From the Archives: Mars Hill Church Elders Post Letter of Confession to Bent Meyer and Paul Petry

Screen capture from Mars Hill Church video, 2014
Screen capture from Mars Hill Church video, 2014

Recently, current pastor of The Trinity Church in Phoenix and former pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle Mark Driscoll told Sheila Walsh and Randy Robison that Mars Hill Church ended due to a church governance dispute which lasted eight years. Driscoll added:

We had a governance war at the church that went eight years behind the scenes over who is in charge and how things play out. At the end we had 67 elders in 15 locations in five states, a large percentage of whom I had never met. They wanted to have independent local churches and we were one large church in many locations. So there was an eight-year battle that finally went public the last year and it was very painful for everyone involved, especially the wonderful, dear, generous, amazing people that served and gave and made it all happen.

I have spoken to a dozen former Mars Hill Church elders and no one remembers it that way.
The eight year period must refer to the time when Bent Meyer and Paul Petry were removed from eldership because they questioned the changes which were eventually enacted at Mars Hill. After those men were publicly shamed and removed, others did not dare vote against the changes. There was no eight year dispute. The governance changes were made.
A remarkable letter written in 2014 provides a counter point to Driscoll’s account. As is clear from the letter, the elders other than Meyer and Petry feared being treated in a similar manner and fell in line. While those who left the church kept hoping for change at Mars Hill, those who stayed got with the program.
As Mars Hill Church was unraveling, a group of men who were elders at the time Meyer and Petry were fired got together to write a letter of confession to Meyer and Petry. Now seems like a good time to remember what they had to say.
The letter was originally posted at the Repentant Pastor website which is no longer working. I found the letter archived via the Wayback Machine and is reproduced in full here.

