Who Runs Mars Hill Church? An Update

When Mars Hill Church closed the doors for the last service, the corporation Mars Hill Church did not cease. However, it has never been clear who remained in charge of the organization on a day to day basis. By by-law, the church’s Board of Advisors and Accountability has the power to create a plan of dissolution but the church has not disclosed who remained on that board. While I don’t know all involved in that capacity, I do know now who is the president of the church. Also, one person often speculated to still be involved is not.

According to documents filed last week in the King County court house, Chief Financial Officer Kerry Dodd is referred to as the president of the corporation. Dodd was hired by Sutton Turner early in Turner’s tenure as executive pastor. According to a 2012 memo to fellow executive elders, Turner considered Dodd to be a capable CFO. As president of Mars Hill, he signed documents recently in the sale of the Mars Hill Ballard building to Quest church.

The other update involves former executive pastor Dave Bruskas. Yesterday, Bruskas informed me via email that he resigned all of his roles and duties at Mars Hill Church, including his corporate role, on December 31, 2014. Under the Mars Hill bylaws, executive pastors have a position on the BoAA. As of the end of last year, there were no publicly named executive pastors.
At the time of the last service, remaining BoAA members were Matt Rogers, Larry Osborne, Michael VanSkaik, and Jon Phelps.

Who runs Mars Hill has become relevant again due to the ongoing questions surrounding the use of Mars Hill email lists by a shadowy group/individual doing business as “Church Leaders List.” After xxxchurch director Craig Gross purchased what former Mars Hill public relations spokesperson Justin Dean called The Resurgence mailing list, Church Leaders List essentially left public view by shutting down its website and twitter account. Now there are concerns that Mars Hill had not sold the list to anyone, raising questions about how Church Leaders List secured it. Efforts to get comment from the attorney who is responsible for selling The Resurgence assets have not yielded direct comment. No one from Mars Hill Church has offered comment as well.

Meanwhile, Justin Dean’s website has gone into maintenance mode and is unavailable; his twitter account has been removed.

Craig Gross summarized his involvement and what he believes about the situation in a new post today.

Soma Church Clarifies Relationship With Mars Hill Bellevue

Amid questions about how Mars Hill Church is going to dissolve, Mars Hill Bellevue (now doing business as Bellevue Church) has announced that it will affiliate with Soma Tacoma.  The move has raised many questions among Mars Hill folk, and apparently among Soma people as well. The following communication was sent to Soma Churches nationally about the move to replant Mars Hill Bellevue as a Soma Church. The note is from Todd Morr, school coordinator and deacon at Soma Tacoma (did I mention that is fun to say?).

Hey everybody,
A growing number of you have been asking for clarification about what’s happening with Jeff [Vanderstelt] and Soma in relation to the Mars Hill Church in Bellevue.
I thought I would clarify here quick, so that you get the right information, rather than some misinformation flying around social media.
Bellevue Church (which was formerly Mars Hill Bellevue) approached Jeff and the Soma Tacoma elders sometime this past month to ask for help with replanting their church. After much prayer and discussion with the Soma Tacoma elders, many other Soma Tacoma leaders, and the Soma family of churches around the U.S., it was determined that we would proceed with helping them replant the church, with the goal to become part of the Soma family of churches. This is not being considered a transition, but starting over.
Over the course of the next month, much work will be done by Jeff and our elders in cooperation with the previous elders of that church to determine, if that’s what their people do indeed want and if Soma Tacoma should continue to help them in that direction.
There are many hurting people involved with what has happened there these past months, and at this time, we’re feeling like we should be good family to help bring healing, restoration, and a healthy future to the church there.
So, that’s the current story. Please Pray! Pray for peace, unity, healing, repentance, and right relationship with each other and with Jesus!
Abe gave a talk 2 Sundays ago about conflict and reconciliation that is an absolute MUST! Every person on the planet needs listen to this and consider the personal implications for all of our relationships. It’s really, really important!
Todd [Morr]

This is an informative and gracious note. It seems encouraging that the Soma leaders want to discern what the people of Mars Hill Bellevue want in addition to knowing what the leaders want.
However, many questions remain. Now that Mars Hill Bellevue is moving toward Soma, will the Bellevue elders maintain the silence about the Global Fund and Mark Driscoll’s investigation? Matt Rogers chaired the Board of Elders committee that investigated Driscoll and sits on the Board of Advisors and Accountability that currently maintain that silence about Global and the investigation. According the BoE, Driscoll needed to leave the pulpit and enter restoration; according to the BoAA, Driscoll was not disqualified. Even if Mars Hill Bellevue joins another church, some of those Bellevue elders have unfinished business with Mars Hill. Soma inherits these problems if they don’t clear them up before a transition takes place.

Has Mark Driscoll's Verdict Already Been Decided?

A key to broad acceptance of whatever decision is made regarding charges against Mark Driscoll by the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability is the perception that the BOAA is objective. In light of remarks by BOAA chair Matt Rogers and reported in the Seattle Times yesterday, some former Mars Hill leaders are questioning the BOAA’s objectivity. Rogers told the Seattle Times:

“The hard part is that some of what’s out there is true, and he’s owned it and apologized for it and is trying to correct it, and some is not,” said Mars Hill Pastor Matt Rogers, who chairs the church accountability board examining accusations against their leader.

