Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Is your church interested in becoming a part of Mars Hill?

We regularly receive requests from churches interested in becoming a part of Mars Hill. So, I thought it would be helpful to give some of the most common answers to questions people typically pose:

1. Becoming a Mars Hill is not for everyone. The Holy Spirit has different callings for each church, and we rejoice in any and every church that loves and serves people for Jesus. Mars Hill doesn’t work for everyone, and we’re the first to acknowledge that. But, depending on the calling and context, it does work for some.

Francis Schaeffer used to point out that one of the problems with evangelicals in the 20th century is that they would say "Jesus is the answer" without ever going to the trouble of asking, "So if Jesus is the answer what is the question?" If this is the first answer the question might be "Can our church join Mars Hill?" The calling and context apparently matter a lot and I guess we'll get to see more of what that entails as we go.

2. Statistically, the majority of churches are plateaued and declining. Over 3,500 churches die and close every year. We want to see as many churches open and people meet Jesus as possible.

In other words if you're one of those churches that has hit a plateau or is declining don't apply. You're not wanted. 

No, wait, you'd be perfect for a brand rejuvenation. The deader your church (and the more debt-free and valuable your real estate) the more perfect you are! Dying churches should totally consider joining Mars Hill so long as they can give the executive elders gifts of real estate.  If there happen to be people in there, well, okay, whatever.  The main thing is that you consider giving them the real estate, preferably in some primo location (like Doxa was in West Seattle). That way you don't have to try selling the property of your dying church as a 501(c)3 and deal with all those rules.  If you just gift it to Mars Hill, on the other hand, everybody wins.  Well, that's if they like your location and you don't have piles of financial liabilities, anyway.

3. We have some success, by God’s grace, adopting in an existing church and transitioning it to a Mars Hill church. In New Mexico, we’ve seen a church go from a few hundred to over 1,000 worshipers in a few years—primarily by conversion growth. In West Seattle, we saw a church go from under 200 to as high as 1,000. In Sammamish, east of Seattle, we saw church go from under 200 to around 800 in a matter of months. This is not all transfer growth. Fully 1,392 people were baptized at Mars Hill last year, and every one of our 14 churches across four states is seeing people meet Jesus regularly.

About West Seattle, go back and read these:

Yes, Mars Hill assimilated Dox into the fold.  Bill Clem still has a job at Mars Hill. James Noriega does not.  Note "this is not all transfer growth" tells us something important, that at least some of it was transfer growth.  As the cliche puts it, methinks the lady doth protest too much. In an entry asking "Is your church interested in becoming a part of Mars Hill?" the topic by definition must be predicated on what?  That's right, transfer growth for Mars Hill.

4. We’ve found some fantastic people and leaders in churches we’ve adopted. Bill Clem, the lead pastor at our largest Mars Hill church, joined us when we adopted his small church plant. One of our three executive elders, Dave Bruskas, joined us when we adopted his church of a few hundred in New Mexico. We’ve also picked up some amazingly gifted and generous Christians who have made our mission to preach Jesus’ gospel more strongly than ever. We love to develop and deploy leaders, and there are many people sitting in churches who could be equipped and unleashed for major ministry impact.

Clem still has a job.  Noriega?  He was appointed to co-lead the Redemption Groups and where is he now?  Whatever happened to Rick Melson?  Keep in mind, too, that you might lose your job and get it later.  That's how it went for Dick McKinley and Gary Shavey.  Sometimes you'll lose your job and get it back, other times you'll lose your job and not get it back. For a few years running Mars Hill was laying people off left and right due to budget shortfalls.  That may be less likely to happen now but don't count on it.  I've had friends get hired on to Mars Hill within the last few years who were laid off months after the date of hire.  Mars Hill ministry is not for those who cherish job security above all else. I know some dedicated guys over there and ten years at Mars Hill in ministry does not necessarily mean ten continuous years employed at the same job.  A word of advice there, be willing to be super-flexible and also not rock the boat or even look like you're moving on the boat too quickly.

5.Most pastors are bogged down in the details of the website, finances, human resources, real estate negotiations, technology, and the like. Pastors go into ministry to serve Jesus by reaching and training people, but the administrative work of ministry buries them and keeps them from working with people as much as they desire. A church like Mars Hill that can do the administrative work centrally can help to free up the local pastor and leaders to focus on reaching people, caring for people, training leaders, and getting from meetings to mission.

This would seem to be a relatively small slice of the pie. "Most" would be a sample of, what? How often does Driscoll work with normal rank and file church members these days?  Didn't Jared Wilson, sympathetically blogging as far back as 2008, note with some dismay that Driscoll has set up Mars Hill so that he effectively doesn't have to deal with anybody except his select staff, and that about two days a week?  Now Driscoll's all air-war all the time and the campus pastors have been the ones to actually invest in the lives of real people.  If you're already doing that to some degree then you wouldn't need to apply. Really.

