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.

Former Mars Hill Church Spokesman Justin Dean Gives Advice About Dealing with the Press

Former Mars Hill Church spokesperson offers advice to churches on how to handle the press in his new gig with Ministry Communications Association.
He certainly has had experience doing so and it appears he has taken some valuable observations away from his time at Mars Hill.
When I read this tip, I thought of the ResultSource New York Times Best Seller list fiasco.

If you know press may start poking around about a certain topic, gather your team and come up with approved messaging and basic principles ahead of time. That way your spokesperson can be prepared. It’s a good idea to write down approved answers to common questions about your church’s beliefs, and have those well prepared in advance as well.

Mars Hill had three messages in response to inquiries about Mars Hill Church’s financing a book buying scheme, all offered in the space of about a week. In March, I wrote:

This is the third reaction from Driscoll/Mars Hill to the ResultSource scheme. First, Justin Dean told World Magazine that the RSI-Mars Hill relationship was an “investment” and an “opportunity.” Then the Board of Advisors and Accountability said the scheme was “unwise.” Now Driscoll says he first saw it as a way to maximize book sales, but now sees it as manipulative and “wrong.” The vacillation about whether gaming the system is a good opportunity, unwise or wrong is confusing and won’t do much to convince people that Mars Hill and Driscoll can be candid.

It appears that there was an internal struggle about how to message the revelation to the public. I have asked Justin about the discrepancies and will add any information from him to this post.
The bottom line advice is to have a pastoral staff that doesn’t place the PR person in a position to defend the indefensible.

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.

Forced Out for Asking Questions: Dalton Roraback's Mars Hill Church Story

Until recently, Dalton Roraback was a coach at Mars Hill Church. Coaches provide mentoring to Community Group leaders. Community Groups provide the context for relationship building and alignment within Mars Hill.
Like many Mars Hill members, Roraback had questions after hearing about the many controversies involving the church in recent months. As a long time member of MHC, Roraback knew many of the leaders and began to ask them to explain recent events. Finally, Roraback asked what turned out to be the wrong questions and found himself out of a position. He was relieved of his position because he asked questions.
After I heard about Roraback’s situation, I asked if he could summarize his experience. He did so and you can read the entire statement here. To help tell the story, I have pulled out a few excerpts:

I want to start this off by saying I had originally decided not to go public with my story.  I figured if the Elders at Mars Hill want to accuse me of being divisive then I wouldn’t add any fuel to that charge by going on the Internet and doing some kind of tell-all.  I thought all that people needed to know was that I was accused of being divisive and asked to step down, and that I had submitted my resignation as a member of Mars Hill.
That changed only hours later when I heard the following news.
“Elder Phil Poirier at MH Everett has been removed (“disqualified”) for refusing to sign the new “Unity of Mission” contract. They are all being required to get permission from the BOAA before being allowed to participate in any church within a ten mile radius of an existing Mars Hill location.”
I was stunned.  I had just told my Head Coach – sorry, my ex-Head Coach – that I wasn’t going to go public with my story, but the news about Pastor Phil made me realize that not to do so would be to do a disservice to the truth, to all the people like Pastor Phil, and to the many others who have been harmed, slandered, and spat out of the Mars Hill machine.  So after confirming that this news was true I decided to speak out.

More information about the “unity of mission” clause is coming in a future post. Essentially, it is a non-competition agreement.

Enter 2014.  I was now a Coach and was excited and ready to do my best to lead the three CG leaders and do whatever it was that God wished me to do.  My head coach was a good, godly man and a friend.  I felt like great things were going to happen, and that God was going to use us in awesome ways for His glory.
And then the double-whammy of the ResultSource fiasco and Dave Kraft’s public charges against Mark Driscoll hit the fan.
Now, Dave Kraft had (and has) a stellar reputation in the Mars Hill community.  I had trained under him in a couple of classes back in the day, and would take him at his word – as would most of us – on just about anything.  When these two events became public, I started asking questions.  I had been around a long time and had no problem in being able to speak to many of the elders to whom I reached out. As I spoke with them, what I heard stunned me even more.  Many of them agreed with Dave Kraft, but they also understood that they had very little power as Elders, if any, and would rather work from within to try to get true accountability in place.  Some also admitted if they spoke up they would get a visit from Sutton or another Executive Elder and they would be accused of not being ‘on mission’ or not being ‘all in’, and when that happens…it means you are done as an Elder at Mars Hill.

According to Roraback, Mars Hill is having problems:

I believe we are already seeing the effects described in the Isaiah passage.  People are fleeing Mars Hill by the droves every week.  Tithing is down.  The church is in emergency mode.  In place of the old Mark who was able to lay out the Gospel with such passion, his sermons contain less about Jesus each week. Instead, we hear Mark using Scripture to make himself look like the Apostles and those who speak out against him look more like the enemies of the early church.  It’s chilling to listen to, and unfortunately, I believe that many people are completely unaware that they are being manipulated with such ease.

