Two Weeks: No Answer from Mars Hill Leaders to 20 Former Mars Hill Pastors Who Want Mediation

Two weeks ago, twenty former Mars Hill pastors, led by Dave Kraft and Kyle Firstenberg requested mediation with the Board of Advisors and Accountability of Mars Hill Church. As of this writing, no answer has come from the BOAA.
Ten days later, the BOAA issued a letter to Mars Hill leaders saying the board was “hungry for reconciliation” but did not mention the initiative by the 20 pastors. Two weeks later, the BOAA is apparently not hungry enough to address the people who are calling for a response.
There are nearly 170 members of a group calling for the exoneration of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer. There are over 50 members of a similar group calling for repentance. No members have described contacts from the BOAA. Recently, a website was launched with four former pastors including co-founder Lief Moi, expressing sorrow over their actions while at Mars Hill. These gentlemen also seem hungry for reconciliation. Many of these individuals have sought reconciliation privately with no response to their efforts. See especially, Kyle Firstenberg’s information.
I have asked Mars Hill communications director Justin Dean for MHC’s side of this matter with no response.

The Mars Hill Orange County Discrimination Narrative: The Rest of the Story?

In June 2012, Mark Driscoll told the media and his church that Mars Hill Orange County might be the victim of religious discrimination because the city of Santa Ana said the church was in violation of the city’s zoning ordinance. According to the OC Weekly via a Mars Hill video, the church was lawyering up:

Driscoll said the church has hired lawyers to look into the matter, and “if we do find that we’re just getting bullied by a political discriminatory agenda against Christianity and the church, we’ll hold our ground. If we find out as well that it’s just somebody on a council somewhere with an axe to grind against Christianity, we’ll hold our ground.

The May update and June 2012 video of Driscoll telling the congregation about the matter has been removed from the Mars Hill website and is now private on You Tube (the update from Mars Hill Orange County lead pastor Nick Bogardus is on the Internet Archive).
Now the Executive Pastor of Mars Hill Orange County at the time Kyle Firstenberg claims that he had made Mars Hill leaders aware of the zoning problem months prior to the June article.

Several months after being sent down to Orange County to help launch the OC location of Mars Hill as the Executive Pastor, I identified a new location for the church to meet. It was at a night club called the Galaxy Theater. Shortly after we began meeting there, I discovered that the City of Santa Ana prohibits churches from meeting in that part of the city, regardless of the building. I notified Pastor Sutton and the Development Team of my findings and suggested we start planning for a move. I was told by Pastor Sutton that we were not going to move because we had no place to go, even though we could move back to the building we were using months before.
I began searching for another place to meet and discovered a comparable venue to the Galaxy Theater. I notified Pastor Sutton and the Development Team and was told that we didn’t want to lose momentum and growth by moving and that we were not going to move until the city kicked us out. Sutton said the city wouldn’t do that because they don’t want the bad PR of kicking out a church that is trying to make a difference. I made it very clear to Pastor Sutton and the Development Team that I was not OK with staying, as we were breaking the law. The decision was made and I was advised to not challenge it.
A short time later I discovered that we as a church needed to have a business license in the city of Santa Ana to operate legally as we had separate office space in the city. I completed the paperwork and advised Pastor Sutton and the Development Team that I would be submitting the application. I was told not to submit it because it would draw attention to us and they would discover that we had not moved as instructed by the certified letters that we had received from the city. The decision was made and I was advised to submit to my leaders. I challenged that decision along with the previous decisions that our very actions were disqualifying us from pastoring this church, not to mention the non-Christian landlord we were trying to be a witness to was encouraged to participate with us in our defiance of the law.
I continued to raise my concerns on a weekly basis for several months as the city continued to send certified letters to cease and desist and started fining us. As a previous law enforcement officer and a pastor of Jesus’ church, I had extreme ethical issues with these decisions and my name was on all official documents for the Orange County location. At that time, I requested that my name be removed from all official church documents with the city, as I did not want my name associated with this civil crime.
I also continued to provide alternative meeting locations that were turned down. Some months later, as the City of Santa Ana increased its fines, the decision was made to plan for a move. Sutton then removed me as the lead overseeing the property search and told me it was because I was not all in and not available 24/7. I believe this occurred because of my vocal push back to our breaking the law and continued pushing for us to make a move. I stepped aside and assisted where I could.

The Firstenbergs left Mars Hill OC in mid-2012 about the time the religious discrimination theory was being floated to the media. Eventually, the church moved as fines were being paid to the city for being out of compliance with the ordinance.
Firstenberg raises some extremely troubling questions for the leadership of Mars Hill. According to Firstenberg, the leadership of Mars Hill knew the venue was not zoned for a church long before Driscoll commented about it to the church and media. If Mark Driscoll really did not know what the problem was then who is responsible for that? If he did know, then why tell the media/church that he didn’t understand. One may disagree with an ordinance, but that is a different matter than not knowing the problem.  The picture painted by Firstenberg is that Mars Hill leaders knew the OC church was out of compliance, ordered subordinates to continue in non-compliance, willingly paid fines using church money, and then appeared to distract attention by raising the possibility of religious discrimination.
I would be happy to provide any alternative explanation or facts that Mars Hill might provide.
Update: Kyle Firstenberg provided me with an email which supports his claim that the Executive Elders of Mars Hill knew the situation with the Orange County property around the same time as Mark Driscoll was telling the media and MHC that the situation might be religious discrimination.

Date: Friday, June 1, 2012 9:25 AM
To: “[email protected]” <[email protected]>
Subject: Woodbridge
Sutton would rather us keep looking, and meet in a park if need be, than have only an afternoon time slot.  It sounds like this is the opinion of all 3 EE, no just Pastor Sutton.  I pulled the plug on the LOI.  We’ll keep focusing our efforts on other options.

