Mark Driscoll: I Made The Mistake Of Trying To Be Under the Authority Of My Elders

In this video, Mark and Grace Driscoll acknowledge they made mistakes in ministry. What were those mistakes?
At 5:23 into the video, Driscoll makes revealing statements about his views of his elders. These opinions give insight into the changes in governance at Mars Hill since 2007. Watch and take note between 5:23 and  7:00 minutes.
[youtube]http://youtu.be/U9vbaq5cO20[/youtube]
Starting at around 5:37, Driscoll said:

…but I knew as a big personality and pretty intense so I wanted to be under authority, but I made a mistake of, how do I say this carefully; trying to be under the authority of my elders, but the truth is all my elders were new and young and green, and they would want to help, but they really didn’t know what they were talking about. And so what I should’ve had was a team of pastors outside of the church who were older and more seasoned who could, you know, help Grace and I put life together and also give me counsel on how to work on the church with the elders I had early on. They could work in the church but they couldn’t work on the church.

Shorter Mark Driscoll on why he made mistakes: Lord, its these elders you gave me.
Driscoll goes on to say that church planters shouldn’t believe that accountability will come from their first elder board. He wished he had older, seasoned pastors to guide him because sometimes the problems they needed to talk about were the elders. In jest, Driscoll said, “Ok, guys I want to talk about this hypothetical person I wanna kill” referring to his unnamed problematic elders.
Elsewhere Driscoll has said that Mars Hill Church was killing him due to stress. He claimed he had to make changes in governance in order to save his life and his marriage. Here we learn that Driscoll did not trust (agree with?) his elders and believed that being under their authority was a mistake. Since his elders were wrong and frustrating, he needed to go outside the church to find wiser people.
In light of these statements, the rationale behind the formation of the Board of Advisors and Accountability becomes clearer. However, there seems to be two messages here. The explicit message is that his elders were inexperienced and although they meant well, they were wrong about important matters. The other more subtle message is that his elders frustrated him because he was correct and they were wrong. They disagreed with Driscoll and so they became the problem. What Driscoll needed were outside people who knew what they were talking about. All of this assumes that Driscoll, himself young and green, knew what he was talking about.
In hindsight, Driscoll’s solution to his young and green elders has not worked out well. The Board of Advisors and Accountability now appears to be ineffective in keeping Driscoll and the church advised and accountable. However, one reason the BOAA may have faltered is due to the unwillingness of Driscoll and his colleagues to follow through on the purpose of the BOAA. According to former BOAA member Paul Tripp, the BOAA is incapable of being effective, saying

But it became clear to me that a distant, external accountability board can never work well because it isn’t a firsthand witness to the ongoing life and ministry of the church.

Such a board at best can provide financial accountability, but it will find it very difficult to provide the kind of hands-on spiritual direction and protection that every Christian pastor needs. Unwittingly what happens is that the external accountability board becomes an inadequate replacement for a biblically functioning internal elder board that is the way God designed his church to be lead and pastors to be guided and protected.

Everyone makes mistakes, but sometimes we are mistaken about what we call mistakes. Driscoll’s assessment of the situation is debatable. Did he make a mistake by throwing off the authority of his elder board and bringing outsiders in?  One interpretation of the current situation at Mars Hill is that the cure has been worse than the disease. In hindsight, perhaps Driscoll misdiagnosed the disease. He thought the problem was the elders; another possibility is that he, also young and green, should have listened to his elders board.

Additional Information:

In light of this post, Wenatchee the Hatchet reviewed the video and provides much evidence that calls Driscoll’s narrative into question. WtH brings back other sermons where Driscoll described himself as being under the authority of elders in the early days. Watch the video again and then read WtH’s post; hard to bring the two together.

For more on the changes at Mars Hill which reverberate to the present, see this post.

Has Mark Driscoll's Verdict Already Been Decided?

A key to broad acceptance of whatever decision is made regarding charges against Mark Driscoll by the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability is the perception that the BOAA is objective. In light of remarks by BOAA chair Matt Rogers and reported in the Seattle Times yesterday, some former Mars Hill leaders are questioning the BOAA’s objectivity. Rogers told the Seattle Times:

“The hard part is that some of what’s out there is true, and he’s owned it and apologized for it and is trying to correct it, and some is not,” said Mars Hill Pastor Matt Rogers, who chairs the church accountability board examining accusations against their leader.

