RICO Lawsuit Filed Against Former Leaders of Mars Hill Church; ECFA Named As Co-Conspirator

marshillglobalannualreportclipThe long anticipated suit from a group of former members against former leaders of Mars Hill Church was filed today in the U.S District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle. Attorney Brian Fahling filed suit on behalf of plaintiffs Brian and Connie Jacobsen and Ryan and Arica Kildea.
The plaintiffs accuse defendants Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner of engaging in

a continuing pattern of racketeering activity by soliciting, through the internet and the mail, contributions for designated purposes, and then fraudulently used significant portions of those designated contributions for other, unauthorized purposes. It was a pattern of racketeering activity that extended through a myriad of MHC projects, including the Global Fund, the Campus Fund, the Jesus Festival, and the promotion of Driscoll’s book Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together (“Real Marriage”).

In a statement, the attorney filing the suit, Brian Fahling said:

A church is not simply a building and programs. Mars Hill Church was a community of individuals—non-member attendees who considered MHC to be their church home, members, elders and pastors—who worked together in pursuit of a common mission—to make disciples and plant churches in the name of Jesus. Needless to say, the four groups are interdependent and the church cannot function without each of them. However, Driscoll and Turner engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity so deeply embedded, pervasive and continuous, that it was effectively institutionalized as a business practice, thereby corrupting the very mission Plaintiffs and other donors believed they were supporting.

On the Global Fund, just today I posted two formerly undisclosed memos on Mars Hill Church’s Board of Advisors and Accountability’s decision to keep secret how the church spent funds on missions (Global Fund) and salaries.
It is interesting to see ECFA named as a co-conspirator in the suit. The memo disclosed earlier today indicates that Dan Busby approved the moves of Mars Hill Church to address the Global Fund and apparently had no problem with the lack of transparency. In contrast, Busby and the ECFA took a turn toward transparency by removing Gospel for Asia from membership in October of 2015.
While it is a sad day to see these matters come to civil court, perhaps this will lead to a settlement and closure.
Read the lawsuit by clicking the link.

New Website is "One-Stop Resource" on Mars Hill Church RICO Lawsuit, Global Fund and Result Source

Marshilllawsuit.com bills itself as a “one-stop resource” for information relating to the planned RICO lawsuit involving Mars Hill Church leaders.
While fund raising is slow going, this site brings together various issues which should help anyone trying to understand why the potential plaintiffs want to bring suit. In addition to the value the site has to those interested in the lawsuit, it summarizes two of the larger controversies (Global Fund and Result Source).
Although these issues have largely faded from public conversation, they are unfinished in that Mars Hill’s major players have been silent on specifics.
Mark Driscoll is now in Phoenix along some former Mars Hill people who are helping with the technical aspects of his website and perhaps to help start a church.

Justin Dean Talks About What Went Wrong at Mars Hill Church

I haven’t watched it all yet but for those who want to get all perspectives, this is a valuable session with Justin Dean. Some of it leaves me scratching my head but if he is serious, it helps give insight into the demise of the church. I’ll add observations throughout the day and evening.
Dean talks about Mars Hill Global Fund (42:00) and calls the accusations about it “craziness.”  He says there were “a lot of evil people out there” (42:51) attacking. Dean said there was “evil at work, God at work” that led to the church’s demise. He is still demonizing those who he apparently still considers his opponents.
Let’s remember we are talking about a church that Paul Tripp said was “without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.” Dean doesn’t seem to have a category for that. Is Paul Tripp evil?
As I listen, I get the impression that the whole thing still seems overwhelming and beyond comprehension. I also suspect that he really doesn’t know the shenanigans his superiors were involved in.
Open forum in the comments section. A caution: Keep the conversation respectful of Dean and those on all sides of the Mars Hill fence.

Mars Hill Military Mission and Mars Hill Global: When Two Became One

When the two became one account, that is.
As Mars Hill Church winds down, I am looking back through my notes and materials to see what other information might be relevant to the big picture. One part of the Mars Hill story that I haven’t spent much time looking at is the Mars Hill Military Mission. I did some research on it months ago but didn’t write about it. However, writing about Global earlier today reminded me of a connection between Mars Hill Global and the Military Mission. The Military Mission was folded into Mars Hill Global in early 2012. Up to that time, people were giving specifically so Mars Hill books and resources could be shipped to service members. Mark Driscoll A Mars Hill staffer* discussed the combination of the Military Mission into what was called “Global Ministries” in a now deleted update on the Mars Hill website.
However, the amazing Wenatchee the Hatchet has a snippet of that deleted update where Mark Driscoll a Mars Hill staffer* talks about the combination of the Military Mission with Global ministries. Here it is:

… Because of the enormous growth of this ministry, we are needing to make some changes that will allow us to keep up with the great number of orders that are flowing in. The Military Mission will now become part of our new Global Ministries department. Because distribution is a large part of what Mars Hill Military Mission does, this strategic move will allow us to send out more resources at a quicker, less expensive, and more efficient rate. We have also combined Global Ministries and Military Mission’s financial contributions to one account. This will not only simplify our accounting processes but it will enable our ministries to have more of a global impact. Those of you who are currently giving specifically to the Military Mission might ask “Will my donations still be funding the Military Mission?” Our answer would be, “Yes—and then some.”