Recently, Roraback was in the same meeting I described here and raised some pointed questions:

But probably the worst thing I did was asking the questions listed below. They are as follows, word for word:
I have two questions that I’d like to humbly and respectfully submit in advance as I imagine it will require some research ahead of time.
1. What are the salaries of the Executive Elders?  And if we are not allowed to know this, why not?
2. At least once a year, the On Mission CRUT must distribute a percentage of its assets to what is termed the “non-charitable beneficiary”.  Since this is tied directly to the Real Marriage finances, who is the beneficiary of this CRUT? I would imagine much of the backlash against Mars Hill could be deflated if it could be shown that this was paid out to Mars Hill, instead of an individual or individuals who benefit directly.”
I asked these questions on The City, Mars Hill’s website, in the Bellevue Leadership forum and posted them in advance of the CG Sync so that all the meeting participant could see them in advance and there would be no option for MH leadership but to address the questions.  As it turned out, someone else brought up my questions during the latest CG Sync and the response from the elder was, ‘Why is that important?’
The answers in the room from at least three people were some form of ‘because we pay their salaries with our tithes.’  The elder who was in the hot seat on this one pushed back on this response, continuing to suggest that this is not important, but when he realized the people in the room were not in agreement, he turned to another elder who got up to explain how the process of setting the Executive Elder salary worked.  It was a nice speech, and it made it sound like there were multiple layers of oversight – just not from the thousands of members who pay their salaries, of course. Mars Hill members are not allowed to know something that any church with integrity should be willing to share, especially during times when the members have lost trust in the Executive Elders.
So they refused to answer these questions, and it did not sit well with many in the room.
Twice during this same meeting, the elder leading this meeting labeled everyone who is speaking out against Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill as people who ‘only want to hurt the gospel, the church, and Mark Driscoll’.  I called him out on that in front of everyone saying that was a misrepresentation of godly people with valid concerns, but at the end of the meeting he made the characterization again.  I’ve heard now from two different people that elders and leaders are visiting Community Groups personally and labeling anyone who speaks out on these concerns as ‘divisive’ and ‘only wanting to tear down the church’.  In other words, wolves.  Couple that with one of the latest sermons entitled ‘Empowered by the Spirit to Face Wolves,” and you get the picture.
So five days later I was sitting at Starbucks with my Head Coach for an early morning meeting, and he was telling me that the elders at Mars Hill considered me divisive and were removing me as a Coach.  I asked if I had sinned in some way, and he said no, they did not consider me in sin. They just thought that the way I was going about asking these questions was done with a ‘divisive spirit’.  They said that I didn’t have to leave Mars Hill, and that after ‘a season’ I could petition to be a Coach again and they’d consider it.  I had spent the previous three hours in prayer (I couldn’t sleep, I was pretty stressed over all of this,) and I already knew God was finally allowing me to walk away.  I let him know that my wife and I wished to submit our resignation from Mars Hill, but I implored him to fight the good fight and to not simply accept everything that he was told as truth. I asked him to reach out to others and to stand up for what is right.  I believe that he will come around, because he does listen to the Lord, and God has called him to lead. However, like me, it will probably take some time for the realization to take root.  I pray for him whenever I can, and love him and his family very much.

So questioning where tithe money goes reveals “a divisive spirit?” What does refusing to answer legitimate questions reveal? There has been some talk in recent weeks about the Board of Advisors and Accountability possibly entering a mediation process. If so, it can’t happen soon enough. Despite spiritual talk from the BOAA, it doesn’t appear that anything has changed.
The executive salaries are a closely guarded secret at Mars Hill. Sources who are in a position to know have told me that Driscoll’s salary took a dramatic jump after Sutton Turner joined the executive elder board. Estimates are between $600k and $900k. Salaries are supposed to be set via a comparison to other churches of comparable size. It seems hard to fathom that some churches set salaries in a corporate manner, but this is apparently how it is done at Mars Hill. Judging from the reaction to Roraback, the leadership of Mars Hill views the subject of salaries to be a sensitive matter.
For more on Mark Driscoll’s On Mission CRUT, see this article by James Duncan. Duncan lays out the procedures by which the profits from Real Marriage may make it back to the Driscolls.
It seems clear that the membership of Mars Hill has not moved on from the Result Source and other events.
From earlier today: Who at Mars Hill Church Authorized Church Funds to Buy a Place for Mark Driscoll’s Real Marriage on the NYT Best Seller List?