Andrew Lisi was involved at Mars Hill Church from December 2011 to March, 2014. During that time, he was an Executive Pastor, Community Groups Pastor and Biblical Living Pastor at three different campus churches (Downtown, U-District and West Seatte). When Andrew resigned, allegations of pastoral abuse and wrongdoing had started to surface against lead pastor Mark Driscoll.
Andrew recently reached out to me with a letter of concern he wrote to the Executive Elders of Mars Hill Church at the time of his resignation (Dave Bruskas, Sutton Turner, and Mark Driscoll). The letter expressed many of his reasons for leaving. He contacted me in response to the recent reports from former members of The Trinity Church in Phoenix. Andrew sees The Trinity Church reports as history repeating itself. He also hopes to raise awareness about the fact that the investigating board of elders at Mars Hill declared Mark Driscoll to be disqualified from ministry in 2014. Driscoll first agreed to undergo a restoration process but abruptly quit before he started it.
As I read these documents, I am struck by how prophetic Andrew was. I have to remind myself that he is writing in March, months before the church closed down. He saw what was coming and in a way what is happening now.
Several months later, he sent the letter directly to Mark Driscoll with the following cover email:
I wish this was an e-mail under different circumstances. But, I do hope this e-mail and the attached document get to you directly. First, here’s why I’m writing. There are two specific incidents in there I think have personally been involved in regarding your leadership and have as examples of sin against me. The first is the “son-in-law” episode during the LP [Lead Pastor] residency back in May 2013. The second is the Real Marriage/ResultSource stuff. I invite you to read my letter to see the details.
Since I resigned from being on staff and from being an elder at Mars 5 months ago, I have thought long and hard, prayed, and sought counsel as to whether or not I should reach you directly. I never came to a solid conclusion until recently. I decided to trust the Holy Spirit and my gut that’s telling me that the best way to honor you as a brother in Christ and to seek reconciliation is to try to reach you directly.
You might think that I am just now bringing these things up, but that is not a case. Attached you will find the grievance letter I submitted to the Executive Elders and HR when I resigned in March. All of the local elders at West Seattle read it and discussed it with me. I had brief discussions with Pastor Dave and shared it with Bonnie Heather. Much of what is brought up in there has to deal directly with you and while I wanted it to get in your hands then, I’m sure it was never read by you. Perhaps you never received it. While I would add some nuance and deal with the few typos, what I am sending to you is the letter I submitted on March 21, 2014.
I do hope you will read this letter. I expect you will be tempted to get defensive or perhaps dismissive because I was at Mars for a short period of time and we never had a lot of personal interaction. I simply ask that you submit to the Holy Spirit’s fruit of patience and self-control and delay judgment until you’ve read it completely.
Please know that I long to see Jesus glorified in all of this and your joy in Him to be made complete. If you want to address my two examples and would like to talk to me, I will put my number below. Additionally, I am willing to come to Seattle to talk in person.
Your brother in Christ,
The letter is too long to place in the blog post so I have a link to it here:
I want to pick out just a couple of elements to highlight.
After examining several reasons he decided to leave Mars Hill (many of them involving Mark Driscoll’s leadership), Andrew anticipated various rationalizations for Driscoll’s actions from staff who remained at Mars Hill. One frequently heard rationalization was that Driscoll’s platform brings people in to get saved. Andrew wrote:
I can listen to Pastor Mark’s teaching and even seek to be obedient to what he says. I believe he is an extremely gifted and talented preacher and communicator who gets the gospel out there, calls people to repentance and to turn to Jesus and they do! He has great insight into the human condition and the culture around us. There’s so much about what he says I agree with; but I refuse to do as he does because he doesn’t practice what he preaches. It’s all public. It’s about platform. It’s about influence. It’s about being seen by others. The claim is it’s for the sake of the gospel, but the platform and being seen (Pastor Mark, #1 Best Seller, Founding, Preaching, Vision Pastor, 3rd Fastest Growing Church) is like a megaphone with the name Jesus spoken in plain voice.
And then later in his letter, Andrew looks at the growth of Mars Hill realistically. While they were baptizing people, many were coming from other churches. That echoes what is happening at The Trinity Church. Driscoll’s enterprise grew rapidly when many churches were closed during the pandemic and Driscoll stayed open in defiance of mitigation efforts.
