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…
*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.”

Sutton Turner and Mark Driscoll on the Impact of Mars Hill Global on World Missions

In a meeting at Mars Hill Shoreline which, according to my source, occurred sometime between April and June of 2012, Sutton Turner and Mark Driscoll responded to a question about what impact Mars Hill Church desired to have in “world missions.” Driscoll directed the question to Turner who described what the church was doing in Mars Hill Global. Listen:


We’ve got some really exciting opportunities that we’re launching and I don’t know if you watch the blogs but Mars Hill Global has really launched and is launching, planting churches in Ethiopia and India and actually had a meeting on Friday with a church planting group that we are going to resource in the Dominican Republic. So really on Asia, and Africa and then in Latin America and there’s two ways that we do things cause its all about making disciples and planting churches cause that’s what God’s called us to do.  So we need to stay on mission with that as we do international and as we go global.  So what that means is is two things, we plant churches, so we fund either, like in Ethiopia, there’s a Kale-Hewitt Bible College, so there’s ten guys that are there right now that we’re going to fund, it’s a two year process and then they’ll go out and we’ll actually help them and support them financially on planting.  And secondly, we’re doing there’s two regions in India that we’ll do some planting, and then there’s the Dominican Republic.

Turner then discusses the translation work for Driscoll’s Doctrine book and the Bible. They also discuss the funding coming from listeners who do not attend Mars Hill Church. He says that they hope the listeners outside Mars Hill will give to a variety of projects domestic and otherwise. He then adds that Mars Hill Military Mission was folded into Global. Eventually, the Military Mission was discontinued because of low return on investment.
Turner told the crowd that Mars Hill Global launched work in Ethiopia, India and the Dominican Republic. I can’t find any disclosure that the Global Fund would primarily be used to buy and refurbish churches in the United States. It certainly seems understandable that a listener might get the idea that Mars Hill Global was the church’s presence in world missions.
For a similar speech from Mark Driscoll, see this link.
For all posts on Mars Hill Global, see this link.

Sutton Turner Begins His Defense of Mars Hill Global

After describing his part in the ResultSource New York Times best seller deal, Sutton Turner has now turned his attention to Mars Hill Global and laying off staff. Here I deal with his first Mars Hill Global post.
Turner posted the following video:
In the transcript to follow, he highlighted the following:

So what does Mars Hill Global do?

Well Mars Hill Global is doing and participating in church planting here in Ethiopia and also in India, also we are doing church planting in the United States as well. We are doing all of that. Because at Mars Hill Church we believe (that) Jesus has called us to make disciples and plant churches. So I want to ask you to be a part, I want to ask you to be a part of the Extended Family of Mars Hill Global. Sign up today, become a member of the extended family, start participating with online with us, and let’s see what Jesus Christ is going to do do, not only in the United States but to the ends of the earth.”

The page where that video was posted has of course been removed from view, and at last look, Mars Hill has blocked searches of its website via the Internet Archive. I do however have the page saved where that video was featured.  You can review that here at the link.

The following video also preceded many of the sermons vodcasts on the Mars Hill website starting at least in 2013.


Howdy Mars Hill Church, pastor Sutton Turner here and I’m in Ethiopia, and I just want to thank Jesus for continuing to use Mars Hill Church to make disciples and plant churches. Mars Hill Global is the arm of Mars Hill Church that makes disciples and plant churches all over the world. We not only do church planting, but we help better equip church planters. Most recently, we shipped and now distributed a thousand Bibles into Amharic which is the language here in Ethiopia, and we launched a project to translate Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Doctrine book into Spanish. We have people from over 29 different countries that are giving on a monthly basis to Mars Hill Global.

So whether you’re a member of one of our Mars Hill Church locations in the United States or you’re one of 100,000 podcasters every single week, we encourage you to pray about giving above and beyond your tithe to Mars Hill Global. Thank you and let’s see more materials translated, more pastors sent out, more churches planted, and more people saved by Jesus Christ. (emphasis added)

In this clip, Turner places the emphasis on Mars Hill Global as the arm of the church that plants churches all over the world. The video is shot in Ethiopia and no mention is made of the U.S.

There were many other communications from Mars Hill Church which portrayed Global as a missions outreach of the church, most of which I have written about before. I do have other documents on the subject which I have not posted. We shall see if they become relevant.

Sutton Turner on Church Governance at Mars Hill Church

This morning Sutton Turner posted his third in a series of reflections on the ResultSource decision and church governance.
Mainly Turner concerns himself with the debate over the role of elders in a large church versus a small one. Instead of making a biblical argument, he offers a utilitarian defense of bringing in outside advisers to govern a church they don’t attend. His rationale is that God has allowed mega-churches to get really big so He must be fine with different rules for them.
If a plurality of elders isn’t working maybe something is wrong elsewhere. Maybe the church is too big. Mars Hill could have given autonomy to video sites but the executive elders didn’t let it happen. For instance, Orange County campus pastors wanted to avoid fines from the city of Santa Ana, CA and re-locate. However, Sutton Turner said no.
Turner’s sense of Mars Hill’s history on governance is at odds with my conversations with former Mars Hill members. In addition, Wenatchee the Hatchet has a wealth of information on the governance before and after the 2007 purge of Paul Petry and Bent Meyers. He establishes that the elders did not need to vote unanimously to pass an item.
I found this paragraph to be hard to bring together with the many interviews I have done with Mars Hill former members and pastors:

Back in 2007, Mars Hill had migrated away from plurality of elders in its formal governance structure, but the strains of plurality still remained within the church culture. Every man who became a pastor, whether paid or volunteer, went through the “eldership” process to ensure the character qualifications of 1 Peter 5 and 1 Timothy 3 were met in the man’s life and home. Although the by-laws clearly stated otherwise, many church members assumed those pastors were directly involved in the governance of the church, even in 2014. Some of the pastors in 2014 felt that all 60 pastors should still be governing elders and all 60 pastors should operate in plurality on all decisions.

Mars Hill was jolted away from a plurality of elders by Mark Driscoll and his supporters in 2007. He later said it was because he needed the governance to change for his benefit. Turner says the congregation assumed that pastors were in charge. This would be a natural mistake because one, it makes sense, and two, members were often denied access to the by-laws. They appeared on the website in 2014 after I pointed out in a blog post that the state of Washington requires non-profits to make by-laws available.
Turner closed by saying he plans to write about Mars Hill Global. Looking forward to those posts.

Sutton Turner: Big Churches Like Mars Hill Church Need Big Decision Makers

Former Mars Hill Church executive elder Sutton Turner has posted part two of his reflections (he posted part one yesterday) on the decision to commit church funds to buy Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage on to the New York Times best-seller list.
In this post, Turner takes credit for changing Mars Hill by-laws to include the Board of Advisors and Accountability. The BoAA consisted of three executive elders (Driscoll, Bruskas, and Turner) and four outsiders (various members at different times, but including James MacDonald, Larry Osborne, Jon Phelps, Matt Rogers, Michael VanSkaik, and famously Paul Tripp). Turner asserts that big decisions (like the New York Times scheme) require leaders of big organizations to weigh in. In today’s post, Turner writes:

The board in place at Mars Hill in the summer of 2011 consisted of local elders who had been at Mars Hill for many years. They were inside the organization. I’m not sure what they discussed regarding ResultSource, but they needed outsiders who were experienced in big decision-making and who were outside of their context to help them.

I assert that ethical sense is more important in such decisions, but Turner attempts to make a case that outsiders help prevent groupthink. I cover groupthink when I teach social psychology and I disagree with his analysis. If anything the structure of the BoAA lent itself to groupthink. The board was small and insulated from the rest of the elders due to the control the BoAA had over the entire church. Their moves and deliberations were secret with no meaningful input allowed from the lesser elders or congregation. Moreover, preventing groupthink is primarily leadership responsibility. Solid leaders who do not need to be in control of all aspects of an organization can prevent the negative effects of group cohesion whether the board members have experience or not.
Turner’s advice to leaders in yesterday’s post is inappropriate if groupthink is a concern. Turner objected to the ResultSource contract but did not buck the system. He wrote:

What You Cannot Do

  1. When the decision is legal, you cannot stay and complain that you did not agree with it. You cannot be divisive while continuing to remain on the team. If you are going to be divisive, you need to leave.

  2. You cannot leave the organization and complain to your friends or through social media when you actually had an opportunity to fix it if you had stayed. I have seen many people leave Mars Hill who had positions of influence. They did not agree with decisions, resigned, and went to social media to try and bring about organizational change from the outside. To me, if you stay, you can be part of the solution, but if you leave, you need to leave and allow leaders who remain to make changes for the organization’s future.

One of the ways to avoid groupthink is to encourage dissent and disagreement. Worrying about being divisive when in fact you have principled disagreement is part of what fuels the cohesion that is at the heart of groupthink. Having a local elder board is a minor concern compared to the problems inherent in self-censorship and mindguarding (see this brief summary relating to groupthink).
Turner then outlines what he claims was the response of the BoAA to the ResultSource decision.

At our board meeting in August of 2013, I provided a detailed analysis and accounting of the ResultSource marketing plan. At this board meeting (six months before the signed ResultSource contract was leaked to the public), the new board agreed that this type of marketing strategy would never be used again. In fact, no other books that were published through Mars Hill used it. We, as board members, would certainly not always get it right. In fact, in the following months, we would even make mistakes around the public revelation of the ResultSource contract. (I desired for our first media response at that time to clearly communicate two things: my level of involvement in the decision and the BOAA’s decision to never repeat the practice. Unfortunately, this did not happen.) But six months before the public spotlight, this new board of outside leaders, who were unassociated with the ResultSource decision, evaluated the proposal afterwards and made the right decision: it was a bad idea and it was wrong.

In 2014, Justin Dean was the first one out with a statement about ResultSource and he claimed it was an opportunity. If the BoAA had made this decision, why wasn’t Justin Dean made aware of this fact? I would like to hear more from Turner about how and why three different opinions of ResultSource were communicated to the public in the space of about a week.