Headline a Year Ago: Paul Tripp Has Resigned from the Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability

A year ago today, I reported that Paul Tripp resigned from the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability.
I was told the news by Steve Sarkisian, Vice President of Paul Tripp Ministries. Statements followed from Tripp and the Mars Hill BoAA.
That resignation raised many questions which persist. Tripp answered some of them in an interview with Mars Hill Church elders where he explained his resignation.  Jointly with Religion News Service, I published the results of that interview on August 28.
Tripp told the nine then-current Mars Hill Church elders that Mars Hill was “without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.” Tripp spoke by phone to the elders who called for Mark Driscoll to step away from the pulpit and enter a restoration plan.

All nine elders who were on the phone call were floored by the depth and clarity of the understanding that Paul had of the culture of Mars Hill and its leadership from his short time on the board.
Below are some samples from our conversation:
—– When asked about speculations that he might have resigned to protect the reputation of his ministry, Paul said this: “I am not worried at all at burning my integrity for the real deal, but I won’t burn it for something that’s not the real deal. I don’t think even now that there is the recognition of the depth of what Mars Hill Church and Mark is actually dealing with. This is without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.” He continued on to communicate that Mars Hill’s leadership culture was not shaped by the same grace that it says it believes.
—– Paul informed us that at one point that during the time when he was setting up the reconciliation process, the EE, without asking the BOAA, met with their lawyers and added a slew of legal constraints to the process. Paul was emphatic in telling the EE that this was unacceptable, but they did not listen, and consequently hindered the process. Paul was disturbed that anything would be seen as more important in this process than being made right with man and with God. “If your response to reconciliation is ‘I want to cover my butt legally, then you’re not interested in reconciliation.’”
—– Contrary to what we have been told, Paul not only expressed his opinion that the BOAA structure was flawed, he attempted to present a 9 point plan on how to help it and was shut down before he finished point 2. He also said that “One of the problems with the BOAA is that they are getting their information from the people they are supposed to be holding accountable.” (emphasis in the original)

Driscoll did not follow his elders’ advice. Eventually, all those elders were either fired or resigned without seeing any change. However, they were vindicated in that the investigation of Driscoll recommended essentially the same plan as the August 22 letter: Driscoll should step out of the pulpit and enter an elder-directed restoration plan. Rather than enter that plan, Driscoll resigned. At the time, the elders lamented that Driscoll declined to follow their guidance; now Driscoll is saying God told him to resign.
I still don’t understand how God could lead the elders to advise Driscoll to enter a restoration plan and then audibly tell Driscoll not to do it.  In hindsight, even former executive elder Dave Bruskas said about the resignation: “I don’t think that was the most redemptive outcome.”
Bruskas also counseled his Albuquerque flock to move forward. In one sense, I agree; in another, I think it is good to learn from the past to avoid making the same mistakes.
A year later Mark Driscoll is back in the news and on the comeback trail aided mightily by an assist from Hillsong’s pastor Brian Houston. Driscoll is in Phoenix with rumblings of a church plant in the works. In what ways will the Seattle past be prologue to the Phoenix future?

Did Paul Tripp Meet with the Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability?

For a full treatment of this question, please see Wenatchee the Hatchet’s post on the subject.
On Wednesday, Sutton Turner wrote:

During my tenure, many people criticized the culture of Mars Hill and lack of accountability. The most stinging came from Dr. Paul Tripp who actually served on the Board of Advisors and Accountability for eight months when past mistakes and sins began to crater in on Mars Hill. Few people know that Dr. Tripp never physically attended a board meeting during that time. In fact, he had never met all of the board members in person. Furthermore, the points he attempted to make were never made in a board meeting or to all of the board members.

In a March 26, 2014 letter from the Board of Advisors and Accountability, Board chair Michael Van Skaik told Mars Hill leaders that Paul Tripp had been to Seattle to help address the charges against Mark Driscoll. Van Skaik wrote:

However, we are hungry for reconciliation and are continually grieved that many offenses and hurts are still unresolved. We want to seek out and hear the hurts in a biblical manner.A Board-approved reconciliation process is currently underway and is being overseen by Dr. Paul Tripp who flew to Seattle and recently spent a day with the Executive Elders. [emphasis added] He has also been in conversation with a person who is very capable of facilitating these reconciliations.

