sammamish “truly repented of their participation in any of the sin,” Vanderstelt said. “There was a deep godly sorrow, a genuine repentance, a real desire to walk out the fruit of repentance.”

Apparently, the Mars Hill financial distributions are over.
What is missing in this article is the testimonies of all of the healing that Mark Driscoll has said has taken place. Phoenix is happening but it seems obvious that Seattle still has issues.
 
For much more on Mars Hill Church, see this link.

Former Mars Hill Church Elder Disputes Mark Driscoll's Account of Church Demise

Mark Driscoll 2016
Mark Driscoll 2016

On April 6, Mars Hill Church founder Mark Driscoll claimed to Randy Robison and Sheila Walsh on the Life Today TV show that he left Mars Hill Church over a “governance” conflict which lasted eight years. At the time, I surveyed former Mars Hill Church elders and not one of them remembered it that way. Now another Mars Hill elder has spoken out in response to Driscoll’s claim. Yesterday, former elder Mike Wilkerson said on Matt Carter’s podcast, Break it Down, that the reason Mars Hill ended was not governance but Driscoll’s coercive and abusive style of leadership.
The video of Driscoll’s appearance on Life Today has been removed from the program’s website but the transcript is still available. Here is what Driscoll told Walsh and Robison about the end of Mars Hill Church.

Mark: At 22 we graduated; 25 we started a Bible study trying to reach primarily young 2 college-educated singles in what was at the time among the nation’s least churched cities. In the early years we were broke and we didn’t have kids and I was working a job and didn’t think it would amount to anything. Eventually, in God’s grace, God did some remarkable things through some wonderful people. We saw about 10,000 people baptized. We saw the church grow to 15,000 on a typical Sunday. We saw 15 locations in five states, just kind of superseded all expectations.
Randy: And this is the Pacific Northwest, this is not the Bible belt.
Mark: No. This is urban, single, young adults, all kinds of sexual issues, confusion, abuse, baggage and carry-ons — so lots of stuff going on. We had a governance war at the church that went eight years behind the scenes over who is in charge and how things play out. At the end we had 67 elders in 15 locations in five states, a large percentage of whom I had never met. They wanted to have independent local churches and we were one large church in many locations. So there was an eight-year battle that finally went public the last year and it was very painful for everyone involved, especially the wonderful, dear, generous, amazing people that served and gave and made it all happen.
So the governing board in authority over me invited us to continue and we prayed about it and talked about it as a family and felt like we heard from the Lord and I resigned. And left without — didn’t have an opportunity to say good-bye to the people so I want to let them know how much I love them and appreciate them and wish I would have had that opportunity. We took some time off just to heal up. I signed a non-disclosure agreement so you’re not going to talk about it, which was fair and reasonable and I agree with. And just decided to spend time as a family to heal up, to meet with wise counsel, to learn what we could learn and to see what the Lord had for the next season of our life.

Now go here and listen at 32:31 into the podcast to Carter ask Wilkerson if Driscoll’s recent statements on Life Today were accurate. The following is a transcript from 32:31 to 34:02.

Carter: A couple things, so the way that you’re describing that is, I’ll at least bring up and say that it seems to me to be at odds with what I saw Mark say on TV recently which was, which really tripped me out when he said it, yeah, there was problems there but it was an eight year governance war behind the, power struggle behind the scenes and it didn’t work out right and so God told me to leave. When he said it on there, I was like, hm, maybe I’m crazy and that’s what happened but I felt so weird like maybe I’m the crazy one because it sounded believable what he said the way he said it, but I think he, if I’m not right correct me on this, some of the stuff that you’re already discussing and whatever that is that he’s describing would largely involve you and other people.
Wilkerson: Presumably
Carter: How does that strike you when you hear him say that?
Wilkerson: What strikes me is that’s not true, but…
Carter: Do you think he thinks that’s true?
Wilkerson: I don’t know. I mean I don’t know. What I can tell you that I know is there I was in 2013, early 2013 dealing with these highly escalated issues and they had to do with the bullying, kind of domineering, that kind of stuff. There was no context about governance in that.

Then Wilkerson said he continued to hear stories of domineering and bullying behavior even after he resigned. About the reasons for Driscoll’s and the church’s demise, Wilkerson said clearly, “None of it was about governance, none, none of it was about governance. It was about the issues he was eventually charged with.”
To read those formal charges, click here. As you will see, none of the issues related to governance, eight years in duration or otherwise.
In the coming days, other Mars Hill Church elders may speak out.

