Member of Church Formerly Known as Mars Hill Albuquerque Pens Reflections on Church Closing

Levi MacAllister, also known as Levi the Poet, is a current member of North Church in Albuquerque (formerly Mars Hill Albuquerque). On his blog, he recently penned an open letter to Mark Driscoll and the leadership of the church formerly known as Mars Hill. Levi provided the link in an email along with an apology. You’ll understand the apology when you read the letter. Some highlights:

I don’t think that “The Rise & Fall Of Mars Hill Church” can be narrowed down to one man. Or three executives. Or an elder board. Or the BOA. I think that, to some degree, at least for members more intimately involved in the ins and outs of what our church was, there is a complicity we feel in the light. Many former pastors have acknowledged that complicity, and chosen to step away. For others, the complicity has been devastating and confusing, as many of us didn’t know we were in the dark. Of course, the idea of complicity to anyone who would rather be the victim under the infamous bus is enraging. And, at the same time, I do think that true victims exist. In short, it’s complicated, and no amount of devil’s advocacy will please anyone. You literally cannot win. Winning is not what I’m going for.

As you will see, this is a nuanced reflection from Levi the Poet.

Two reactions emerged as closets opened: some left; some stayed. I wonder what it means that I have stayed. Resilience? Compliance? Hope? Fear? There is a degree to which those that have stayed will, in the eyes of many, simply be guilty by association, and that will be that. I truly believe, though, that my wife and I were called to weather this storm, and I hope that we will get to see the sunrise. Perhaps others will even be able to accept that it could have been conviction that led us to stay, the same way it was conviction that led them to leave. And I don’t blame those that left, either. The amount of stones thrown from each “side” is miles high, and though I once stood with rock in hand, a lot of presumption clouded the truth of the matter, and I no longer want anything to do with it. This complicated mess is so much larger than anything that I will ever understand. Perhaps I should be thankful for that. Understanding is pain.

I suspect the stayers and leavers will be reflecting on the meaning of their choices for quite awhile.

Mark Driscoll was fond of saying that “what you idolize, you will eventually demonize.” If he isn’t the case-study for it, i don’t know who is. I’d like to think that I’ve not idolized or demonized him, or others, or myself, but perhaps this all wouldn’t hurt so badly if that were true. I’m sure I’ve done both for Driscoll, probably only ever demonized Sutton Turner, and hoped more in Dave Bruskas than Christ as the solution. I’ve probably hated Throckmorton. I’ve pictured everyone with reservations about Mars Hill over the years, pointing fingers with I told you so written on their faces, and resented them all. I’ve resented the organization for letting us take sides for so long. I’ve led my wife into conversations I shouldn’t have been having, gossip and slander that only revealed the state of my heart, and probably damaged hers.

On hating Throckmorton, you were a part of a large crowd. I am smiling while I write that; no hard feelings.

Mark Driscoll, I love you. I forgive you.

Nice beginning for the open letter to Driscoll. Honest and unfinished are words that come to mind about the letter.

I think that Mars Hill Church and the leaders representing it, as a whole, did not take the time they should have to acknowledge and discuss how deeply it has hurt the people in their care. There are exceptions to the rule, but I think that many of us feel swept under the rug. I know that this dust will be settling for a long time, and I pray that, in the individual bodies that Mars Hill Church has become, leaders will work together to address the pain that will linger, and apologize to their flock for negligence. I also know that we, as the flock, must extend grace, as leaders are people – human beings that are suffering through the same circumstances.

I hope the ex-pastors of the CFKAMH are still reading. There is still unfinished business.

Mars Hill Church Executive Elder Dave Bruskas on the Future of Mars Hill Albuquerque, Bible Teaching and Communication

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.

Mars Hill Church Executive Elder Dave Bruskas on Mark Driscoll, NYTs Best-Seller List, Strange Fire and More

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.
Yates2SmallJun11
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.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Dave Bruskas on Mark Driscoll's Resignation: "I Don't Think That Was 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.

Mars Hill Albuquerque to Become North Church

This isn’t particularly new but I don’t think I have posted it here. Mars Hill Albuquerque is now doing business as North Church. In this video, a church volunteer describes the transition from The City to Church Community Builder.
[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/113849480[/vimeo]
Those interested in the church where Dave Bruskas will land can follow North Church video updates here. Apparently the name and incorporation hasn’t been changed as yet, since the church is still incorporated as Mars Hill Church.
 
