The long anticipated suit from a group of former members against former leaders of Mars Hill Church was filed today in the U.S District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle. Attorney Brian Fahling filed suit on behalf of plaintiffs Brian and Connie Jacobsen and Ryan and Arica Kildea.
The plaintiffs accuse defendants Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner of engaging in
a continuing pattern of racketeering activity by soliciting, through the internet and the mail, contributions for designated purposes, and then fraudulently used significant portions of those designated contributions for other, unauthorized purposes. It was a pattern of racketeering activity that extended through a myriad of MHC projects, including the Global Fund, the Campus Fund, the Jesus Festival, and the promotion of Driscoll’s book Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together (“Real Marriage”).
In a statement, the attorney filing the suit, Brian Fahling said:
A church is not simply a building and programs. Mars Hill Church was a community of individuals—non-member attendees who considered MHC to be their church home, members, elders and pastors—who worked together in pursuit of a common mission—to make disciples and plant churches in the name of Jesus. Needless to say, the four groups are interdependent and the church cannot function without each of them. However, Driscoll and Turner engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity so deeply embedded, pervasive and continuous, that it was effectively institutionalized as a business practice, thereby corrupting the very mission Plaintiffs and other donors believed they were supporting.
On the Global Fund, just today I posted two formerly undisclosed memos on Mars Hill Church’s Board of Advisors and Accountability’s decision to keep secret how the church spent funds on missions (Global Fund) and salaries.
It is interesting to see ECFA named as a co-conspirator in the suit. The memo disclosed earlier today indicates that Dan Busby approved the moves of Mars Hill Church to address the Global Fund and apparently had no problem with the lack of transparency. In contrast, Busby and the ECFA took a turn toward transparency by removing Gospel for Asia from membership in October of 2015.
While it is a sad day to see these matters come to civil court, perhaps this will lead to a settlement and closure.
Read the lawsuit by clicking the link.
Over a year after the last service was held at Mars Hill Church, there are still stories to be told.
Recently, I acquired two memos which provide details about Mars Hill Global, a mysterious aspect of the demise of Mars Hill Church. From 2012 until mid-2014, Mars Hill Church marketed Mars Hill Global as a fund to help support church planters in India and Ethiopia. However, at least some insiders at Mars Hill knew that the donations given through the Global Fund were spent primarily on church planting expenses in the United States. One memo I posted in 2014 suggested that international projects would bring in lots of dollars which could in turn be used to fuel domestic expansion.
Once I started asking questions about Mars Hill Global, changes began to happen on the Mars Hill website. Because initially the changes were unexplained, I made a video documenting at least one of the major changes. This was in response to claims from Mars Hill’s leaders that the Global Fund was not really a fund but a source of funds from donors who were not part of Mars Hill’s churches. As I demonstrate, this explanation seemed problematic at the time since Mars Hill members could either give to the general fund which was unrestricted or to the Global Fund which was presented to the church after 2012 as a fund to spread the Gospel outside of the U.S., especially in India and Ethiopia.
An accounting of how Global Fund donations were spent has been an ongoing desire of many former Mars Hill members. In addition to wondering how the funds from church liquidation have been spent, former members still want to know how much money went to international mission efforts (see this petition).
The first of the two memos I have acquired on the subject was sent in June 2014. It was addressed to the lead pastors of the 15 locations and summarized the Board of Advisors and Accountability’s response to questions about Mars Hill Global which I began raising in May. In this we learn that Mars Hill Church leaders worked with Dan Busby of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability to change the messaging surrounding Mars Hill Global. According to this memo, Busby approved the decision to keep private the details about how much was actually spent on missions. Click on each thumbnail below to read the memo.
For now, I would like to pull out one important section:
In this memo, the BOAA and the ECFA specifically rejected transparency. While I have reason to believe that the decision was not unanimous among the executive elders (Mark Driscoll, Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas) and BOAA, it is stunning that Mars Hill’s leaders withheld that information. As a non-profit accountable to the public and a church accountable to those who gave the money, this information should have been disclosed. However, for some reason, the information appears to be considered classified also by those currently wrapping up Mars Hill’s affairs. After he left Mars Hill, Sutton Turner planned to release the information but was warned by Mars Hill lawyers not to.
