Dave Bruskas to Become Interim Preaching Pastor at Bellevue Church

Looks like Bellevue Church wants to be the Mars Hill legacy church. This just came out:

On Becoming a New Church
From Pastor Matt Rogers:

Yesterday we honored Thomas Hurst who made the decision to step aside as the Lead Pastor of the Bellevue church. We also touched on the future for our church family and where we believe the Lord is leading us. As your elders look toward a new beginning, we have tremendous hope and confidence that a great future is ahead for us as we proclaim and live the gospel of Jesus Christ together as a church family!

Pastor Thomas and Angela have walked through incredibly difficult trials of cancer and losing a son while being faithful examples of trusting the Lord in suffering. They have poured themselves out for this church family in the midst of those trials because they love you and they love Jesus very much. The Hurst family will continue as members of our church as they pray through what God has for them in the future. Pastor Thomas has been great pastor, a great friend and a great encouragement to us. Please take a moment to send Thomas and Angela a note of thanks and keep them in your prayers. As his last official act as Lead Pastor Thomas declared himself the head of our Greeting team, his first day in his new position will be this coming Sunday!

A New Eastside Church

As Pastor Dave shared last week Mars Hill will transition to fully independent locally governed churches January 2015. Based on overwhelmingly strong support from leaders across our Bellevue church your elders are committed that Mars Hill Bellevue will become one of these new churches on January 1 2015.

We have been through too much together not to stay together.

We have celebrated hundreds of people meeting Jesus and being baptized, we have grown as disciples of Jesus Christ, we have walked through very difficult trials—together as a church family. The greatest fruit in our relationships comes over time, staying together, growing together, and seeing more of Jesus together.

Bellevue is a large financially healthy church and we have every reason to believe we can be a healthy and strong church based on the Eastside for many years to come. Pastor Dave Bruskas has agreed to serve as our interim preaching pastor here in Bellevue while we search for a permanent Lead Pastor. This Bellevue church is known around the world for the way you have served and loved one another and the broader church of Jesus Christ. We have already been contacted by several highly gifted and qualified pastors. We are committed to continuing bold Bible preaching that lifts up the gospel as Jesus Christ as the great hope for our city and the world.

Some Things Will Never Change

As a new independent church some things will be different. All ministry direction, production, staffing, and governance will be done together as a local church. We are establishing a new 501©3 corporate entity, creating new bylaws, selecting a new name, establishing a new structure and setting up new financial accounts. With all of us working together we will bring the best of Mars Hill while learning from our past to build a great new church.

After discussing a transition with dozens of leaders around the church you have our commitment that some things will never change. Your elders are absolutely committed to ensuring we are under Bible focused preaching that boldly proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will never compromise the truth of God’s word, and we will serve our good King with excellence!

For the next few weeks we will be seeking input from leaders from around the church, working through transition details, and look forward to having a lot more to share with you at our first Vision Meeting Sunday November 16 at 12:30.

This morning I woke up thinking about Ephesians 3:20-21 and believe this is an important reminder for our church family. In the last several months the Lord has brought much repentance, much growth and we are stronger and more dependent on Jesus than we have ever been. I am grateful for that work in my own life and in the hearts of the people in this church. He has used all of this for his glory and our good to make us into a church more reflective of our savior.

Together let’s proceed forward with confidence that the gospel will continue to change lives in this city and this church! Let’s pray to celebrate thousands more people meeting Jesus, to dedicate our lives to the forward progress of that gospel and growing together as disciples of Jesus Christ! Please be praying, please dream big about what God will do and let’s join together to build a new church with our hope firmly rooted in our savior Jesus Christ!

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

(Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

For more on Thomas Hurst’s resignation, see this.

How long before Mark Driscoll comes back as a guest speaker?

Mars Hill Church and Mars Hill Go: Still No Financial Transparency

Today, Mars Hill Church rebranded Mars Hill Global by calling their missionary efforts Mars Hill Go. However, the revised Mars Hill Global/Go Frequently Asked Questions page still does not answer one of the most frequently asked questions — how much has Mars Hill Church spent on mission efforts in India and Ethiopia? From the FAQ page:

Where have past gifts been used?