“If someone went through and dragged out every example of where I’d been short with my wife, or rude to a co-worker or done something stupid, and trickled that out week after week after week for months, you would have no respect for me, either.”

According to the most recent reports from former pastors close to the situation, the investigation is only at the very beginning stages with some interviews scheduled but few, if any, conducted as yet. In other words, the jury should be out. However, Rogers appears to have his mind made up about the nature and accuracy of the charges.

There is at least one more reason to raise questions about conflict of interest. According to former elders and unknown to many in the pews, Rogers was almost tapped during the summer to be lead pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue. Lead pastor Thomas Hurst announced a sabbatical in June but according to reliable sources had planned to resign. Rogers was slated to move into the role of lead pastor to take Hurst’s place.  During Hurst’s absence, Rogers led the services over the summer and attended the lead pastors’s July retreat in CA. In addition to other communications to the Bellevue campus, Rogers wrote a response to the demonstration which occurred on August 3.

Rogers’ response to the demonstration is noteworthy. According to witnesses at Bellevue, Rogers was not at Bellevue the Sunday of the protest. However, he wrote the rebuttal as if he had been present, alleging that the demonstrators left trash behind. At the time, I asked Rogers and Mars Hill Church if he was present at Bellevue but received no reply. On the substance of the matter, Rogers took the role of an advocate for the executive elders:

From Pastor Matt Rogers:

This past Sunday outside our building about 60 professing Christians led a protest, left a bit of trash, and slandered good men. Inside the building our church family worshipped Jesus. Let that image be what defines us. Others will cast aspersions, but we will worship Jesus.

Instead of openness to the concerns of the demonstrators (many of which are the same as in the charges filed by the 21 ex-pastors), Rogers said “good men” were “slandered” and accused the demonstrators of casting “aspersions.”

Then after attacking the demonstrators, Rogers wrote:

We cannot let fear rule our church. We must choose love. Choosing fear would lead us to attack those who are attacking us. Instead we will choose to love them by praying for them. Choosing fear will drive us to anger and bitterness which will spill out in how we talk about them, engage with them and eventually even with each other. Choosing love will be our witness to all the outsiders watching us right now that we forgive just as God in Christ forgave us. By refusing to give into fear we will commend Christ to our city.

Choosing fear shapes how we interact with each other as well. Choosing fear leads to second guessing and distrusting the statements of our leaders. Choosing fear leads to not standing up for the truth and the honor of good men because of what might come our way. Choosing love will enable us to show grace toward one another, to trust the Spirit at work in one another, and encourage each other to do the same.

Rogers message to his flock was to trust the leaders. He added that the congregation should stand “up for the truth and honor” of the leaders.  Rogers ends by providing his assessment of the charges against the executive elders:

As elders we should have done more to communicate with you. By not saying more clearly that much of what you read online is slander, half-truths and gossip we left you in a place of wondering what is true. When this recent storm began a few months ago I looked into all of it because I had a responsibility to as an elder. What I have consistently seen is a pattern of repentance when sin was present, growth when errors were made, and patience when the accusations were false.
Let me say very clearly that Pastor Mark, Pastor Dave and Pastor Sutton are honorable and trustworthy men. I count it a privilege to serve with them not because I have anything to gain, simply because it is true.

According to Rogers, he has already looked into the situation and made up his mind that nothing has happened which would disqualify the executive elders. Without being specific, Rogers says some of the charges are false, and some are slander, half-truths and gossip.

Although Hurst declared his resignation again during the most recent full council of elders retreat, he has remained on while Rogers was appointed to the BOAA. Recall that the BOAA consists of the executive elders and at the time two independent members, Michael Van Skaik and Larry Osborne. At the time of the appointment, I pointed out that Rogers was already serving in a volunteer elder role at Mars Hill and may not fully meet the criteria for independence.

I asked former pastors and leaders for their reactions to Matt Rogers’ comments and I received three replies. Some declined to comment on the record but expressed concerns about the objectivity of the process. Former deacon Rob Smith told me:

There are two reasons that demonstrate that Matt Rogers should not be on the jury that decides Mark Driscoll’s fate. First, he has already cast his judgment before looking at the evidence in his comments both to the Seattle Times, where he has stated that what is true “out there” has been owned and apologized for by Mark Driscoll already and trying to correct, and the rest is not true, and second, he accused the people who protested at his campus of littering and slander despite not being there. He is clearly biased.

