Mars Hill Church Final Distribution – Where Did the Money Go?

When Mars Hill Church closed, the by-laws required a final distribution of assets. Although the plan omitted some details, a dissolution plan was filed with the state of Washington and I assumed had been carried out by last June. Today current pastor of Doxa Church (once the Bellevue campus of MHC) Jeff Vanderstelt said the following about funds distributed from MHC. His comments were posted in the comment section of a Gospel Coalition article on Mars Hill Church. I wrote a reaction to that article yesterday. In response to a claim from another commenter about money paid to the MHC churches, Vanderstelt said:

The churches were given money to continue on if they signed a binding legal agreement not to talk about Mark Driscoll in a negative way. Do you see how that could be dangerous?
  • That is actually not the truth. Churches were not given money if they signed a binding legal agreement. Where did you get that information from?

There was no “hush money”. I stepped in to restart a church from the Bellevue campus and we did not receive the money you are referring to. Neither did any of the other churches. What are you basing your conclusion on Roger? And what revisionist history are you referring to?

I wrote Vanderstelt to ask if his church received money as set forth in the MHC distribution plan. He answered by saying he had made comments on the Gospel Coalition article and that I should read those. I wrote back to ask if his church received the 22.18% which was designated as part of the plan.
As he said, Vanderstelt clarified his earlier statements on the Gospel Coalition website:

Roger – Each church did receive some “start-up/seed” money because MH had money in their accounts that had to be distributed as directed by their 501 c3 guidelines. It was not hush money however. I was not required to sign anything or agree to silence in order to receive those funds. Also, they weren’t that substantial (as some seem to believe) when you take into account the lease payment we assumed in stepping into the Bellevue campus. For us, it amounted to about 2-3 months of operating expenses. You are correct in that I can’t speak for the other pastors so I will not. I’m only representing what I know and what I’ve experienced.

According to the dissolution plan, Doxa was to get 22.18% of what MHC had to distribute after debts and liabilities were paid. I hope Vanderstelt will clarify if this “seed money” was all they received. Mars Hill owned lots of equipment and property and sold it all off. Did Doxa and the other churches receive those funds according to the plan filed with the state? I hope Vanderstelt will address this point. If the churches didn’t get anything else, then significant questions may be raised about how the rest of the assets were distributed.
The plan states:

Distribution of Assets.
The Corporation hereby resolves that after payment of the Corporation’s debts and liabilities, or provision made therefore, including without limitation the establishment of reserves as set forth in paragraph 4 herein, Kerry Dodd or Caleb Walters (either, the “Authorized Officer”) shall distribute all of the remaining property of the Corporation as follows: (a) first, any assets held by the Corporation upon condition requiring return, transfer, or conveyance, which condition occurs by reason of the dissolution, shall be returned, transferred, or conveyed in accordance with such requirements; and (b) second, any remaining assets of the Corporation shall be transferred or conveyed to specific churches (each a “Church”, and collectively, the “Churches”) identified in Exhibit A that provide ministry services and have a similar lawful purpose as the Corporation in the percentages indicated in the attached Exhibit A.

One of the liabilities could have been Mark Driscoll’s severance pay. The church never addressed this matter. If all concerned really want to move on, they should come clean on the distribution of assets at the end of the church. As Vanderstelt said, the churches got seed money, but it sounds like from his comment that Doxa Church didn’t get anything else, or in other words, 22.18% of nothing. Is that possible? If that is the case, a final public accounting is all the more necessary for MHC to cease being a stumbling block in Seattle and surrounding area. As a non-profit, MHC has a responsibility to donors and the public to account for those funds. One of the factors that led to the downfall of MHC was a lack of transparency with donor funds. It would be tragic if the legacy churches continue that trend.
Read the Mars Hill Dissolution Plan
Exhibit A:
MHC dist plan churches

Reflections on TGC's Life After Mars Hill Church

DriscollBuildingToday, Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra posted a reflection on Mars Hill Church two years later. I started twice to write an article like this but didn’t get an answer back from some of those former pastors Zylstra quoted. I must still be associated with the opposition.
Overall, I think Zylstra did a fine job of weaving together a recognizable picture of Mars Hill Church. However, I don’t think this is the last word on the subject. Several more of these kind of articles will need to be written. Probably the whole situation requires a book.
For now, I will add some comments to aspects of the article. I’ll quote Zylstra and then comment.

