The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Church: The Podcast

Mike Cosper and Christianity Today are launching a timely podcast series titled “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.

Here is the teaser:


I look forward to hearing what Mike has put together. I was interviewed for the series and I know others who provided insight to it. Mike also has first hand experience at the church. This series comes at a time when Mark Driscoll and his current church in Phoenix is in the news. Some of the same issues are being raised by former staff and members of The Trinity Church as were raised during 2007-2014 by Mars Hill Church members and staff.

Although not a podcast, a companion series in real time is my Postcards from Phoenix series underway on the blog.

I urge you to subscribe to the podcast and listen along.

This second teaser came out June 7.

Postcards from Phoenix: Who Suggested The Trinity Church Hire a Private Investigator?

Since I first wrote about Mark Driscoll’s “elderless church,” former staff and members from the Phoenix church have emailed and called with stories of their experiences there. Some tales have been told elsewhere, but others have not. Some feel like news stories and others feel like laments from old friends I have never met in person. I hear echoes of Seattle via the Southwest. Pain and confusion sounds the same whether it is from Seattle or Scottsdale.

I have decided to bring you some of these stories in a Postcards from Phoenix series. Some will be lengthy, some quite short. Some will be signed and some anonymous. All will involve experiences good, bad, and ugly with The Trinity Church.

The first one is complex in that it was triggered by a report from an anonymous witness to a recent spirited conversation between Grace Driscoll and another woman after women’s Bible study group. The argument was centered around a woman leaving the church amidst the current upheaval and controversies at The Trinity Church.

As a part of the argument, Grace Driscoll reportedly alleged that former director of security Chad Freese hired the private investigator who surveilled the Manuele family (see here and here for details). The implication was that the church shouldn’t be held responsible for this since Freese did it. This caught my attention for a couple of reasons. One, it demonstrates that recent news reporting is being followed widely in the church. Two, I wondered if there was any truth to the allegation that Chad Freese both instigated the hiring of the PI and then later complained about it.

And so, the first postcard comes from Chad Freese with receipts.

Dear Warren:

I would love to take a moment to provide some clarity on this situation. I am also hearing reports that members of the staff are trying to blame me for their reprehensible behavior. I find it laughable that anyone believes that a volunteer could wield so much power and authority when it is so clear that the staff walks on eggshells. However, I still feel inclined to set the record straight.

On March 27th, Pastor Mark’s Executive Assistant, John Welnick, relayed Pastor Mark’s “commanders intent” to return Angelo’s bark with a roar. Notice in the text exchange he says we were to give a “Disproportionate response” to Angelo. At least he said to be nice to the women and children.

On March 29th, Pastor Brandon asked for a private investigator and wanted as much info on Angelo as possible. Note my response at the bottom, I wanted input on how Pastors Mark and Brandon wanted me to proceed.

Keep in mind, my role as a volunteer was to provide recommendations, but they make the decisions. In fact, Pastor Mark has made it clear on many occasions that he is in charge and what he says goes.

On April 1st, the threat level was raised per information that Pastor Landon Chase was sharing with the team. Based on this new information I recommended to have the private investigator that had been previously suggested by Pastor Brandon Anderson follow Angelo due to false reports saying Angelo was going to attack the church. All of this turned out to be untrue, which sadly was a pattern. Later that night Brandon wanted professional eyes on Angelo and made a point to state how we “Can’t predict crazy.”

I have had people question why I was supporting the church in its defense and stance against Angelo as these events unfolded since now it appears I am supporting Angelo. I want to be clear that I was not picking sides in popularity contest; I just want the truth to be shared.

I was never close with Angelo, nor did I know him well. We sat at a table together at Real Men’s [men’s ministry] a few times, but that was the extent of our relationship. I owed it to the church to do my job as the volunteer director and provide the best support and advice I could based on limited information I was given. Nonetheless, I take full responsibility for my participation. I have offered my apologies to those I have wronged and asked for forgiveness. I have also repented to God for my complicity in this matter. While I had hoped that the staff would do the same, it has become apparent that we have different convictions.

The facts remain the same. The church did hire a company to track the Manuelle family and it was initially suggested as an option by Pastor Anderson. Ultimately, I resigned for a lot more reasons than just the Manuele situation. In fact, that is small in comparison to the rest. Those details will come later.