From the Archives: Mars Hill Church Elders Post Letter of Confession to Bent Meyer and Paul Petry

Screen capture from Mars Hill Church video, 2014
Screen capture from Mars Hill Church video, 2014

Recently, current pastor of The Trinity Church in Phoenix and former pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle Mark Driscoll told Sheila Walsh and Randy Robison that Mars Hill Church ended due to a church governance dispute which lasted eight years. Driscoll added:

We had a governance war at the church that went eight years behind the scenes over who is in charge and how things play out. At the end we had 67 elders in 15 locations in five states, a large percentage of whom I had never met. They wanted to have independent local churches and we were one large church in many locations. So there was an eight-year battle that finally went public the last year and it was very painful for everyone involved, especially the wonderful, dear, generous, amazing people that served and gave and made it all happen.

I have spoken to a dozen former Mars Hill Church elders and no one remembers it that way.
The eight year period must refer to the time when Bent Meyer and Paul Petry were removed from eldership because they questioned the changes which were eventually enacted at Mars Hill. After those men were publicly shamed and removed, others did not dare vote against the changes. There was no eight year dispute. The governance changes were made.
A remarkable letter written in 2014 provides a counter point to Driscoll’s account. As is clear from the letter, the elders other than Meyer and Petry feared being treated in a similar manner and fell in line. While those who left the church kept hoping for change at Mars Hill, those who stayed got with the program.
As Mars Hill Church was unraveling, a group of men who were elders at the time Meyer and Petry were fired got together to write a letter of confession to Meyer and Petry. Now seems like a good time to remember what they had to say.
The letter was originally posted at the Repentant Pastor website which is no longer working. I found the letter archived via the Wayback Machine and is reproduced in full here.

