A Former Mars Hill Pastor Speaks Out and Why Others Are Afraid: The Mars Hill Church Non-Disclosure Agreement

On Tuesday, Warren Cole Smith posted a brief note at World Magazine about the policy of Mars Hill Church to require staff to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to maintain their severance pay and health insurance. And then on Friday, Smith posted a copy of an agreement given to him by a former Mars Hill staffer.

I also have a copy of an agreement given to me by former pastor Kyle Firstenberg. Firstenberg was executive pastor at Mars Hill Orange County until about a year and a half ago. You can read more about the situation in Orange County at Wenatchee the Hatchet’s blog.

Firstenberg also provided me with a letter he wrote to Mars Hill regarding his experience as a pastor in Orange County. Given what he is saying in his letter, I can understand why Mars Hill leaders want departing staff to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Often non-disclosure agreements are signed in the business/tech world to protect proprietary information from leaking out. In this case, the main reason appears to be to keep departing staff from candidly describing their bad experiences.

Reading the NDA, it appears to me that MHC leaders hope to use fear of legal action and loss of severance pay to keep former staff quiet. Some who have been watching the Mars Hill saga unfold have asked me privately why few have been aware of the incredible tensions, discord and significant staff turnover at MHC. Furthermore, I have been amazed at how fearful staffers have been to discuss their experiences. I think both of these observations relate to the fear that the massive engine that MHC is will come down on individuals who have relatively few resources to defend themselves.

According to the statement from the Board of Advisors and Accountability, numerous staff transitions have been acrimonious and they have made changes to “detrimental management patterns.” According to Firstenberg, no sustained effort has been made to address his concerns. And according to Dave Kraft, the statement involving him is inaccurate and ignores the totality of his claims and concerns. The BOAA statement also defends the use of the non-disclosure agreement which really causes me to wonder if the “detrimental management patterns” have truly been addressed.

I asked Firstenberg for his reactions to the BOAA statement. He began by questioning whether or not Mark Driscoll and other executive elders have really faced the implications of the massive staff discord and turnover over the last 2-3 years. Firstenberg: “How have they “owned” their part?” According to Firstenberg, “There has been no response or repentance from those leaders, in fact no response at all from this accountability group to the very elders that they have sinned against. How is that owning their part?”

Regarding the effort to address concerns of staff, Firstenberg asked, “Why was Pastor Dave the only pastor that supposedly received a response from the BOAA? What about the other pastors who wrote in. I know of at least two others including myself who never heard anything back.”

Finally, Firstenberg pointed to the BOAA’s defense of the executive elders (“We deeply appreciate their endurance through false accusation, their submission to authority, and their humility where regrettable decisions from the past have come to light.”) and asked,  “What has been owned” by this statement?

As an observer, I am puzzled by the way MHC is governed. If the BOAA is a governing body, then it seems like a conflict of interest to have all three of the executive elders (Driscoll, Turner and Bruskas) as members. This seems especially relevant since numerous former staff are leveling serious and significant charges and the decision making board investigating those charges include those who are being charged. Given the reactions of former MHC pastors (Firstenberg told me that nearly all of the branch executive pastors who were in place two years are now gone), it seems that the BOAA has not come close to addressing the depth of the matter.

Read all posts on Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll here.


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