Dalton Rorabeck, former community group coach at Mars Hill reacted to Rogers’ words, saying

This statement alone should disqualify Matt Rogers from heading up the BOAA.  He has already claimed that the charges/false accusations are not true and that Mark, Dave, and Sutton are trustworthy men. It won’t matter in the end though.  I pity these men who are more interested in protecting their jobs, their friends, their paychecks, and their legacy’s rather than stand up for the Gospel and for truth.

Former Mars Hill Orange County executive pastor Kyle Firstenberg told me:

It is discouraging that once again, Mars Hill has placed a leader in a position to investigate Mark Driscoll who minimizes his sin. Matt Rogers gave the example that if someone were to talk about him being short with his wife or rude to a co-worker that people would have no respect for him also. That may be true, however we are not talking about that level of sin. We are talking about elder disqualifying sin, and not just one incident, many over several years. He also stated that Mark has owned his sin and has apologized for it. I would be very interested in how he has owned it! It seems to me that you would need to have conversations with some of the people you have sinned against in order to own it.

To summarize, Mr. Rogers joins a panel where two members of the BOAA dismissed prior charges without interviewing anyone (2013, Michael Van Skaik, Larry Osborne), and one member is the largest donor to the church in Mars Hill’s history (Jon Phelps). As I have written before, I like Mr. Driscoll’s chances with this BOAA.

UPDATE (9/16): Although the information about Bellevue lead pastor Thomas Hurst is not central to this post, I want to include a comment he made about it on Mars Hill’s chat site known as The City.

From Pastor Thomas Hurst:

Bellevue Family,

A couple hours ago I received an email making me aware of a blog that was posted today quoting a “former” elder who thought it was important to share how I intended to resign from my position at Mars Hill Bellevue. The former elder spoke of two different instances where I was going, or did, resign. I’m saddened that someone I know deemed this helpful for all of you to know – not because I wanted to hide anything, but because none of you need any more confusion in your life. I don’t understand why making this known was in anyway helpful to the critical situation and conversation at hand apart from bringing even more confusion and chaos into the confusion and chaos that already exists.

I do want to address this with everyone so you can know from me what was happening in my heart and mind with regards to my considering resignation, my resigning, and why I’m still here…but before I can share all this I get to be a daddy to my three boys and put them all to bed. I will post another letter later to all of you tonight.

I love you and please don’t allow your own hearts and minds to leap to any conclusions on this topic until I’ve had a chance to share it directly with you.

Pastor Thomas

If I get any more information on this I will pass it along. I will provide all sides to the issues raised here.

Mars Hill Church updates members on Paul Tripp and new additions to Board of Advisors and Accountability

Mars Hill Church posted an update on replacements for the BOAA. As I reported earlier, Matt Rogers is joining the board. In addition Jon Phelps will join the board. I will have more to say about the addition of Mr. Phelps later. In addition, the church was provided the Mars Hill take on Paul Tripps comments.

Update on Paul Tripp & The BOAA

As we have shared before, Paul Tripp recently resigned his membership from our Board of Advisors and Accountability. To the best of our knowledge at the time, this was due to his intent in helping Mars Hill as a paid consultant.

Paul later released a statement, adding additional comments that he did not believe the structure of the Board that he joined was healthy, and that we should add accountability from local members of the church. Paul’s concerns were not made known to the Board as a whole before he resigned; however, we agree there is wisdom in adding local members to this board and we were already in the process of doing just that.

We have now become aware of new comments and concerns that Paul Tripp has voiced about Pastor Mark and Pastor Sutton within the last week to a small group of current elders at Mars Hill. These elders then posted these comments as a letter in an unsecure place, and the letter has since been posted online by various critics and media sources.

Paul Tripp’s comments to our elders were never made directly to the Board of Advisors and Accountability, as we have minutes of these meetings. We are deeply disappointed that Paul did not bring these concerns to our full Board or to the Executive Elders directly.

The concerns brought forth by these elders and the comments from Paul Tripp have been heard and are being taken seriously. Their letter, as with past letters voicing accusations toward Pastor Mark, will be processed in accordance with our bylaws. This means the accusations will be thoroughly examined and a report issued when the review is complete.