Slow Train Coming

Then, in a few breathtaking months, the whole thing collapsed. Founder and lead pastor Mark Driscoll’s bent toward the provocative, which was part of his draw, increasingly came under fire, fanned by a series of controversies.

The collapse was a slow motion ride of over a year. There were multiple controversies and turning points but much of what became controversial was the exposure of a pattern of leadership which had taken place over many years. In the last year, many on the inside decided they had tried everything an insider could do. Those people started to talk, organize, and give witness to what they had experienced.

PDCSD – Post Dysfunctional Church Stress Disorder

The collapse of Mars Hill released a tidal wave of hurt, disillusioned people. Many quit Mars Hill; some quit church or Christianity altogether. Hundreds limped into other area churches, asking about church bylaws and pastoral pay structures before even introducing themselves.

A valuable aspect of this article is the documentation of troubled ex-Mars Hill people careening into new churches with church related PTSD.  The church’s structure wasn’t the reason for the problems at Mars Hill but in the last days, the drama was played out on the stage Mark Driscoll and his oversight board had created. No wonder ex-members were wary of how other churches do things.

Your Pastor is Not Your Father

“The biggest fear was that I was going to walk away,” he said. “The thing that hurt the most, that they couldn’t believe, was that Mark would leave them. The feeling that they lost their pastor was a hard blow.”
That’s because “Mark called us his kids,” said Huck, for whom Driscoll was a father figure. “He up and left his kids. That’s the hard part we’re still dealing with. I don’t need a public apology, but it would be nice to be acknowledged. It’s like your dad left and started a new family, and you’re here with your brothers and sisters. And you’re just confused.”

In one of my early interviews on Mars Hill Church, a former leader told me, “Mark recruited all these guys with daddy issues.” While there was much more to the demise of MHC, a fantasy about the role of pastor was a key feature. Driscoll cultivated a paternalistic stance with the congregation. At least some of those people longed for what they imagined a father figure would be, and Driscoll delivered. Even when Driscoll was harsh and outrageous, many excused the actions as a sign of paternal boldness. After all, “father knows best.”
Hopefully, the MHC affair will disabuse Christians of the wish for the pastor-father. Your pastor is not your dad. He or she is a person who can play the role of a shepherd regarding matters of faith but beware of the pastor who wants to be your father.

The Fall Out

No one took a survey, but by most estimates, about half of the former Mars Hill congregants stayed with their campus. Of those who left, most seem to have landed in different area churches. (Two were planted from the Bellevue exodus.)

I think instead of guessing, it would be valuable to do a survey. I doubt that most have landed in area churches. No doubt some have, but I don’t assume that most people have moved on and are still in church.

Well Taught or Well Conditioned?

But even though they’re wounded and unsettled, the Mars Hill diaspora has one enormous advantage: They’ve been well taught.

I hope that’s true but there are many ex-members who I am pretty sure will dispute this.

Mars Hill Church Was Where Jesus Hung Out

One unintentional and subtle message of Mars Hill was, “If you want to be part of what Jesus is doing in our city, then you should be here,” Sinnett said. “When we got out of that ethos and into the church-planting realm, I was blown away by the million things Jesus was doing in the city which were unnamed and unbranded but just as spectacular.”

No, I think this message was intentional and obvious. Perhaps Zylstra was being kind, but a consistent theme I heard from former Mars Hill leaders was that MHC was the best church, really the only church where it was all being done correctly.