According to the letter from BoAA chair Van Skaik, Tripp was in Seattle and was in the thick of the efforts to bring reconciliation. I am aware that Tripp met with several former Mars Hill pastors in order to bring them in to the reconciliation process. While it may be true that Tripp did not meet with the entire BoAA all together in one room at the same moment, it is clear that the BoAA trusted him enough to publicly refer to him as the point person on reconciliation. Furthermore, if Van Skaik was right, Tripp met with the executive elders in person for an entire day on the subject of the leadership problems at Mars Hill.
The reconciliation process was initiated with several meetings but fizzled over time. Tripp eventually resigned in July 2014. Tripp made a statement about the situation in August 2014 on his website.
Also, in August 2014, I reported that Paul Tripp told nine then current pastors at Mars Hill Church that Mars Hill was “the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.”
 

Nine Current Mars Hill Church Elders Take a Bold Stand

In an August 22 letter to the Full Council of Elders at Mars Hill Church (click link for entire letter), nine current elders called on the church to change the governance and for Mark Driscoll to submit to a restoration plan. They also raised significant questions regarding the veracity of information which has come from the Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability.

They prefaced their concerns with a confession of deep concern for the church:

Concerns and Critical Information for the Elders of Mars Hill Church

Grace and Peace

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” – 2 Thessalonians 2:2
Fellow elders,

We love you, this church, and the people that Jesus has entrusted to our care.

Pastor Mark, we love you and have been immensely blessed under your preaching, and for that we are grateful.

Pastor Dave, we love you and we are thankful for the love you show to us and all those in your care, and also for your calm and clear-headed leadership in tough situations.

Pastor Sutton, we love you and are thankful that you care deeply for Mars Hill Church.

Additionally, we are thankful to the men of the BOAA for the time and energy they have given to love our church and our leaders well.

We are convicted that as we are all elders, pastors, shepherds, we equally share the responsibility for the care of the people God has entrusted to us. And it is because of this conviction and a love for the church that we are compelled to speak up. We are seriously concerned about the state of our church, especially the state our leadership at the highest levels and our continued lack of transparency in general. While the current bylaws greatly restrict our authority, we believe we must act like elders none-the-less. There is information in this letter that we believe to be important to the future of Mars Hill Church and our response to it may impact whether or not it will even have a future at all.

Come Into The Light
In John 3:21 we read this: “…whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” Brothers, have we been a church that is characterized by coming towards and loving the light? Do we welcome the light, trusting God’s grace and mercy when our weaknesses and failures are exposed?

The media has been inundated, especially in the last two years and increasingly in the past six months, with controversies surrounding Mars Hill and Pastor Mark. While some of these accusations may be groundless or exaggerated, we believe that in many cases we have invited these controversies upon ourselves by not seeking the truth and not seeking to be in the light.

Where there is nothing to hide, there is no fear of being exposed. But, rather than seeking clarity, we have cloaked ourselves in non-disclosure agreements. We have become masters of spin in how we communicate the transition of a high volume of people off staff. We have taken refuge behind official statements that might not technically be lies on the surface, but in truth are deeply misleading.

At the retreat this week, Pastor Dave spoke about our church’s credibility problem. Brothers, this credibility problem is directly linked to the fact that we have not loved the light.

This is not the fault of one person, or even a just a small group of people. We all share in responsibility for this in one way or another, and we must all repent of it together, together calling for our church to step into the light.

Exposing The Darkness
It is out of a longing to come to the light that we began to look more deeply into certain issues when the answers that we were being given — answers that were being given to our people — continued to not add up. We sought clarity, which has been lacking. We do not believe that looking for answers, asking questions, and trying to discern the truth is a divisive or sinful thing. Rather, this is the responsibility we have as elders as we are called to lead our people and the church from a position of truth and love. To ask us not to do so would only be to further exasperate the “culture of fear” that we so desperately want to move away from.

We would like to share with you the following two examples, as they were both misrepresented this past week at our elder retreat before the Full Council of Elders. We are not inferring intent or motives, but rather we are attempting to call attention to discrepancies and to resolve them.