As for the Board of Advisors and Accountability we are pleased to announce that the vacancies created on the Board were filled with local members of our church who meet the ECFA guidelines for independence. Pastor Matt Rogers is a local Seattle business leader and has been serving as a volunteer elder at Mars Hill Church Bellevue. He will also serve as the Chairman of the Board of Elders which will provide increased accountability in areas of financial responsibility, staff and elder transitions and church culture. The other vacancy on the BOAA has been filled by John Phelps. John is a successful businessman and longtime member of Mars Hill. We are excited for these men to provide local perspective and accountability on our Board.

Phelps is well known as a longtime associate of Mark Driscoll’s and one of the more generous donors to Mars Hill. Independence in this case is a word with little meaning.

Is Matt Rogers the Newest Member of the Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability?

I have this information from a three credible sources but I am having a hard time believing it.
Sources inside Mars Hill Church tell me that it was announced in a meeting of Bellevue community group leaders that Bellevue volunteer elder Matt Rogers has been appointed to the Board of Advisors and Accountability.
If Rogers was added as an “independent member” then his name will be added to Michael Van Skaik and Larry Osborne as men who will examine the charges against Mark Driscoll. If Rogers is being added as an executive elder, then Driscoll would have had to appoint him, according to the by-laws. BOAAvacancies If Rogers is being added as an independent member of the BOAA then he should resign his current volunteer position. The by-laws are not clear but it seems that having a position subordinate to Mark Driscoll would violate the spirit of the definition of “independent.” BOAAindependent It is not clear to me that he qualifies as an independent since he is currently an unpaid elder at Bellevue where “he leads the church operations volunteer teams.” Even though he is a volunteer, he is subordinate to the two executive elders.
Rogers, who works in marketing at Microsoft, is the same man who responded by letter to the Mars Hill Bellevue campus protest. The letter was anything but neutral or objective. Furthermore, there are credible Mars Hill sources that say Rogers was not at Bellevue the morning of the protest.
It is incredible that the current BOAA would appoint a current elder to hear these charges.
Mars Hill Church was asked to confirm this claim but did not answer. I am reporting this because of the credibility of the sources, but I would not be surprised if the position is withdrawn or disavowed when it becomes widely known. According to two current elders and several former Mars Hill members, Rogers is well known as a staunch defender of the executive elders. As such, his appointment will not inspire confidence among Mars Hill Church stakeholders that the process will be objective.
As noted yesterday, the current BOAA members have already dismissed charges against Driscoll. Rogers’ appointment does nothing to promote confidence that the process will be objective and fair.

Compare Paul Tripp's Explanation For His Resignation With The One Offered By Mars Hill Church's BOAA

I first reported Paul Tripp’s resignation from the Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability on July 30.
Then, after much speculation, on August 1, the church’s weekly news email reported reasons for Tripp’s resignation:

Dr. Paul Tripp joined our Board of Advisors and Accountability in November 2013 and has been an immense help to our leaders over the past year. Dr. Tripp has extensive experience in discipleship and Biblical counseling. Earlier this month, we made the decision together to open the opportunity for him to work with greater focus on issues directly related to his expertise, namely the continued development of our community and redemption ministries.

Because simultaneously being a board member and a consultant does not allow for the required definition of “independence,” Dr. Tripp graciously submitted his resignation from the BOAA in early June, so that he can more extensively serve our church as a consultant. We are excited to continue this work with him, and are thankful for his continued support of Mars Hill Church.

Now compare this statement with Paul Tripp’s statement today:

It’s because of this love that I accepted the position on Mars Hill Church’s BoAA. But it became clear to me that a distant, external accountability board can never work well because it isn’t a firsthand witness to the ongoing life and ministry of the church.

Such a board at best can provide financial accountability, but it will find it very difficult to provide the kind of hands-on spiritual direction and protection that every Christian pastor needs. Unwittingly what happens is that the external accountability board becomes an inadequate replacement for a biblically functioning internal elder board that is the way God designed his church to be lead and pastors to be guided and protected.

So, since I knew that I could not be the kind of help that I would like to be through the vehicle of the BoAA, I resigned from that position.

I would still love to see the leadership community of Mars Hill Church become itself a culture of grace and I am still willing to help, but not through the means of a board that will never be able to do what it was designed to do.

