Forced Out for Asking Questions: Dalton Roraback's Mars Hill Church Story

Until recently, Dalton Roraback was a coach at Mars Hill Church. Coaches provide mentoring to Community Group leaders. Community Groups provide the context for relationship building and alignment within Mars Hill.
Like many Mars Hill members, Roraback had questions after hearing about the many controversies involving the church in recent months. As a long time member of MHC, Roraback knew many of the leaders and began to ask them to explain recent events. Finally, Roraback asked what turned out to be the wrong questions and found himself out of a position. He was relieved of his position because he asked questions.
After I heard about Roraback’s situation, I asked if he could summarize his experience. He did so and you can read the entire statement here. To help tell the story, I have pulled out a few excerpts:

I want to start this off by saying I had originally decided not to go public with my story.  I figured if the Elders at Mars Hill want to accuse me of being divisive then I wouldn’t add any fuel to that charge by going on the Internet and doing some kind of tell-all.  I thought all that people needed to know was that I was accused of being divisive and asked to step down, and that I had submitted my resignation as a member of Mars Hill.
That changed only hours later when I heard the following news.
“Elder Phil Poirier at MH Everett has been removed (“disqualified”) for refusing to sign the new “Unity of Mission” contract. They are all being required to get permission from the BOAA before being allowed to participate in any church within a ten mile radius of an existing Mars Hill location.”
I was stunned.  I had just told my Head Coach – sorry, my ex-Head Coach – that I wasn’t going to go public with my story, but the news about Pastor Phil made me realize that not to do so would be to do a disservice to the truth, to all the people like Pastor Phil, and to the many others who have been harmed, slandered, and spat out of the Mars Hill machine.  So after confirming that this news was true I decided to speak out.

More information about the “unity of mission” clause is coming in a future post. Essentially, it is a non-competition agreement.

Enter 2014.  I was now a Coach and was excited and ready to do my best to lead the three CG leaders and do whatever it was that God wished me to do.  My head coach was a good, godly man and a friend.  I felt like great things were going to happen, and that God was going to use us in awesome ways for His glory.
And then the double-whammy of the ResultSource fiasco and Dave Kraft’s public charges against Mark Driscoll hit the fan.
Now, Dave Kraft had (and has) a stellar reputation in the Mars Hill community.  I had trained under him in a couple of classes back in the day, and would take him at his word – as would most of us – on just about anything.  When these two events became public, I started asking questions.  I had been around a long time and had no problem in being able to speak to many of the elders to whom I reached out. As I spoke with them, what I heard stunned me even more.  Many of them agreed with Dave Kraft, but they also understood that they had very little power as Elders, if any, and would rather work from within to try to get true accountability in place.  Some also admitted if they spoke up they would get a visit from Sutton or another Executive Elder and they would be accused of not being ‘on mission’ or not being ‘all in’, and when that happens…it means you are done as an Elder at Mars Hill.

According to Roraback, Mars Hill is having problems:

I believe we are already seeing the effects described in the Isaiah passage.  People are fleeing Mars Hill by the droves every week.  Tithing is down.  The church is in emergency mode.  In place of the old Mark who was able to lay out the Gospel with such passion, his sermons contain less about Jesus each week. Instead, we hear Mark using Scripture to make himself look like the Apostles and those who speak out against him look more like the enemies of the early church.  It’s chilling to listen to, and unfortunately, I believe that many people are completely unaware that they are being manipulated with such ease.

