Former Mars Hill Church Executive Pastor Sutton Turner Comments on RICO Lawsuit

From investyourgifts.com
From investyourgifts.com

Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner are the defendants in a RICO lawsuit filed by two former Mars Hill Church couples. Driscoll recently spoke out and called the charges “false and malicious” and “without any merit.”
This morning, co-defendant in the suit — former executive elder Sutton Turner — responded to the matter on his blog.  About the suit, Turner said:

As time has passed, I have watched the pursuit of legal actions by my brothers and sisters towards the Church and former leaders. I empathize with them and hurt with them. After recently being named in a legal proceeding, but having yet to be served, I have reached out to the plaintiffs directly. They were probably unaware I was willing to meet with them directly. I hope to meet with them, empathize with their hurt, pray with them, apologize to them, and clear up anything I can.
I have been contacted by many news organizations to make a comment on the lawsuit. In the past two weeks, I have prayed. I have reached out to the plaintiffs directly to communicate my willingness to meet. And I continue to hope that Christ will walk us through this difficult but necessary process in a spirit of reconciliation.

Turner’s reaction to the suit is different than Driscoll’s. Rather than criticize his accusers, Turner seems to sympathize with them.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a series of blog posts to help me heal as well as to bring clarity to others for their healing. I wrote about my involvement in Result Source and my involvement in Global. 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 says he has yet to be served the suit.

RICO Lawsuit Filed Against Former Leaders of Mars Hill Church; ECFA Named As Co-Conspirator

marshillglobalannualreportclipThe long anticipated suit from a group of former members against former leaders of Mars Hill Church was filed today in the U.S District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle. Attorney Brian Fahling filed suit on behalf of plaintiffs Brian and Connie Jacobsen and Ryan and Arica Kildea.
The plaintiffs accuse defendants Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner of engaging in

a continuing pattern of racketeering activity by soliciting, through the internet and the mail, contributions for designated purposes, and then fraudulently used significant portions of those designated contributions for other, unauthorized purposes. It was a pattern of racketeering activity that extended through a myriad of MHC projects, including the Global Fund, the Campus Fund, the Jesus Festival, and the promotion of Driscoll’s book Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together (“Real Marriage”).

In a statement, the attorney filing the suit, Brian Fahling said:

A church is not simply a building and programs. Mars Hill Church was a community of individuals—non-member attendees who considered MHC to be their church home, members, elders and pastors—who worked together in pursuit of a common mission—to make disciples and plant churches in the name of Jesus. Needless to say, the four groups are interdependent and the church cannot function without each of them. However, Driscoll and Turner engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity so deeply embedded, pervasive and continuous, that it was effectively institutionalized as a business practice, thereby corrupting the very mission Plaintiffs and other donors believed they were supporting.

On the Global Fund, just today I posted two formerly undisclosed memos on Mars Hill Church’s Board of Advisors and Accountability’s decision to keep secret how the church spent funds on missions (Global Fund) and salaries.
It is interesting to see ECFA named as a co-conspirator in the suit. The memo disclosed earlier today indicates that Dan Busby approved the moves of Mars Hill Church to address the Global Fund and apparently had no problem with the lack of transparency. In contrast, Busby and the ECFA took a turn toward transparency by removing Gospel for Asia from membership in October of 2015.
While it is a sad day to see these matters come to civil court, perhaps this will lead to a settlement and closure.
Read the lawsuit by clicking the link.