Do they seem the same to you?

The Mars Hill BOAA makes it sound like the decision was mutual (“we made the decision together”) and that they reason for resignation was a conflict of interest. However, Tripp says the reason relates to his fundamental rejection of the “external accountability board” model. He has two objections to this model. One, it doesn’t work, and two, it isn’t compatible with Bible teaching.

Acts 29 Network also found fault with the BOAA to provide accountability:

 In response, we leaned on the Mars Hill Board of Advisors & Accountability to take the lead in dealing with this matter. But we no longer believe the BoAA is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out. Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming. 

The BOAA later reacted in defense over those charges, with chairman Michael Van Skaik saying he had not talked with anyone at the Acts 29 Network board.

Even with the public statements it does not appear that the public is getting the entire story.

Is it possible that Paul Tripp did not tell the Mars Hill Church about his real reasons for resigning? Could it be that Acts 29 did not communicate with anyone at Mars Hill? Or was the BOAA being kept in the dark by Tripp and Acts 29?

For now, it appears that there are significant discrepancies in the accounts.

Additional information: Ex-member Scott Shipp takes the comparisons back in time to December 2013.

Paul Tripp Says He Resigned from the Board of Advisors and Accountability Because the Model Doesn't Work

Former Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability member Paul Tripp broke his silence on his website by saying the following:

It’s because of this love that I accepted the position on Mars Hill Church’s BoAA. But it became clear to me that a distant, external accountability board can never work well because it isn’t a firsthand witness to the ongoing life and ministry of the church.

Such a board at best can provide financial accountability, but it will find it very difficult to provide the kind of hands-on spiritual direction and protection that every Christian pastor needs. Unwittingly what happens is that the external accountability board becomes an inadequate replacement for a biblically functioning internal elder board that is the way God designed his church to be lead and pastors to be guided and protected.

So, since I knew that I could not be the kind of help that I would like to be through the vehicle of the BoAA, I resigned from that position.

Read the entire statement on his site.

Many critics of Mars Hill Church begin with the change of by-laws in 2007 which ended the “functioning internal elder board” and replaced it with the current structure. Recently, Mark Driscoll blamed his personal health problems and his wife’s problems for the creation of those changes. Here Paul Tripp says it doesn’t work.

All posts on Mars Hill Church.

Mars Hill Church Board Reacts to Being Removed from Acts 29 Network (UPDATE)

Just a bit ago in the member’s weekly email, Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability responded to today’s news that the church had been removed from the Acts 29 Network.

Update from the Board of Advisors & Accountability

Earlier today our board chairman, as well as many of our other pastors, received a letter from Matt Chandler, the president of Acts 29. The letter notified us that the board of Acts 29 has removed Pastor Mark and Mars Hill from membership in the Acts 29 church planting network. Our board responded to the letter with the following update to our elders, and we wanted to share it with you as well.

Men,
I told the lead pastors at the recent annual retreat that we are making real progress in addressing the serious reconciliation and unhealthy culture issues that have been a part of Mars Hill Church for way too long. And we are. I also told them that more opposition would undoubtedly be coming, and it has. Friendly fire always hurts the most.
I have never in my life spoken with Matt Chandler or any of the A29 board members for that matter (except Darrin Patrick, once about 4 years ago as part of Pastor Mark’s employment review process which he used to be a part of). In addition, no one from Acts 29 contacted Larry Osborne of our board prior to this decision. And perhaps most significantly, Pastor Mark was not personally contacted by the A29 board prior to receiving this announcement.
So I am not quite sure what Matt means by “leaning on the board to take the lead in dealing with this matter.”
Be assured of this, the formal charges that were filed were serious, were taken seriously and were not dismissed by the board lightly. There is clear evidence that the attitudes and behaviors attributed to Mark in the charges are not a part and have not been a part of Mark’s life for some time now.
Our board’s decision is final regarding these charges, although will no doubt continue to be played out in the courts of public opinion. Again, I am deeply saddened that the A29 board would make such a decisive and divisive conclusion without speaking directly to the board or Mark prior to their public announcement.
My counsel to you is to not become bitter or angry. Continue to pray for all involved. Continue to love and lead the people God has brought to your churches. They need a pastor right now and God has given them you!
Michael Van Skaik
Chairman, Board of Advisors and Accountability
Larry Osborne
Board Member