The two examples directly relate to public statements from the Board of Advisors and Accountability. For instance, were the 2013 charges presented by former pastor Dave Kraft actually investigated as the BOAA implied? Not according to these current elders.

According to the Mars Hill BOAA, charges brought against Mark Driscoll in 2013 were “taken seriously“:

Be assured of this, the formal charges that were filed were serious, were taken seriously and were not dismissed by the board lightly.

As the nine pastors ask, how is this possible when no witnesses were interviewed. From the letter:

BOAA/EE Statements Claim That We Had No Way to Interview Witnesses from Dave Kraft’s Formal Charges We have been repeatedly told that we could not hear from the witnesses mentioned in the document. This did not add up, since the document clearly states that there were seven individuals who were willing to testify when called upon, and Dave Kraft stated clearly that he hoped that they would be called upon. Through conversations separately with Dave Kraft and Michael Van Skaik, I (Dustin) finally got clarity on this on Tuesday morning at the elder retreat. The issue was not that the BOAA “could not” interview the witnesses, but rather that Michael Van Skaik “would not” open an investigation without Dave Kraft giving him the names first. This seems to be a completely unreasonable and unnecessary demand when the charges themselves reveal that the witnesses felt bullied and were afraid of the consequences of releasing their names outside of the protection of a formal investigation being opened. Mike Wilkerson, who helped prepare the charges for Dave, confirms that he recommended to Dave that the names of the witnesses be disclosed only after they were protected by a formal investigation process. Mike made this recommendation in part due to his perception of the danger and fear involved for the witnesses, and also because he had knowledge that a prior complaint had not been handled according to the complainant’s expectation of confidentiality, resulting in further harm to the complainant. Furthermore, this charge was not coming from an unknown critic, but rather Dave Kraft who is a respected former elder and Christian leader. Because of his reputation we should have been willing to give greater credence to his charges and want to hear them out.

Regardless of whether this was a wise or helpful decision by the BOAA, it is clearly misleading to state emphatically over and over that there was no way to talk to these people and hear their testimony, when clearly there was. This is no minor issue as we have been consistently misled about the keyreason the Kraft charges were handled the way they were. How can Van Skaik claim that “the formal charges that were filed were…taken seriously and were not dismissed by the board lightly,” when he would not even open the case to hear from the actual witnesses? Sending out letters to former employees in an effort to find these people or others who experienced similar situations seems to be a failed effort from the start, for the same reason that the 7 would not release their names unless as witnesses in an official investigation. Because of this refusal, it is misleading to claim that the charges were taken seriously when the witnesses were never even interviewed. Michael Van Skaik confirmed this week that no formal investigation was ever opened in response to Dave Kraft’s charges filed last year.

The BOAA told the world that the charges were taken seriously.
Also, was the Mars Hill BOAA aware that the Acts 29 Network board had concerns about pastor Driscoll? Yes, according to the current elders.

Public Statements Claim That There Was No Contact Between Mark/BOAA and A29 Board Prior To A29 Removing MH From Network We have been repeatedly told that no one from the A29 board talked to Mark or to our board prior to removing Mark from the network. This is only true if by “talk” you mean “told us beforehand that they were kicking us out,” and if you dismiss contact between individual board members with Mark and with each other. The impression created by these statements was one where it seemed that the A29 board had made their decision having had no communication with people close to Mark or with Mark himself, with no actual insight into the situation, and with no care for Mark or Mars Hill. The truth is that multiple members of both boards had been in direct contact with each other, and with Mark, exhorting and rebuking him over the course of months and years, and to say or imply otherwise is deeply misleading. Paul Tripp has confirmed that he specifically was in contact multiple times, while on the BOAA, with Matt Chandler, Steve Timmis, and Eric Mason about the state of Pastor Mark’s repentance. To be fair, when specifically pressed on the issue at the elder retreat, Van Skaik did admit that he was sure that some members of the two boards had been in contact with each other individually, and clarified that they had not met together as full boards. But this does not change the fact that we have not corrected our public statements and rhetoric, nor does it change the fact that Van Skaik would not have admitted this without being pressed into by Pastor Miles during our first session at the retreat. As a whole, MH’s communication surrounding this event is very misleading.