6. We don’t pretend this is easy. Most churches don’t want to change what they’re doing, but instead only want changed results. To become a Mars Hill church requires that a congregation legally becomes part of our church family, as it would be imprudent to inherit all the costs and legal liabilities blindly. Not every person in your leadership will keep their current role. Not every paid staff member will keep their job. Not every person in your current church will be supportive and stay. Not every ministry you are doing will continue. And you will have live preaching only some of the time and be part of something much bigger than just you.

Read this as, "We will lay off or fire the people who don't pull their weight.  Legally becoming part of the church means you enter into a system where the bylaws favor a denominational/multi-site system and there's no stated limit on what the pastors can do in church discipline.  As Andrewgate in early 2012 also illustrates, you're looking at a church without a competent set of procedures and precedents for church discipline.  You're also looking at the church that fired Paul Petry in 2007 for, among other things, suggesting that a lack of an appeals process for members under church discipline was a problem.

You're looking at joining a church that had Scott Thomas as executive elder, a man who was comfortable lying to church members using Acts 29 resources about where the "conciliatory process" was for Petry and Meyer days before he, as leader of the EIT, pushed through the legitimacy of charges leveled by Lead Pastor Jamie Munson that Petry and Meyer needed to be fired.

If you read through all that and consider that James Noriega was promoted to co-leading Redemption Groups and summarily vanished without comment or observation from the elder listings in late 2011; if you consider that Scott Thomas only weeks ago felt "released from leading Acts 29" after his role as executive elder in the kangaroo court against Petry and Meyer was documented on record; and if you don't mind your church, by definition, being part of transfer growth assimilation into Mars Hill then, by all means, apply. 

7. There are a lot of upsides. Churches that join will get a fresh start, a greater church family, resources, and by God’s grace, a proven track record with an established and growing church with ministry specialists who can help establish local elders, deacons, Community Groups, Redemption Groups, biblical counseling, children’s ministry, marriage ministry, and more to train and unleash people for meaningful and fruitful ministry. Many of these leaders are already in the churches that join Mars Hill, and we simply want to help find and train them to do more by God’s grace.

You can become part of a megachurch in a recession or depression that rents the city of Ephesus for a day to do some epic film-making.  You can join the church where Mark Driscoll personally launched the Covenant singles ministry that to this day is ... well, that ministry died a few years ago but I've still got that brochure where Mark outlined that modern day dating is basically prostitution. 

You can have Redemption Groups, just don't ask what happened to James Noriega. You can be part of a church that publicly told us they let go some staff for "overstepping spiritual authority" without defining what on earth that means or how long that pattern of "overstepping spiritual authority" went on (months? years?). You can get biblical counseling from people whose credentials in counseling are, well, somewhere.  Or you could skip Mars Hill and use something like the materisl from How People Change, which Mars Hill hosted back around 2006.  But they'll never need to host those folks ever again now that the Redemption Groups content has been developed.

So, if your church is interested in joining the Mars Hill family, this is a good time to contact us. In so doing, you are not obligated to anything—this is just opening up the door for discussion.

You're not obligated to anything until you join.  This is just opening up the door for discussion.  When you join there's no going back. If you want to sacrifice everything you've spent years in ministry laboring toward so Mark Driscoll can publicly take credit for the amazing season of growth then, okay, go for it. But as the Gospel Coalition's Don Carson put it earlier this year success in ministry is not measured strictly by numbers but also by spiritual fruit. 

IF you don't have a big, growing church but the spiritual fruit of your church members is healthy, if they are helping the poor, finding work for the underemployed, and assisting families in need then keep doing that.  Don't join Mars Hill.  They won't help you accomplish the mission of Christ if you're already doing these things.  Don't sacrifice actually accomplishing the mission of Christ and the cultivation of the fruit of the Spirit for being assimilated into Mars Hill.  If it's all about Jesus then the numbers are not critical in the end.  A former Lead Pastor like Jamie Munson can claim that you should gun for church growth despite the recession and despite it not being a good idea.

2) The opposite of growth is death.
The living grow; the dying do not. A church need not add to its numbers in astronomical proportions, but if nobody is showing up, chances are nobody is meeting Jesus, which is the whole point. Also, spiritual growth is inextricably linked to numerical growth (though it’s not always an exponential relationship); if people are truly growing in their faith, they will give, they will serve, they will invite their friends, they will tell people about Jesus, they will live on mission—all of which leads to some level of numerical growth as God works through his people.