“If someone went through and dragged out every example of where I’d been short with my wife, or rude to a co-worker or done something stupid, and trickled that out week after week after week for months, you would have no respect for me, either.”

According to the most recent reports from former pastors close to the situation, the investigation is only at the very beginning stages with some interviews scheduled but few, if any, conducted as yet. In other words, the jury should be out. However, Rogers appears to have his mind made up about the nature and accuracy of the charges.

There is at least one more reason to raise questions about conflict of interest. According to former elders and unknown to many in the pews, Rogers was almost tapped during the summer to be lead pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue. Lead pastor Thomas Hurst announced a sabbatical in June but according to reliable sources had planned to resign. Rogers was slated to move into the role of lead pastor to take Hurst’s place.  During Hurst’s absence, Rogers led the services over the summer and attended the lead pastors’s July retreat in CA. In addition to other communications to the Bellevue campus, Rogers wrote a response to the demonstration which occurred on August 3.

Rogers’ response to the demonstration is noteworthy. According to witnesses at Bellevue, Rogers was not at Bellevue the Sunday of the protest. However, he wrote the rebuttal as if he had been present, alleging that the demonstrators left trash behind. At the time, I asked Rogers and Mars Hill Church if he was present at Bellevue but received no reply. On the substance of the matter, Rogers took the role of an advocate for the executive elders:

From Pastor Matt Rogers:

This past Sunday outside our building about 60 professing Christians led a protest, left a bit of trash, and slandered good men. Inside the building our church family worshipped Jesus. Let that image be what defines us. Others will cast aspersions, but we will worship Jesus.

Instead of openness to the concerns of the demonstrators (many of which are the same as in the charges filed by the 21 ex-pastors), Rogers said “good men” were “slandered” and accused the demonstrators of casting “aspersions.”

Then after attacking the demonstrators, Rogers wrote:

We cannot let fear rule our church. We must choose love. Choosing fear would lead us to attack those who are attacking us. Instead we will choose to love them by praying for them. Choosing fear will drive us to anger and bitterness which will spill out in how we talk about them, engage with them and eventually even with each other. Choosing love will be our witness to all the outsiders watching us right now that we forgive just as God in Christ forgave us. By refusing to give into fear we will commend Christ to our city.

Choosing fear shapes how we interact with each other as well. Choosing fear leads to second guessing and distrusting the statements of our leaders. Choosing fear leads to not standing up for the truth and the honor of good men because of what might come our way. Choosing love will enable us to show grace toward one another, to trust the Spirit at work in one another, and encourage each other to do the same.

Rogers message to his flock was to trust the leaders. He added that the congregation should stand “up for the truth and honor” of the leaders.  Rogers ends by providing his assessment of the charges against the executive elders:

As elders we should have done more to communicate with you. By not saying more clearly that much of what you read online is slander, half-truths and gossip we left you in a place of wondering what is true. When this recent storm began a few months ago I looked into all of it because I had a responsibility to as an elder. What I have consistently seen is a pattern of repentance when sin was present, growth when errors were made, and patience when the accusations were false.
Let me say very clearly that Pastor Mark, Pastor Dave and Pastor Sutton are honorable and trustworthy men. I count it a privilege to serve with them not because I have anything to gain, simply because it is true.

According to Rogers, he has already looked into the situation and made up his mind that nothing has happened which would disqualify the executive elders. Without being specific, Rogers says some of the charges are false, and some are slander, half-truths and gossip.

Although Hurst declared his resignation again during the most recent full council of elders retreat, he has remained on while Rogers was appointed to the BOAA. Recall that the BOAA consists of the executive elders and at the time two independent members, Michael Van Skaik and Larry Osborne. At the time of the appointment, I pointed out that Rogers was already serving in a volunteer elder role at Mars Hill and may not fully meet the criteria for independence.

I asked former pastors and leaders for their reactions to Matt Rogers’ comments and I received three replies. Some declined to comment on the record but expressed concerns about the objectivity of the process. Former deacon Rob Smith told me:

There are two reasons that demonstrate that Matt Rogers should not be on the jury that decides Mark Driscoll’s fate. First, he has already cast his judgment before looking at the evidence in his comments both to the Seattle Times, where he has stated that what is true “out there” has been owned and apologized for by Mark Driscoll already and trying to correct, and the rest is not true, and second, he accused the people who protested at his campus of littering and slander despite not being there. He is clearly biased.

Dalton Rorabeck, former community group coach at Mars Hill reacted to Rogers’ words, saying

This statement alone should disqualify Matt Rogers from heading up the BOAA.  He has already claimed that the charges/false accusations are not true and that Mark, Dave, and Sutton are trustworthy men. It won’t matter in the end though.  I pity these men who are more interested in protecting their jobs, their friends, their paychecks, and their legacy’s rather than stand up for the Gospel and for truth.