From sunny Phoenix,

Chad

 

Would You Pay $50 to Get Man Lessons from Mark Driscoll?

Live near Mason, Ohio?  Attend the Men’s Conference in June at Rivers Crossing Church and you too can get man lessons from Mark Driscoll.

Rivers Crossing is hosting a Men’s Conference featuring Pastor Mark Driscoll, Rivers Crossing Worship, and more!

About this event

There is a desire in all men to be better and do more, but an extraordinary life isn’t found sitting on the sidelines. Men, it’s time to step up and become the man God designed you to be. Hang out with us on Saturday June 12th at Men’s Conference for a day of spiritual renewal, motivating messages from Mark Driscoll and yes, some manly fun. Lunch and dinner are provided with your ticket purchase.

If recent events are any indication, better men who do more will learn how to surveil their enemies and monitor them on social media. Discover the secret to creating a sanctified enemies list. If it is time for you to step up and become the man God designed you to be, you may learn how to live without accountability in your life. If you are a pastor, come and find out how to create a church without elders and remove people from your church without due process.  For $50, maybe you pastors can find out how to get your congregation not to care where their contributions are being spent.

If you aren’t a pastor, maybe you can find out how to get a higher score on your pastor’s Spectrum of Trust!

Being a man means never having to say your sorry. Listening to counsel placed by God in your life is so weak.  When things get hard, just quit. Man, you will learn so much at this conference!

I bet Driscoll will share the secret of his 30 year old Bible version which was published in 2001. This time travel trick could be worth the price of admission.

If you have any questions or comments about these Man Lessons, you can contact the church pastor, Paul Taylor, at his email. He might be able to explain why you should pay $50 to get those lessons from Rev. Driscoll.

 

You Might Be In a Cult If…

With the escalation of control over members at The Trinity Church, the c-word is being thrown around by people who have left the church. When I think of mind control groups, I think of Steve Hassan who has made a career of studying them. Hassan’s BITE model is widely used and provides a helpful framework for evaluating the level of control an organization or leader has over an individual’s life. In this video, the model is described with lots of questions for the viewer to consider.

The BITE model invites people to consider the level of behavior, information, thought and emotional control which they experience in a group. Churches can have fine doctrine but exercise unbiblical levels of control over members. I can understand the concerns of former Trinity Church members when they describe efforts on the part of Driscoll and the pastors there to control their actions, the information they receive, their opinions and thoughts, and their feelings and loyalties toward others.

Using the term cult is of course a pejorative but might also wake someone up to harmful levels of control exercised by another person or group. True believers are often defensive about this. I invite readers and those who are venturing in from the Phoenix to listen to this video with an open mind.

Oh, and what is your Spectrum of Trust number?

Mark Driscoll’s Cult-Like Actions: Julie Roys Enters the Chat

Today, Julie Roys dropped an article about the ongoing controversies at Mark Driscoll’s The Trinity Church and it is a hammer. She brings together many threads of reporting into a devastating report about the church and what she calls Mark Driscoll’s “cult-like actions.”

Roys takes a very deep dive into the situation with the family first described at David Bonner’s blog involving Driscoll’s daughter. Roys has the aftermath of that situation and tells us that the Scottsdale police are involved. The church filed a complaint against the father and the family has filed a complaint against Brandon Anderson at the church for detaining Driscoll’s daughter’s boyfriend for questioning.

Roys explores the “elderless church” as I have been calling The Trinity Church. She points out the lack of accountability at the church. There are no budgets available and church finances are closed to members. In fact, there are no members. People attend but they have no meaningful way to participate. Driscoll has insulated himself from being accountable to those who attend and those who are his subordinates. If he wants someone out of the church or to be monitored, it is done.

I reported on Saturday that Driscoll authorized surveillance of his daughter’s former boyfriend’s family. Roys has a transcript of conversations involving church staff following members of this family. Not only did Driscoll ban the family from the church, he paid to have them secretly monitored. I wonder if Phoenix Seminary teaches classes in surveillance.

Spectrum of Trust

As extensive as Roys’ report is, there are more stories to tell. She mentions shunning, but there are more stories of families being shunned because they are not sufficiently loyal to Mark Driscoll. Roys introduces us to the very culty phrase “spectrum of trust.” The higher you are on the spectrum of trust, the more the Driscolls trust you and the more access to them you have. Sadly, if you not high on that spectrum, you may drag your family members down a notch or two. Ranking people in terms of their loyalty to the dear leader is a characteristic of a mind control group. An extension of that is shunning family members over loyalty to the dear leader.