Looking back, one of the executive elders, Dave Bruskas told me in an email that he thinks more disclosure was warranted. Bruskas said:
In hindsight, I think itemizing money spent on domestic church planting, international church planting and relief efforts would have been helpful for donors and the general public. I also think aggregating salaries in the separate line items of local church staffing costs and central staffing costs (including executive salaries) rather than lumping all compensation into a single category of “Personnel Costs” would have given donors and the general public a better picture of how donations were being spent.
The other memo, sent in early July, provides some insight into how much money was given via the the Global designation.
In this memo, the figure of $3-million for Mars Hill Global was projected for fiscal year 2015 based on comparable giving in FY 2014. For most of FY 2014 (July 2013-June 2014), donors had the option of designating Global Fund via the drop down menu. In the image above taken from the first memo, the Mars Hill BOAA decided not to reveal how much it cost to support 40 Ethiopia church planters. However, this can estimated since it was known that Mars Hill partnered with New Covenant Foundation which suggests $170/month/church planter. Mars Hill supporter 40 such families which leads to $81,600 if the support was full. They also supported Indian missionaries and did some translation work.*
These memos confirm much of what was speculation in 2014. Where I disagree with the thrust of this memo is the only mistake was to leave Global Fund on the Giving Page drop down menu. As I documented repeatedly in 2014, Mars Hill marketed Mars Hill Global as the way Mars Hill Church did missions. I don’t read that in these memos.
*Keep in mind, these are estimates since Mars Hill’s leaders both before and after the church closed failed to disclose the exact figures. The memos provide a bit more confirmation that the estimates are close.
One of the last three executive elders to serve at Mars Hill Church, Sutton Turner has taken a different route in his public reflection about his experience at Mars Hill than the soft-spoken Dave Bruskas and the main event Mark Driscoll. Bruskas spoke to his Albuquerque church in a closed meeting (here, here, and here) and to my knowledge has not blogged or addressed the media since he left Mars Hill. Driscoll on the other hand has remained aloof from social media, isn’t doing interviews but has spoken in a series of large venues.
Today, Turner posted a confession of sorts on his blog. He begins:
I am writing this post to help other leaders like me. I pray that someone—even just one person—can be spared the consequences of his/her own mistakes by paying careful attention to mine beforehand. I also pray that my public confession of sin and admission of mistakes will further enhance opportunity for reconciliation and restoration among those with whom I have experienced conflict.
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. 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 so thankful for the kindness of God that has led me to repentance, the grace of Jesus that forgave my sin, and the love of brothers who exhorted me during those necessary times of growth. Somewhere between 2012 and 2013, with the help of Pastor Dave Bruskas and others, change began to take root in my heart. These lessons continue to bear fruit in my life as the Holy Spirit grows me to become more like Jesus. I do look back on 2011 and 2012 with a lot of regret, but I’m also very thankful for the Holy Spirit and his ability to grow us all to be more like Jesus.
In light of Dan Kellogg’s and John Lindell’s dismissal of Mars Hill problems, Turner’s disclosure that he operated in a “a sinful way that was consistent with the existing church culture that had grown and been cultivated since the early years of the church” is worth noting. Turner does not mention Driscoll, but everybody knows who was in charge of the church from the beginning. Turner does not mention Driscoll as a help in overcoming that culture, but instead credits Dave Bruskas and unnamed others.
I know there are several people I have interviewed who would encourage Turner to add 2013 at least, and probably 2014 to his list of dates which should be regret-worthy. Having said that, I think Turner’s approach here has much to recommend it. He then reflects on forgiveness which, because of the way he started his post, doesn’t come across so self-serving as does Mark Driscoll’s two recent sermons on the subject.
I recognize that those who served at Mars Hill and former members will have varying reactions to Turner’s reflections. Inasmuch as bitterness remains, I hope the parties can reconcile.
Looking forward to the next segments.
When Mars Hill Church closed the doors for the last service, the corporation Mars Hill Church did not cease. However, it has never been clear who remained in charge of the organization on a day to day basis. By by-law, the church’s Board of Advisors and Accountability has the power to create a plan of dissolution but the church has not disclosed who remained on that board. While I don’t know all involved in that capacity, I do know now who is the president of the church. Also, one person often speculated to still be involved is not.
According to documents filed last week in the King County court house, Chief Financial Officer Kerry Dodd is referred to as the president of the corporation. Dodd was hired by Sutton Turner early in Turner’s tenure as executive pastor. According to a 2012 memo to fellow executive elders, Turner considered Dodd to be a capable CFO. As president of Mars Hill, he signed documents recently in the sale of the Mars Hill Ballard building to Quest church.