The Behind the Scenes Mars Hill Global Maneuvers

Over a year after the last service was held at Mars Hill Church, there are still stories to be told.
Recently, I acquired two memos which provide details about Mars Hill Global, a mysterious aspect of the demise of Mars Hill Church. From 2012 until mid-2014, Mars Hill Church marketed Mars Hill Global as a fund to help support church planters in India and Ethiopia. However, at least some insiders at Mars Hill knew that the donations given through the Global Fund were spent primarily on church planting expenses in the United States. One memo I posted in 2014 suggested that international projects would bring in lots of dollars which could in turn be used to fuel domestic expansion.
Once I started asking questions about Mars Hill Global, changes began to happen on the Mars Hill website. Because initially the changes were unexplained, I made a video documenting at least one of the major changes. This was in response to claims from Mars Hill’s leaders that the Global Fund was not really a fund but a source of funds from donors who were not part of Mars Hill’s churches. As I demonstrate, this explanation seemed problematic at the time since Mars Hill members could either give to the general fund which was unrestricted or to the Global Fund which was presented to the church after 2012 as a fund to spread the Gospel outside of the U.S., especially in India and Ethiopia.
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4EFX3-RXyg[/youtube]
An accounting of how Global Fund donations were spent has been an ongoing desire of many former Mars Hill members. In addition to wondering how the funds from church liquidation have been spent, former members still want to know how much money went to international mission efforts (see this petition).
The first of the two memos I have acquired on the subject was sent in June 2014. It was addressed to the lead pastors of the 15 locations and summarized the Board of Advisors and Accountability’s response to questions about Mars Hill Global which I began raising in May. In this we learn that Mars Hill Church leaders worked with Dan Busby of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability to change the messaging surrounding Mars Hill Global. According to this memo, Busby approved the decision to keep private the details about how much was actually spent on missions. Click on each thumbnail below to read the memo.

For now, I would like to pull out one important section:
MHC Memo GFund
In this memo, the BOAA and the ECFA specifically rejected transparency. While I have reason to believe that the decision was not unanimous among the executive elders (Mark Driscoll, Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas) and BOAA, it is stunning that Mars Hill’s leaders withheld that information. As a non-profit accountable to the public and a church accountable to those who gave the money, this information should have been disclosed. However, for some reason, the information appears to be considered classified also by those currently wrapping up Mars Hill’s affairs. After he left Mars Hill, Sutton Turner planned to release the information but was warned by Mars Hill lawyers not to.
Looking back, one of the executive elders, Dave Bruskas told me in an email that he thinks more disclosure was warranted. Bruskas said:

In hindsight, I think itemizing money spent on domestic church planting, international church planting and relief efforts would have been helpful for donors and the general public.  I also think aggregating salaries in the separate line items of local church staffing costs and central staffing costs (including executive salaries) rather than lumping all compensation into a single category of “Personnel Costs” would have given donors and the general public a better picture of how donations were being spent.

The other memo, sent in early July, provides some insight into how much money was given via the the Global designation.

In this memo, the figure of $3-million for Mars Hill Global was projected for fiscal year 2015 based on comparable giving in FY 2014. For most of FY 2014 (July 2013-June 2014), donors had the option of designating Global Fund via the drop down menu. In the image above taken from the first memo, the Mars Hill BOAA decided not to reveal how much it cost to support 40 Ethiopia church planters. However, this can estimated since it was known that Mars Hill partnered with New Covenant Foundation which suggests $170/month/church planter. Mars Hill supporter 40 such families which leads to $81,600 if the support was full. They also supported Indian missionaries and did some translation work.*
These memos confirm much of what was speculation in 2014. Where I disagree with the thrust of this memo is the only mistake was to leave Global Fund on the Giving Page drop down menu. As I documented repeatedly in 2014, Mars Hill marketed Mars Hill Global as the way Mars Hill Church did missions. I don’t read that in these memos.
 
*Keep in mind, these are estimates since Mars Hill’s leaders both before and after the church closed failed to disclose the exact figures. The memos provide a bit more confirmation that the estimates are close.

Part Two of Sutton Turner's Thoughts on Forgiveness

Today, former Mars Hill Church executive pastor Sutton Turner extends his Mars Hill reflections in part two of his series on repentance and forgiveness.
I appreciate Turner’s efforts here. These are not brief posts, but rather indicate that he has thought about these matters. He seems to want to make amends in a public sense with his detractors, not by criticizing them but by acknowledging his mistakes. For instance, he tweeted:


I don’t want to quarrel much with Mr. Turner as he is taking time to reflect but I will note one area which may generate some additional discussion. To begin point seven, Turner says:

It is very disheartening when you want to sit down with someone and practice Jesus’ instructions given in Matthew 18, but they do not believe they have sinned against you and refuse to meet. What should you do? Forgive them.

