Bellevue Church to Establish Controls for Accountability in Governance

A little while ago, Pastor Jason Skelton posted this update on the City:

Follow Up from the Eastside Vision Meeting

Pastor Jason Skelton Shared

Eastside Family,

We had a great day yesterday at our Eastside Vision Meeting, where we joined in partnership with our friends from Sammamish about what the Lord is laying on our hearts for the future of this church. For those who were unable to attend, we want to provide a brief synopsis of what we covered.

First, we desire for this new church to function from a place of shared leadership, deference, and trust. We are working hard, and seeking wise counsel from godly leaders, to understand how we can best structure the church in such a manner that would encourage trust, mutual submission, and deference among the elder team and ultimately among the whole church family. We’re sorry that, particularly in recent months, significant conflict has resulted in an inability to trust the leadership of the church. We have played a part in that, and ask for your forgiveness and also your prayers, as we seek to establish a new church moving forward.

Second, we are actively and prayerfully searching for a new Lead Pastor for this new church. We have some options that we are excited to share with you soon, as right now we are prayerfully assessing character and reviewing references in order to ensure that the man that we would bring before you is not only competent in his skill, but is a man who is marked by godly character. We are seeking to find someone who would help us to retain the best of our previous church (strong preaching, great worship services, etc) while helping us to grow in areas where we have been weaker in recent years, particularly in discipleship and missional engagement.

Third, the new church structure that we will establish will include controls for accountability. While we are still prayerfully considering how this will be written into our governance, we desire that the members of the church would have an active voice into the future by allowing them to affirm elements such as the slate of elders, and the implementation of new budgets. We hold to the conviction that the church, according to Scriptures, should be led by qualified elders who would appoint qualified elders. But we also desire to have accountability to the members of the church in such a manner that would allow their voices to be more readily heard. In addition, we are prayerfully considering how we can best partner with other networks or churches.

Fourth, we are presently working from some values as a church, as interim values while searching for our new Lead Pastor. Becauset we have been loved by Jesus:

  • We love one another

  • We grow together

  • We celebrate redemption

  • We serve joyfully

  • We never lose hope

Many have asked: how can I help during this time? You can help in several ways:

  • Pray. We are planting a new church on a very expedited timeline. We need your prayers and great favor from Jesus as we attempt to move forward.

  • Attend Interest meetings. We will be hosting interest meetings every Sunday in the cafe between now and the end of the year at 12:30p on Sundays. These meetings will be an opportunity to meet the elders, ask questions, and learn more about the future.

  • Ask Questions. We not only are open to your feedback, but we truly desire it. Please let us know your hopes, dreams, and questions about how this new church will come together.

Lastly, and most importantly, it is our utmost desire that this would be a church that loves Jesus, preaches the Word of God, and is a place that families would desire to attend – yours, mine, and others. We believe that the way for this to become a reality is to live our lives as one of an outpouring of love, as described in 1 Corinthians 13. This would mean that our church would be marked by patience, kindness, humility, truth, trust, and perseverance, among a host of other characteristics. We understand that we have at times operated in a manner that has not encouraged these characteristics, and in so doing, have brought much strife on the inside and criticism from the outside. On behalf of the elders at Bellevue, we extend to you our repentance and our genuine desire to move forward as a church that would be marked by authentic love, as rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is our commitment to you to continue to pour ourselves out in sacrificial service—the Gospel demands no less.

On Behalf of the Bellevue Elders,

Pastor Jason

This is actually a refreshing message. I still don’t know how you extend repentance to an entire group of people but it seems like progress that the note contains that sentiment without any obvious messages to give money.

I hope some of the people attending the vision meeting will ask questions, as invited, about the amount of money the church plans to give to the Ethiopian and Indian church planters when the church folds.

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 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.


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 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 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 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.


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 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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

It's Official: Mars Hill Sammamish to Join Bellevue Church

I reported last week that Sammamish elders were talking to Mars Hill Bellevue (Bellevue Church in January 2015) about merging. According to this City posting by Bellevue elder Jamie Skelton, the decision to merge has been made.

From Pastor Jason Skelton:
Mars Hill Family,
Over the last two weeks, we’ve announced on Sundays that Mars Hill Church will be coming to a close at the end of 2014. Its last act will be to plant new independent churches. Bellevue will be moving forward as an independent church, with hope to retain the best of Mars Hill Church and grow in areas where God is calling us to change, mature, and grow.
We are also excited to announce that after much prayer, our friends from the Sammamish church will be joining us. Together, we’ll have one church on the Eastside. Many of you know we planted Sammamish out of this Bellevue church and we’re excited to reconnect with old friends, worship together as a larger family and join together on mission for Jesus on the Eastside.
Your elders are currently praying about how to best structure and lead this church moving forward. We need your ideas, suggestions, and prayer as we consider this. Over the past several weeks we’ve met with many leaders and volunteers to share some direction and learn more about questions that you may have.
If you want to learn more about this new effort, please join us this Sunday, November 16th at 12:30p for our Eastside Vision Meeting. We’ll be sharing details as they become available on vision, structure, location, and also provide outlets for feedback and questions.
We look forward to seeing you this Sunday
On Behalf of the Bellevue Elders,
Pastor Jason Skelton

If my email inbox is any indication, this will not be a welcome announcement to many at Sammamish.