During fiscal years 2009-2014, over $10MM dollars has been given to Mars Hill Church by the Mars Hill Global Family. During that same time period $22.48MM has been spent on church planting in the US, India and Ethiopia. In 2009-11 over 80% of funds given by the Mars Hill global family went to Acts 29 church planting and funds were consistently spent in India for church planting in each of those years. In 2012- 2014 expenditures for church planting efforts in India and Ethiopia were increased with the preponderance of expenses related to church plants and replants in the U.S.

This remains the same as when the FAQ was about Global. The period of interest is 2012-2014. The church knows what they spent on missions but they won’t release the numbers. The memo posted yesterday indicated that the plan was to fund “highly visible” mission projects costing about $120,000 per year. Given what the church claims to have done, I estimate they may have spent a little more than that. However, why not tell the church and the “Global family” how much they spent and where they spent it? The leaders revised the FAQ page today, but again failed to include the figures which would address how they handled the donations. Why not be transparent?

In 2012, Sutton Turner told the executive elders Mark Driscoll and Dave Bruskas that churches should be transparent:

It is my belief that the reason we have such poor giving by our Church is the lack of stewardship in the Church staff. Churches with excellent stewardship see greater giving because people know that every dollar they give will go towards the mission of the Church. It is very clear this has not been the case at Mars Hill Church.

What was true then is still true today.

Mars Hill Church Defends Edits to Mark Driscoll's Sermon on Acts 6:1-7

In an exclusive statement to Christian Post, Mars Hill Church denies that the edits to Mark Driscoll’s recent sermon on Acts 6:1-7 were anything unusual. They also stand in support of the content of the edited portion.
According to the CP article, sermons are evaluated and then edited on a routine basis. In one sense, this is certainly true. Many people have access to the sermon prior to finished product and can make various suggestions. According to my sources, most editing is for the sake of time. Sometimes editing is done to remove content the leaders don’t want the congregation to hear or know. For instance, older sermon transcripts have been edited to remove mention of Leif Moi, one of the founders of Mars Hill. Other former leaders have been scrubbed from the website, as was Mark Driscoll’s naturopathic physician when the doctor lost his license.
In this case, sources from Mars Hill tell me that some staff took Driscoll’s references to the mistakes of Jesus as thinly veiled self-defense, using the life of Jesus to do it. Others had few concerns about the content but were worried that Driscoll would be perceived as comparing himself to Jesus in order to minimize the concerns of former members. These varied concerns led to the edits, according to my sources.
Without naming the sermon, at least one former Mars Hill pastor, Dave Kraft, raised concerns about making an analogy from Jesus’s actions to human mistakes. Kraft is one of the pastors leading 20 former Mars Hill pastors to request mediation with Driscoll and the other executive elders.
CP’s Alex Murashko said I didn’t return an email by press time. All Murashko wanted to know was where I got the video. I wrote back to ask how that information would be relevant to his story.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Mars Hill Orange County and the City of Santa Ana: The Church That Didn't Want to Move

UPDATE (8/15/14) – A reader let me know that the video update from Mark Driscoll to the church was made private by Mars Hill Church. The transcript is below but the church removed the video. I have edited the video to provide the relevant segment.
…………(original post begins here)
In May 2012, there was a stand off between the City of Santa Ana and the Orange County campus of Mars Hill Church. At the time, Mars Hill was meeting in a concert venue known as The Galaxy (now called The Observatory). According to the city, the venue was located in a zone where churches were not allowed to meet. The city had informed the church and the building owner that a church could not meet in that place but Mars Hill continued to hold services there. Thus, in May 2012 the city threatened enforcement actions. Then on May 27, 2012, the city fined the church and building owner $100 each.
On May 26, 2012, Mars Hill Church posted an update on the situation with Mark Driscoll and Nick Bogardus informing the church about actions taken on behalf of the Orange County (CA) campus. The video of Driscoll has now been made private (not viewable) and Bogardus’ update has been scrubbed from the site. However, you can read it via the Internet Archive. Although the video is missing, several news sources watched it and reported on the story. The Christian Post’s Alex Murashko wrote that Mars Hill pastors were “struggling to understand why conducting worship services by way of rotating into the weekly schedule of an active rock concert venue in Orange County on Sundays is a problem with city officials.” The now missing video was the basis for that assessment. According to CP, Driscoll said:

“I honestly don’t understand this because it’s a concert venue and so it’s a huge room where people come in, a band plays on the stage, and the place packs out with people. On Sunday, a band takes the stage and it fills up with people,” said Mars Hill lead pastor Mark Driscoll during a video posted on the church’s website.
“They say we can no longer use the space. [However,] we don’t have our children in there. They are actually in a separate building next door. It’s not a parking problem. There’s plenty of parking. It’s not a traffic problem. It’s Sunday, lots of accessibility, no issues whatsoever. So, we’re not exactly sure what the problem is. The truth is we’ve been asking a lot of questions and we are not getting a lot of answers,” Driscoll explained.

According to CP, Driscoll then wondered if the church was the victim of religious discrimination:

However, Driscoll said Mars Hill has retained legal counsel, saying it’s needed “if we find that we are just getting bullied by a political discriminatory agenda against Christianity and the church.”
“If we find out as well that it’s just somebody on a council somewhere that has an axe to grind against Christianity we will hold our ground,” Driscoll said. “If we do, in fact, find that somehow we are violating laws and rules that don’t make a lot of sense to us we will obey the governing authorities like the Scriptures say.”

In CP’s reporting of this video (also OC Weekly, and The Blaze), Mark Driscoll appears unaware that the church had known for months that Orange County campus had violated Santa Ana zoning ordinances by meeting in The Galaxy. However, recently former Orange County campus executive pastor Kyle Firstenberg alleged that Mars Hill executive pastors were aware of the violation early on and prohibited the Orange County campus from making a move. In order to explore the various claims involved, I requested relevant documents from the City of Santa Ana and attempted to interview people involved.  On balance, the information I have supports Firstenberg’s account. The rest of this post presents this information.
The original yearly lease between Mars Hill and The Galaxy (owned by Jon Reiser) was signed on October 24, 2011. MHC pledged to pay $8,000/month for the first six months and then $10,000/month for the remaining months.  According to Firstenberg, the city contacted Reiser very soon after the lease was signed with the news that a church could not meet there. Initially, Firstenberg believed that the zoning law might not apply to them since the church was not doing anything at the venue through the week. However, soon Firstenberg understood that the church could not meet in the venue and alerted Sutton Turner, executive pastor at Mars Hill for direction. Firstenberg said that Turner instructed him not to move because the city would not want to risk a public relations problem by acting against the church. I contacted Sutton Turner for his perspective and he declined to comment saying that the issue was a “private matter.”
The documentation supplied by the City of Santa Ana begins in May 2012. However, the May 7 email from Alvaro Nunez to building owner Jon Reiser refers to prior conversations regarding the zoning violations.

Consistent with Firstenberg’s claims, Alvaro Nunez said in his email that he had previously made Reiser aware that the church could not meet in The Galaxy. I asked the Community Preservation Division representative Paula Courtade when the initial contact was made but she did not know. She told me that she asked Nunez but he could not remember when he first contacted Reiser. Firstenberg believes it was in 2011, with additional contacts in early 2012. In any case, the city had contacted all concerned before the flurry of activity in May 2012.
According to the CP, OC lead pastor Nick Bogardus said Mars Hill knew the church could not continue meeting in The Galaxy:

The city made it clear from the outset that the church could not stay long term, Bogardus said.

The outset was as early as October 30, 2011 when the lease agreement was signed. Bogardus said the city “made it clear” that church was not permitted in that location.
In reviewing notes Firstenberg kept during that time period, it appears that he investigated dozens of locations from late 2011 until he left the church in July 2012. On at least two occasions, the church seemed poised to move to a new venue. In April 2012, Mars Hill executive elder Dave Bruskas signed a letter of intent to occupy the Garden Grove Seventh Day Adventist Church. This document is significant in that Dave Bruskas is one of three executive elders at Mars Hill, the other two being Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner. Furthermore, on the Mars Hill website, prayer was requested in April 2012 for the location of a new building for Orange County:

Pastor Mark asks for prayer for our five churches that are looking for new buildings: Orange County, Everett, Federal Way, Downtown Seattle, and Olympia. He asks everybody to pray, both individually and as a church family.