The other update involves former executive pastor Dave Bruskas. Yesterday, Bruskas informed me via email that he resigned all of his roles and duties at Mars Hill Church, including his corporate role, on December 31, 2014. Under the Mars Hill bylaws, executive pastors have a position on the BoAA. As of the end of last year, there were no publicly named executive pastors.
At the time of the last service, remaining BoAA members were Matt Rogers, Larry Osborne, Michael VanSkaik, and Jon Phelps.
Who runs Mars Hill has become relevant again due to the ongoing questions surrounding the use of Mars Hill email lists by a shadowy group/individual doing business as “Church Leaders List.” After xxxchurch director Craig Gross purchased what former Mars Hill public relations spokesperson Justin Dean called The Resurgence mailing list, Church Leaders List essentially left public view by shutting down its website and twitter account. Now there are concerns that Mars Hill had not sold the list to anyone, raising questions about how Church Leaders List secured it. Efforts to get comment from the attorney who is responsible for selling The Resurgence assets have not yielded direct comment. No one from Mars Hill Church has offered comment as well.
Meanwhile, Justin Dean’s website has gone into maintenance mode and is unavailable; his twitter account has been removed.
Craig Gross summarized his involvement and what he believes about the situation in a new post today.
For those keeping up on the corporate side of Mars Hill, Becky Garrison and Wenatchee the Hatchet are on top of the matter.
Garrison reports that Dave Bruskas is now the president of Mars Hill Church and Caleb Walters is the Secretary.
WtH reports on changes with Driscoll’s LLCs.
It is not clear who is making day to day decisions at Mars Hill. The church will no longer hold services but property still must be sold with a final distribution of assets to come. By bylaw, the Board of Advisors and Accountability has the power to guide these matters. As president, Bruskas functions as the CEO and by bylaw has the responsibility to run the organization.
This is the next several minutes of Dave Bruskas’ talk to the members’ meeting at Mars Hill Albuquerque (soon to be North Church). In this clip, Bruskas reminisces about opening the church building as a Mars Hill replant, and then describes his hope for the church going forward.
In doing so, he makes some hard-to-miss references to problems at Mars Hill. First he says one sermon per week and a discussion of that sermon (I assume he meant in community groups) isn’t enough. I always thought Mars Hill had lots of content online and elsewhere, but Bruskas wants to provide more. Also, he is going to improve communication and governance. The church will be elder led (in contrast to Mars Hill) and there will be better communication. He lamented that the pastors, including himself, often learned about the church online (you’re welcome).
Listen in (mostly audio with some quotes pulled out, be patient, they will come).
While this all sounds like an improvement, I still want to learn why it took the scandals and revelations of the last year to bring these changes about. I would like to hear more about why Rev. Bruskas did not activate these changes while the #2 man at Mars Hill Church. Perhaps, he feared for his job, but it would be good to know if he felt the same thing the other elders did who put their jobs and ministries on the line to make the changes now evident.
I suspect different people will key in on different aspects of this video featuring recent remarks from Dave Bruskas. Bruskas led the Albuquerque NM City on a Hill church into an alliance with Mars Hill and then left Albuquerque in July 2011 to become an executive elder at Mars Hill Church. He is now slated to return as preaching pastor for the newly renamed North Church. Bruskas spoke on December 3, 2014 to a member’s meeting at the church. The questions were pre-selected with public questions not taken from the crowd. Yesterday, I posted a brief segment where Bruskas said Driscoll’s resignation was not the most redemptive outcome. The following segment deals with Bruskas regrets following a question from lead pastor Donovan Medina. A transcript of the video is at the link.
Click here for a transcript.
At about 1:15, in response to Medina’s question, Bruskas said the Board of Overseers (Jon Phelps, Larry Osborne, Michael Van Skaik, and Matt Rogers) found three areas of “persistent sin” via the examination of charges against Mark Driscoll: arrogance, domineering leadership and harsh words. While these were the three areas identified by the Board of Elders’ investigation, the BoO did not use the term “persistent sin” in their communication to the congregation. Rather, it was the elders later who used the term “persistent sin” in their verbal report to the various Mars Hill locations. The elders wanted Driscoll to step down and enter an elder-directed restoration process, whereas, in contrast, the BoOsaid they didn’t ask Driscoll to resign, and said that he wasn’t disqualified.
