Correction: Mark Driscoll Did Get a Severance and At Least Once Wore a Bulletproof Vest

I bet that title has never been typed before in the history of the world.

In part two of my interview with former Mars Hill Church executive elders Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas, I asked both gentlemen if Mark Driscoll received a payout when he left Mars Hill Church, and I asked if Driscoll ever wore a bulletproof vest in the pulpit as he recently claimed. About the payout, Sutton said he doubted it because he didn’t think there was sufficient funds available to do so, and both fellows said they never saw Driscoll sport a bulletproof garment.

Well, around here, when news breaks, we fix it. We have corrections.

The Vest

Sutton Turner posted a clarification at his blog that I want to point you to. Go read the whole post, but here’s the money quote on the vest:

However, I have spoken with a former staff member who was with Mark when he purchased a bulletproof vest in 2008. This same staff member observed Mark wearing the vest once while preaching that same year.

Turner and Bruskas stand by their recollection that they never saw him wear one.

The Severance

On the severance, Sutton was informed by former Mars Hill staff that indeed Driscoll was paid a handsome sum after fleeing the scene.

However, I have come to learn from previous Mars Hill staff members that Mark received twelve months’ worth of severance following the sale of real estate in Ballard less than the purchase price of the server managing his content in 2015.

At the time, he was earning in the neighborhood of $650k/year. Even though Mars Hill paid for much of the research used in Driscoll’s books, he owned the rights to it. Apparently, whatever a server cost in 2015 was deducted and away he went.

So there you have it. I want to thank Sutton for quickly coming forward with these corrections. I regret it took me so long to get this post up.

The interviews with former Mars Hill Church executive elders Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas are available here: Part One; Part Two

The “15 years of Blogging Series” is available here: 15 Years of Blogging

See also this post from Wenatchee the Hatchet (I love that name) on Sutton’s correction and a whole lot more from Mr. Hatchet.

Blog Theme: Mars Hill Church – Interview with Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas, Part Two

In this concluding video, former Mars Hill Church executive elders Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas talk about incidents not discussed publicly before. They also describe more personally their feelings about their actions at the church and their hopes for the future.

In this portion of the interview, we cover Mars Hill Global Fund, how public relations were handled at the church, their perspective on Mark Driscoll’s leadership style, James MacDonald’s and Paul Tripp’s resignation, being evicted from the Acts 29 Network, the findings of the investigation of formal charges against Driscoll, his resignation and move to Phoenix. They also weigh in on whether or not they ever saw Driscoll wear a bulletproof vest. There’s a special Easter egg for those interested in James MacDonald.

For those who are interested in Mars Hill because you lived it, or because you want to know how to prevent it, these are important discussions. Here is part two.

CORRECTION (8/20/20): In this interview, Sutton says he doesn’t believe there was enough money to pay Mark Driscoll a severance, and he never saw Driscoll wear a bulletproof vest. After this interview, former Mars Hill staff approached Sutton with new information to correct those points. Please see this post for the details. In short, the staffer said there was a substantial severance and Driscoll wore a vest once in 2008.

Watch part one here.

For all posts on Mars Hill Church, click here.

For all posts on Mark Driscoll, click here.

For all posts on Mars Hill Global Fund, click here.

To watch all interviews reflecting on 15 years of blogging, click here.

Blog Theme: Mars Hill Church – Interview with Dave Bruskas and Sutton Turner, Part One

In the category of unlikely interviews, this one is near the top of the list. Today, I publish the first part of an interview with Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas. Turner, Bruskas and Mark Driscoll made up the three executive elders of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. Driscoll was also the president of the corporation and clearly in charge. Turner was the financial guy and Bruskas occupied the number two spot. Given amount of leaked information I was reporting on Mars Hill, I imagine I was public enemy number one for this trio in 2014.

Nonetheless, after the church closed, neither Turner nor Bruskas were hostile when I contacted them. Over the years, they have talked more about how they have reached out to Mars Hill people and tried to mend fences. I don’t know all about it, but I don’t need to.