Former Mars Hill Orange County executive pastor Kyle Firstenberg told me:

It is discouraging that once again, Mars Hill has placed a leader in a position to investigate Mark Driscoll who minimizes his sin. Matt Rogers gave the example that if someone were to talk about him being short with his wife or rude to a co-worker that people would have no respect for him also. That may be true, however we are not talking about that level of sin. We are talking about elder disqualifying sin, and not just one incident, many over several years. He also stated that Mark has owned his sin and has apologized for it. I would be very interested in how he has owned it! It seems to me that you would need to have conversations with some of the people you have sinned against in order to own it.

To summarize, Mr. Rogers joins a panel where two members of the BOAA dismissed prior charges without interviewing anyone (2013, Michael Van Skaik, Larry Osborne), and one member is the largest donor to the church in Mars Hill’s history (Jon Phelps). As I have written before, I like Mr. Driscoll’s chances with this BOAA.

UPDATE (9/16): Although the information about Bellevue lead pastor Thomas Hurst is not central to this post, I want to include a comment he made about it on Mars Hill’s chat site known as The City.

From Pastor Thomas Hurst:

Bellevue Family,

A couple hours ago I received an email making me aware of a blog that was posted today quoting a “former” elder who thought it was important to share how I intended to resign from my position at Mars Hill Bellevue. The former elder spoke of two different instances where I was going, or did, resign. I’m saddened that someone I know deemed this helpful for all of you to know – not because I wanted to hide anything, but because none of you need any more confusion in your life. I don’t understand why making this known was in anyway helpful to the critical situation and conversation at hand apart from bringing even more confusion and chaos into the confusion and chaos that already exists.

I do want to address this with everyone so you can know from me what was happening in my heart and mind with regards to my considering resignation, my resigning, and why I’m still here…but before I can share all this I get to be a daddy to my three boys and put them all to bed. I will post another letter later to all of you tonight.

I love you and please don’t allow your own hearts and minds to leap to any conclusions on this topic until I’ve had a chance to share it directly with you.

Pastor Thomas

If I get any more information on this I will pass it along. I will provide all sides to the issues raised here.

Someone Tell Matt Rogers That the Investigation of Mark Driscoll Isn't Over

Craig Welch of the Seattle Times has an lengthy article on Mars Hill Church that provides a nice summary of the events since November, 2013. In his reporting, Welch got an interview with Matt Rogers, newly tapped chair of the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability. Even though Rogers and the BOAA passed off the investigation of Driscoll’s charges to the recently created Board of Elders, Rogers seems to know the facts about Driscoll. He told Welch:

“The hard part is that some of what’s out there is true, and he’s owned it and apologized for it and is trying to correct it, and some is not,” said Mars Hill Pastor Matt Rogers, who chairs the church accountability board examining accusations against their leader.

“If someone went through and dragged out every example of where I’d been short with my wife, or rude to a co-worker or done something stupid, and trickled that out week after week after week for months, you would have no respect for me, either.”

As I understand it, the investigation of charges against Mark Driscoll is just getting underway. However, I’m not sure I understand why the Board of Elders need to interview those picky elders, since Mr. Rogers already has the situation figured out. Seems like it would have been better public relations to at least seem like he was waiting on the results of the investigation to determine what is true and what is not.

The article I described above is on the Seattle Times front page today:

driscoll seattle times

Is Matt Rogers the Newest Member of the Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability?

I have this information from a three credible sources but I am having a hard time believing it.
Sources inside Mars Hill Church tell me that it was announced in a meeting of Bellevue community group leaders that Bellevue volunteer elder Matt Rogers has been appointed to the Board of Advisors and Accountability.
If Rogers was added as an “independent member” then his name will be added to Michael Van Skaik and Larry Osborne as men who will examine the charges against Mark Driscoll. If Rogers is being added as an executive elder, then Driscoll would have had to appoint him, according to the by-laws. BOAAvacancies If Rogers is being added as an independent member of the BOAA then he should resign his current volunteer position. The by-laws are not clear but it seems that having a position subordinate to Mark Driscoll would violate the spirit of the definition of “independent.” BOAAindependent It is not clear to me that he qualifies as an independent since he is currently an unpaid elder at Bellevue where “he leads the church operations volunteer teams.” Even though he is a volunteer, he is subordinate to the two executive elders.
Rogers, who works in marketing at Microsoft, is the same man who responded by letter to the Mars Hill Bellevue campus protest. The letter was anything but neutral or objective. Furthermore, there are credible Mars Hill sources that say Rogers was not at Bellevue the morning of the protest.
It is incredible that the current BOAA would appoint a current elder to hear these charges.
Mars Hill Church was asked to confirm this claim but did not answer. I am reporting this because of the credibility of the sources, but I would not be surprised if the position is withdrawn or disavowed when it becomes widely known. According to two current elders and several former Mars Hill members, Rogers is well known as a staunch defender of the executive elders. As such, his appointment will not inspire confidence among Mars Hill Church stakeholders that the process will be objective.
As noted yesterday, the current BOAA members have already dismissed charges against Driscoll. Rogers’ appointment does nothing to promote confidence that the process will be objective and fair.