The two remaining independent members of the Board of Advisors and Accountability signed this communication. For some reason, the executive elders did not sign it. They are also on the BOAA.  The other two independent members, Paul Tripp and James MacDonald recently resigned (although it is not actually clear when they resigned). Perhaps they saw this coming. Perhaps the departed BOAA members had been in communication with Acts 29; the letter above only mentions Osborne, Van Skaik and Driscoll.
There is something else puzzling to me about this letter. Note that chairman Van Skaik denies the concerns expressed by the Acts 29 board:

There is clear evidence that the attitudes and behaviors attributed to Mark in the charges are not a part and have not been a part of Mark’s life for some time now.

But in an early part of the letter, Van Skaik describes the culture at Mars Hill in negative terms.

I told the lead pastors at the recent annual retreat that we are making real progress in addressing the serious reconciliation and unhealthy culture issues that have been a part of Mars Hill Church for way too long. 

It seems like Van Skaik wants to claim that problems are being worked on but that there really aren’t any problems. The problems have been in place “for way too long” but they haven’t been a problem “for some time now.” It is hard to understand how the board can find that there is nothing to the charges when in fact they are working to correct a problem that has been in place for “too long.”
 
 

James MacDonald Resigns from Mars Hill Board; Update on Paul Tripp's Resignation

As has been widely discussed on social media, Mars Hill Church announced in the weekly email to their congregation that James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Fellowship, resigned from the Board of Advisors and Accountability. The BOAA is Mars Hill Church’s governing board and is made of the executive elders (Mark Driscoll, Sutton Turner, Dave Bruskas) and four men who are not members of Mars Hill (now just two — Larry Osborne and Michael Van Skaik). The email message also provided a confusing update on Paul Tripp who also resigned from the BOAA. In reaction to the emails, two current elders blasted the emails as being “spin” and demonstrating a lack of transparency.
The entire message is below (link to image):

“Upcoming Changes to the BOAA

Dr. Paul Tripp joined our Board of Advisors and Accountability in November 2013 and has been an immense help to our leaders over the past year. Dr. Tripp has extensive experience in discipleship and Biblical counseling. Earlier this month, we made the decision together to open the opportunity for him to work with greater focus on issues directly related to his expertise, namely the continued development of our community and redemption ministries.

Because simultaneously being a board member and a consultant does not allow for the required definition of “independence,” Dr. Tripp graciously submitted his resignation from the BOAA in early June, so that he can more extensively serve our church as a consultant. We are excited to continue this work with him, and are thankful for his continued support of Mars Hill Church.

Similarly, Pastor James MacDonald informed the board at the July meeting of his decision to transition from his current role on the board pending his replacement. Pastor James has been a great help in forming the current board’s direction, and we are very grateful for his time and wisdom over the last several years. About this transition he commented, “I have great love and affection for Mars Hill Church and I want to make clear this change is not because I am unhappy with Mark’s response to board accountability. On the contrary, I have found him to be exemplary in his current readiness to live under the BOAA oversight. I am not resigning because I doubt Mark’s sincerity in any way. I believe in Mark Driscoll and his heart to leverage difficult lessons in service to Christ and his church in the years ahead. I am excited to continue to support that trajectory as Mark’s friend, as I focus my efforts on Harvest Bible Fellowship.”

About these transitions, Pastor Mark shared, “I am thankful for the service of both Paul and James, two men I admire and respect. Their service on our board has been a blessing to me and Mars Hill Church in countless ways. The amount of hours they have given as volunteers is extraordinary, especially in light of their other ministry demands.”

Candidates are currently being interviewed to replace these open board positions. They will be submitted before the Full Council of Elders for their approval as soon as possible.”