I do know that they have a perspective that I never was able to get while I reported on Mars Hill. Almost everything they have told me vindicated the reporting I did. But with that out of the way, I wanted to know how it was to try to function in what Paul Tripp called, “…without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.” They did not evade their own responsibility as you will hear.

So I hope you will hear them out in both parts of the interview (part two coming Thursday). In part one, we discuss Dave Kraft’s first charges, the Strange Fire Conference, “big brother” James MacDonald, the Janet Mefferd interview, the Result Source Bestseller scheme, Driscoll’s content management system and Driscoll as “The Brand.”:

For all posts on Mars Hill Church, click here.

For all posts on Mark Driscoll, click here.

To watch all interviews reflecting on 15 years of blogging, click here.

Coming This Week: An Unlikely Conversation with Dave Bruskas and Sutton Turner

On Tuesday (7/28) and Thursday (7/30) of this week, I will publish parts one and two respectively of an interview with former Mars Hill Church executive elders Dave Bruskas and Sutton Turner. Sutton and Dave were the executive elders in charge of Mars Hill along with Mark Driscoll.

Six years ago, such a conversation could not be imagined. I was writing several times a week about Mars Hill Church. Exactly six years ago, I examined media coverage of Mars Hill’s critics and their finances. On July 30, 2014 I reported that noted biblical counselor Paul Tripp resigned from the church’s Board of Advisor’s and Accountability. As Turner and Bruskas describe in our interview, the following month of August in 2014 was a terrible month for the church.

Recently, Sutton and Dave approached me with a desire to set some things straight. The result is this interview where we examine key events from 2013 through October 2014 culminating in a discussion of Mark Driscoll’s resignation. We also take on a few residual issues relating to the church.

Here are some excerpts of part one:

In part one, we discuss John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference, James MacDonald as Mark’s big brother, the Janet Mefferd Interview where she accused Mark Driscoll of plagiarism, Mars Hill’s content management system, Mark Driscoll as “The Brand,” and the Result Source New York Times Bestseller List scandal. Watch for this on Tuesday, July 28.

To watch all interviews reflecting on 15 years of blogging, click here.

Q&A With Former Mars Hill Church Executive Pastor Sutton Turner

In 2014, I could not get a comment from anyone at Mars Hill Church in Seattle about anything. I am sure that most of the leaders there saw me as a serious problem since I wrote so much about the church and problems in leadership there. Eventually, the church closed and distributed assets to several autonomous churches which had been part of the Mars Hill network of locations.

Sutton Turner was one of the executive pastors who presided over growth and decline of the church. Since the closing of the church, Sutton and I have had several friendly conversations about the church and his role in the situation. Because of that, I felt comfortable calling on him to discuss a recent positive move in his life.

Yesterday, I saw an announcement that Sutton has joined Vanderbloemen Search Group, a Christian job search company as Vice President of Candidate Relations. In the announcement, Mars Hill Church is mentioned but there is no direct mention of the downside of the organization. Curious, I asked Sutton some questions about what he had learned at Mars Hill. He was kind to answer them today.

Throckmorton: In the Vanderbloemen announcement, what you learned at Mars Hill is credited with fueling your passion for healthy churches. Could you expand on that?

Turner: I have 23 years of experience leading different organizations in business and ministry.   I have seen the best and worst cultures.   I have been a part of start-ups where I was able to create the culture and walked into cultures that I did not create but tried to improve.   All leaders find themselves in these two categories today.

After Mars Hill was divided up into independent churches in 2014, I began to meet with former members and staff from Mars Hill who wanted to meet with me.  I had moved to Texas, and some of these conversations first took place on the phone.   I also flew back to Seattle several times at my own cost.   Many people were former members before my time and Mars Hill, some were leaders that worked alongside me, and some were faithful members of the church.  The deep hurt felt by these members over the loss of their church cannot be understated.  It was a HUGE loss in their lives that continues today.   It affected their kids, marriage, and community.   Some people walked away from attending church all together from their Mars Hill experience.  These face to face meeting profoundly affected me and motivated me to help avoid another Mars Hill experience in the future.  I then wrote a series of blogs in 2015 to bring another perspective to what happened at Mars Hill and perhaps help others in their healing process.