Letter of Confession to Bent Meyer and Paul Petry
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Dear Paul and Bent, we want to publicly confess our sin against you regarding events that took place at Mars Hill Church back in 2007. We were wrong. We harmed you. You have lived with the pain of that for many years. As some of us have come to each of you privately, you have extended grace and forgiveness, and for that we thank you. Because our sin against you happened in a public way and with public consequences, we want to make our confession public as well with this letter.
On September 30th 2007, you were both terminated from your employment as pastors at Mars Hill Church. Your status as elders of the church was suspended, according to the church’s bylaws at the time, pending an investigation of your qualification for eldership. It’s hard to imagine just how disorienting and painful this experience must have been for you. That night, Bent, you called Mike Wilkerson, your direct supervisor, to let him know that you’d been terminated. Within hours, Paul, you emailed all of the elders to notify us of what had happened to you that night. We had the opportunity and the responsibility to intervene, to care, to listen to you, and to make sure that any harmful treatment against you was corrected. Instead, we allowed the process of your investigation and trial to continue unimpeded and we participated in it. By failing to intervene and by participating in that process without protest, we implied to the members of Mars Hill Church, to each other, and to you and your families that your termination was above reproach. We stood by as it happened, and that was wrong.
We now believe that you were grievously sinned against in that termination. We believe that the termination meeting’s content and tone was abrupt, one sided, and threatening. Hearing each of you recount your experiences of this meeting is shocking and sad. By failing to intervene, we enabled a growing trend of misuses and abuses of power and authority that would be feared and tolerated by the rest of the churchs eldership. We now understand that these sorts of overpowering actions against elders were some of the very concerns that you had each expressed regarding some of the pending proposed changes to the bylaws. It is tragic that you were proved right by your own experiences. The harm permitted by our failure to protect you has had a devastating and lasting impact on you, your families, Mars Hill Church, and the watching world.
Paul, On October 15, 2007, all twenty-three elders at the time—including most of us signers of this letter—voted that you were in violation of the biblical qualifications of eldership. The alleged violations included a “lack of trust and respect for spiritual authority”. All but two of the elders then voted to remove you from eldership based on these perceived violations.
We now believe our decisions were invalid and wrong. The entire investigation and trial process was skewed by the implication that your termination was above reproach and for just cause. If there had been sin in your life that might have warranted a warning about possible disqualification from eldership, we should have patiently, carefully, and directly addressed it with you before the matter became so extremely escalated. By reporting our wrongheaded assessment to the church, we put doubt about your character in the minds of church members, though you had done nothing to warrant such embarrassment and scrutiny. By doing this, we misled the whole church, harmed your reputation, and damaged the unity of the body of Christ.
Bent, On October 29, 2007, all twenty-three elders at the time—including most of us signers of this letter—agreed that you were guilty of “displaying an unhealthy lack of trust in, and respect for, the senior leadership of Mars Hill Church”. We also unanimously approved that, based on your repentance, you would remain an elder of the church on probation.
Bent, we were wrong to have called you guilty of lacking trust and respect for the senior leadership of the church when you had good reasons for challenging the church’s senior leadership. We were wrong to have insisted that you repent of this lacking trust as a condition of your continued eldership, because it was not sinful on your part in the first place.
Bent and Paul, you each had every right as an elder to openly express your strong concerns about the bylaws and to influence our thinking so that we might have made the most informed decision possible. You also had good reason to contact the church’s attorney about those bylaws. These were not sinful acts of mistrust on your part, but reasonable acts of due diligence. We needed to learn from you at that time and we should have trusted you and respected your spiritual authority as elders of the church to educate us about potential problems with those bylaws. Instead, we silenced your voices through our complicity in your terminations and our decisions to remove Paul as an elder and keep Bent on probation instead of examining the issues more closely.
Paul, On December 5th, 2007 those of us who were elders at the time voted to instruct the members of Mars Hill Church to treat you as an unrepentant believer under church discipline after you had resigned your membership from the church. This treatment was to have included “rejection and disassociation” in the hope that you would “come to an acknowledgment of [your] sin and repent.” This instruction was given with the weight of all twenty-seven elders at the time. This disciplinary rejection led to great loss to your family in extreme financial hardship, sudden loss of long standing friendships, spiritual and emotional trauma to your family, and the public shaming of your character. We share responsibility for those losses due to our participation in the vote.
A church disciplinary act of this magnitude is extreme. It’s perhaps the most powerful that can be enacted upon a pastor. We now think that motion was hasty and harmful. We should have challenged the motion rather than approving it. Instead, we used our voting power as elders in a way that resulted in further harm to you. Further, we brought disrepute on the Church and its responsibility to exercise church discipline in a godly, loving and redemptive way. We failed to love you as a fellow elder and brother in Christ.
Confessing our sins against you has been a process that has taken us some time. We have engaged in self-examination, challenged our memories of what happened by reviewing the documents and interviewing one another, and spent time listening to you and your wives tell your heartbreaking stories. Many of us have met personally with each of you over the years to confess our sin and to seek forgiveness for our sinful actions and inaction. We don’t intend to convey by this letter that we are the only elders or former elders who’ve come to similar conclusions, and we hope that in time, the others will join us in public confession. Our desire is to clear the reproach from your names.
We hope that our confession also brings healing to the many past and present members of Mars Hill Church whose hearts were broken for you and your families as a result of our sin. As part of our commitment to walk in repentance, we invite anyone who has been impacted by our sins against you to contact any of us so we can continue to walk in repentance by listening, confessing, and asking for forgiveness.
Paul and Bent, we are sorry for our sinful behavior toward you, for harming you, and for bringing shame to Christ’s church. We hope that you will forgive us. May the peace and grace of our Lord heal our hearts.
Mars Hill Elders as of October, 2007
—Scott Thomas
—Dave Kraft
—Gary Shavey
—Steve Tompkins
—Brad House
—Phil Smidt
—Mike Wilkerson
—James Harleman
—Lief Moi
—Adam Sinnett
—Jesse Winkler
—Zack Hubert
—Tim Reber
—James Dahlman
—Dick McKinley
Additional Mars Hill Elders as of December 5th, 2007
—Jon Krombein
—Matt Johnson
—Joe Day


Mars Hill Church Elders Post Letter of Confession to Bent Meyer and Paul Petry

Pastors who voted to disqualify Paul Petry and Bent Meyer as elders have issued a statement of confession and repentance (UPDATE: the former website has been taken down. You can read it via the Wayback Machine). It begins:

Dear Paul and Bent, we want to publicly confess our sin against you regarding events that took place at Mars Hill Church back in 2007. We were wrong. We harmed you. You have lived with the pain of that for many years. As some of us have come to each of you privately, you have extended grace and forgiveness, and for that we thank you. Because our sin against you happened in a public way and with public consequences, we want to make our confession public as well with this letter.