Bruskas admitted that the problems were “painfully entrenched in our culture.” He acknowledged that many leaders felt Mars Hill was special; now he sees that “God’s grace was on us in spite of us.” Bruskas didn’t believe he personally had used harsh words as Driscoll did.
For himself the three things he felt grieved about were the New York Times best-seller scam, the Strange Fire conference, and the performance driven culture of ministry.
Bruskas said he was a new executive elder in 2011 who was informed about the ResultSource contract by Jamie Munson in a car ride to work one morning. He asked if the approach had integrity and was financially feasible. Bruskas said Munson answered yes to both. After that, according to Bruskas, he didn’t ask any more questions.
Bruskas disclosed to friends that he was going to take the #2 position at Mars Hill in July 2011. That was about a month after Mark and Grace Driscoll and their agent Sealy Yates met at Thomas Nelson to discuss the ResultSource approach to scamming the best-seller list. This June 27, 2011 note from Sealy Yates to Kevin Small was included in a Mars Hill memo on the ResultSource-Real Marriage campaign.
The question is who was Jamie Munson working with? Munson has not responded to email questions on this topic. Bruskas is correct that he was a relatively new member of the executive elders. I wonder when it became clear what was actually happening with ResultSource. For instance, I wonder if he ever saw this memo. To his credit, he now believes the scheme was clearly wrong.
The second thing that grieves Bruskas is the Strange Fire incident. He said he would apologize to John MacArthur and believes he should have said something at the time. It has been over a year since that incident took place. If I had been in the Albuquerque audience, I would have asked him about the famous Driscoll tweet that security confiscated his books. I would like to hear Bruskas’ view of that tweet.
Last, Bruskas said he was sorry for being complicit with a “highly performance driven culture.” Perhaps he is referring to the actions described in this 2012 memo. In it, Bruskas took the lead in informing campus pastors that they couldn’t advocate for the staff they had to lay off due to financial pressures. The pastors were supposed to get in line. At the time, Driscoll, Bruskas and Turner had gotten significant pay increases while about 40% of the staff faced layoffs.
According to those present, nothing was asked about the Global Fund, the severance packages, Driscoll’s plagiarism, and accountability for the current sitting Board of Advisors and Accountability.
Consider this an open request for an interview to really clear the air and answer questions about Mars Hill’s unfinished business.
See also, part one of this video in which Bruskas tells the congregation that Driscoll’s resignation wasn’t the most redemptive outcome.
On December 3, 2014, Dave Bruskas engaged in a Q & A period conducted by the elders with some members of the Mars Hill Albuquerque congregation (soon to be known as North Church) attending. The questions were pre-selected by the elders with the congregation not allowed to ask questions at the meeting. Bruskas is about to return to Albuquerque as preaching pastor of the church which he once pastored before it became part of Mars Hill. In the meeting, Bruskas addressed his views about his time at Mars Hill. I have obtained some video of part of the event. The video is mostly beneficial for the audio of Bruskas remarks. I will put up a couple of posts featuring his perspective on being an executive elder at Mars Hill.
This first brief segment is Bruskas addressing Mark Driscoll’s resignation. The transcript is below the video. Although understated, he acknowledges that Driscoll’s resignation was not the intended outcome of the investigation.
Pastor Mark, I really would hope that our future would have been through the examination process that of a restored Pastor Mark leading his church to a healthy place but I’m sorry that that didn’t happen. I know Jesus is going to work redemptively into the future but I think that’s something we all wanted right? We always want the most redemptive outcome, and I don’t think that was the most redemptive outcome but I trust that Jesus is going to do incredible things and I know that men come and go and church names change. Jesus loves His church and Jesus is absolutely about His mission and there comes a point in time where we say, ‘let’s put away the past and move forward because Jesus moves forward.’
Either in this post or in another one, I will add more footage where Bruskas addresses what he considers to be his mistakes at Mars Hill and offers an apology for them. Hint, he says he didn’t know the specifics about the Result Source scheme to scam the New York Times best-seller list.
See also part two of this video. Dave Bruskas discusses ResultSource, the hostile climate at Mars Hill, and the Strange Fire conference.
According to former Mars Hill deacon Rob Smith and Seattle attorney Brian Fahling, a lawsuit is being prepared with Mark Driscoll, Sutton Turner, David Bruskas, and Jamie Munson named as defendants. The suit may not be filed until later this week or early next week. Those bringing the suit have alerted Mars Hill Church leaders and hope to engage in talks which could serve to prevent the suit from going forward.