One aspect of fallout from Mars Hill was the creation of blogs by people affected by the church (e.g., Joyful Exiles, Wenatchee the Hatchet*). As far as I know, here is the first such blog:

Spectrumoftrust.me

It appears to be in the development stage but go check it out.

 

*Probably my favorite blog name ever.

 

The Trinity Church May Be Watching You

On April 28, David Bonner at the Wondering Eagle blog published a story about a family chased out of The Trinity Church because of a kiss shared by an adolescent boy and girl. The girl is one of Mark Driscoll’s daughter and the boy and his family attended The Trinity Church until Driscoll wanted the family evicted from the church.

I have been able to confirm the basic elements of this story with several sources. One source, Chad Freese, was until recently the  Director of Security at The Trinity Church. He told me that Driscoll confirmed to him the basic elements of the matter and was “pissed off” about the kiss.

In addition, Freese told me that Driscoll authorized the boy’s family members to be surveilled in the community and monitored on social media. Church funds were expended to hire security personnel to follow them and report back concerning their activities.

Freese recently left the church over this and other concerns.  His resignation comes amid the departure of several families and other staff members, some of whom are unable to speak due to non-disclosure agreements.

For more on Mark Driscoll’s elderless church, click this link.

 

Mars Hill Church and The Trinity Church: Is Past Prologue?

In August 2014, 21 former elders from Mars Hill Church brought formal charges under the bylaws of the church against Mark Driscoll. Recently, I have been listening to people talk about their experiences at The Trinity Church in Phoenix. To quote Yogi Berra, it feels like deja vu all over again.

For those who complain that I am unnecessarily bringing up the past, I will reply with Shakespeare that, at times, past may be prologue. The charges are linked below; those who are currently involved or recently left Trinity Church may want to compare notes with past Mars Hill elders who wrote in 2014. Anything seem familiar?

Read the 2014 Formal Charges 

These charges were investigated by a group of elders. According to Dave Bruskas (who was involved in the discussions), this group recommended that Driscoll be considered disqualified subject to involvement in a plan of restoration. However, another group of overseers who did not hear the evidence but also had oversight did not want to disqualify Driscoll and keep out of the pulpit indefinitely. These two groups could not agree and during  their time of disagreement, Driscoll resigned. Eventually, he started The Trinity Church in Phoenix.

Mark Driscoll’s Elderless Church, Part Four – Who Are the Elders?

Dee  Holmes conducted a one-woman protest yesterday and today at The Trinity Church in Scottsdale, AZ. She took up a presence on the sidewalk in front of the church and loudly raised the issues of no elders, no accountability in finances and the fact that police were called to keep a family off church premises after a teen boy in the family and Driscoll’s teen daughter shared a consensual kiss.

This tweet from Dee makes me wonder how much in the dark The Trinity Church members are. This man comes out in response to Dee and says the church has elders. That, of course, is either a brand new development or was carefully hidden from former staff who never heard of them and don’t know who they are.

As noted in this post, the nonprofit board of directors are not elders at least in the sense that Driscoll teaches in his book on Doctrine. In this flow chart provided to staff, there is no place for or mention of elders:

It seems entirely likely that members don’t know how the church is organized or funded. They haven’t seen financial statements or bylaws and have no idea what kind of organization they attend. That all may work out unless and until they have an issue or concern — like the family who objected to how their teen was treated after the infamous kiss.

Mark Driscoll’s Elderless Church, Part Three – Where’s the Board?

A former staff member from The Trinity Church provided the following document to me:

Notice the heading: “The ministry of The Trinity Church is ruled by God, influenced by Wise Counsel, governed by a board, led by the Senior Pastor, run by staff, and carried out by Team Trinity.”

However, looking at the flow chart, there is no board. Rather, note who is large and in charge – “Pastor Mark & Grace.”

Notice also that Driscoll’s daughter Ashley Chase is higher on the chart than the pastors. It also appears that Driscoll’s Real Faith nonprofit is a subsidiary of The Trinity Church. Now that is confusing. Driscoll’s nonprofit board and staff serve as a part of the staff of The Trinity Church. Maybe this is indeed a family business.