More commentary to come but really it speaks for itself.
Note: The title has been changed twice to better reflect the actual events of 2007.

Ex-Mars Hill Member's Facebook Group Continues to Grow

Just noticed this afternoon that the Repeal the bylaws– exonerate pastors Petry & Meyer Facebook group has now gone over 200 members.
The purpose of the open group is:

…to engage each other is a constructive way that ultimately leads the Mars Hill leaders, members, ex-members (like myself) and donors to revisit 2006 and see the destruction caused by the carefully and timely executed firing and trials of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer.
Failing to revisit this means that any repentance and reconciliation that we see leaves intact the current form of governance that has no accountability at all and allows abuse and harm to continue.
*This group is primarily meant for current and former Mars Hill members, but people not from there are welcome. Whoever you are though, please do keep your posts focused on seeking righteousness and reconciliation at Mars Hill.

While there are a number of themes which unite former Mars Hill leaders and members, the exoneration of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer seems to be a prominent one. For much, much more on that story, see Joyful Exiles, and  this recent post by Bent Meyer on his view of Mark Driscoll.
A quick review of the site indicates that members of the group may be getting together in person to renew friendships and perhaps to plan for additional actions to press their case.
As noted previously, the bylaws change in 2007 was a pivotal event in Mars Hill’s history that signaled a change from elder led governance to the more corporate-style governance of today’s Mars Hill.

The Seeds of Trouble: Mars Hill Church, Mark Driscoll and the 2007 Purge

Update: For Facebook group information, read to the bottom

Over the past several months, I have talked with quite a few former Mars Hill Church members and ministers. A common theme is that the current difficulties being experienced at the church have at least some of their roots in a change of governance in 2007.  At that time, Paul Petry and Bent Meyer were fired as elders which set off a firestorm of discontent among certain members. The discord even reached the Seattle Times with an article by Janet Tu titled, Firing of pastors roils Mars Hill Church.

The article mentioned the fired elders and noted that changes in the by-laws seemed to spark the discord. According to then pastor Jamie Munson, the object of the changes was to share power, not hoard it. The 2007 changes were resisted by Petry, Meyer, Lief Moi and others and were followed up by the current 2011 by-laws which further consolidates power in the hands of the board of elders (see this post for the by-laws). The 2011 by-laws move even further away from the original model of governance.
Judging from conversations I am having with former Mars Hill members and staff, as well as their various Facebook postings, some of the current distress and discord can be traced back to the difficulties in 2007. After the by-laws were approved, MHC required members to rejoin under the new scheme. About 1,000 members declined to rejoin.

Some of the more infamous video clips of Mark Driscoll come from that period (Some of those sermons have been removed from the MHC website). In one sermon, Driscoll describes how to keep elders in line

As noted, once one gets past the important concerns of plagiarism, and using Result Source to get on best seller lists, much of the concerns I hear relate to authoritarian leaders, hurt feelings and disrupted relationships from that turbulent period of the church’s history. The additional changes in the church by-laws and increasingly corporatization of Mars Hill into a brand (some recall and describe the “I am the brand” speech) have led to significant reaction on the part of current and former staff.

At least that is how it appears to me.

A detailed history of the situation is beyond my time constraints now, but I did want to raise this observation in the midst of covering the other controversies. There are other blogs and sources which help tell the story; some are first person accounts from those involved. Here are some of those accounts and resources.

My Story by Jonna Petry (wife of Paul Petry) at Joyful Exiles. This is a good initial reading of the timeline in the firing of Paul Petry from his wife’s perspective

Mars Hill Timeline from Joyful Exiles. – There is a wealth of information here.

Bent Meyer Breaks His Silence at Wartburg Watch.

Wenatchee the Hatchet – A former Mars Hill member provides a wide range of information about the history of MHC. Use the search engine to track down posts.

Repeal the By-Laws – Exonerate Pastors Paul Petry and Bent Meyer – A Facebook group started by Rob Smith to promote the exoneration of the fired elders Paul Petry and Bent Meyer.

See all posts on Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll