Proposed Bellevue Church (Was Mars Hill Bellevue) Bylaws; More Details About Bellevue Church Plant

As noted earlier this week, Bellevue Church announced today that Jeff Vanderstelt will become the lead teaching pastor at Bellevue Church. The Church intends to become a part of the Soma family of churches. The bylaws for the new church has been available to those interested and are linked here.
The church will be more open to the congregation than Mars Hill Church was. Members will be able to vote on purchases over $100k but not on the elders (see below).* The Board of Elders will be a self-perpetuating board.
To read the Bellevue Church bylaws, click here.
Jason Skelton posted this information earlier today:

As we wrap up 2014, we wanted you to know about the schedule for the remaining weekends, and what to expect as we enter the new year and begin the new church.

December 21st

Jeff Vanderstelt will be preaching at all of our services to continue our“Jesus: Gift of God” series, and we will formally welcome him as our Lead Teaching Pastor who will serve as one of the elders to replant the church. We have some additional exciting news to share, including the selection of our church name (“Bellevue Church” has been a placeholder while we are in the selection process for a new name). As well, on the 21st we will have the final in our series of “Interest Meetings,” with the topic of this week’s meeting being Counseling, Redemption Groups, Kids Ministry, and Student Ministry. This meeting will be led by Jeff Vanderstelt and Alex Ghioni, with other key leaders as well. Our ministry leaders will be here to talk through plans for the new church, and they also want to hear from you.

December 24th

We will not be hosting a Christmas Eve service this year, in an effort to ensure that volunteers and staff families have a great opportunity to be with their families after what has been a very busy season. If you’re interested in the festivities, many of the area churches are hosting Christmas Eve services, and we would encourage you also to attendSnowflake Lane together with your family or community group.

December 28th

This will be the last Sunday of the year, as we also celebrate the work that God has done through Mars Hill Church. Thousands of lives have been changed, millions of sermons have been downloaded and the Word of God has been powerfully at work. We will gather together for one final service together at 10am on December 28thThis will be our only service this Sunday to have an opportunity for the whole church family to be together.

January 4th

The start of the new year will mark the start of our new church. Join us on January 4th as Jeff Vanderstelt begins as the new Lead Teaching Pastor. Service times will be at 9am and 11am.

Lastly, we want to share just a few brief details related to planting the new church, especially amidst the busyness of the Christmas season. Most of these have already been communicated, we just wanted to compile to share it as reminders.

  • Last week, we shared that we have hired a number of new staff members. On Sunday we announced that Jeff Vanderstelt had resigned his position at Soma Tacoma and now joins the leadership team for the new church plant. The elders of the new church plant include Dave Cox, Alex Ghioni, Roger Molvar, Tim Patton, Matt Rogers, Jason Skelton, and Jeff Vanderstelt.

  • In the new year we will change our service times to 9a and 11a. This will allow us to focus our efforts on Sunday morning services, as well as utilizing the remainder of the day for additional training and equipping opportunities, particularly allowing those driving from a further distance to not be required to come into Downtown Bellevue on multiple days per week. It’s our prayer that this will also help our volunteer teams who have served sacrificially these past few months.

  • Also in the new year, Student Ministry will be on Sunday evenings at 5p. We will be sharing more details about Student Ministry in the coming weeks.

  • Our new church plant will seek to become a member of the Soma Family of Churches, but we will not be “Soma Church” or directly connected in any legal or financial manner with Soma Tacoma. Jeff Vanderstelt will be our Lead Teaching Pastor, but he has resigned from his role as an elder at Soma Tacoma. He will remain in an oversight role of the Soma Family of Churches but it should be noted that this network functions solely as a relational network of like-minded churches and has no governing or binding authority over local churches. The new church plant will be an independent church. We will be sharing more about our desire to become part of the Soma Family of Churches in the new year.

  • We have attached a version of our preliminary bylaws that will serve for the next six months while we evaluate and assess their effectiveness, as well as work toward affirmation of the new elder team. These bylaws are formed from the principles we shared in November at our Vision Meeting, and have been reviewed by numerous church members, leaders through our Interest Meetings,and have also been reviewed by outside counsel. We have intentionally created a version that is not extremely robust, in order that we can learn and grow over time.

  • In addition to this information, we’ll be sharing an extended post on what transparency will look like in the new church early next week.

We’re excited, and we pray that you are too. Jesus has been abundantly showing his grace and opening doors for the future and we confidently believe that a great, healthy church for the Eastside is in store. If you have not had an opportunity to talk to us in person and have feedback you’d like to share, we have created a form where you can provide it here. That being said, our elders are always available to you, please reach out to any of us moving forward.

In Christ,

Pastor Jason

*While it appears that the elders will elect people to their board, there is a provision on page 5 or the congregation to have some kind of input. According to the provision on the annual meeting, the congregation will affirm the elders:

An annual meeting of the church shall be held each year at a date, time, and place to be determined by the Board of Elders. At the annual meeting, the voting members shall affirm the elders assessed and appointed by the Board of Elders, affirm an annual budget, provide notice of changes to the church bylaws, and transact any other business as may come before the meeting.

This is not fleshed out. The congregation may simply get a slate of board members and be instructed to vote on the slate. If so, the opposition to one member would have to be intense for the congregation to vote down the entire slate. However, since the method of affirm is not spelled out, one cannot know how much congregational input there will be.