The BOAA said:

I am deeply saddened that the A29 board would make such a decisive and divisive conclusion without speaking directly to the board or Mark prior to their public announcement.

Sounds like the BOAA has some explaining to do. The letter also quotes Paul David Tripp as expressing great concern for the church but also delivering a somber assessment of the ability of the church to recover while the current leadership team is in place. Tripp calls Mars Hill “the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.” Tripp also spells out his great concern for the church and believes reconciliation can come. He offered to take part in that process.

This letter was sent before Driscoll decided to take 6 weeks off under his own terms.

Religion News Service also released this letter. The write up there by Sarah Pulliam Bailey includes a response from Mark DeMoss, newly hired public relations expert:

This letter, as with past letters voicing accusations toward Mark Driscoll will be processed in accordance with Article 12 of the church’s bylaws,” a statement provided by public relations firm head Mark DeMoss said. “This means the accusations will be thoroughly examined and a report issued when the review is complete. In the meantime, it does not seem appropriate to comment on specific accusations before/while they are being formally reviewed as we don’t want to circumvent the process prescribed by the governing body of Mars Hill.”

The elders are as follows:

Pastor Dustin Kensrue – Director of Worship / Worship Pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue
Pastor Drew Hensley – Lead Pastor at Mars Hill U-District Pastor
Mark Dunford – Pastor at Mars Hill Portland
Pastor Ryan Kearns – Director of Community Groups/Pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue
Pastor Ryan Welsh – Pastor of Theology and Discipleship
Pastor Adam Ramsey – Director of Student Ministry / Pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue
Pastor Cliff Ellis – Director of Biblical Living / Pastor at Mars Hill West Seattle
Pastor Gary Shavey – Pastor of Biblical Living at Mars Hill Bellevue
Pastor James Rose – Pastor at Mars Hill Ballard

I will have more on this story through the day.

Paul Tripp's Resignation from the Board of Mars Hill Church Calls Into Question ECFA Standards on Governance

In March 2014, Mars Hill Church’s Board of Advisors and Accountability issued a statement regarding the church and Mark Driscoll. One area covered was church governance changes made in 2007.  Here is that statement:

CHANGES TO GOVERNANCE

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

According to this video by Mark Driscoll, we now know that the changes were made in order to keep Mars Hill Church from killing Mark Driscoll:

And so everybody got to speculate for years what the motive was, “oh he’s power hungry, he’s controlling, he wants to take over, he doesn’t love people, you know he’s just a bully.” And no, it’s actually he’s broken and his wife is hurting and the church is gonna probably literally kill him or put him in the hospital and his wife needs him right now, so he’s gotta make some adjustments. So, you know, by the grace of God, we weathered that storm.

One of those “adjustments” was the change in by-laws and governance.

In April, I raised some concerns about the model of governance at Mars Hill Church, specifically the BOAA. Then I wrote:

If Mars Hill truly is in compliance with what ECFA [Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability] considers to be good governance, then I should also turn my attention to the ECFA. I think the ECFA guidelines seem reasonable for a non-profit organization that is not a church. However, I question how a local church can adopt these guidelines and still be a church. To me, Mars Hill and other stand alone megachurches seem more like mini-denominational organizations than local churches. I will explore these ideas in my next post on the ECFA and Mars Hill, probably tomorrow.

I said at that time that I wanted to expand on those thoughts in a future post. With Paul Tripp’s resignation statement, I think now is a good time to do that.

About the form of governance used at Mars Hill and recommended by the ECFA, Paul Tripp said:

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

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

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

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

Tripp says the type of board required of churches to be ECFA accredited “can never work well.”  Such a board is “an inadequate replacement for a biblically functioning internal elder board,” according to Tripp. Mars Hill Church had an elder board in place before Driscoll made his “adjustments” and such an elder board is what many of the Mars Hill members in exile are hoping to see restored.

Tripp says the BOAA “will never be able to do what it was designed to do.” I call on the ECFA to consider Tripp’s words and reconsider their guidelines for churches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do they seem the same to you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire statement on his site.

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

All posts on Mars Hill Church.

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

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

“Upcoming Changes to the BOAA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHANGES TO GOVERNANCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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