 

Update on the Status of the Mars Hill Locations

On the Mars Hill website, an update has been posted about the direction of each of the locations. Where appropriate, I will interrupt the narrative to add any information I have on the location.

Mars Hill,

As Mars Hill Church closes its doors at the end of the year, and each of the churches plan for what the new year will bring, your local elder teams will work through decisions related to their location. Each church is unique and each elder team has unique decisions in front of them. They will be updating you over the next eight weeks about their upcoming steps.

Several churches have already made announcements this week and have held members meetings to explain where they are feeling led. Below is an update on the next steps of these churches. As we learn more about the future for each church, we will continue to update you.

ALBUQUERQUE

Albuquerque announced this past Sunday that they have invited Pastor Dave Bruskas to return, and he has accepted the position as their teaching pastor. Pastor Dave will stay to serve Mars Hill Church in the current transition until December 31, including continuing to preach from the Bellevue church until they find a new Lead Pastor.

Read here and here for more on Albuquerque. A reliable source has informed me that Al Lobaina has resigned as pastor but will remain with the church.

BELLEVUE & SAMMAMISH

On the Eastside of Seattle it was announced that the Bellevue and Sammamish locations will be partnering together to form a single new church. They’ll plant the new church in the new year, with a core group of over 1,000 people! This new Eastside church will retain the best of Mars Hill Church, but will be a different church with new leadership and structures. Your elders are currently praying about how best to structure and lead this church moving forward and they need your ideas, suggestions and prayer as they consider this.

I have information on this merger herehere and here. Sammamish leaders were conflicted over the move to Bellevue and explored other options before deciding to merge. Initually, lead pastor Alex Ghioni told his congregation that the church was going to try to preserve the building, but as it turns out, the building (which was donated to the church by the former congregation – Evergreen Christian Fellowship) will be sold to help pay off debt.

HUNTINGTON BEACH

Huntington Beach announced that it will not continue as an independent church. Pastor Matt Wallace is pursuing opportunities with like-minded churches in the area from whom he and his family can be sent out to plant at a later time. Pastor AJ Hamilton, who was working towards planting Mars Hill Church Los Angeles, is praying with his family about pursuing other opportunities.

Huntington Beach was on the bubble due to the leaders assessment that giving needed to improve. Giving had not improved which left the church in a questionable position. Then Matt Wallace indicated that he would not lead the new church to independent status.

BALLARD

Ballard has announced that they will continue as a new independent church. Pastor Matthias Haeusel will serve as the Lead Pastor and he and the local elders are working hard to find a new name and the best place to meet each Sunday starting in January. Pastor Scott Harris will be stepping down as Lead Pastor while staying on as an elder and pursuing work in Seattle in order to remain at the church.

Just today, I posted information about Ballard from a trusted source. Ballard’s building has been on the market for awhile, initially with hopes that a buyer would lease it back to the church. This looks less promising now. At one point, church spokesperson Justin Dean said Ballard had been growing in attendance but he later retracted that impression.

EVERETT

Everett has also announced that they will continue as an independent church called Foundation Church, with Pastor Ryan Williams remaining as Lead Pastor. The Everett elders are working towards continuing in their current location.

Click here to read about Everett’s one-page summary of their plans for Foundation Church. Everett’s pastor Ryan Williams famously thanked Mars Hill Global years after the money from the Global Fund supposedly (and secretly) had been given. Now Mars Hill pastors refuse to give an accounting of the Global Fund.

RAINIER VALLEY

Pastor Ed Choi has said he will continue to lead the people of Rainier Valley, and together with the congregation they have chosen Rainier Valley Church as their new name.

SHORELINE

Shoreline will continue under the leadership of Pastor Aaron Gray. He and his elder team will be announcing their new name soon, and they are working towards trying to secure the same location they are in now to meet on Sundays.

TACOMA

Tacoma will continue under the leadership of Pastor Bubba Jennings and the current elders. They have chosen the name Resurrection Church and are working towards staying in their current location. The leadership team in Tacoma is spending time in prayer and seeking Jesus’ wisdom, guidance and discernment for the new plant. They are excited to keep loving Jesus, preaching the Bible and making disciples while learning what it means to be a new independent church.

Tacoma (soon Resurrection Church), like some of the others, has a major issue with the debt on their building. There is some optimism among the churches but most are starting out with lots of debt and very little experience in running a free standing operation.

PORTLAND

Pastor Tim Smith has put together a transition team of elders and deacons who will lead the people of Mars Hill Portland in a new church plant starting in January. They are working towards choosing a new name and assuming the loan for their current building.

Last Sunday a transition team was announced (see here). Portland rivals Bellevue for being the church most nostalgic for Driscoll. This coming Sunday, the church will have a camera set up for people to record their good wishes to send to the Driscolls.

From Deacon Kevin Kelly:

Hey There PDX!

I hope that you are all trying to stay warm and dry at the beginning of a threatened winter storm in our area.  Please be safe when traveling and plan ahead today.

I wanted to make you aware of a small project that some members have requested.  They wish to record short video testimonials, to send to Pastor Mark and his family.

This Sunday, Nov 16th, after second service (and only if you are interested), we will be set up for you to sit and record a brief message of thanks or encouragement for Pastor Mark and his family.

SPOKANE

Pastor Miles Rohde is continuing his work in Spokane to start a new church in the heart of downtown. Together with a core team of around 120 people they are moving forward with launching a new church in the new year, named Redemption Spokane.

Spokane was one of the first church’s to file papers of incorporation.

OLYMPIA

Pastor Seth Winterhalter, along with his pastoral team, will be planting a new church in Olympia called Harbor Church that he says will be “a safe harbor for the broken, hurting, and hopeless people of our region introducing them to their Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.”

I have written twice about Olympia, but don’t have much to add to this description.

WEST SEATTLE

Pastor David Fairchild will also continue leading the charge for a new church plant in West Seattle, called Trinity West Seattle. They have 3 elders and 5 elder candidates who will soon be installed to help lead the church. Together they are working out the details of keeping their current location.

David Fairchild is one of the few Mars Hill pastors who has interacted with me since the decision to close the church. He doesn’t disclose much but seems willing to discuss issues with people on the blog. However, when asked about Global Fund, the investigation of Driscoll, and other hard issues, he quiets down.

PHOENIX

As an update on Phoenix, which was the first to transition to its own independent church, they are doing well under the leadership of Pastor Tim Birdwell. Now the Phoenix Bible Church, they continue to see growth and many new people meeting Jesus.

Phoenix was the trail blazer and went independent as Phoenix Bible Church when Mars Hill announced it was closing three locations.


In addition to updates on The City, you can continue to follow updates on each church’s Facebook and Twitter through the end of the year, when those accounts will be renamed and transitioned to the individual churches.

We are excited for these new church plants. People will continue to have Bible-believing church homes where they are served and loved, and where they can serve and love others, and that’s something to celebrate. In areas where churches are closing or have closed, we know there are plenty of Bible-believing churches in those areas and we are helping families stay connected in community with other believers.

Our hope and prayer is that these new churches will flourish in connecting people to Jesus in some of the least churched regions of the country. Please continue to pray for each church and their leaders, as they still have a lot of decisions and lot of planning ahead of them.

I will add information to this post as it becomes available.

Dave Bruskas to Join Mars Hill Albuquerque in January

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.
 

Mars Hill Church Financial Update August 2014 – "The Most Trying Circumstances in Our Church's History"

The following August 2014 financial update was sent to members of the Mars Hill Church in Albuquerque, NM. Discussion to follow:
financialupdateaugust2014
This particular letter is specific to the Albuquerque church but gives information about the church as a whole. August giving was under budget:

During the month of August, we received $1,552, 817 and expenses were $2,222,274, so our net over expenses (loss) after depreciation and capitalizing assets was ($647,768). Our income target was $1,842,414 and we missed this target by almost 16%. The average giving per adult attendee per week dropped in August to $39.08 from $44.16 in July.

Reports from insiders are that September’s giving has been much worse church wide. According to this letter, Mars Hill’s CFO Kerry Dodd expects another loss in September. The memo projects some optimism that current giving will level out and return October to more positive territory but, according to my sources, giving is down again in September. Also, they will begin paying Sutton Turner’s severance in October. On the upside for Mars Hill, Albuquerque bucked the trend by coming in with higher than projected giving numbers.

LOCAL UPDATE – MARS HILL ALBUQUERQUE

–          Tithes were $104,120 which was 141% of the $73,757 budget for August.

This appears to be a more candid approach for Mars Hill and I suspect leaders at each campus received one regarding their location.