Nine Current Mars Hill Church Elders Take a Bold Stand

In an August 22 letter to the Full Council of Elders at Mars Hill Church (click link for entire letter), nine current elders called on the church to change the governance and for Mark Driscoll to submit to a restoration plan. They also raised significant questions regarding the veracity of information which has come from the Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability.

They prefaced their concerns with a confession of deep concern for the church:

Concerns and Critical Information for the Elders of Mars Hill Church

Grace and Peace

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” – 2 Thessalonians 2:2

Fellow elders,

We love you, this church, and the people that Jesus has entrusted to our care.

Pastor Mark, we love you and have been immensely blessed under your preaching, and for that we are grateful.

Pastor Dave, we love you and we are thankful for the love you show to us and all those in your care, and also for your calm and clear-headed leadership in tough situations.

Pastor Sutton, we love you and are thankful that you care deeply for Mars Hill Church.

Additionally, we are thankful to the men of the BOAA for the time and energy they have given to love our church and our leaders well.

We are convicted that as we are all elders, pastors, shepherds, we equally share the responsibility for the care of the people God has entrusted to us. And it is because of this conviction and a love for the church that we are compelled to speak up. We are seriously concerned about the state of our church, especially the state our leadership at the highest levels and our continued lack of transparency in general. While the current bylaws greatly restrict our authority, we believe we must act like elders none-the-less. There is information in this letter that we believe to be important to the future of Mars Hill Church and our response to it may impact whether or not it will even have a future at all.

Come Into The Light

In John 3:21 we read this: “…whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” Brothers, have we been a church that is characterized by coming towards and loving the light? Do we welcome the light, trusting God’s grace and mercy when our weaknesses and failures are exposed?

The media has been inundated, especially in the last two years and increasingly in the past six months, with controversies surrounding Mars Hill and Pastor Mark. While some of these accusations may be groundless or exaggerated, we believe that in many cases we have  invited these controversies upon ourselves by not seeking the truth and not seeking to be in the light.

Where there is nothing to hide, there is no fear of being exposed. But, rather than seeking clarity, we have cloaked ourselves in non-disclosure agreements. We have become masters of spin in how we communicate the transition of a high volume of people off staff. We have taken refuge behind official statements that might not technically be lies on the surface, but in truth are deeply misleading.

At the retreat this week, Pastor Dave spoke about our church’s credibility problem. Brothers, this credibility problem is directly linked to the fact that we have not loved the light.

This is not the fault of one person, or even a just a small group of people. We all share in responsibility for this in one way or another, and we must all repent of it together, together calling for our church to step into the light.

Exposing The Darkness

It is out of a longing to come to the light that we began to look more deeply into certain issues when the answers that we were being given — answers that were being given to our people — continued to not add up. We sought clarity, which has been lacking. We do not believe that looking for answers, asking questions, and trying to discern the truth is a divisive or sinful thing. Rather, this is the responsibility we have as elders as we are called to lead our people and the church from a position of truth and love. To ask us not to do so would only be to further exasperate the “culture of fear” that we so desperately want to move away from.

We would like to share with you the following two examples, as they were both misrepresented this past week at our elder retreat before the Full Council of Elders. We are not inferring intent or motives, but rather we are attempting to call attention to discrepancies and to resolve them.

The two examples directly relate to public statements from the Board of Advisors and Accountability. For instance, were the 2013 charges presented by former pastor Dave Kraft actually investigated as the BOAA implied? Not according to these current elders.

According to the Mars Hill BOAA, charges brought against Mark Driscoll in 2013 were “taken seriously“:

Be assured of this, the formal charges that were filed were serious, were taken seriously and were not dismissed by the board lightly.

As the nine pastors ask, how is this possible when no witnesses were interviewed. From the letter:

BOAA/EE Statements Claim That We Had No Way to Interview Witnesses from Dave Kraft’s Formal Charges We have been repeatedly told that we could not hear from the witnesses mentioned in the document. This did not add up, since the document clearly states that there were seven individuals who were willing to testify when called upon, and Dave Kraft stated clearly that he hoped that they would be called upon. Through conversations separately with Dave Kraft and Michael Van Skaik, I (Dustin) finally got clarity on this on Tuesday morning at the elder retreat. The issue was not that the BOAA “could not” interview the witnesses, but rather that Michael Van Skaik “would not” open an investigation without Dave Kraft giving him the names first. This seems to be a completely unreasonable and unnecessary demand when the charges themselves reveal that the witnesses felt bullied and were afraid of the consequences of releasing their names outside of the protection of a formal investigation being opened. Mike Wilkerson, who helped prepare the charges for Dave, confirms that he recommended to Dave that the names of the witnesses be disclosed only after they were protected by a formal investigation process. Mike made this recommendation in part due to his perception of the danger and fear involved for the witnesses, and also because he had knowledge that a prior complaint had not been handled according to the complainant’s expectation of confidentiality, resulting in further harm to the complainant. Furthermore, this charge was not coming from an unknown critic, but rather Dave Kraft who is a respected former elder and Christian leader. Because of his reputation we should have been willing to give greater credence to his charges and want to hear them out.