This does not seem consistent with Matt. 18 where a different trajectory is envisioned when someone refuses to meet. The Matt. 18 progression is from a private conversation to involving some others to involving the ekklesia. Translated church, my view is that the word should be translated as it was at the time — assembly, particularly an assembly of citizens. The church had not been established when Jesus spoke these words and the context sounds more civic or legal. Two of three witnesses were to establish the truth of the offense as a precursor to presenting the case to the assembly. In practice, the way we do church today can accommodate this teaching but not every offense is a Matt. 18 matter, as I see it.
In any case, this is a matter for honest discussion. There are psychological benefits of letting go of resentment and, if this is what Turner is referring to, I can see benefit in it. Rumination and resentment are not good physically or psychologically. However, when unfinished business is involved, as in the case at Mars Hill Church, one can let go of resentment and still seek justice.
It is hard not to compare Turner and Driscoll on this topic since they are both plowing that ground. Driscoll talks a lot about forgiveness but doesn’t seem to ask for much. Turner, at least, seems to understand that repentance and forgiveness go together.

Sutton Turner Confesses Some Mars Hill Sins

One of the last three executive elders to serve at Mars Hill Church, Sutton Turner has taken a different route in his public reflection about his experience at Mars Hill than the soft-spoken Dave Bruskas and the main event Mark Driscoll. Bruskas spoke to his Albuquerque church in a closed meeting (here, here, and here) and to my knowledge has not blogged or addressed the media since he left Mars Hill. Driscoll on the other hand has remained aloof from social media, isn’t doing interviews but has spoken in a series of large venues.
Today, Turner posted a confession of sorts on his blog. He begins:

I am writing this post to help other leaders like me. I pray that someone—even just one person—can be spared the consequences of his/her own mistakes by paying careful attention to mine beforehand. I also pray that my public confession of sin and admission of mistakes will further enhance opportunity for reconciliation and restoration among those with whom I have experienced conflict.
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. 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 so thankful for the kindness of God that has led me to repentance, the grace of Jesus that forgave my sin, and the love of brothers who exhorted me during those necessary times of growth. Somewhere between 2012 and 2013, with the help of Pastor Dave Bruskas and others, change began to take root in my heart. These lessons continue to bear fruit in my life as the Holy Spirit grows me to become more like Jesus. I do look back on 2011 and 2012 with a lot of regret, but I’m also very thankful for the Holy Spirit and his ability to grow us all to be more like Jesus.

In light of Dan Kellogg’s and John Lindell’s dismissal of Mars Hill problems, Turner’s disclosure that he operated in a “a sinful way that was consistent with the existing church culture that had grown and been cultivated since the early years of the church” is worth noting. Turner does not mention Driscoll, but everybody knows who was in charge of the church from the beginning. Turner does not mention Driscoll as a help in overcoming that culture, but instead credits Dave Bruskas and unnamed others.
I know there are several people I have interviewed who would encourage Turner to add 2013 at least, and probably 2014 to his list of dates which should be regret-worthy. Having said that, I think Turner’s approach here has much to recommend it. He then reflects on forgiveness which, because of the way he started his post, doesn’t come across so self-serving as does Mark Driscoll’s two recent sermons on the subject.
I recognize that those who served at Mars Hill and former members will have varying reactions to Turner’s reflections. Inasmuch as bitterness remains, I hope the parties can reconcile.
Looking forward to the next segments.

Sutton Turner: Leaving a Big Church is Selfish

Just when I thought we were getting somewhere…
Today, Sutton Turner posted an apologetic of sorts* (pdf of the post) for separation of pastors from pews in big churches. Turner seems convinced that the corporate world is a good analogy for a church leadership.
This quote seems to capture the mood:

When an organization grows and people lose access to the senior leader, many will take the selfish route and leave. They look back on the smaller, familial organization as the golden days, but Ecclesiastes 7:10 (NIV) reads, “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.”

Call me crazy but I doubt the Ecclesiastes verse means I am selfish to prefer a small, familial church.  Furthermore, I doubt it is a prohibition on leaving a church when you believe the governance structure is more aligned with big business than the New Testament.
I don’t think Turner meant this as an explanation for Mars Hill demise but in light of what has happened, it is an interesting statement:

Unfettered access to the senior leader will damage if not destroy the organization.

