Update (Aug. 29): Mars Hill Church responded publicly today to the leaked letter by nine of its 65 pastors.
"Despite the way the letter was sent out, please know we take its contents very seriously and will be taking the appropriate actions to honor Jesus, address the allegations and concerns, and work toward becoming a healthy church," write 18 of the church's lead pastors, including eight members of a newly appointed "board of elders" comprised of "trusted lead pastors ... appointed to examine these charges."
The letter asks church members to not "react in fear or anxiety," "pronounce judgment before the time," or "slander, gossip, or pick sides," and instead asks them to "pray," "seek wisdom," "walk in godliness," and "trust." Mars Hill writes:
We must allow God to bring to light everything that he wants to have brought to the light. Just because someone brings forward allegations and concerns about a leader does not mean we should presume guilt. Any and all allegations and charges must be treated seriously, with impartiality, and without jumping to conclusions. Your elders will seek to honor Jesus as we proceed forward.
The 18 pastors note that "our 'team' is Jesus, not one group of elders or another," and writes:
Pray that the elders will seek the Lord, be led by the Spirit, and proceed forward in confession, repentance, love, and godliness. Pray that the watching non-Christian world would not be given opportunity to discredit not only our church but the very gospel of Jesus. Pray that Jesus will be glorified through all of this.
The letter can be read in full at bottom of this post.
Meanwhile, Warren Throckmorton reports that Mars Hill has also updated members on its Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA), replacing the vacancies left by the recent resignations of prominent external figures, Paul Tripp and James MacDonald, with two "local members of our church who meet the ECFA guidelines for independence"—Seattle businessmen Matt Rogers and John Phelps. Rogers will chair the new board of elders (mentioned above), which "will provide increased accountability in areas of financial responsibility, staff and elder transitions and church culture."
Nine of Mars Hill Church's 65 pastors, including the lead pastor of one of its 15 campuses, have called for Mark Driscoll to step down not for six weeks but for a full year, and for church elders to play a more prominent role in restoring the health of the Seattle megachurch.
“It is time to take responsibility for our church, regardless of how much our current bylaws prevent us from exercising that authority," they wrote in a 4,000-word letter (full text at bottom). "It grieves us that the only voice that has never been heard in all of this is the voice of the current elders."
The letter was circulated within Mars Hill last Friday, before Driscoll's big Sunday announcement of eight next steps while the church investigates charges against him by 21 former pastors. The letter was first obtained by Patheos blogger Warren Throckmorton, and published as part of a Religion News Service report today.
Despite a current Mars Hill governance structure which places disciplinary authority in the hands of a hybrid internal/external Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA), the letter argues that Mars Hill’s elders “are called to lead our people and the church from a position of truth and love,” and consequently the pastors "do not believe that looking for answers, asking questions, and trying to discern the truth is a divisive or sinful thing.”
“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,” they continued.
The nine pastors—who include Drew Hensley, lead pastor of Mars Hill's U-District campus, and four pastors from the Bellevue campus where Driscoll speaks live—emphasize six points:
- We, the elders of Mars Hill Church, love Pastor Mark and truly desire his full restoration to preaching Pastor of this church.
- Whether he were planning to step down or not, we direct that he steps down from ministry, submitting himself under the authority of the elders of the church, who will oversee the details of his restoration plan.
- He must step down not only from the pulpit, but from all aspects of ministry and leadership.
- He will continue to receive his salary so long as he continues to cooperate with the restoration plan set before him by the elders of Mars Hill Church.
- Dr. Tripp has agreed to serve us in a consulting role to oversee the restoration plan for Pastor Mark. We direct the BOAA to retain Dr. Tripp in this capacity, and in doing so also to agree that Pastor Mark only be restored when Dr. Tripp and all members of the BOAA and the Board of Elders believe that process to be complete.
- Lastly, we direct that this information (Pastor Mark stepping down in submission to the authority of the elders) be lovingly but candidly presented to the people of Mars Hill Church, as we know that this will be helpful in rebuilding their trust in their leaders and hope for their church.
Mark DeMoss's public relations firm, which recently started representing Mars Hill, said in a statement to CT:
This letter, as with past letters voicing accusations toward Mark Driscoll will be processed in accordance with Article 12 of the church’s bylaws. 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.
According to the Mars Hill website, the governance authority of the full council of elders, whom the church refers to as pastors, is limited to approving “the slate of nominees for the [BOAA], and changes to the doctrinal statement.” In contrast, the BOAA is charged with “counsel,” “accountability,” and “governance.”
The pastors' letter also includes critical quotes attributed to popular speaker and pastor Paul Tripp, who resigned from the board earlier in August. According to the letter, it was Tripp who called upon the elders to speak out "based on our authority as elders of Christ’s church."
Tripp did not respond to CT’s request for comment by press time, but his remarks on his earlier resignation focused on frustrations with the church’s governance structure.
“It became clear to me that a distant, external accountability board can never work well because it isn't a firsthand witness to the ongoing life and ministry of the church,” Tripp wrote. “Such a board at best can provide financial accountability, but it will find it very difficult to provide the kind of hands-on spiritual direction and protection that every Christian pastor needs. Unwittingly what happens is that the external accountability board becomes an inadequate replacement for a biblically functioning internal elder board that is the way God designed his church to be lead and pastors to be guided and protected.”
In Driscoll's first public statement since Acts 29 rebuked and removed him from the church planting network he founded, the embattled Seattle pastor announced Sunday that he would temporarily step down as leader of Mars Hill Church while charges submitted by 21 former pastors against him are investigated.
The decision by Driscoll, whose current challenges made the front page of The New York Times yesterday, echoes past sabbaticals by two other popular Reformed pastors—John Piper and C. J. Mahaney—amid concerns not of sexual or financial sins, but of pride and other character flaws.
“Storm clouds seem to be whirling around me more than ever in recent months, and I have given much thought and sought much counsel as to why that is and what to do about it," said Driscoll. "The current climate is not healthy for me, or for this church.... I am sorry for that, and I grieve with you." He noted, “As is often the case, some of what is said is true, some is partly true, and some is completely untrue."
Driscoll has already apologized for the steady stream of controversies over the past few years, including crude, 14-year-old comments he made in a church forum that resurfaced in the blogosphere. Last November, Driscoll was accused of plagiarism after duplicate content was spotted in several of his books—claims which his publisher, Tyndale House, defended. In March, the pastor also admitted to paying a public relations company $200,000 to bump his books to the NYT bestseller list, though Driscoll later apologized for the agreement and voluntarily retracted his bestseller status. Earlier this month, Acts 29 expelled Driscoll and Mars Hill from membership, and LifeWay Christian Stores stopped selling his books.
Mars Hill leaders rebuked Acts 29's "divisive" decision, asserting "we are making real progress in addressing the serious reconciliation and unhealthy culture issues that have been a part of Mars Hill Church for way too long," and citing "clear evidence that the attitudes and behaviors attributed to Mark in the charges are not a part and have not been a part of Mark's life for some time now."
Driscoll offered his church eight next steps he plans to take, acknowledging that some charges are "simply my fault, and I will own it, confess it, and move on from it as God continues to redeem me." The eight steps:
- I have submitted to the process prescribed by our church Bylaws as overwhelmingly approved by our entire Eldership for addressing accusations against me. I invite this process, rather than debating accusations and issues in social media or the court of public opinion. A report on this process will be presented when it has been completed.
- I have requested a break for processing, healing, and growth for a minimum of six weeks while the leadership assigned by our bylaws conduct a thorough examination of accusations against me. I believe their review can best be performed without me being in the pulpit or the office, and they have agreed to this arrangement.
- During this time Pastor Dave and our lead pastors will share the preaching responsibilities, along with their other pastoral responsibilities. I am grateful that we have a team of godly leaders that are trustworthy and love you. They will continue in 1 John for our series “Love One Another”.
- I will use this time to continue to seek the Lord about His plans for me and for this and the next season of life for Mars Hill. I will also use it to spend more time with God, my wife, and our children.
- As a general rule, I will respond to little if any criticism of me in the media, on social media, blogs, open letters, etc. Conducting church business and biblical conflict resolution through media channels is not healthy and is more likely to prove unproductive at best, and destructive and dishonoring to the Lord at worst.
- I will not be doing any outside speaking for the foreseeable future.
- I have asked our Board of Advisors and Accountability to strengthen our board by adding members to it, and they are in the process of doing so with local members being our first choice. I have agreed to postpone the publication of my next book until a future season, to be determined.
- I have begun meeting with a professional team of mature Christians who provide wise counsel to help further my personal development and maturity before God and men. I have never taken an extended focused break like this in my 18 years as your pastor, and it is not a vacation but rather a time to focus on deep work in my soul in the areas of processing, healing, and growing.
Here is the text of the letter obtained by Throckmorton and provided to CT:
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
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.
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 key reason 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.
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.
An On-Going Pattern
Beyond these two examples, there is no dearth of examples in the last two years of very questionable transparency and truth-telling, including the Mars Hill Global Fund, Result-Source, Strange Fire, ghost-writing/plagiarism, explanations for staff transition, the resignations of BOAA members, etc. Even this Thursday we put out a statement claiming that Wilkerson’s formal charges were being “reviewed by the board and the elders.” This is misleading as it gives people the impression that the elders as a whole are able to take part in reviewing and adjudicating the case.
There are many problems in our church, but the lack of transparency is itself a huge problem and keeps us from dealing with all the problems that it covers over. Christians have a biblical responsibility to speak plainly and clearly.
"Mars Hill Needs To Deal With It’s Sin Or It Will Die" (Dr. Paul Tripp)
This talk of transparency leads us to share some staggering information that was shared with a number of MH elders by Dr. Paul Tripp.
Before going further, we want to make clear the following three things:
1. Paul did not seek us out, but rather was sought out by us.
2. At every point in our communication with Paul, he was emphatic in expressing his deep love for Pastor Mark and for Mars Hill Church.
3. At no time did Paul divulge any information from his private interactions with Pastor Mark, and made clear that he would not do so in the future.
We are very grateful for Paul sticking out his neck to help serve Jesus’ church and to care for his brother Mark.
Let’s stop for a moment and anticipate what might be an objection here, namely that this is just the opinion of one man. Why should we listen to Paul Tripp at all?
· He is known internationally as a pastor to pastors.
· He has worked in a similar capacity as he did at Mars Hill with literally thousands of pastors and ministries.
· He has taught Re:Train.
· He has preached in our Best Sermon Ever series.
· He has taught parenting seminars at Mars Hill.
· We obviously trust him to the point that we elected him to our BOAA and we recommend and give away his book on what it means to truly means to be a pastor (Dangerous Calling).
· His book (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands) is foundational to our biblical counseling ministry.
· He had a level of access and involvement with the events of the last few months that exceeds that of anyone reading this email.
· He has absolutely nothing to gain personally by speaking to us on these matters, but is fully aware of this action potentially causing him much personal hardship.
· Above all continues to deeply love Pastor Mark and wants good for our church, evidenced by his willingness to continue to help.
All nine elders who were on the phone call were floored by the depth and clarity of the understanding that Paul had of the culture of Mars Hill and its leadership from his short time on the board. Below are some samples from our conversation:
When asked about speculations that he might have resigned to protect the reputation of his ministry, Paul said this: “I am not worried at all at burning my integrity for the real deal, but I won’t burn it for something that’s not the real deal. I don’t think even now that there is the recognition of the depth of what Mars Hill Church and Mark is actually dealing with. This is without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.” He continued on to communicate that Mars Hill’s leadership culture was not shaped by the same grace that it says it believes.
Paul informed us that at one point that during the time when he was setting up the reconciliation process, the EE, without asking the BOAA, met with their lawyers and added a slew of legal constraints to the process. Paul was emphatic in telling the EE that this was unacceptable, but they did not listen, and consequently hindered the process. Paul was disturbed that anything would be seen as more important in this process than being made right with man and with God. “If your response to reconciliation is ‘I want to cover my butt legally, then you’re not interested in reconciliation.’”
Contrary to what we have been told, Paul not only expressed his opinion that the BOAA structure was flawed, he attempted to present a 9 point plan on how to help it and was shut down before he finished point 2. He also said that “One of the problems with the BOAA is that they are getting their information from the people they are supposed to be holding accountable.”