The correspondent here was a person in charge of handling properties at Mars Hill. Firstenberg had provided numerous other possible sites and then in this one about a particular venue, the answer was still no. Firstenberg’s impression from this communication was that all three Executive Elders were agreed.

Former Mars Hill Pastors Repent at New Website

A new website devoted to repentance among former Mars Hill leaders has opened up at Repentant Pastor is about:

We built this site to provide a safe place in which we can confess our sin and share the stories and experiences we had while serving and attending Mars Hill Church. Our hope is to bring about repentance for ourselves and reconciliation with people whom we have hurt. If you are one of those people please connect with us personally through email. You can also comment on the posts. Each one of the people who has written in the confessions section has an email address at this url. The email addresses are [email protected] Thank you for reading our confessions, letters, stories, and apologies.
Each of these posts are confessions from Mars Hill leaders and members who agree that the culture of Mars Hill has many problems, and that more could have been done by each of us to challenge those problematic attitudes and behaviors. In staying at Mars Hill, we were complicit in those structures, and problems whether we employed them or not. We recognize and confess that Mars Hill has hurt many people within the Mars Hill community, as well as those outside the community including those who don’t believe Mars Hill’s religious beliefs, and we want to acknowledge the hurt we may have caused. We humbly ask your forgiveness. These are our individual confessions, letters, stories, and apologies.

With posts all dated today (3/29/14), former Mars Hill Orance County executive pastor Kyle Firstenberg, former Leadership Pastor Dave Kraft, former Mars Hill Everett Pastor Scott Mitchell, and Mars Hill co-founder Lief Moi have provided a powerful call to re-examine events in Mars Hill’s history.  In particular, the change in bylaws and firing of Bent Meyer and Paul Petry take center stage.
On March 17, twenty former Mars Hill pastors approached the Board of Advisors and Accountability with a request for mediation. Thus far, no direct response to this call and those who made it has come.
Firstenberg’s official charges are stunning and can be read here.

Former Mars Hill Pastor: Mars Hill Leaders Ordered Violation of City Ordinances

I will have more to say about these posts later but for now, I want to provide the links to Kyle Firstenberg’s posts where he details his charges against Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner.
Letter to Board of Advisors and Accountability
Charges Against Mars Hill Executive Pastors
There is much here but one surprising charge is that the Mars Hill leadership knew the Mars Hill Orange County church was out of compliance with the law but told the pastors there not to move, even authorizing the payment of fines.

Former Executive Pastor Repents for Culture of Fear at Mars Hill Church

Kyle Firstenberg was a long time member at Mars Hill in Seattle and former executive pastor at Mars Hill Orange County (CA). In the Mars Hill system, the executive pastor is responsible for the operations of a church. The counterpart at Mars Hill headquarters is Sutton Turner. Earlier this month, Firstenberg spoke with me about the Mars Hill non-disclosure agreement and, along with Dave Kraft, Firstenberg is leading the 20 former Mars Hill pastors who have requested mediation with Mark Driscoll and the Mars Hill leadership. Previously, I spoke with Firstenberg about the culture of fear at Mars Hill but in a recent blog post, Firstenberg made the subject personal by taking some responsibility for helping to maintain it. Yesterday, Firstenberg wrote:

Throughout my life I have never been quick to repent of my sins. I have hidden some sin for years, and quite frankly have just started to see and experience what grace and forgiveness looks like. Shortly after starting employment at Mars Hill in 2006, I noticed that there was a culture of fear that I had never seen in the prior six years of attending Mars Hill. That fear I believe was the result of the leadership style of Mark Driscoll. You were a valuable asset on staff at Mars Hill if you were tough, a high producer, dedicated to the growth of the church, and equally dedicated to Mark Driscoll himself. If you are not those things, you live in constant fear of being discarded.
I personally thrived in that culture. Coming from law enforcement, it was easy for me to be tough, instill fear in others, produce results and be dedicated to Mark and the church. I wasn’t saved at Mars Hill, but learned almost all I know about theology from his preaching over the years.

While I was succeeding in that culture, I at the same time, am guilty of not loving people, using them as a means to an end, and discarding people who did not fit the mold of a Mars Hill Leader, ie Mark Driscoll. I judged other people who were gifted in different ways harshly. Pridefully, I felt as though I was better than them and that if you disagreed with Mark or the direction then you weren’t on board with us and could simply leave.

Firstenberg then describes his part in the culture of fear:

In my six years on staff at Mars Hill I sinned in numerous ways. Some that come to mind are:

  • I participated in the culture of fear and promoted it through my actions with others.
  • I have participated in firing staff who confessed sin that in retrospect should have been received with grace vs law.
  • I was involved in helping in the leadership of several church discipline cases where I now believe I sinned against members by not entering into that discipline with love but rather an objective to fix a problem.
  • I failed to follow up with staff and members who left the church believing that they were against us. I sinned against them by not loving them through the transition and giving them a voice for any sin that may have been done to them.
  • I wrongfully believed the lie that Jesus is not working in any other church and that He is only working in Mars Hill.
  • I justified the unrepentant sin that Mark was committing by the apparent fruit and growth of the church.
  • I did not call Mark out when I witnessed his sin as a fellow pastor should, because of the fear of losing my job.
  • I continually operated with a self-preservation mindset that influenced how I pastored and led others.

During past conversations, Firstenberg told me that he has brought his concerns to Mars Hill’s Board of Advisors and Accountability and to specific leaders involved at Mars Hill. However, to date, he has received no response from the church.
If my sources are correct, more former Mars Hill staff and pastors will be coming forward to present similar narratives over the coming days.