In contrast, very few people had access to the executive elders at Mars Hill. At least some of staffers who reported to the executive elders felt far removed from influence and access. Probably a little more access would have helped.
Some people like a megachurch and some don’t. My personal view is that large churches bring pressures to bear on pastors and members that compete with the mission of the church. On the other hand, very small churches can burn out the few faithful volunteers. Somewhere in the middle seems about right but even that is a matter of preference.
The relevance of this to Mars Hill is that the events of 2007 continue to reverberate even after Mars Hill Church is no more.
On another note, I just couldn’t get this song out of my mind…
[youtube]https://youtu.be/RUP4dCucVnY[/youtube]
 
*The post seems to be down now. To read it, click the pdf link

Sutton Turner Talks Mars Hill Global; Financial Information Omitted at Lawyers' Request

Sutton Turner provides his side of the Mars Hill Global story in a lengthy blog post today.
The omission of financial information is puzzling. For instance, Turner says:

In 2014 alone, Mars Hill gave $X to support efforts in Ethiopia and India. This is over X times what was given toward all non-US church planting from 2009-2011.* See the quote below from the Mars Hill Church FAQ web page in 2014**:

He addresses the confusion surrounding messaging on Global and honored the request of attorneys to leave out specific dollar amount given to international missions. Even though there is potential for legal action, it is hard to understand why these numbers are not provided. Turner says:

*Unfortunately, Mars Hill’s attorneys have requested that I not blog. I have removed some of the financial information as well as other non-financial information in response to their request.

Even though Mars Hill is a church, the attorneys are ruling the situation. The amount of money a church gives to missions is a secret? This is ridiculous, especially in absence of some compelling explanation.
Regarding the intent of the Mars Hill Global program, I have a hard time with these paragraphs:

Over the last twelve months, many have criticized the intentions and practices surrounding Mars Hill Global. This criticism focused around the claim that the leadership of Mars Hill confused donors who were giving to the Global Fund leading them to believe that 100% of all donations to Mars Hill Global went to Ethiopia and India.
I am sorry that some who contributed to Mars Hill Global (as well as those who did not contribute) were mistakenly led to believe incorrect information.That was neither my nor the church’s intention, but as the accusations came in, we quickly made a change on the online giving site to remove the term “Global Fund” (which had been used since 2009) to make it clearer. Secondly, we had the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), as well as an external, independent auditor, conduct thorough investigations. Both of these groups found that we could have been clearer during our communications (and in hindsight, we certainly agreed), but they reported that we did nothing wrong. Although neither the ECFA nor the auditor gave us any course of corrective action, my leadership team and I wanted to do everything we could to remedy the situation and correct our mistakes.

Turner did not deal with this memo which seems to suggest that there was a plan to misinform donors. For instance, the amount of money was not to be disclosed to the public (still not happening):

Flagship Projects
Of the money that comes into the Global Fund, designate a fixed percentage internally for highly visible, marketable projects such as mission trips, orphan care, support for pastors and missionaries in the third world, etc. (ten to fifteen strategic operations in locations where Mars Hill wants to be long term). This percentage should be flexible (not a “tithe”), and not communicated to the public. Support for Mars Hill Global would be support for Mars Hill Church in general, but the difference and the draw would be that a portion of Global gifts would also benefit projects that spread the gospel and serve the needs of people around the world.

And then there was this paragraph:

The Global Fund could be beneficial in a number of ways, besides the obvious gain of increased funding:
• For a relatively low cost (e.g. $10K/month), supporting a few missionaries and benevolence projects would serve to deflect criticism, increase goodwill, and create opportunities to influence and learn from other ministries.

The plan at some point in re-launching Global was to support missions but to do so in a way that brought in more money than the mission support required. Again, read the entire re-launch memo; somebody had intent to play up missions and reap a harvest for U.S. expansion.
I was glad that Turner disclosed that the ECFA was involved. That they required nothing of Mars Hill is a loud clear testimony that they are not in business for donors. I may write a separate post about this disclosure.
Overall, I appreciate Turner’s disclosures. He acknowledges mistakes and says he was responsible:

I now realize that over time, I did not continue to communicate as well as I should have that Mars Hill Global was doing church planting in the US, Ethiopia, and India. My personal passion for Ethiopia began to overtake the communication about church planting in the US.

My personal passion for Ethiopia began to overtake the communication about church planting in the US.