Paul characterized Pastor Mark’s half hour video message as “defiant.” It was specifically defiant in light of Mark saying he’s going to be at MH in 30 years when Paul had clearly told him that he needed to step down. He clarified that this stepping down was “not forever. But given the depth of the heart issues that Mark needs to deal with, he’ll never deal with as long as he’s in the saddle. It just won’t happen.”
Paul also said, “I am a man who is living in grief at this whole thing…because Mark is an enormously gifted man. But he is broken inside. He doesn’t see the world the way he should see it, and because of that, his message gets a twist to it. There is something amiss inside that comes out in a destructive way.”
Paul affirmed that he believes that Pastor Mark truly loves Jesus and the church and that if Mars Hill does what is right, the brightest days for Mark and MH are in the future.
“You can’t have a church culture where you essentially have a very tight circle and everyone else is your enemy.”
“Sutton is fundamentally unhelpful for Mark. Sutton plays to all of Mark’s weaknesses and none of Mark’s strengths.” He pleaded with them saying that what Mark needs in an Executive Pastor is a “55 year-old seasoned godly man who watches over Mark’s soul as he administrates the church, and who can pull Mark into a room and say ‘you can’t do that in a meeting’ and you need to call another meeting and ask for forgiveness from the people you just spoke to. He doesn’t need a man who is his trigger man.” He made it clear that Sutton lacks the emotional and spiritual maturity to be where he is at in leadership.
From behind the scenes on the BOAA Paul observed that “A statement that comes from somebody, through Sutton, to you guys, just changes dramatically.” He followed this by saying that he did not think Sutton intended to be consistently untruthful, but that regardless he does end up spinning things constantly out of fear.
Paul acknowledged some level of Mark acknowledging wrong and making some progress. But, he also feels that if Mark clearly saw the depths of his sin and the damage it had caused, he wouldn’t even be able to preach because he would be so overcome with life-changing grief. “What happens with leaders often in these situations is that they give you one paragraph of acknowledgement of wrong, and 6 paragraphs of how they are a victim. If I’m counselling an adulterous man, and he sits in front of me and all he talks about is his wife, I know that man is far from confession and repentance. Because once he sees his sin it is devastating and you cry out for God... You think about your future, you don’t think about how to manage it. Until you get to that level of brokenness, what you do is manage a crisis, instead of dealing with the deep personal sin at the bottom of the crisis.”
I (Dustin) had a follow up call with Paul later to confirm that he was comfortable with us sharing all of this with the other elders in writing. Additionally, I confirmed that he would be willing to help us in the future. He confirmed that we could share the above with you, that he would be happy to fly out and meet with the Full Council of Elders if we asked, and would be willing to help in any kind of consulting role that we might deem helpful.
The elders on the initial call with Dr. Tripp ended the conversation by asking him what advice he had for the elders of Mars Hill. He responded, “Do you remember the event where Mark gave all the guys a couple stones? Find those and use them. This is what God ordained elders to do. You are going to risk your future - and I’m serious about this - by standing together and saying ‘It’s done. It’s over. We go no further. We’re done with skirting issues. We’re done mourning the loss of yet another leader. We are done with all the public humiliations and accusations. We are going to deal with our stuff and Mark, that begins with you. We will not continue. We will not plan further ministries. We will not cooperate with further ministries. We’re done. We’re gonna deal with these issues. And based on our authority as elders of Christ’s church, we are directing you to step down. We will fully support you and will do everything we can to restore you. We’re not divorcing you. We’re not kicking you out of the ministry. Our whole purpose is restoration. It’s the only way that change is going to happen, and no one is going to make that happen but the elders of Mars Hill Church.”
As we bring this letter to a close, we want to again reiterate that we are sending this as an act of love, not of defiance. Love is not compliance, but rather speaking the truth and seeking to walk in the light together. Brothers, we know that we do not stand alone in our concerns for our church. We stand as your brothers, risking our future for the sake of the bride of Christ. It is time for us as elders to “stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong,” (1 Cor 16:13) while still letting all that we do be done in love. It is time to take responsibility for our church, regardless of how much our current bylaws prevent us from exercising that authority. It grieves us that the only voice that has never been heard in all of this is the voice of the current elders.
Lead Pastors - you can lead the way and your men will follow.
Volunteer Pastors - you carry more weight than you know.
Staff Pastors - Jesus is good and sovereign and he will take care of you.