The argument from success is overplayed. The argument is “we are baptizing a ton of people.” In this I say – Amen! I am so thrilled to see people get saved and be baptized. But does it tell the full story? 50 churches, 50,000 people. Phoenix was planted with over 600 people on launch day and over 1,700 when Mark preached live. To what end? The majority were most likely Christians from other churches who were gone the next week. On launch day, with 668 adults and 75 children present (743 total), 10 people were baptized. To knock the small church of 75 people who has one baptism, is to point the finger back on ourselves. First, I implore Pastor Mark to stop taking tactless hacks at small churches and consider them lesser because we are “bigger, stronger, faster, better” and have “a ton of baptisms.” Many small churches are just as missional as Mars Hill and God is choosing to use them in a different way. Second, many Christians from those small churches and other larger churches are just transferring to the new, cool church in town. Third, Mars Hill is not seeing the non-Christians come out in droves to be saved. By ratio, we are seeing the same kind of fruit as many small churches.
Another common one for excusing his actions was “Mark is making progress.” Andrew wrote:
…a general disposition of repentance is severely missing with Pastor Mark. “Progress” is downplaying the issue “But you don’t know Mark at all, Andrew” is what I’m told. That’s right. I don’t have any kind of personal relationship with him. I know this may just get dismissed because of that. However, I think that just feeds the problem. It’s not that I don’t know Mark; it’s also that he doesn’t make himself known. He does not pursue more opportunities to walk in the light with his elders, the men entrusted to lead the mission at the local level. He may very well be a leader in repentance in his home and with his family, perhaps even those closest to him. But I know enough to know that we expect more from those who become members of our church than we do Mark. Some leaders in the church I have talked to say they “see progress” and that’s enough for them, but as I see it, it’s like an abused woman saying, “well he’s only hit me three times this year instead of like five last year – that’s progress.” I fear that because of his savvy way of communicating, forceful language, and bully tactics (name calling, caricaturing, etc.) along with success in ministry Mark got a free pass for his actions long ago and those who knew him then say “he’s so much better than 10 years ago!” When it’s the kind of progress an abusive boyfriend makes, I’m not telling the girl “well that’s great, I’m sure it will get better.” I’m saying, “get out and get out fast.”
Near the end, Andrew recommended.
I believe Mars Hill is at a crossroads and Pastor Mark has to make a decision. Our church and the people live under a false sense of security because we see more money coming in, more churches being established, higher attendance numbers, and people getting saved. But I don’t think it’s only the Holy Spirit working through us; rather, it’s God working despite us. He is patient, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. TThe church has only existed for just over 17 years. That span of time is often just a paragraph in the bible. So, perhaps it can stay this way for decades. I saw God answer the prayer of men being raised up in leadership at West Seattle, but I don’t know for what purpose. Maybe the growth will continue. But the growth we see is a false sense of security. The massive staff turnover and resignation from elders shows that “you reap what you sow.” The labor is in vain. Mars Hill has boasted “the only constant at Mars Hill is change” for at least as long as I’ve lived here. I want that to be true, but it’s not, at least not where it matters most. The call is not merely for a further resurgence forward, but a call to repentance now and it begins with the Founding, Preaching & Vision Pastor, the President of the Board of Elders: Pastor Mark. I recommend Pastor Mark take a sabbatical (not a summer vacation) and entrust Jesus’ church to others and the Holy Spirit. What can be lost by that? I believe that will set a trajectory that will work all the way down in such powerful ways through Sutton & Dave, the LPs, XPs, other staff and elders, leaders in the church, members, attendees, and even many outside the church to God’s glory. This is what I long for and I know I don’t have to be here in order to witness it. I will rejoice wherever the Lord leads as I hear about repentance in Mark for his leadership and a greater desire for him to walk in the light with his brothers and elders and I will be filled with sorrow if that day never comes.
Eventually, Driscoll did take time off and in August 2014, formal charges were filed with the church against him by 21 former elders. After they were thoroughly investigated, the board of elders who did the investigation recommended that Driscoll be disqualified until he could be restored by the elders. Another decision making body at the church – the Board of Overseers (outside advisors) – didn’t want to do that. While these two boards were deliberating, Driscoll resigned.
Andrew Lisi wasn’t around for that. He was gone by then but he had seen the trouble coming and issued a warning. His letter stands as a warning today. Who will heed it?