Letter of Confession to Bent Meyer and Paul Petry
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Dear Paul and Bent, we want to publicly confess our sin against you regarding events that took place at Mars Hill Church back in 2007. We were wrong. We harmed you. You have lived with the pain of that for many years. As some of us have come to each of you privately, you have extended grace and forgiveness, and for that we thank you. Because our sin against you happened in a public way and with public consequences, we want to make our confession public as well with this letter.
On September 30th 2007, you were both terminated from your employment as pastors at Mars Hill Church. Your status as elders of the church was suspended, according to the church’s bylaws at the time, pending an investigation of your qualification for eldership. It’s hard to imagine just how disorienting and painful this experience must have been for you. That night, Bent, you called Mike Wilkerson, your direct supervisor, to let him know that you’d been terminated. Within hours, Paul, you emailed all of the elders to notify us of what had happened to you that night. We had the opportunity and the responsibility to intervene, to care, to listen to you, and to make sure that any harmful treatment against you was corrected. Instead, we allowed the process of your investigation and trial to continue unimpeded and we participated in it. By failing to intervene and by participating in that process without protest, we implied to the members of Mars Hill Church, to each other, and to you and your families that your termination was above reproach. We stood by as it happened, and that was wrong.
We now believe that you were grievously sinned against in that termination. We believe that the termination meeting’s content and tone was abrupt, one sided, and threatening. Hearing each of you recount your experiences of this meeting is shocking and sad. By failing to intervene, we enabled a growing trend of misuses and abuses of power and authority that would be feared and tolerated by the rest of the churchs eldership. We now understand that these sorts of overpowering actions against elders were some of the very concerns that you had each expressed regarding some of the pending proposed changes to the bylaws. It is tragic that you were proved right by your own experiences. The harm permitted by our failure to protect you has had a devastating and lasting impact on you, your families, Mars Hill Church, and the watching world.
Paul, On October 15, 2007, all twenty-three elders at the time—including most of us signers of this letter—voted that you were in violation of the biblical qualifications of eldership. The alleged violations included a “lack of trust and respect for spiritual authority”. All but two of the elders then voted to remove you from eldership based on these perceived violations.
We now believe our decisions were invalid and wrong. The entire investigation and trial process was skewed by the implication that your termination was above reproach and for just cause. If there had been sin in your life that might have warranted a warning about possible disqualification from eldership, we should have patiently, carefully, and directly addressed it with you before the matter became so extremely escalated. By reporting our wrongheaded assessment to the church, we put doubt about your character in the minds of church members, though you had done nothing to warrant such embarrassment and scrutiny. By doing this, we misled the whole church, harmed your reputation, and damaged the unity of the body of Christ.
Bent, On October 29, 2007, all twenty-three elders at the time—including most of us signers of this letter—agreed that you were guilty of “displaying an unhealthy lack of trust in, and respect for, the senior leadership of Mars Hill Church”. We also unanimously approved that, based on your repentance, you would remain an elder of the church on probation.
Bent, we were wrong to have called you guilty of lacking trust and respect for the senior leadership of the church when you had good reasons for challenging the church’s senior leadership. We were wrong to have insisted that you repent of this lacking trust as a condition of your continued eldership, because it was not sinful on your part in the first place.
Bent and Paul, you each had every right as an elder to openly express your strong concerns about the bylaws and to influence our thinking so that we might have made the most informed decision possible. You also had good reason to contact the church’s attorney about those bylaws. These were not sinful acts of mistrust on your part, but reasonable acts of due diligence. We needed to learn from you at that time and we should have trusted you and respected your spiritual authority as elders of the church to educate us about potential problems with those bylaws. Instead, we silenced your voices through our complicity in your terminations and our decisions to remove Paul as an elder and keep Bent on probation instead of examining the issues more closely.
Paul, On December 5th, 2007 those of us who were elders at the time voted to instruct the members of Mars Hill Church to treat you as an unrepentant believer under church discipline after you had resigned your membership from the church. This treatment was to have included “rejection and disassociation” in the hope that you would “come to an acknowledgment of [your] sin and repent.” This instruction was given with the weight of all twenty-seven elders at the time. This disciplinary rejection led to great loss to your family in extreme financial hardship, sudden loss of long standing friendships, spiritual and emotional trauma to your family, and the public shaming of your character. We share responsibility for those losses due to our participation in the vote.
A church disciplinary act of this magnitude is extreme. It’s perhaps the most powerful that can be enacted upon a pastor. We now think that motion was hasty and harmful. We should have challenged the motion rather than approving it. Instead, we used our voting power as elders in a way that resulted in further harm to you. Further, we brought disrepute on the Church and its responsibility to exercise church discipline in a godly, loving and redemptive way. We failed to love you as a fellow elder and brother in Christ.
Confessing our sins against you has been a process that has taken us some time. We have engaged in self-examination, challenged our memories of what happened by reviewing the documents and interviewing one another, and spent time listening to you and your wives tell your heartbreaking stories. Many of us have met personally with each of you over the years to confess our sin and to seek forgiveness for our sinful actions and inaction. We don’t intend to convey by this letter that we are the only elders or former elders who’ve come to similar conclusions, and we hope that in time, the others will join us in public confession. Our desire is to clear the reproach from your names.
We hope that our confession also brings healing to the many past and present members of Mars Hill Church whose hearts were broken for you and your families as a result of our sin. As part of our commitment to walk in repentance, we invite anyone who has been impacted by our sins against you to contact any of us so we can continue to walk in repentance by listening, confessing, and asking for forgiveness.
Paul and Bent, we are sorry for our sinful behavior toward you, for harming you, and for bringing shame to Christ’s church. We hope that you will forgive us. May the peace and grace of our Lord heal our hearts.
Signed,
Mars Hill Elders as of October, 2007
—Scott Thomas
—Dave Kraft
—Gary Shavey
—Steve Tompkins
—Brad House
—Phil Smidt
—Mike Wilkerson
—James Harleman
—Lief Moi
—Adam Sinnett
—Jesse Winkler
—Zack Hubert
—Tim Reber
—James Dahlman
—Dick McKinley
Additional Mars Hill Elders as of December 5th, 2007
—Jon Krombein
—Matt Johnson
—Joe Day

 

Mark Driscoll's Recycling Ministry

This came in the mail:
Driscoll Set Free Book
This is a recycled version of the Set Free to Live Free Campaign financed by Mars Hill Church in 2013. Naturally, Driscoll kept his intellectual property but apparently he got all of the other materials produced by the church (study guide written by church staff) and purchased by the church from Docent Research (the 75,000 word academic research brief) as well. Note that the beneficiary of these donations is Mark Driscoll Ministries and not The Trinity Church.
Hey, recycling does lead to more green.

For Those Interested in Mars Hill Church History, Wenatchee the Hatchet Has Organized Some Links. A Former Elder's Wife Speaks Out

marshilleverettaskfundsFor Mars Hill history buffs, Wenatchee the Hatchet has done a service for you. Go check out his post with links tagged and organized topically.
Also, wife of a former elder Jen Smidt has spoken out about her experiences at Mars Hill. According to Jen, she once said something Sutton Turner didn’t like and the next day Turner rebuked her husband for it.
WtH has a lengthy account and analysis which I won’t try to compete with.
It occurred to me recently that a final accounting of Mars Hill was never made public. I assume the assets were sold and divided up between the legacy churches but no final reporting ever became public. Secrecy persisted until the end.
For all of my posts on Mars Hill Church and The Trinity Church see below:
Mars Hill Church
The Trinity Church (the post-Mars Hill church Mark Driscoll started in Phoenix)