It’s been implied that Pastor Mark may be stepping down this week. If he does, then we can joyfully affirm his decision. If he does not, it will continue to be our belief that is what would be best for Pastor Mark and the church. But either way we must make the following clear:
· We, the elders of Mars Hill Church, love Pastor Mark and truly desire his full restoration to preaching Pastor of this church.
· Whether he were planning to step down or not, we direct that he steps down from ministry, submitting himself under the authority of the elders of the church, who will oversee the details of his restoration plan.
· He must step down not only from the pulpit, but from all aspects of ministry and leadership.
· He will continue to receive his salary so long as he continues to cooperate with the restoration plan set before him by the elders of Mars Hill Church.
· Dr. Tripp has agreed to serve us in a consulting role to oversee the restoration plan for Pastor Mark. We direct the BOAA to retain Dr. Tripp in this capacity, and in doing so also to agree that Pastor Mark only be restored when Dr. Tripp and all members of the BOAA and the Board of Elders believe that process to be complete.
· Lastly, we direct that this information (Pastor Mark stepping down in submission to the authority of the elders) be lovingly but candidly presented to the people of Mars Hill Church, as we know that this will be helpful in rebuilding their trust in their leaders and hope for their church.
We will close this letter with a sermon excerpt from Pastor Mark, exhorting the members of Mars Hill to follow their Jesus and their elders.
Part 3 of 1st Corinthians
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Pastor Mark Driscoll
January 22, 2006:
...That’s what Paul’s saying. “I don’t remember atoning for the sins of the world. I don’t remember living a sinless life and dying as a substitute in your place and rising to forgive your sins. Was I crucified for you? No!” And his third question: “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Is your ultimate allegiance to me, or Jesus? This is so important. I want you guys to respect me, the pastors and the leaders in this church. I don’t want you to have too low a view of leadership, too high a view of leadership – the extremes that we see in the church in Corinth. At the same time, your primary and ultimate allegiance is not to me, and it is not to the pastors in this church. I will say this publicly: I am one of the pastors. They can out-vote me and fire me. They have total freedom to do so.
And if at any time in the history of this church the elders discipline me, do not be loyal to me. Be loyal to them; be loyal to Jesus. And if at any point – God forbid – I should say or do something that would disqualify me from being your pastor – and I have no intentions of, and I do live a life above reproach. And I’m not a sinless man, but I do love Jesus and I do love my family and I do love you. And if by – I just shudder to say this, but if I should ever say or do anything that the elders would need to fire me, do not be loyal to me. Be loyal to Jesus; be loyal to your elders. Be loyal to the pastors in your church. Trust them. Follow them.
And if you forget, this’ll be archived. Pull it down and listen to it again, and say, “Mark, you told us to ignore you and follow the leaders in the church and Jesus.” Do that – because at the end of the day, you’re not baptized in my name. You’re not ultimately loyal to me. You are not ultimately devoted to me. My job is to point you to Jesus. He was crucified for your sins. He forgives your sins. He is your God and Savior. He’s the one when you are buried in baptism and raised in newness of life that you are celebrating and honoring – that the focus and heart and the devotion and commitment and the passion in the church must be for Jesus; no one else; no one else.
With the love of Christ,
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
And here is the response letter by Mars Hill Church:
Dear Mars Hill,
Yesterday, a private document and conversation between all the elders of Mars Hill Church was leaked to the media. Because we, your 16 lead pastors and the Board of Elders, love and care about you, we want to provide you with some information and context so that you can be in prayer for your church.
We know that this letter has raised concerns and questions that will be examined and taken very seriously.
Last week, some current elders brought forward their concerns about the integrity of Pastor Sutton Turner and Michael Van Skaik (our BoAA chairman) as well as Pastor Mark Driscoll. There was some discussion of these concerns privately, but then last week these elders brought forward their questions/concerns on our Full Council of Elders group on The City that remain unresolved. Unfortunately, in recent months it has been proven almost everything that goes on that City group is leaked publicly to online media. We simply do not know who is passing these private conversations along to the media, but the fact is, it keeps happening.