I also made a very bad assumption that because the last decade of Mars Hill had been acutely focused on church planting in the US with Acts29, that I needed to focus more on what we were doing outside of the US. I assumed that everyone knew our church planting efforts in the US were continuing (which they did—with seven more churches between 2012 and 2014.)

I am deeply sorry for any confusion caused by my and my former team’s communications. Although this was certainly not our intention, the outcome still remains and we did everything in our power to rectify this error with Global donors in the summer of 2014. I understand that this situation has hurt some people’s (both Christian and non-Christian) trust in church stewardship for the larger church in general, and I am deeply saddened by this. Again, I am very sorry; I should have better communicated the goals, the use of funds, and the future vision of Mars Hill Global in the United States and wherever God would lead us in the world.

In this post, Turner makes another stunning admission:

Mistakes. When you make a mistake, admit it clearly and quickly. As I have mentioned previously, the MH BOAA discussed many different paths for communication, including trying to get ahead of the story and remaining silent. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of assuming that if we were silent about this issue it would pass over.

Mars Hill (along with the ECFA) hoped the matter would go away. The ECFA continues to take this approach when asked questions about their dealings. In some cases, it probably does work. It has worked so far for David Jeremiah but doesn’t always work as in the case of Mars Hill.
All in all Turner has shed some light on the Mars Hill Global story. Although there are more questions (e.g., who told Justin Dean to make up that elaborate story about the Global Fund not being a fund?), Turner’s admission point us to a little more clarity. If only the lawyers would understand what kind of organization they work for.
 
 

Why Sutton Turner Left Mars Hill Church

Today, in a blog post, Sutton Turner explains why he left Mars Hill Church.
If I understand this story correctly some of the people who are still involved in legacy churches were involved in this matter. Furthermore, my sources tell me that at least one of those involved in this matter opposed the 21 pastors who brought charges. It may seem via Turner’s description that the challenge came from those who opposed Driscoll. My information is contrary to that.
In any case, apparently Turner got a look at the view from beneath the bus.
I have heard other former Mars Hill members tell me that the information shared in “counseling” at Mars Hill was also used to manipulate them. As the result of his experience, Turner makes good recommendations:

If your church has a strong eldership process (and I hope it does), can you do me a favor today? Look at how information is shared and with whom it is shared. Secondly, if you have a biblical counseling team that provides “safe” counseling to your church, what is the process around these records and who has access to this confidential information? Our church of Jesus Christ needs to be the safest place to share our stories with trustworthy and loving pastors.

 

Sutton Turner: Mars Hill Church's Former Attorneys Want Blog Posts Removed

Late yesterday, Sutton Turner published a must-read blog post.
When an article begins with “attorneys did not want me to post any more blogs and to remove” prior posts, it is a good indication that one should read the rest. Specifically, Turner wrote that the church’s former attorney discouraged more communication and wanted him to remove previous posts.

For the past several weeks, I have been planning to discuss the lessons I have learned from events and mistakes at Mars Hill Church on my website. Earlier this week, I wrote three separate blogs regarding the ResultSource decision in 2011 at Mars Hill. Today, I planned to focus on Mars Hill Global. However, last night I received a call to explain that Mars Hill’s former attorneys did not want me to post any more blogs and also to remove what has already been communicated this week.

Do the former attorney’s not understand how the web works? The information is already out.
I’m impressed that Turner has not removed the prior posts and I appreciate Turner’s motives for writing:

In our modern day, a church of its size, influence, and scope has never failed in such a public way nor experienced such unprecedented circumstances. Unless, we study the leadership, events, decisions, victories, and failures—the whole history of Mars Hill Church—it may very well be repeated.

There are several stunning lines in this post. Here’s one:

There was actually a division on the Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) as some men wanted to put all the blame for both Global and ResultSource on me, but I am thankful for men who did not allow that.

Turner closes with more surprises:

As I’ve said, I do believe there are helpful lessons to be shared that might prevent what happened at Mars Hill from ever happening again. Consequently, I will not be able to fully comply with the request of Mars Hill’s former attorneys. However, I will rework the Global blog post content this weekend and remove many of the financial numbers that people are so eager to know.

What could possibly be the problem with releasing the numbers?  How are Mars Hill Church’s former attorneys (plural?) even players at this point?
Stay tuned and go read the entire post.

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.”