Mars Hill Church Posts Bylaws

Apparently Dustin Kensrue’s resignation letter (and perhaps this post today) sparked enough concern at Mars Hill Church to add a line to the Governance page of the church website. Earlier today, I noted Kensrue’s call for transparency and noted that the state of Washington and the ECFA require disclosure of bylaws to members. For Mars Hill Church, members refers to elders and not church members. The posting of this link, especially if they somehow let members know they can now see them, is an improvement. Here is what the Mars Hill Church governance page looked like on September 2 (via Google cache): Governancenobylaws090214cache Here is what it looks like today: Governancebylaws090414 Note the orange arrow. This line was added since September 2 (some sources tell me it was added today), complete with links to the Mars Hill Church bylaws and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. The link leads to the copy of the bylaws which I have been using to discuss governance at Mars Hill. Now maybe we’ll get some Mars Hill Global numbers…

Washington Law and Dustin Kensrue to Mars Hill Church: Release the Bylaws

Former Mars Hill Church Director of Worship Dustin Kensrue resigned on Monday. His letter of resignation was posted yesterday. In it, Kensrue offered several suggestions to current members. I want to focus on his suggestion about church bylaws: Kensrue wrote:

What Else Can You Do?
• Ask questions and share your concerns with your pastors, especially your lead pastor.
 Ask to see the bylaws and study them yourself. If any church will not share it’s bylaws, it’s probably not safe to trust that church. MH has gone so far as to deny the current bylaws to elder candidates (myself included) on the explicit order of Sutton Turner, and when I wanted to see them as an elder, I had to look online where they had been “leaked.” (emphasis added)

This blog is one such place where one can review the Mars Hill bylaws (click the link).
Consistent with Kensrue’s report, I have been told by current and former members that requests to see the bylaws have been denied by Mars Hill pastors. However, keeping people (see below, Mars Hill elders) away from the bylaws may violate Washington law. According to the Washington Nonprofit Corporation Act, members must have access to organization bylaws:

Required documents in the form of a record — Inspection — Copying.
Each corporation shall keep at its registered office, its principal office in this state, or at its secretary’s office if in this state, the following documents in the form of a record:
(1) Current articles and bylaws;
(2) A list of members, including names, addresses, and classes of membership, if any;
(3) Correct and adequate statements of accounts and finances;
(4) A list of officers’ and directors’ names and addresses;
(5) Minutes of the proceedings of the members, if any, the board, and any minutes which may be maintained by committees of the board.
The corporate records shall be open at any reasonable time to inspection by any member of more than three months standing or a representative of more than five percent of the membership.
Cost of inspecting or copying shall be borne by such member except for costs for copies of articles or bylaws. Any such member must have a purpose for inspection reasonably related to membership interests. Use or sale of members’ lists by such member if obtained by inspection is prohibited.
The superior court of the corporation’s or such member’s residence may order inspection and may appoint independent inspectors. Such member shall pay inspection costs unless the court orders otherwise.
[2004 c 265 § 14; 1986 c 240 § 24; 1967 c 235 § 28.] (emphasis added)

Most churches have their bylaws readily available for review. Mars Hill Church leaders keep them under cover. This should be a huge red flag.
About a week ago, I asked Dan Busby, the president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, if member organizations were allowed to keep bylaws from members but he did not reply. Guidance for churches on the ECFA website appears to require disclosure of bylaws:

Standard 5 – Transparency – Every member shall provide a copy of its current financial statements upon written request and shall provide other disclosures as the law may require. The financial statements required to comply with Standard 3 must be disclosed under this Standard. (emphasis added)

Washington law requires bylaws be available for review. Unless there are special exemptions for churches, it appears that Mars Hill Church is at odds with state law and out of compliance with ECFA guidelines. I should also point out that the seven member self-perpetuating Board of Advisors and Accountability can change the bylaws without approval of the Full Council of Elders or the congregation.
Additional Information: In re-reading the post, there is a component of the story that I should have included the first time around. While it does not change the general thrust of the post, I need to add some information to this call to release the bylaws.
It seems apparent that the authors of the Mars Hill Church bylaws were familiar with WA state law. In Article 4, the bylaws distinguish between “spiritual” members and members for the purpose of state law.
Mars Hill Church calls people who take the membership covenant “members” but not “members for state law purposes.” Even though the people who agree to the membership covenant are supposed to tithe, give money beyond their tithes, volunteer, support the pastors, etc., they are not “members for state laws purposes.” In other words, they are not entitled to get bylaws and other information that the actual members are supposed to get. In this case, the bylaws labels elder as being “members for state law purposes.” I wonder how many “members” not “for state law purposes” know that they aren’t really legal members of the church? Give time, talents and tithes, support the pastors but members can’t vote or even have access to the rules which govern the body to which they pledge a covenant.
As noted in Kensrue’s resignation letter, the leadership of Mars Hill Church has kept the bylaws even from the legal members which appears to be a violation of state law and ECFA guidance. It seems to me that congregation members could challenge the viability of their membership covenant since they really aren’t joining an organization where they have any participation in governance.
Kensrue also discussed how the bylaws inform the examination of charges against Mark Driscoll. In a related post, later today, I will look at what Kensrue has to say about that in comparison with the bylaws.