Over the last year, I read William Vanderbloemen’s book “Culture Wins.” I absolutely love the focus around creating a great environment and culture of an organization. William’s company, Vanderbloemen Search Group (Vanderbloemen), has a great culture and wants to help other organizations create culture.  I am grateful to be able to join a culture and company trying to help others.   Vanderbloemen provides search and consulting for churches, non-profits and mission-based businesses.   As I join Vanderbloemen, I hope to use all of my experience to assist other leaders and organizations.   However, my first role at Vanderbloemen will be to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their search process.

Throckmorton: Many on the outside and inside at the time have questioned the health of Mars Hill. First, do you agree that Mars Hill while you were there was not a healthy church? In what ways did that lack of health manifest itself?

Turner: I believe until we get to heaven, there will not be a “perfect church” with a “perfect culture.”  All churches have areas to improve, just like all Christians have areas to improve.   I loved Mars Hill and I love the people of Mars Hill Church.  During my time there, I saw a faith family grow in their knowledge of the Bible, their heart for worship, and their service to others.  But Mars Hill had many areas to improve that were never addressed, some of which led to its closure.  Culture quickly is created by the decisions of leadership, and once the culture is created, it is very difficult to change.  Culture can be changed, but it takes committed leadership to make that happen.

Since the closing of Mars Hill in 2014, I have made many trips to Seattle to meet with hurt former church members.  Some members attended Mars Hill before my time.  I have learned a great deal through these meetings about how their lives were affected by the church.   I wrote several blogs to communicate what I have learned and help people with their healing.   As I stated in 2015,

Early on in my time at Mars Hill, I unfortunately operated in a sinful way that was consistent with the existing church culture that had grown and been cultivated since the early years of the church (late 1990’s). Instead of being an agent of change for good, I simply reinforced negative sinful behavior.  (I am responsible for my own actions, and do not blame my actions on the culture.)

I am planning another trip back to Seattle this fall to meet with more leaders and former members to continue the healing process.  I hope to continue to learn from what happened at Mars Hill and use this experience, along with my other leadership experiences, to help churches, non-profits and mission-based businesses while at Vanderbloemen.

Throckmorton: What can you tell us about what you learned in your position at Mars Hill which can help you help others develop a healthy church?

Turner: Over the last 4 years, I have studied the culture from Mars Hill and talked extensively to people that were negatively affected by the culture and its leaders.  I am building a set of material from this research to help other organizations which I have shared with several pastors and leaders.  They have identified one or two of these areas they see in their own church culture that needs improvement.   I hope to use my experience to help other leaders and pastors in the future while at Vanderbloemen.

Throckmorton: The growth of the church was remarkable, and yet the implosion was also remarkable. What observations can you offer about the rise and fall of Mars Hill?

Turner: Well, this is exactly the material I have been working on.  Trying to research the elements of the culture of Mars Hill and see what can be learned by its dramatic rise and fall.   Mars Hill started in the late 1990s.  The culture was created over the decade before Pastor Dave Bruskas and I joined senior leadership.  However, I fully believe that as John C. Maxwell says “everything rises and falls with leadership.”  In 2015, I wrote several blogs about what I learned and stated:

I have written about my personal journey of repentance and forgiveness (Part 1 & Part 2). Many will say that Pastor Dave and I did not do enough to change the culture; which is fair and certainly true, but only those who worked within the inner circle know how hard we tried.

Right now, I continue to research and document what I have learned from the Mars Hill experience.  I continue this effort to help people heal and help other leaders learn from the culture of Mars Hill.   No one wants to see what happened at Mars Hill ever happen again.  As a leader that was front row to the last 4 years of the church and created the plan to disband the church into independent churches, I have a good perspective to hopefully use my experience to help others.