Your elders are deeply grieved over the manner in which this has happened. In particular, we are grieved because 1 Corinthians 6:1–8 gives us a very clear (and even stern) command that when we have grievances against one another, we are to work them out in such a way that non-believers are not invited into the discussion. This passage shows us that even in cases of serious wrong or disagreement, God wants us to exercise appropriate discretion. We are terribly sorry because this is incredibly distracting and harmful to the cause of the gospel. Please forgive us for our division and lack of unity. We know this hurts all of you deeply and we are eagerly working toward the unity that we have in Jesus.
We know that in recent months there have been questions, concerns, accusations, and charges brought against the senior leadership of Mars Hill Church. To address these allegations and concerns, a newly formed Board of Elders, made up of trusted lead pastors, has been appointed to examine these charges. These men have already met for many hours this week to begin this important process.
Regarding the letter, it is extremely regrettable that it has gone public, for four reasons:
Whoever is passing these documents along to the media is in clear, defiant violation of 1 Corinthians 6.
It puts what should be spoken of as “questions” or “concerns” or even “opinions” about Pastor Sutton and Michael van Skaik as “fact” in the mind of the watching world. There are important verses that speak to due process (Matt. 18:15–17), fact-checking (Prov. 18:17), and investigating claims before rendering judgement (Deut. 17:8–9).
It has caused harm to the body. “When one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor. 12:26).
Those elders who wrote the document clearly stated that this conversation was for the elders of the church, not the general public.
Despite the way the letter was sent out, please know we take its contents very seriously and will be taking the appropriate actions to honor Jesus, address the allegations and concerns, and work toward becoming a healthy church.
If you haven’t yet seen the letter, you will more than likely see it online. Some of you, if you see the letter, will be unsure as to how to feel or respond. We would like to shepherd you away from some ungodly responses and toward some godly responses.
Please do not:
React in fear or anxiety. Even as Christians we may be tempted to give place to fear. Remember, no matter what does or doesn’t happen with our church, you will still be a Christian, you are still loved by Jesus, and you will still spend eternity in the loving presence of God. The words of Romans 8:35–39 are so valuable to us in a time like this.
Pronounce judgement before the time. We must allow God to bring to light everything that he wants to have brought to the light. Just because someone brings forward allegations and concerns about a leader does not mean we should presume guilt. Any and all allegations and charges must be treated seriously, with impartiality, and without jumping to conclusions. Your elders will seek to honor Jesus as we proceed forward.
Slander, gossip, or pick sides. Our “team” is Jesus, not one group of elders or another. We must control our tongues, including our “digital/online” tongues. “I said, ‘I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence’” (Ps. 39:1). Scripture has many warnings about engaging in controversies, quarrels and other’s disagreements because of the intense hurt that comes for all those involved.
Pray. Pray that the elders will seek the Lord, be led by the Spirit, and proceed forward in confession, repentance, love, and godliness. Pray that the watching non-Christian world would not be given opportunity to discredit not only our church but the very gospel of Jesus. Pray that Jesus will be glorified through all of this.
Seek wisdom. The book of James speaks a lot about wisdom. James 3:17says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” Seek this type of wisdom from God.
Walk in godliness. Our prayer is that wisdom, love, truth, kindness, reasonableness, patience, and a myriad of other godly characteristics would be what marks all of our lives in the middle of continual, difficult, and challenging circumstances.
Trust. Mars Hill belongs to Jesus (Col. 1:18). Let us trust Jesus with our lives and his church.
We love you, Mars Hill, and we are here to love, serve, and care for you. At the end of the day, our only hope is in Jesus, and our only job is to point you to Jesus.
Your lead pastors and Board of Elders
Pastor Tim Birdwell
Pastor Ed Choi (Board of Elders)
Pastor David Fairchild
Pastor Aaron Gray (Board of Elders)
Pastor Bubba Jennings (Board of Elders)
Pastor Alex Ghioni (Board of Elders)
Pastor Matthias Haeusel
Pastor AJ Hamilton (Board of Elders)
Pastor Scott Harris
Pastor Drew Hensley
Pastor Thomas Hurst
Pastor Donovan Medina
Pastor Matt Rogers (Board of Elders)
Pastor Miles Rohde (Board of Elders)
Pastor Tim Smith (Board of Elders)
Pastor Matt Wallace
Pastor Ryan Williams
Pastor Seth Winterhalter