We’re Sorry Now

“To a man, every one of them has struggled with what role of complicity they’ve had in the whole thing,” Fairchild said. “That has been very good for us. I have learned the difference between intent and impact—you can have good intentions, but that doesn’t always translate into helpful, gracious impact.”
The elders from Bellevue and Sammamish “truly repented of their participation in any of the sin,” Vanderstelt said. “There was a deep godly sorrow, a genuine repentance, a real desire to walk out the fruit of repentance.”

Apparently, the Mars Hill financial distributions are over.
What is missing in this article is the testimonies of all of the healing that Mark Driscoll has said has taken place. Phoenix is happening but it seems obvious that Seattle still has issues.
For much more on Mars Hill Church, see this link.

Doxa Church (Mars Hill Bellevue) Discloses Salaries and More in Memo on Transparency

It is hard to understand how the leaders of Doxa are behind this when some of them are still involved in keeping information quiet at Mars Hill Church. However, this communication to church members is a breath of fresh air. In addition to other items, this memo addresses several questions that  have been placed before Soma leadership.

A Word About Transparency
Pastor Timothy Patton
From Pastor Timothy Patton:
Doxa Church Family,
We have shared for the last couple of months a prayerful desire for the new church, now named Doxa Church, to be one that is characterized by shared leadership and transparency in finances. It is our intention to be held accountable to the congregation, and to walk in the light with respect to our decision-making and spending.
The purpose of this post is to address the topic of transparency and the level of disclosure you should expect to see in financial communication from our new church. In some sense, this is family business that is quite detailed. It may not be important to some—but it will be very important to others. Thus, we wanted to address these issues in a public manner.
Transparency and Access to Information
As Doxa Church, we believe that the congregation is better served if the people are informed and equipped to ask questions, share concerns, or voice affirmation. We are committed to providing access to information that includes the monthly summary level data shown below, as well as more detailed monthly and year-to-date revenue/spending reports. An annual audit will be conducted by an independent public accounting firm and their audit report, together with the accompanying financial statements, will be made available at the church office and online. Specific financial statement line item detail will also be made available to our members, upon request, at the church office. We will hold an annual business meeting with the full church, but also want to be available to answer your questions each Sunday and through regular open Q&A sessions.
We will also, as per our bylaws, inform the congregation of any purchase that would be over $100k and describe both the nature and the need for the expenditure. Following discussion and prayer, we would then seek a vote of the congregation to move forward.
Our accounting, payroll and other books and records will be maintained by an outside accounting service.
Salary and Compensation
As you would expect, Doxa Church provides financial support for staff members in order that they can be freed up financially to focus on equipping others for ministry. In the specific context of Bellevue, Washington, this leads to salaries that may appear higher than some surrounding areas. However, we believe these salaries are reasonable given the nature of our workplace and context, when compared to national salary surveys for similar positions in similar sized churches.
Jeff Vanderstelt will be the highest paid staff member and has requested that his annual salary of $125,000 be made public as we launch the church. Specific salary ranges for other positions will fall within the following ranges:
Senior Leadership Positions – between $90k and $125k
Ministry Directors – between $60k and $90k
Administrative Positions – between $40k and $60k
No employee will receive any compensation prior to January 1, 2015. Following January 1, 2015, employees will receive a salary as described above and benefits including insurance and participation in a 403(b) plan (the retirement plan offered by tax-exempt organizations).
“Seed Money” from Mars Hill Church
Doxa Church will begin regular operations on January 1, 2015, and will be the recipient of “seed money” from Mars Hill Church as a replanted church in Bellevue. This “seed money” comes in two categories: (1) start up costs and (2) a final gift. The start up cost category represents the tithes and offerings Mars Hill Church members gave in the last few months as the new churches, like Doxa Church, were being created. The amount is intended to approximate three months of operating expenditures. We are planning to use this money to fund and offset some of our start up costs in the first year. The second category, a final gift, would come from any residual balances after Mars Hill Church liquidates its assets and pays off its obligations. At this time, there are simply too many variables to know the timing and/or amount of this final gift.