The date on this update is April 14, 2012. The church revealed that donors at one time gave specifically to the Military Mission. It was then disclosed that the donations would go to the new department with a “global impact.” Would the donations to the reconfigured Global Fund fund military missions? “Yes–and then some,” the update said. However, the Military Mission eventually went away in favor of an emphasis on branding Mars Hill Global as international missions work.
While this action was taken before Mars Hill Church became accredited by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, the decision by the church to mix donations designation for military and missions use may not have been proper or in keeping with ECFA guidelines. Donor intent is supposed to guide non-profit spending. If donations were made to provide resources to the military but were then combined into a fund that the church is now saying went mostly to funding U.S. expansion of video locations, then those donations may not have been spent as intended.
Another take away from the Mars Hill update is that the Global ministries had its own account. Earlier today, I presented evidence which seems to confirm that. However, the official position of the church is that the Global Fund wasn’t considered a fund beginning in 2012. Clearly, Driscoll the staffer* said the two mission activities would be combined to one account.
Demise of the Military Mission
The Military Mission was the subject of some negative attention from Sutton Turner in his March 2012 middle of the night memo to Driscoll and Dave Bruskas were he told his fellow executive elders that the church was in a “big mess.” In a long list of financially unsustainable activities, Turner said:

16. Having ministries like Film and Theology and Military Missions is not sustainable.

Eventually, as the Mars Hill update said, the Military mission was folded into Global.
In a Spring 2012 memo about combining the Military Mission into the Global brand, the value of the military work was questioned:
Without the photos and stories, apparently the return on investment (ROI) just wasn’t enough for Mars Hill leaders. In time, they agreed with Turner that the Military Mission was not sustainable. The focus on the military waned once Mars Hill Global went into full swing.
As it turned out making a church into a business was not sustainable.
*The post originally said that Mark Driscoll authored the update about the Military Mission. However, Wenatchee the Hatchet informed me that a Mars Hill staffer authored the post. At the request of the staffer, the name is being withheld. However, the information was on the Mars Hill website as the position of the church.

Mark Driscoll on Mars Hill Global: The Global Mission Effort of Jesus Christ

Recently a couple of commenters have questioned whether or not communications from Mars Hill Church left the impression that Mars Hill Global was the international missions ministry arm of Mars Hill Church.  The following video was made by Mark Driscoll to describe the changing brand of Mars Hill Global. Sutton Turner hoped to appeal to both Mars Hill members and people outside the church by recasting Mars Hill Global as the way the church participated in the world wide mission. Rather than actually put the millions raised into missions, however, the plan was to feature some projects and then funnel the preponderance of the funds into Mars Hill Church’s general fund.
This video is one of the Mars Hill Global videos that was removed from YouTube by the church. When I put clips of the removed video back on You Tube, the church challenged the Fair Use of the videos but backed down when I challenged their claim.

The messaging of Mars Hill Global after 2012 was ambiguous at times. However, Driscoll here and Sutton Turner  in a video that can still be seen on the Mars Hill website made the message very clear that international work was the primary focus of Mars Hill Global. Turner said with an Ethiopian church in the background:

Mars Hill Global is the arm of Mars Hill Church that makes disciples and plant churches all over the world.

After touting their translation work, Turner solicited money from both Mars Hill members and people outside the church.

So whether you’re a member of one of our Mars Hill Church locations in the United States or you’re one of 100,000 podcasters every single week, We encourage you to pray about giving above and beyond your tithe to Mars Hill Global.

Even though Turner later in 2014 tried to reframe Mars Hill Global into only people outside the church, the new message was at odds with what was proclaimed before sermons throughout 2013 and early 2014.
Donor intent is signaled by the choices that donors make when they give. Up until May 2014, donors had the ability to select the Global Fund or the Mars Hill general fund for their donations. See again this video demonstration:
Global Fund
According to recent communications from Justin Dean, Mars Hill spokesman, the Global Fund wasn’t a fund. Even though it was labeled as a fund as distinct from the general fund and had its own accounting code, church leaders have crafted a story that considers the Global Fund a restricted fund before 2012 but not a restricted after 2012. However, they didn’t tell donors that the fund was not restricted in the minds of church leaders until I started writing about the Global Fund in 2014.
I have recently obtained some accounting information which demonstrates again that donors designated money to the Global Fund. This particular donor (name redacted) gave to both the general fund from a campus location and to the Global Fund (GLO).
“History” above refers to the location of information about that donation in a prior accounting software package used in early 2012. I have redacted many donations between February and October. The donations in October were made on behalf of U-District (10/21/12) and the Global Fund (10/23, 10/9).  Apparently those funds were designated for those accounts but it can’t be determined from this document if they were spent for those purposes.
Time is running out for current Mars Hill leaders and those involved with them (Soma leaders) to do the right thing and disclose the actual giving to missions. From what Mars Hill leaders have already said, we know that missions did not get funding commensurate with the amount of branding and attention Ethiopian and Indian pastors received in Mars Hill media solicitations throughout 2012 to 2014. Now as the church dissolves, shouldn’t those pastors get some of those funds? Even if they don’t get the money raised through the Global Fund, shouldn’t what is left upon dissolution (possibly in the neighborhood of $20 million) be divided 12 ways, with a portion for the Indian and Ethiopian pastors?
Former and current Mars Hill members and interested parties, can I get a witness?
While you’re thinking about it, please re-read the Global Fund memo which outlined the plan to use mission projects to raise money.