Reflections

These are probably hard questions to answer. It is difficult to address the culture at Mars Hill without talking about Mark Driscoll. Although much water is under the bridge, Turner gives witness that there are still people who went to Mars Hill who are not over it. There is unfinished business for Driscoll to attend to in the Northwest.

On the bright side, in 2014 I never thought I would be reflecting back on Mars Hill with Sutton Turner (I have also had some nice exchanges with Dave Bruskas).

To read my posts on Mars Hill Church, see this link: Mars Hill Church

To read my posts about Mark Driscoll, see this link: Mark Driscoll

Like this article and want to see more like it? Support this blog at Patreon.com.

Read the Plan of Dissolution for Mars Hill Church

At the end of 2014, Mars Hill Church closed down. Several ends were loose as MHC ceased to hold services. Mark Driscoll had left the church but there was much curiosity about the report prepared by his elders which called on him to step down and enter a plan of restoration. That report was never released.
The status of the assets of MHC was also of interest to many members and ex-members. The plan was to distribute the remaining funds and proceeds from sales to 11 MHC video locations that became free standing churches. Nothing was explained to the public by remaining administrators Kerry Dodds and Caleb Walters.
Recently, I have obtained the plans of dissolution for MHC and the MHC Foundation for Planting Churches as filed with the Attorney General’s office. The latter was a trust on behalf of MHC and had $154,732 remaining in an account. After expenses, the proceeds of those funds went to an Indian mission, Visions Nationals, and the mission to Ethiopia, New Covenant Foundation. After these groups had been used to solicit funds for Mars Hill Global, it is nice to see them benefit.
Read the Dissolution Plan for Mars Hill Church Foundation for Planting Churches
Although no figures are given, the distribution of remaining assets owned by Mars Hill Church were given to the 11 churches according to their attendance and offerings. See the distribution percentages below:
MHC dist plan churches
Although the plan doesn’t specify the amount of money involved, the assets were distributed according to financial and attendance numbers.
Read the Dissolution Plan for Mars Hill Church
The church’s official date of dissolution was June 30, 2016:

Plan of Distribution. The Board hereby approves, authorizes, and consents to the voluntary dissolution of the Corporation, such dissolution to be effected in a reasonably expeditious manner but in no event later than June 30, 2016, and in accordance with the Plan set forth in this Agreement.

RICO Suit Dismissed Without Prejudice; Sutton Turner Reveals Mars Hill Church Global Fund Figures

The RICO lawsuit against Mars Hill Church was dismissed without prejudice.  The plaintiffs have not lost their rights to sue again. From the order (read it here):

The court finds that Plaintiffs have not acted in bad faith, recklessly, or with an improper purpose. Accordingly, in light of the court’s duty to carefully exercise its inherent powers, the court declines to impose the drastic sanctions Defendants seek. See Hearns, 530 F.3d at 1132 (noting drastic nature of sanction of dismissal with prejudice); Chambers, 501 U.S. at 44 (noting courts must exercise inherent powers with restraint). Mr. Turner’s allegations about Plaintiffs’ behavior in filing this case, apparently adopted by Mr. Driscoll (see Driscoll Mot. at 3), are conclusory at best and do not demonstrate that Plaintiffs have acted improperly. Merely filing a complaint alleging RICO violations for Defendants’ part in the alleged misuse of Plaintiffs’ donations to MHC does not constitute bad-faith conduct, even if the allegations case Defendants in an unfavorable light. (See Turner Mot. at 9-10.) In addition, Plaintiffs’ complaint is not frivolous on its face (see generally Compl.), and there is no evidence other than Defendants’ conclusory allegations that Plaintiffs filed this suit merely to harass and disparage Defendants (cf. Turner Mot. at 4 (arguing that Plaintiffs’ failure to serve “can lead to only one conclusion. . . . The Plaintiffs and their counsel sought to harass, disparage, and defame Mr. Turner through the public act of filing a lawsuit”)). Furthermore, Plaintiffs refute this allegation, stating that they “never had a desire for retribution nor to harass [Mr.] Turner or [Mr.] Driscoll.” (Resp. at 6.) Plaintiffs also did not act in bad faith by publicizing the case to garner support for their cause. Finally, Plaintiffs’ failure to raise the necessary funds to fully litigate their suit before filing it, Plaintiffs’ counsel’s failure to respond to Mr. Turner’s offer to accept service, and Plaintiffs’ failure to dismiss their claims of their own accord after the 90-day window for service had passed are not so far outside the bounds of acceptable litigation conduct that Plaintiffs should be sanctioned. Simply put, Plaintiffs have done nothing to “defile the very temple of justice.” Haeger, 813 F.3d at 1244 (internal quotations and alterations omitted) (quoting Chambers, 501 U.S. at 46). Plaintiffs have not committed any acts that indicate bad faith, recklessness, or an improper purpose.

