Mars Hill Church Board of Elders Investigate Charges Against Mark Driscoll

On Monday, the newly formed Mars Hill Church Board of Elders posted a message on the Mars Hill website written by Mars Hill Sammamish lead pastor Alex Ghioni. Ghioni had posted another version September 5 on The City (also posted on Reddit).
The versions are slightly different with perhaps the most interesting difference being the source of the charge for the Board of Elders. Last week to his congregation, Ghioni said the executive elders were responsible:


The current version says that the Board of Advisors and Accountability established the BOEs.


I don’t know what to make of this change, and perhaps Ghioni was confused about who established the BOE. However, Mark Dunford in his resignation explanation letter stated that the executive elders constructed the BOE:

This, after the Executive Elders (of which he is one) added three additional members to the board that would adjudicate his charges and having created/restored the Board of Elders to investigate those charges. I want to be clear that the elders themselves are not involved with selecting who would serve on those boards. Again, it was the EE who made those decisions.

By bylaw, both the BOAA and EEs have the power to establish ad hoc committees. So does it matter who selected the BOEs?

Yes, I believe it does. Dunford’s assertion that the EEs chose the investigation committee, if correct, is important. If those who are to examine charges were chosen by their fellow elders, then those selected have a greater likelihood of being representative of the sentiment of the Full Council of Elders (including at the time, those nine elders who called on Mark Driscoll to enter an elder directed restoration process). It seems more likely that all voices and views would be heard if all 50-60 of the Mars Hill elders were involved in selecting the committee to examine the charges. However, according to Dunford (as well as other insiders I have spoken with) and Ghioni’s first communication, Mark Driscoll, Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas selected the group who are charged with investigating Driscoll. This does not sound like a process marked by objectivity.

Furthermore, according to Article 12 of the bylaws, the BOAA’s independent members are the ones who are supposed to investigate charges against Mark Driscoll, not an ad hoc committee.


This article was written solely to address charges against Mark Driscoll. In it, the board of overseers (independent members of the BOAA – Michael Van Skaik, Larry Osborne, Matt Rogers, Jon Phelps) “shall be responsible for establishing its procedures, for conducting the investigation and rendering a decision.” However, according to Alex Ghioni’s communication, the BOEs will conduct the investigation.


In his September 5 communication, Ghioni indicates that the BOE will investigate and then present their findings to the board of overseers. In the September 8 web posting, Ghioni/BOEs expand the description:

  1. Elder Transitions – The BoE will receive, investigate, report and make recommendations to the BoAA on any charges brought against an elder in the church. They will also arbitrate in situations where the charges brought against an elder are contested. Very importantly, you should know the BoAA has approved a significant change where charges against an Executive Elder will be first investigated by the Board of Elders, followed by a decision from the independent members of the BoAA. This affords increased accountability of the Executive Elders with the rest of the eldership. I believe it is important for you to know this was a change that Pastor Mark, Pastor Dave and Pastor Sutton initiated themselves as a sign of mutual submission and accountability.

I really don’t understand how it helps establish accountability to learn that Mark Driscoll and his executive elder colleagues wanted a group of hand picked subordinates to examine the charges.
It appears to me another problem exists for this process. Given that the BOAA are responsible to investigate the charges, bylaw change should be required to allow them to pass this duty off to another committee. However, a quick check of the bylaws posted on the Mars Hill governance page shows no such change. The Going Forward documents seems to clean up the earlier document posted by Ghioni but it is not clear at all that the process is operating in accord with the bylaws of the organization. Given the admitted lack of transparency at Mars Hill, there is reason to question what is really happening behind the scenes. In both accounts, it appears clear that Mark Driscoll and his fellow executive elders have chosen a group of subordinates to investigate the charges against him. This will be at least the second time the BOAA has had charges against Mark Driscoll presented to them which they have not personally investigated.
In the second communication on the Mars Hill website, Ghioni anticipates some of these concerns:

Some have questioned my, and other BoE members, impartiality in conducting this investigation. I want you to know that I and the other board members know that we will stand before the Lord and give an account for our service to His church. Ultimately His opinion of how we conducted ourselves in faithfulness to his word will be are our guide (1 Timothy 5:19-20, Matthew 18:15-17, Proverbs 18:17, Deuteronomy 17:8-9).

This of course remains to be seen. All one can do is observe the process and communications about the process to the present. According to these communications (which have changed in the space of four days), the executive elders asked for a committee of subordinates to examine charges against Mark Driscoll. The EEs, either with or without input from the rest of the BOAA and no vote of the Full Council of Elders, chose pastors who are subordinates to be on the BOE. In contrast to the bylaws requirement that the BOAA investigate the charges, the BOE are currently investigating the charges and will report their findings to the independent members of the BOAA. The BOAA, which includes two people who dismissed charges after calling no witnesses the last time charges were lodged, a sitting volunteer elder and the most generous donor in Mars Hill’s history, will then decide the verdict.
If Mark Driscoll wants to come back as lead pastor, I like his odds “Going Forward.”

Sutton Turner in 2012 on Mars Hill Church’s Financial Situation: “We are in a big mess”

It is my belief that the reason we have such poor giving by our Church is the lack of stewardship in the Church staff. Churches with excellent stewardship see greater giving because people know that every dollar they give will go towards the mission of the Church. It is very clear this has not been the case at Mars Hill Church.
Sutton Turner

On Monday, Mars Hill Church leaders told the congregation that the church is “now facing the most serious budget challenge in our history.” However, according to a 2012 Mars Hill Church memo from Sutton Turner to his fellow executive elders, the church has been operating from crisis to crisis for quite some time.  At the time, he wrote: “we are in a big mess. It is much worse that I could have ever imagined.” Perhaps, this assessment in 2012 provides perspective on the severity of the current “most serious budget challenge” the church history. 

Turner’s March 17, 2012 memo outlines his perception of Mars Hill Church as “a very broken and fundamentally financially unsustainable organization.” Turner identifies numerous problems including a culture “that is plagued by poor stewardship, entitlement, December’s Hail Mary strategy, and using of the Church to build a personal ministry.”

Turner delineates reasons for his opinions throughout the memo. For now, I want to focus on two issues, the Result Source campaign and what Turner called the “December hail Mary strategy.”

On the Result Source expense to rig the New York Times count of book sales, Turner notes that the church spent heavily on that campaign along with launching six new locations.

Then you put on top of these 6 churches launches a RM campaign and you basically have a company going to World War III. It is all hands on deck, spend whenever is needed and let’s win the War.

The decision to “spend whatever is needed” is an unexamined aspect of the Real Marriage campaign. Mars Hill Church had finished 2011 strong because of the 2011 “December hail Mary strategy.” Over the next 3 months, the church burned through that money to the point that in March Sutton Turner woke up in the middle of the night and wrote a doomsday memo to his colleagues. Media and communications staff were given the tasks of promoting the Real Marriage book, including scheduling and servicing speaking engagements, all on church time. In the memo, Turner complains about this aspect of Mars Hill culture:

Many times these personal ministries are done during staff time and using church resources. This actually encouraged when I first came on staff as it was explained to me that staff was able to take MHC time to do consulting work to supplement their income. At the very highest levels of the organization this was taking place and reproduced throughout the organization. So as a result, all staff members saw this as acceptable and now the established culture within Mars Hill Church.

There is no higher level of the organization than Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner had already participated in that culture by signing the contract with Result Source in October 2011 to rig the bestseller lists. On one hand, Turner is correct that ministers should not use the church to benefit them financially, but on the other hand, he had gone along with just such a scheme on a massive scale. At the end of the memo, he returns to the launch of six churches and the Real Marriage campaign as being a prime factor for the hole they were in.

The hole we are in today was set in course when we decided to plant 6 churches in 5 months on top of the Real Marriage campaign. Too much work for an 8,000 in weekly attendance church to undertake when there was a culture within the church staff of poor stewardship and a church body that did not financially support the church.

Another aspect of this memo that really stands out is the admission that the December end-of-the-year giving campaigns were designed to make up for giving shortfalls. Turner wrote:

From what I can tell by this past year’s budget, we have had a strategy of completing a Hail Mary every December with a big giving campaign. This has allowed the negative monthly financial performance to continue while we count on a Hail Mary giving push in December to make up for the annual deficit. Givers are giving to grow the body and plant more churches, but given our spending habits, their gifts just help us catch up. With the growth of the church, the 2011 version only allows for enough cash to run through June 2012 and is not a sustainable plan for December 2012.

Even though the church told the congregation that the December offerings were to be over and above tithes in order to fund extra projects, the money was not used in that manner.  Even though Turner complained about this fundraising style, the church maintained the “December hail Mary strategy” during the end of the 2013 with glowing descriptions of a Jesus Festival to be held in August. That idea was discarded without notice very early in 2014.

Closer to the time of Turner’s memo was the 2011 end of the year appeal for $6.4 million for, among other things, the planting of four churches (happened), and to fund an animated children’s series (never happened). However, by March 2012, Turner was sounding the alarm that the church was in serious financial shape. He summarized the predicament with the following image:

If Mars Hill Church is now in “the most serious budget challenge in our history” then things now must be much worse than anyone has stated publicly. Given the rapid acquisition of properties, Mars Hill could be very low on cash and be in danger of the same kind of problems that existed in 2012. My guess is October is a deadline of sorts along the lines of point #3 above.

My suspicion is that the past is prologue to the current situation. Turner predicted that the situation was unsustainable and it appears he was correct.

I will probably revisit this memo in a future post but for now, let me end where I began. I believe Turner was correct when wrote:

It is my belief that the reason we have such poor giving by our Church is the lack of stewardship in the Church staff. Churches with excellent stewardship see greater giving because people know that every dollar they give will go towards the mission of the Church. It is very clear this has not been the case at Mars Hill Church.

However, very little has changed since he wrote those words. The church has steadfastly refused to disclose Global Fund spending, the church attempted to keep information about the Global Fund hidden, executive personnel costs are closely guarded secrets, and up until recently, members and some elders could not get a look at bylaws. It is still true that “churches with excellent stewardship see greater giving because people know that every dollar they give will go towards the mission of the Church.” Perhaps even Turner would agree that, even in the present season, “this has not been the case at Mars Hill Church.”

Read the memo here.