Mars Hill Bellevue Pastor Thomas Hurst Resigns

During the 10:30 am service this morning, lead pastor Thomas Hurst announced his resignation. It was announced that Hurst wanted a break from ministry saying that today was his last day as pastor. Hurst then told the congregation that he wanted to be the guy to lead the new Bellevue Church but that he is tired and just can’t do it. The Hursts don’t plan to leave the church as members but Thomas is going to step aside as pastor. Hurst said the church leadership is looking to find somebody to preach the Bible for the new church.
Hurst is listed as a member of the new Bellevue Church board which will take over for the closing Mars Hill Bellevue campus.

Mars Hill Bellevue Pastor Thomas Hurst Calls Church to Rebuild From Top Down or Close

Mars Hill Bellevue’s pastor Thomas Hurst posted a message to his Bellevue congregation which has appeared this morning on various Facebook pages and Reddit.  The note is reflective and interesting for those who are trying to make sense of the many recent moves at Mars Hill. To read the entire note, see the Reddit posting. I will pull out a few points of interest to me but with little commentary. The note is striking in that Hurst does not criticize much. Rather he calls leaders to repentance.

While we must always keep a long view of God’s story, we absolutely cannot in any way overlook, dismiss, ignore, or pretend that we are not where we are and that we, the leaders of this church, past and present, from top to bottom have to take individual and collective responsibility for where we are today as a church without excuse. We must own our sin, seek repentance and reconciliation. We must do this not so it will allow us to leave the storm, but because the storm will not leave us until we repent and change.

Hurst rightly says the process of dealing with the many allegations will not be a “quick fix.” This is because there are many allegations, and the people called to examine them are busy, some with full-time jobs. In addition, he does not believe the church should curtail evangelism activities. Hurst asserts:

At the same time we are still called as a church to preach and teach the word and manage the day-to-day needs of 15 churches that exist in five states. Do not get me wrong – this process has to be our highest priority, but we must also keep the preaching of the gospel, reaching people, and loving them well as a high priority also. We cannot rush through this process by assuming all the accusations are insignificant or label them as criticism, nor can we shutdown the church to only focus on accusations. We must do both at the same time, with the leaders we have today and of whom are best suited to help us walk through this healing process in an honest, faithful, detailed way. I believe the men we have today are the best men right now.

I suspect he would get some debate on that last point from some of the ex-Mars Hill pastors and perhaps some of the current ones. However, Hurst assures the congregation that he will speak up if he comes to believe the elders charged with examining the charges are not doing so fairly. Hurst disagrees with the method of raising charges used by the nine elders who wrote their letter quoting Paul Tripp. However, he adds:

Also, I want all of you to know that I do not believe there is anything wrong with these men having different convictions or beliefs about the state of our church, the quality of leadership that currently exists, or what steps we should take to be healthy. While I don’t agree with them on every issue and I may even stand on different sides with my own convictions, that does not make these men bad or wrong in their convictions, and it does not preclude them from continuing in their current roles as elders. It makes us brothers disagreeing on how best to battle for the same thing – owning our sin and seeing healing and repentance in and outside our church so the Gospel can go forth without barriers from within.

In many organizational conflicts where leadership is on one side and a group calling for change is on the other side, another group emerges composed of people who can see good points on both sides. Often they see enough good on each side that they cannot align with either one. They see the conflict as the problem (“barrier from within”), and hope to resolve that without one side losing. Here Hurst validates the nine pastors who signed the letter calling for Driscoll to enter a restoration plan, even as he expresses disagreement with them on certain unspoken points. Hurst closes his note by calling for a new foundation and expressing hope that the church will change or close:

Lastly, in the end there are only two outcomes I will continue to partake in – seeing our church faithfully rebuilt, with love and grace from the top down, or turning off the lights and locking the doors if God brings our church to an end. As a Christian who has experienced God’s ability to move mountains in the hearts of men, I do not think it is very wise for us to look at yesterday and then presume we know what tomorrow will bring. God will show us what tomorrow will be and we will make our decisions then. In the meantime we are family and I have hope for our family because I have hope for our God.

 It is perhaps ironic to close with a quote from Mark DeMoss who was recently called in to assist the church with crisis management:

We believe what most consider to be “PR problems” are really management problems that have become public.

The bold move taken by the nine pastors has changed the atmosphere at Mars Hill. They asserted their belief that there is a need to rebuild from the top down. Those beliefs have now become public. Now that the problems are apparent, what will the church do? According to Hurst, ultimately the church must be rebuilt from the top down or it should close. For related posts, click the link – Mars Hill Church.