Actually, on a sheet of instructions given to staff, that exact phrase “family business” is used. See #8 under Professional below:

There are some catchy but meaningless phrases in this document. For instance: “We are Governed Throne Down, not Pew Up.” Who is on what throne? In practice, this is just a way of the single leader telling everybody else what to do and claiming God’s permission to do it.

Notice the conflation of The Trinity Church and Driscoll’s personal ministry: The Trinity Church and Real Faith.

Staff and volunteers also have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. I will take that up in a separate post.

There are awful, harrowing stories coming out of this church. People are being kept from seeing family members because of how they feel about Mark Driscoll. Having chronicled stories from Mars Hill, I can say it feels like deja vu all over again listening to the hurting people contacting me now.

For any The Trinity Church attenders who are brave enough to read this far: Ask yourself why there are no financial statements. Do you know how your offerings are being spent? Why are there no elders or deliberative meetings over church direction? Why do people simply disappear from attendance without comment? Why are some people shunned?  Why aren’t  forgiveness and reconciliation stories what Mark Driscoll’s churches are known for?

If you are really brave, invest some time listening to these former Mars Hill Church co-workers of the man who now occupies your Trinity throne.

Mark Driscoll’s Elderless Church, Part Two

On Monday, I wrote that former church members and staff told me that Mark Driscoll’s Scottsdale organization The Trinity Church doesn’t have elders. However, the organization does have a small corporate board made up of Driscoll as president and Jimmy Evans and Randall Taylor as Directors.

Nonprofits must have boards so here we have a board theoretically charged with the oversight of this organization. However, these are not elders as Driscoll describes them in his book Doctrine. Evans doesn’t attend the church. Taylor is not a pastor which, according to Driscoll, one must be to be an elder.

According to Driscoll, elders are chosen due to exemplary church membership to assume the role.

“Those who function as exemplary church members are then qualified to occupy the church leadership positions of deacon and elder, respectively.” (p. 322)

The organizational board of non-attending non-members aren’t elders. Unless Driscoll produces evidence in contrast to the testimony of former members and staff, I conclude that he in sole operational control of The Trinity Church.

Real Faith, Concealed Finances

A consequence of Driscoll’s control of the church is the blurring of lines between the church and his personal nonprofit ministry – Real Faith (formerly called Mark Driscoll Ministries). When you go to the Real Faith website, you find all the same sermon content that is also hosted at The Trinity Church. Driscoll uses the material he preaches at the church to raise money for his personal ministry. Last year, according to his 2020 990 IRS submission, Real Faith took in $555,182 in contributions.

Because Real Faith is a nonprofit organization, Driscoll has to file a 990 form which allows public disclosure of some aspects of his tax exempt activities. However, since The Trinity Church is considered a church (is it really, without elders?), no such disclosure forms are required. Thus, there is no public accounting of the church finances. According to former staff and members I spoke with, no financial statements are available to church members.

This is a gigantic red flag. The history of Mars Hill Church is littered with various financial shenanigans. Let me mention just one: Result Source and the church payment to manipulate the New York Times bestseller list to benefit Driscoll’s book Real Marriage.

Driscoll and the New York Times Bestseller List

Although famous in the history of Mars Hill Church, current The Trinity Church members may not have heard this story. Warren Smith at World first disclosed that

Seattle’s Mars Hill Church paid a California-based marketing company at least $210,000 in 2011 and 2012 to ensure that Real Marriage, a book written by Mark Driscoll, the church’s founding pastor, and his wife Grace, made the New York Times best-seller list.

Soon after this story broke, the contract between the consulting group Result Source and the church was leaked to me and can be viewed here. Mars Hill used church funds to purchase 11,000 copies of Real Marriage at retail cost and also paid the $25,000 consulting fee. Result Source used over a thousand different payment mechanisms to evade detection by the various bestseller lists.

Even though Driscoll knew the scheme was in place and had guaranteed his placement, he tweeted this when Result Source had finished their work:

Clearly, Mars Hill members did not give their tithes and offerings to help Mark Driscoll get his book on bestseller lists. This incident demonstrated then and still does today the need for financial transparency in church work. It is concerning that The Trinity Church doesn’t provide audited financial statements to members. Why don’t members know where their money goes?