In the update video on the site (how long will it be there?), Driscoll told his listeners at 2:20:

Mars Hill Orange County is meeting in a club, the children’s ministry is in another zip code, and we just are losing our lease, and we’re going to be kicked out, and we got a problem, and so we’re going to be homeless like Jesus here very shortly at Mars Hill Orange County. They started on January 15th, they started with 800 people. Only 2% of churches in America are 800 so we rejoice in all that God is doing, but they need a home.

The original uncut video was made private by Mars Hill Church. An edited version with the pertinent segment is below.
[youtube]http://youtu.be/zbJNb11ddkw?t=2m20s[/youtube]
[youtube]http://youtu.be/0k5tBs8IDZA [/youtube]
 
It is obvious that Driscoll was aware that the church could not remain in the location but nothing is said about religious discrimination. As is clear from the documentation (see the documents from the City of Santa Ana here), the religious discrimination narrative emerged in late May when the city got serious about enforcement of the zoning issues which had been in play for months.
As noted above, Alvaro Nunez contacted the building owner, Jon Reiser, on May 7.  On May 8, Kyle Firstenberg wrote both Nunez and Reiser about a possible move to a new location. In April, a letter of intent was executed by executive elder Dave Bruskas and on that basis Firstenberg informed Nunez and Reiser that a move was imminent. According to Firstenberg, Mars Hill executive pastor Turner eventually nixed the deal, leaving them to scramble around for additional options.
According to a May 15 email from Firstenberg to Nunez, the lease was being considered by the Garden Grove church. Then on May 23, Nunez wrote Firstenberg to inform him that church services must cease at The Galaxy/Obsevatory location. The email threatened enforcement action if the church did not comply.

Then on May 24, a law firm, Anthony and Middlebrook, representing Mars Hill sent a letter to Nunez expressing disappointment over the city’s stance. However, the letter acknowledged that the church planned to move to the Garden Grove location and expressed hope that the city would allow the church a little more time to complete the move. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act was not invoked to challenge the zoning ordinance but to ask for more to time in order to prevent disruption of services.
This brings us back to May 26 when Mark Driscoll told Mars Hill Church that he didn’t understand what the problem was and that perhaps someone at the City of Santa Ana had an “axe to grind against Christianity.” Given the events leading up to that point, it is hard to imagine how he didn’t understand the situation.
On Sunday May 27, in defiance of Nunez’s warning, Mars Hill met again at The Galaxy. As a result, the church and building owner were fined $100 each.

By this time, the Garden Grove property had been nixed and the church considered Woodbridge Community Church. However, according to an email from Mars Hill property management department, Sutton Turner did not want to move ahead with that property either.

From:
Date: Friday, June 1, 2012 9:25 AM
To: ”kyle@marshill.com” <kyle@marshill.com>
Subject: Woodbridge
Kyle
Sutton would rather us keep looking, and meet in a park if need be, than have only an afternoon time slot.  It sounds like this is the opinion of all 3 EE, no just Pastor Sutton.  I pulled the plug on the LOI.  We’ll keep focusing our efforts on other options.

(LOI stands for “letter of intent.”)
From there it is not clear from the evidence I have what happened. In June, the Firstenbergs were laid off from Mars Hill effective July 6, suffering personal and financial hardships. According to emails between Mars Hill’s attorney’s and Santa Ana, the church continued to express willingness to move but did not do so. The church and building owner were fined again on August 26th, this time for $200. Eventually, the church moved to Huntington Beach, CA.
While these materials do not prove all of Kyle Firstenberg’s claims, they do provide support for them.  It appears that the executive elders of Mars Hill Church were aware that the church was in violation of the zoning laws and advised staying in the building, even paying fines instead of leaving. The religious discrimination angle did not seem to be a part of the narrative until the city raised the possibility of enforcement. If anything, it appears that the city of Santa Ana demonstrated some restraint given the length of time the church was out of compliance with zoning laws.
As noted, I contacted Sutton Turner for his view and he declined to comment saying this was a “private matter.” If there is additional evidence that anyone involved would like to provide, please feel free to contact me.