Recently, Roraback was in the same meeting I described here and raised some pointed questions:

But probably the worst thing I did was asking the questions listed below. They are as follows, word for word:
I have two questions that I’d like to humbly and respectfully submit in advance as I imagine it will require some research ahead of time.
1. What are the salaries of the Executive Elders?  And if we are not allowed to know this, why not?
2. At least once a year, the On Mission CRUT must distribute a percentage of its assets to what is termed the “non-charitable beneficiary”.  Since this is tied directly to the Real Marriage finances, who is the beneficiary of this CRUT? I would imagine much of the backlash against Mars Hill could be deflated if it could be shown that this was paid out to Mars Hill, instead of an individual or individuals who benefit directly.”
I asked these questions on The City, Mars Hill’s website, in the Bellevue Leadership forum and posted them in advance of the CG Sync so that all the meeting participant could see them in advance and there would be no option for MH leadership but to address the questions.  As it turned out, someone else brought up my questions during the latest CG Sync and the response from the elder was, ‘Why is that important?’
The answers in the room from at least three people were some form of ‘because we pay their salaries with our tithes.’  The elder who was in the hot seat on this one pushed back on this response, continuing to suggest that this is not important, but when he realized the people in the room were not in agreement, he turned to another elder who got up to explain how the process of setting the Executive Elder salary worked.  It was a nice speech, and it made it sound like there were multiple layers of oversight – just not from the thousands of members who pay their salaries, of course. Mars Hill members are not allowed to know something that any church with integrity should be willing to share, especially during times when the members have lost trust in the Executive Elders.
So they refused to answer these questions, and it did not sit well with many in the room.
Twice during this same meeting, the elder leading this meeting labeled everyone who is speaking out against Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill as people who ‘only want to hurt the gospel, the church, and Mark Driscoll’.  I called him out on that in front of everyone saying that was a misrepresentation of godly people with valid concerns, but at the end of the meeting he made the characterization again.  I’ve heard now from two different people that elders and leaders are visiting Community Groups personally and labeling anyone who speaks out on these concerns as ‘divisive’ and ‘only wanting to tear down the church’.  In other words, wolves.  Couple that with one of the latest sermons entitled ‘Empowered by the Spirit to Face Wolves,” and you get the picture.
So five days later I was sitting at Starbucks with my Head Coach for an early morning meeting, and he was telling me that the elders at Mars Hill considered me divisive and were removing me as a Coach.  I asked if I had sinned in some way, and he said no, they did not consider me in sin. They just thought that the way I was going about asking these questions was done with a ‘divisive spirit’.  They said that I didn’t have to leave Mars Hill, and that after ‘a season’ I could petition to be a Coach again and they’d consider it.  I had spent the previous three hours in prayer (I couldn’t sleep, I was pretty stressed over all of this,) and I already knew God was finally allowing me to walk away.  I let him know that my wife and I wished to submit our resignation from Mars Hill, but I implored him to fight the good fight and to not simply accept everything that he was told as truth. I asked him to reach out to others and to stand up for what is right.  I believe that he will come around, because he does listen to the Lord, and God has called him to lead. However, like me, it will probably take some time for the realization to take root.  I pray for him whenever I can, and love him and his family very much.

So questioning where tithe money goes reveals “a divisive spirit?” What does refusing to answer legitimate questions reveal? There has been some talk in recent weeks about the Board of Advisors and Accountability possibly entering a mediation process. If so, it can’t happen soon enough. Despite spiritual talk from the BOAA, it doesn’t appear that anything has changed.
The executive salaries are a closely guarded secret at Mars Hill. Sources who are in a position to know have told me that Driscoll’s salary took a dramatic jump after Sutton Turner joined the executive elder board. Estimates are between $600k and $900k. Salaries are supposed to be set via a comparison to other churches of comparable size. It seems hard to fathom that some churches set salaries in a corporate manner, but this is apparently how it is done at Mars Hill. Judging from the reaction to Roraback, the leadership of Mars Hill views the subject of salaries to be a sensitive matter.
For more on Mark Driscoll’s On Mission CRUT, see this article by James Duncan. Duncan lays out the procedures by which the profits from Real Marriage may make it back to the Driscolls.
It seems clear that the membership of Mars Hill has not moved on from the Result Source and other events.
From earlier today: Who at Mars Hill Church Authorized Church Funds to Buy a Place for Mark Driscoll’s Real Marriage on the NYT Best Seller List?