Former Executive Pastor Repents for Culture of Fear at Mars Hill Church

Kyle Firstenberg was a long time member at Mars Hill in Seattle and former executive pastor at Mars Hill Orange County (CA). In the Mars Hill system, the executive pastor is responsible for the operations of a church. The counterpart at Mars Hill headquarters is Sutton Turner. Earlier this month, Firstenberg spoke with me about the Mars Hill non-disclosure agreement and, along with Dave Kraft, Firstenberg is leading the 20 former Mars Hill pastors who have requested mediation with Mark Driscoll and the Mars Hill leadership. Previously, I spoke with Firstenberg about the culture of fear at Mars Hill but in a recent blog post, Firstenberg made the subject personal by taking some responsibility for helping to maintain it. Yesterday, Firstenberg wrote:

Throughout my life I have never been quick to repent of my sins. I have hidden some sin for years, and quite frankly have just started to see and experience what grace and forgiveness looks like. Shortly after starting employment at Mars Hill in 2006, I noticed that there was a culture of fear that I had never seen in the prior six years of attending Mars Hill. That fear I believe was the result of the leadership style of Mark Driscoll. You were a valuable asset on staff at Mars Hill if you were tough, a high producer, dedicated to the growth of the church, and equally dedicated to Mark Driscoll himself. If you are not those things, you live in constant fear of being discarded.

I personally thrived in that culture. Coming from law enforcement, it was easy for me to be tough, instill fear in others, produce results and be dedicated to Mark and the church. I wasn’t saved at Mars Hill, but learned almost all I know about theology from his preaching over the years.

While I was succeeding in that culture, I at the same time, am guilty of not loving people, using them as a means to an end, and discarding people who did not fit the mold of a Mars Hill Leader, ie Mark Driscoll. I judged other people who were gifted in different ways harshly. Pridefully, I felt as though I was better than them and that if you disagreed with Mark or the direction then you weren’t on board with us and could simply leave.

Firstenberg then describes his part in the culture of fear:

In my six years on staff at Mars Hill I sinned in numerous ways. Some that come to mind are:

  • I participated in the culture of fear and promoted it through my actions with others.
  • I have participated in firing staff who confessed sin that in retrospect should have been received with grace vs law.
  • I was involved in helping in the leadership of several church discipline cases where I now believe I sinned against members by not entering into that discipline with love but rather an objective to fix a problem.
  • I failed to follow up with staff and members who left the church believing that they were against us. I sinned against them by not loving them through the transition and giving them a voice for any sin that may have been done to them.
  • I wrongfully believed the lie that Jesus is not working in any other church and that He is only working in Mars Hill.
  • I justified the unrepentant sin that Mark was committing by the apparent fruit and growth of the church.
  • I did not call Mark out when I witnessed his sin as a fellow pastor should, because of the fear of losing my job.
  • I continually operated with a self-preservation mindset that influenced how I pastored and led others.

During past conversations, Firstenberg told me that he has brought his concerns to Mars Hill’s Board of Advisors and Accountability and to specific leaders involved at Mars Hill. However, to date, he has received no response from the church.

If my sources are correct, more former Mars Hill staff and pastors will be coming forward to present similar narratives over the coming days.


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