For these reasons, the judge dismissed the suit without prejudice:

Based on the foregoing analysis, the court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants’ motions to dismiss (Dkt. ## 4, 7). The court DISMISSES Plaintiffs’ claims without prejudice.
Dated this 25th day of August, 2016.
JAMES L. ROBART United States District Judge

According to Brian Jacobsen, the plaintiffs would consider moving forward again if funds were available.
Even after he left Mars Hill Church, Sutton Turner was told by Mars Hill lawyers that he shouldn’t reveal how much Mars Hill spent from their Global Fund on missions. Now he has done so.

Mars Hill Global

Mars Hill Global began in 2009 to raise money from the global audience (those who listened via podcast) to help fund the mission of Mars Hill Church: “Making Disciples and Planting Churches.” Until late 2011, Mars Hill had not significantly funded international church planting but was heavily invested in US church planting. From 2009 to 2012, Mars Hill spent $8.6M in U.S. church planting and $170k outside of the U.S.
When I joined Mars Hill in 2011, I built relationships with the Kale Hewyott Church in Ethiopia to train church planters there. My passion for Ethiopia (which existed before I arrived at Mars Hill) began to dominate the message of Mars Hill Global. In hindsight, I see how many believed that the only reason Mars Hill Global existed was to fund Ethiopian church planting.
When people started to question the distribution of funds given to Mars Hill Global, the church brought in ECFA and independent auditors, Clark Nuber. Both groups gave Mars Hill a clear opinion that the church had done nothing wrong. In spite of these findings, we felt led to send 3765 emails and 6000 letters to 100% of donors to Mars Hill Global from 2011 to 2014 to clarify their gift intent. Less than 40 families responded; Mars Hill Church sent an additional $40,000 to Ethiopia because donors requested their donations to Mars Hill Global be for Ethiopian church planting.
A full and total timeline from 2009 to 2014 with videos, blogs and other information is stored here.
From 2012 to 2014, Mars Hill Church spent $13.7M in church planting in the US and sent $545k to Ethiopia and India. During its existence, Mars Hill Church invested over $23M in church planting in the US and around the world. This amount is over and above the general and administrative costs of Mars Hill Church’s central operations and staffing. (47% of the funds given to Mars Hill Global from 2012-2014 were large donations from a small number of donors who specifically asked prior to giving for their donations to be counted in Global.  Many of these donors did not attend one specific Mars Hill location and wanted their donations supporting all Mars Hill operations including U.S. and international church planting.)
Many have asked for these numbers. There was I time when I was restricted from providing these numbers. Now, everyone has the Mars Hill Global information that I had when I resigned in September 2014 (Eph. 5:13).

I knew it wasn’t much in comparison to what was spent on the US locations, and as it turns out, it wasn’t. This still doesn’t tell us how much came earmarked for international missions and how much was spent on international missions. And by earmarked for missions, I mean how much was given to the Global Fund from 2012-2014?
The rest of the post provides additional information on executive compensation, the governing board and Result Source.
 

Plaintiffs Respond to Mark Driscoll's and Sutton Turner's Motions to Dismiss the RICO Suit: Not Enough Funds to Continue

Today, attorney Brian Fahling filed responses to the motions to dismiss the RICO lawsuit accusing Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner of misuse of funds in their positions as pastors at the now defunct Mars Hill Church in Seattle.
Bottom line: Because sufficient funds have not been raised to pursue the case, the suit was not served to Driscoll and Turner. Thus the plaintiffs do not object to dismissal without prejudice (the case could be tried later). Turner had requested the suit be dismissed with prejudice (permanently) and asked for sanctions. From the plaintiffs filing today (linked below):

For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs and their counsel respectfully request that this Court deny Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss with prejudice and Turner’s Motion for sanctions, including attorney’s fees. Plaintiff does not object to dismissal without prejudice of the claims against Defendants.
DATED: July 5, 2016

The opposition document revisits the legal case against Turner and Driscoll with much concerning Mars Hill Global, Result Source and the Campus Fund. You can get up to speed on the plaintiffs arguments about those matters by reading the opposition document.
Click the links below to read the documents.
Plaintiffs opposition to the Driscoll and Turner motions
A. Kildea declaration
R. Kildea declaration
B. Jacobsen declaration
C. Jacobsen declaration
B. Fahling declaration
Commentary to come…

Mark Driscoll Files Motion to Dismiss Racketeering Lawsuit

DriscollBuildingClaiming he has not been served, Mark Driscoll filed a motion to dismiss the racketeering lawsuit against him and former Mars Hill executive pastor Sutton Turner brought by former members of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Two couples from the church allege misuse of funds.
Like Turner’s motion to dismiss, Driscoll appeals to rules of procedure requiring service of a lawsuit in 90 days. The essential claim of the motion is that the Jacobsens and Kildeas have abandoned the suit.
Driscoll claims his whereabouts are well known.
After Turner filed his motion, I asked attorney Brian Fahling for a comment with no reply.
Driscoll plans to launch his new church The Trinity Church in Scottsdale on August 7.
 

Sutton Turner Names Attorney and Responds to Mars Hill RICO Lawsuit

Sutton Turner’s Seattle attorney has notified the court and Turner notified plaintiff’s attorney that service would be accepted on the RICO lawsuit naming him and Mark Driscoll as defendants.* They are accused of running the church in a manner to financially benefit the leaders, especially Mark Driscoll.
In response to the suit, Turner exclusively provided the following statement via email:

For over a month, I have offered to meet with the Jacobsens and Kildeas. Unfortunately, they have not responded.  It has been 19 months since I resigned from Mars Hill. I have had many meetings and conversations with people, even people that were previously listed in legal demands against Mars Hill Church.  Although the plaintiffs have requested meetings with Mars Hill Church in the past, that request has not been offered to me personally in the 19 months since my disassociation with Mars Hill Church.
Since I have yet to be served with this lawsuit, I have hired an attorney to take service for me in the state of Washington. Last year, I wrote at length of my involvement in ResultSource and Global even after threats of litigation from counsel associated with Mars Hill Church.  I believe I have done everything I can to resolve this peaceably. Unfortunately, it is now time to prepare for a legal defense of these allegations.

Early in March, Turner said, “The history and culture of Mars Hill is one of both a lack of trust and transparency. Lack of transparency breeds distrust and distrust causes less transparency. It is a perpetual cycle that can exist within any organization or relationship.”
Turner’s co-defendant, Mark Driscoll, recently said he had not been seen the suit but called the allegations malicious and false.
An image of the notice of appearance is below (full document).
Turner RICO Service
 
* Earlier I stated that Turner had been served the lawsuit. That is not accurate and Turner has not been served. I apologize for the error.