Regardless of whether this was a wise or helpful decision by the BOAA, it is clearly misleading to state emphatically over and over that there was no way to talk to these people and hear their testimony, when clearly there was. This is no minor issue as we have been consistently misled about the keyreason the Kraft charges were handled the way they were. How can Van Skaik claim that “the formal charges that were filed were…taken seriously and were not dismissed by the board lightly,” when he would not even open the case to hear from the actual witnesses? Sending out letters to former employees in an effort to find these people or others who experienced similar situations seems to be a failed effort from the start, for the same reason that the 7 would not release their names unless as witnesses in an official investigation. Because of this refusal, it is misleading to claim that the charges were taken seriously when the witnesses were never even interviewed. Michael Van Skaik confirmed this week that no formal investigation was ever opened in response to Dave Kraft’s charges filed last year.

The BOAA told the world that the charges were taken seriously.

Also, was the Mars Hill BOAA aware that the Acts 29 Network board had concerns about pastor Driscoll? Yes, according to the current elders.

Public Statements Claim That There Was No Contact Between Mark/BOAA and A29 Board Prior To A29 Removing MH From Network We have been repeatedly told that no one from the A29 board talked to Mark or to our board prior to removing Mark from the network. This is only true if by “talk” you mean “told us beforehand that they were kicking us out,” and if you dismiss contact between individual board members with Mark and with each other. The impression created by these statements was one where it seemed that the A29 board had made their decision having had no communication with people close to Mark or with Mark himself, with no actual insight into the situation, and with no care for Mark or Mars Hill. The truth is that multiple members of both boards had been in direct contact with each other, and with Mark, exhorting and rebuking him over the course of months and years, and to say or imply otherwise is deeply misleading. Paul Tripp has confirmed that he specifically was in contact multiple times, while on the BOAA, with Matt Chandler, Steve Timmis, and Eric Mason about the state of Pastor Mark’s repentance. To be fair, when specifically pressed on the issue at the elder retreat, Van Skaik did admit that he was sure that some members of the two boards had been in contact with each other individually, and clarified that they had not met together as full boards. But this does not change the fact that we have not corrected our public statements and rhetoric, nor does it change the fact that Van Skaik would not have admitted this without being pressed into by Pastor Miles during our first session at the retreat. As a whole, MH’s communication surrounding this event is very misleading.

The BOAA said:

I am deeply saddened that the A29 board would make such a decisive and divisive conclusion without speaking directly to the board or Mark prior to their public announcement.

Sounds like the BOAA has some explaining to do. The letter also quotes Paul David Tripp as expressing great concern for the church but also delivering a somber assessment of the ability of the church to recover while the current leadership team is in place. Tripp calls Mars Hill “the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.” Tripp also spells out his great concern for the church and believes reconciliation can come. He offered to take part in that process.

This letter was sent before Driscoll decided to take 6 weeks off under his own terms.

Religion News Service also released this letter. The write up there by Sarah Pulliam Bailey includes a response from Mark DeMoss, newly hired public relations expert:

This letter, as with past letters voicing accusations toward Mark Driscoll will be processed in accordance with Article 12 of the church’s bylaws,” a statement provided by public relations firm head Mark DeMoss said. “This means the accusations will be thoroughly examined and a report issued when the review is complete. In the meantime, it does not seem appropriate to comment on specific accusations before/while they are being formally reviewed as we don’t want to circumvent the process prescribed by the governing body of Mars Hill.”

The elders are as follows:

Pastor Dustin Kensrue – Director of Worship / Worship Pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue

Pastor Drew Hensley – Lead Pastor at Mars Hill U-District Pastor

Mark Dunford – Pastor at Mars Hill Portland

Pastor Ryan Kearns – Director of Community Groups/Pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue

Pastor Ryan Welsh – Pastor of Theology and Discipleship

Pastor Adam Ramsey – Director of Student Ministry / Pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue

Pastor Cliff Ellis – Director of Biblical Living / Pastor at Mars Hill West Seattle

Pastor Gary Shavey – Pastor of Biblical Living at Mars Hill Bellevue

Pastor James Rose – Pastor at Mars Hill Ballard

I will have more on this story through the day.

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