Taking together this message and another one which was sent today to the full council of elders, the timing of the resignations is confusing. According to the above communication, a joint decision was made “earlier this month” (although the email is dated August 1, I assume “this month” means July) “to open the opportunity for him [Tripp] to work with greater focus on issues directly related to his expertise, namely the continued development of our community and redemption ministries.” Then the email discloses that Tripp “graciously submitted his resignation from the BOAA in early June” so he could work as a consultant for the church. This email makes it sound like he resigned a month before a decision was made to retain him as a consultant. 
Tripp’s decision to resign sparked concern in several of the former pastors who requested mediation with Mars Hill. Currently, a mediation group is holding meetings with former pastors and others who desire reconciliation with the executive elders. That group of elders were not informed of Tripp’s June resignation until this week.
Another point of confusion was the timing of James MacDonald’s resignation. According to the email above, MacDonald informed the BOAA of his decision to resign at the July 6 BOAA meeting. However, the full council of elders were told today in an email from Sutton Turner that MacDonald informed the BOAA board chairman “late this week” that he would like to step off the board. See the email below:
BOAAFullCouncilMacD
The email to the full council of elders also says MacDonald’s announcement was a “surprise to the Executive Elders.” It is unclear which email is correct.
In addition to concern among former elders, the announcements today also upset at least two current elders who spoke on condition of anonymity because they fear retaliation. One said, “Once again, just another sad example of trying to spin the truth into something more manageable, instead of just accepting reality.” Another current elder was more pointed, saying, “Time and time again I’ve seen Sutton lie to the church and not be willing to be transparent about what is going on. Our people deserve better. Sutton is a sad excuse for a pastor and should have never been put in this role.”  
While there may be an explanation for these discrepancies, these current elders believe they have been deceived about the reasons for the BOAA resignations.
 
 

Paul Tripp Has Resigned from the Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability

Paul Tripp has resigned from the Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability.
Tripp, one of the newest board members and popular conference speaker, was unavailable this morning, but in response to my question about Tripp’s membership on the Mars Hill Church BOAA, Steve Sarkisian, Vice President of Paul Tripp Ministries, told me, “Paul resigned from the board.”
No reason was given for the departure.
Paul Tripp was appointed to the Board in November, 2013.
I will add more information as it becomes available.

Mars Hill Church and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, Part One

On March 7, Mars Hill Church’s Board of Advisors and Accountability issued a statement about several matters of controversy involving Mark Driscoll and the church. One issue was the change of governance in 2007. The BOAA said:

CHANGES TO GOVERNANCE

For many years Mars Hill Church was led by a board of Elders, most of whom were in a vocational relationship with the church and thus not able to provide optimal objectivity. To eliminate conflicts of interest and set the church’s future on the best possible model of governance, a Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) was established to set compensation, conduct performance reviews, approve the annual budget, and hold the newly formed Executive Elders accountable in all areas of local church leadership. This model is consistent with the best practices for governance established in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability standards. Mars Hill Church joined and has been a member in good standing with the ECFA since September of 2012.

The BOAA invoked the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. At the time the BOAA statement came out, I initiated several contacts with ECFA’s president, Dan Busby. I learned that Mars Hill Church is a member in good standing and that ECFA considers Mars Hill to be in compliance with ECFA guidelines. This puzzled me since it appeared to me from a reading of the Mars Hill bylaws that the executive elders are allowed to vote on their own compensation. Such a practice, if happening, would be in violation of ECFA guidelines. I asked Mars Hill’s Communications Director Justin Dean about this with no answer. Mr. Busby declared that MHC was in compliance, but declined to explain his reasons. His most recent words to me on the subject were:

I can only say that we have very carefully reviewed this matter and we are absolutely confident of the compliance of Mars Hill with our standards with respect to this issue.  More detailed information on this would need to come from the church.

This is an unsatisfying answer. I expected a bit more from an organization which is set up as an accountability group. This answer says – we can’t tell you why, but just trust us and trust Mars Hill. For their part, Mars Hill Church is one of the most frustrating organizations I have ever dealt with. They do not acknowledge legitimate questions from media and often engage in spin when they do speak. They have threatened employees not to disclose information while employed and thereafter as well.
I asked Nicholas Romanello, a lawyer whose practice includes considerable experience in not-for-profit governance and who is a trustee of a religious school in West Palm Beach, FL for his opinion. After he reviewed the MHC bylaws, I asked Romanello if the bylaws allow the executive elders to vote on their own compensation. He said their actual practice isn’t clear from the bylaws. On the other hand, he said, “There is nothing in the bylaws I looked at which would prevent this. They might have a board policy which would prevent it, but the bylaws would allow it.”
Eventually, I found this statement on the MHC website:

The independent members of the Board of Advisors and Accountability set executive elders’ compensation. Additionally, an independent compensation study is done for our executive elders by an external accounting firm.