The elders of Doxa have made the determination that we will live within our own means. Specifically, we want to support this new church based upon the giving we receive from our members and attendees of Doxa. That is why we are not budgeting to use the latter category of “seed money” mentioned above in the daily operations of the church. To the best of our ability, we will use these funds to build cash reserves and save for the future. We will prayerfully consider how to allocate those funds with wisdom, integrity, and full disclosure once their timing and amount are known.
We also want to be clear that no Doxa Church funds will be going to Mars Hill Church. We are receiving “seed money” because Doxa Church was birthed out of two former Mars Hill locations, however, there are no financial ties or obligations from Doxa to Mars Hill.
Budget Model
Doxa’s ability to stay in our facility and hire staff is, in part, made possible because the budget model of our church is very different than that of Mars Hill Church. Mars Hill Church existed as one church in many locations, which meant that a significant portion of giving went to help other church locations. In the Doxa model, as one church in one location, we have the ability to make independent decisions. The congregation’s generosity thus has an even more direct impact on the people of this church family.
Based on recent giving trends at Bellevue and Sammamish churches, we believe that Doxa will likely operate with a annual budget of approximately $2.2m. This projection is preliminary and will need to be further reviewed as we move through the first part of the year. Currently, we have a budget that breaks down in the following general categories:
Compensation: 35%
Facilities: 30%
Operations: 25%
Church Planting Tithe: 10%
These percentages include start up cost category “seed money” from Mars Hill Church described above, without those funds the percentage breakdown is 35%, 46%, 9%, and 10%, respectively.
We will share more details of this budget in the new year, once we have a clearer picture of giving and expenses, but wanted you to be aware of the framework within which we are making current decisions.
Our Church Building
Doxa Church leadership has made the determination to stay in the current facility (John Danz Building) through the remainder of the lease term (October, 2017). Mars Hill Church would have paid the full remainder of the lease to leave—something that we, together, believed would have been poor stewardship. Through discussions with our landlords, we came to a mutually agreeable solution—that, in essence, Doxa Church would simply continue on with the lease, but with no penalty payment. The new lease contains a 12 month notice clause—meaning after notice to move, our landlords would be able to redevelop the property. However, the property is no longer under contract and there are no current players in mind for this redevelopment.
Our monthly payment (including auditorium and office lease, parking, and common area maintenance) will be $82k. To offset some of this cost, and because we desire the partnership, we will host classes from Western Seminary, who will be paying for use of the space to hold weekly graduate-level classes.
We do not yet know what might happen after October, 2017. However, we believe that staying in this facility is a sustainable choice that also allows the members of the church to have time to heal without the pressures of relocation, and to prayerfully consider a longer term plan for a future church location.
Church Networks
It is important to note the difference in church model between Mars Hill Church and the Soma Family of Churches. Mars Hill Church was one church in many locations, which meant operating from one church budget and with one central governing body. The Soma Family of Churches is made up of many independent churches with a shared vision. The network is currently comprised of twenty-four independent churches with no legal or financial obligations existing between them.
To be clear, while we will work toward affiliating with this body at some point in the future, financial resources of Doxa will be stewarded by the elders of Doxa Church. There may be times we choose to help our brothers and sisters in Christ at Soma or another local church, but those decisions will be made out of love, prayerfully led by the Spirit, and not out of obligation.
When You Have Questions
Your elders and staff desire regular communication and want to be both transparent and accountable. When questions come up, you are welcome and encouraged to bring those inquiries to any of the elders. I will be serving as an elder and as the Director of Administration, and will most readily have access to specific details.
Thank you for your continued prayers, support, encouragement, and faithfulness.
In Christ,
Tim Patton

I realize that the leaders of Doxa may not feel any obligation to address unfinished business at Mars Hill Church. However, I believe that since some of the leaders are the same at Mars Hill and Doxa, Doxa should now acknowledge the unfinished business and indicate what former Mars Hill leaders are doing to address those issues.