A civil RICO claim (see link for statutory basis of a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations suit) must allege an injury to the plaintiffs. In this case, plaintiffs donated funds for specific purposes based on church leaders’ representations. The funds were then diverted to other purposes. In addition, plaintiffs believe that funds from the general fund were used fraudulently to scam the New York Times best-seller list for Mark Driscoll’s self-inurement.
As has been documented here, Mars Hill leaders solicited donations for various specific purposes (e.g., Jesus Festival, international misions). However, those funds were often used for other purposes (e.g., establishing Mars Hill video locations) via Mars Hill Church. The suit will allege a pattern of activities occurring over at least four years. The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability may also be named in a separate action.
Smith, who has raised numerous concerns about Mars Hill, recorded a You Tube video to promote a legal fund for the suit. The rationale is provided on the fundraising site:
Mars Hill Church, according to Paul Tripp who recently served on their Board of Advisors and Accountability, “is without a doubt the most abusive, coercive ministry culture” he has ever been involved with.
Because of the abuse of both people and money, it is essential that the dissolution of the church be delayed until the abuse can be clearly articulated by the church leadership, and repentance and restitution be made.
At this point, only a just legal action will stop the dissolution of the church. A legal team has been hired and the delay of the dissolution will be sought so that true repentance and restitution can occur.
Please support this effort.
As this year has unfolded, we have seen the widespread abuse of people, and of money.
Mark Driscoll, who built his image calling men to take personal responsibility for their actions, rather than take responsibility himself for his part in the abusive culture, resigned and left the church. He failed to address the abuse that Paul Tripp spoke of. He failed to address the hundreds of shunned and abused members, ex-members and donors.
The remaining leadership, rather than dealing head-on with the abuse, has continued to make decisions behind closed doors and simply ignored the multiple requests of members, ex-members and donors to deal with the abuse.
Rather than be transparent about the misuse of the finances of Mars Hill and the widespread abuse of people, they have chosen to hastily dissolve the corporation, and is promising whatever cash is left over to the individual campuses of Mars Hill Church.
The lead pastors of each of these campuses, rather than raising their voices for transparency and closure for the hurting ex-members, many of whom were under their care, are saying nothing. The word in the street is that they will lose their part of the “spoils” if they rock the boat. So they appear to have no interest in bringing healing to the members that their campus has harmed, or to the hurting members and ex-members from other campuses.
These “pastors” are not even calling for the public shunning of Paul Petry to be lifted. This is continued cruelty that has lasted over 7 years. Paul Petry represents many other members and families that were wrongly disciplined or ex-communicated.
At this stage of the game, without legal action being taken, Mars Hill Church will dissolve and the assets, including money, will be distributed in back-room deals that members and donors are excluded from. The many members, ex-members and donors who feel defrauded and abused will not see a just resolution to their wounds.
It is in the interest of transparency and healing that the dissolution be stopped. It will prove to be the righteous course of action. It will allow leadership that has particpated in the shocking level of abuse to clear their consciences, speak the truth, do the right thing, and be forgiven.
It will be a wonderful testimony to all. To simply dissolve will permanently harm all who are seeking healing and closure.
Please support this fund.
From my vantage point, it would be to the advantage of Ethiopian and Indian pastors if the dissolution of the church could be stalled to allow Mars Hill more time to disclose how much money should go to them. The Global Fund brought in millions and an investigation would help clarify how much money should be funneled to those who were used to raise the funds which ultimately were used to support Mars Hill’s expansion.
The pieces of the puzzle are falling into place.
Today, according to a source in the church, it was announced at Mars Hill Albuquerque today that lone remaining Mars Hill executive elder Dave Bruskas will join the church as teaching pastor.
Bruskas was slated to be interim teaching pastor at the new Bellevue Church (Mars Hill Bellevue), but apparently things have changed there.
Bruskas church, City on a Hill, was the first out of state church to join Mars Hill. Looks like he is going home.
Along with Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner, Bruskas presided over several controversies that came to light over the past year. Bruskas has yet to give an account of his part in the Global Fund, the scheme to use church money to elevated Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage to the New York Times Bestseller list, and the awareness of “persistent sin” against Driscoll.
If I attended Mars Hill ABQ, I would have a lot of questions.