This statement seems to address the matter. Although the bylaws do not require the compensation to be set by the members alone, the website claims they are handling it in a way that meets ECFA guidelines. If that is how it is being handled, then Busby’s confidence would be correct on that point. Nevertheless, for other reasons, I am still not convinced that Mars Hill is in compliance on all points.  More specifically, I wonder if all of the independent members of the BOAA meet the ECFA’s criteria for independence.
The ECFA defines independence as follows:

Board independence.  The organization should take care to maintain the reality, not just the appearance of independent board governance. Requiring the predominance of independent board members helps ensure the board will take official action without partiality, undue influence, or conflict of interest.
To assess the reality of board independence, ECFA looks beyond the majority of independent board members on the board roster. ECFA is just as concerned about the reality of board independence as with the mathematical determination of a majority of independent board members.
ECFA defines independent board members as:

  1. Persons who are not employees or staff members of the organization.
  2. Persons who may not individually dictate the operations of the organization similar to an employee or staff member. A person who is an uncompensated CEO, for instance, is not independent.
  3. Persons who are not related by blood or marriage to staff members or other board members. Blood or marriage relationships are defined for the purposes of the standard as being his or her spouse, ancestors, brothers and sisters (whether whole- or half-blood), children (whether natural or adopted), grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and spouses of brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
  4. Persons who do not report to or are not subordinate to employees or staff members of the organization.
  5. Persons who do not report to or are not subordinate to other board members.
  6. Persons who do not receive a significant amount for consulting or speaking, or any other remuneration from the organization.
  7. Persons who do not have relationships with firms that have significant financial dealings with the organization, officers, directors or key employees.
  8. Persons who are not the paid legal counsel, related to the paid legal counsel, or are employed by the firm that is the paid legal counsel of the organization.
  9. Persons who are not the auditors, related by blood or marriage to the auditors (see definition of blood or marriage in #3 above), or are employed by the auditing firm of the organization.

Given the size of the board, only one member who is not truly independent could create a majority voting bloc (one independent and three executive elders).  Mars Hill is run by the BOAA so the entire church is dependent on four people (Michael Van Skaik, Larry Osborne, James MacDonald, and Paul Tripp) who do not attend Mars Hill and the three executive elders (Mark Driscoll, Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas). According to sources within MHC speaking on condition of anonymity, there may be some issues with the current BOAA on points 6 and 7.
Regarding point six, James MacDonald and Paul Tripp are speaking at this year’s Resurgence conference and have spoken at other Mars Hill events in the past. According to my sources, they get around $5k for a brief session, plus whatever book sales bring in.
On points six and seven, Michael Van Skaik’s consulting firm relationship with Mars Hill could be relevant. I have spoken to two former leaders who were coached by people from Van Skaik’s firm. If indeed all pastors were/are mentored by coaches from Van Skaik’s group, than that would have to be a significant contract.
James MacDonald deserves additional mention. MacDonald is the pastor Harvest Bible Church based in the suburbs of Chicago. As noted, he is speaking at this year’s Mars Hill Resurgence conference and has spoken at previous conferences. MacDonald and Driscoll moderated some of the Elephant Room discussions and are co-founders of Churches Helping Churches, a benevolent non-profit organization helping churches hit by disasters. They are currently on the board together. MacDonald was with Driscoll at John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference. They certainly appear to be friends, peers and co-workers which could complicate the independence aspect of the BOAA role.
I realize that my concerns may be completely misplaced. Perhaps the fees or other compensation might not be considered “significant” by the ECFA or Mars Hill. Perhaps my sources are incorrect about the fees. There may be circumstances which make these apparent issues of no consequence. However, given the ECFA’s vague “trust us” responses, the ECFA’s tight definition of independence, the lack of information from MHC, and the small size of MHC’s BOAA, I think these matters are worth considering.
If Mars Hill truly is in compliance with what ECFA considers to be good governance, then I should also turn my attention to the ECFA. I think the ECFA guidelines seem reasonable for a non-profit organization that is not a church. However, I question how a local church can adopt these guidelines and still be a church. To me, Mars Hill and other stand alone megachurches seem more like mini-denominational organizations than local churches. I will explore these ideas in my next post on the ECFA and Mars Hill, probably tomorrow.