Mars Hill Bellevue's New Preaching Pastor Jeff Vanderstelt on Why People Are Disillusioned with Church

Note: This video was published in September 2013. I am not saying he is talking about Mars Hill Church. He is talking about church in general. I think the present situation will give Soma and Rev. Vanderstelt an opportunity to apply this teaching which came long before now. 
Vanderstelt, who was named yesterday as pastor of Mars Hill Bellevue (soon to be Bellevue Church), has some good things to say about why people are turned off from church. I think he missed other reasons equally as important (e.g., anti-science, culture war mentality, etc.). However, his second reason — hypocrisy — is one which seems especially relevant as Mars Hill Church runs out the clock on public accountability.
The church which is being called a “plant” already has 12 elders. Six of those elders are holdovers from Mars Hill. One of them — Matt Rogers — as a member of the Board of Advisors and Accountability has a lot of unfinished business to address. The allegations from the group of nine pastors about the BoAA are still out there uninvestigated, despite a promise from then Mars Hill spokesman Mark DeMoss that they would be. The allegations were serious and involve matters of trust and integrity. However, they have been swept under the rug with the clock running out.
Lots of Christianese is being spoken; but will anything change with these new developments? As Vanderstelt seems to be aware, people are watching and want to know if the Gospel means anything in the way the church does business.

Jeff Vanderstelt Selected as Lead Teaching Pastor at (Mars Hill) Bellevue Church

This was announced earlier today via The City:

From Pastor Jason Skelton:

On behalf of the elders of Soma Tacoma and Bellevue Church, it is our privilege to share with you today the news that Jeff Vanderstelt has been selected as the Lead Teaching Pastor of Bellevue Church in Bellevue, WA.

Over the last six weeks, the elders of Bellevue Church and Soma Tacoma have been praying together to seek the Lord and know His will in this important decision. It has been our desire to create as many opportunities as possible to allow the congregation to speak into the process. This has included multiple public gatherings from Q&A in Bellevue, Sammamish, and Soma Tacoma, as well as Jeff preaching at Bellevue Church on November 23rd and December 7th. With a remarkable spirit of unity from both congregations, that we take as a sign of confirmation from the Holy Spirit, we now move forward with confidence in presenting this decision to you.

Today at the Soma Tacoma gathering, Jeff has resigned his eldership, and formally accepted the role as Lead Teaching Pastor of Bellevue Church. He will be publicly welcomed on December 21st when he will be present to preach that day as well in Bellevue. His first official day will be January 1st, 2015, which signifies the beginning of planting a new church.

From Jeff:

“Jayne and I are blessed to be clearly led by the Spirit in conjunction with the affirmation of Soma Tacoma and Bellevue Church to step into this new adventure. We are confident that Jesus is leading us into this and eager to serve Him as he continues to build his body on the Eastside. We can not do this without Him nor without the prayers of his people. In light of that, we earnestly ask that you lift us up in your prayers as we make this difficult transition from a church family that we dearly love to one that we are already growing in love for and anticipate loving in ever increasing ways over the coming months and years. We are eager to see the glory of Jesus fill the Eastside through his body the church as the waters cover the sea!”

With this decision, Bellevue Church will seek to become a member of the Soma Family of Churches, though the timeline for this has not been determined.

Our prayer, and our vision, is that the good news of Jesus would saturate the Eastside so that every man, woman, and child would have a daily encounter with Jesus in word and deed.

In Christ,

Soma Tacoma Elders

Don Crook

Justin Kuravackal

Abe Meysenburg

Mark Tilden

Jeff Wall

Randy Sheets

Bellevue Church Elders

Dave Cox

Alex Ghioni

Roger Molvar

Tim Patton

Matt Rogers

Jason Skelton

After the news from Bellevue recently about new staff, it was unclear that Soma was still involved.

Barring any legal complications, Bellevue Church is in line to receive what could be a substantial amount of money from the dissolution of Mars Hill Church.  Initially, there were high hopes that the involvement of Vanderstelt and Soma would bring in a new era of transparency. However, up to now, those representing Soma Church have ignored questions from the public and from Soma members about the transition of Bellevue from Mars Hill Church to Soma.