If the opposite of growth is death what was going on when 1,000 members left Mars Hill in early 2008 in the wake of the pastoral firings of 2007; the news about the 50th street property not being used for what was outlined in the capital campaign of 2005; the new bylaws getting voted through and being required for membership renewal; or the elder decision to "cancel out" all memberships?
Why, if Munson's right and spiritual growth is inextricably linked to numerical growth what was going on when Mars Hill decided to "cancel out" all members?  It looks like the elders decided to kill their own church to see who was really committed to the mission.  It wasn't about increased doctrinal concern.  In fact early 2008 was when Driscoll lied about the nature and content of the Targum Neofiti as discussed by Scott Bailey and Robert Cargill

In fact Christian Brady discussed the problem with Driscoll's hadnling of the Targum Neofiti even earlier than Cargill or Bailey and Brady happens to be a Spurgeon fan.  So while Driscoll might have assured Justin Taylor in 2010 the bar for doctrine had been raised it was during 2008 Driscoll committed a gaffe so egregious no less than three OT scholars made a point of documenting what can only be explained as either scholarly imcompetence at best or, at worst, outright deceit. Not being one to traffic in false dichotomies if I don't have to I suppose a combination of both scholarly imcompetence and deceit is possible.

If you go over and read all of Joyful Exiles (and you should if you're going to even consider joining Mars Hill church) you'll notice there's a political genius at work.  Driscoll has said he's more prophet than politician but he's an adept church politician.  Driscoll famously preached that there were some men even in the leadership of the church where if he weren't going to end up on CNN he'd go Old Testament on them.  Instead he fired two men. 

Munson was then tasked with articulating the charges against Meyer and Petry.  One of those charges was that the Lead Pastor was not being respected.  Munson articulated charges that indicated he felt he wasn't trusted or respected.  Put a mini-Mark early convert to Driscoll's preaching on the top and a young guy with no real world business experience at the top and older men who have actual professional experience outside the church world might, understandably, have doubts about Munson's abilities, particularly since Driscoll credited Munson with finding the 50th street property that turned out to be a bit of a boondoggle.

Munson issued the charges and sent them to every elder at Mars Hill:

If Munson issued the charges Scott Thomas was tasked with making sure the charges stuck.  Mars Hill elders were informed by Munson in the above letter that Thomas was running the EIT. Thomas made sure the charges stuck.  Thomas was also willing to tell a member that the "conciliatory process" was completed days before he made sure the charges became grounds for firing Petry and Meyer. Munson, meanwhile, seemed to never follow up on his statement that he'd urge Petry and Meyer to resign rather than go through the formal firing process.  Instead, it seems, Munson made a point of making charges for why the men should be fired. 

Curiously, the nepotism charge seems especially odd since it would seem that a kind of spiritually nepotitistic cronyism was possibly how Munson got the Lead Pastor job to begin with.  What WERE his qualifications ot be lead pastor, again?  He was never a great Bible teacher and he his being on the Ballard chamber of commerce hardly made him a fine example of business acumen.  No offense, Ballard's fine and all, but in the nepotism charge against Meyer Munson never seems to have put together that he was the pot's appointed leader-friend calling the kettle black.

Now months before bloggers and journalists wrote about Andrew Mars Hill cut loose some staff for overstepping spiritual authority.  If you're a pastor and you're thinking of having your church join you better ask what "overstepping spiritual authority" actually entailed.  You might want to ask point blank why pastors like James Noriega aren't employed at Mars Hill any longer.  How did a guy go from co-leading the Redemption Groups to vanishing into thin air? Has Mars Hill addressed some of communication competency issues that led to Andrew being able to go public with his story to Matthew Paul Turner?  Go read the bylaws carefully for Mars Hill, ask for them, and ask yourself whether or not what you may be told you're getting out of a deal with Mars Hill is really worth the human cost that will come with it. Driscoll's already explained that you can't expect everyone will keep their jobs or that ministries will survive the process of assimilation. 

Ask what happened to Rick Melson.  Rick who?  Exactly. Ask what happened to Lief Moi.  If they won't answer I would discreetly suggest you not join.  Driscoll promises you nothing and in return you may lose your job, your ministry, your public reputation, and financial stability in exchange for Driscoll getting to share about God's grace growing the church in amazing new ways.  He's assuring you now that it's not all transfer growth but even the idea of transfer growth is not going to get mentioned in annual reports if new campuses open up in the next fifteen months. 

That Driscoll is assuring people not all the increase in numbers has been from transfer growth is a red flag.  If the growth is based on something besides transfer growth the question shouldn't even come up, should it?  Yet even as far back as about 2005 I had the impression that most Mars Hill growth was transfer growth.  In a church/denomination as big as Mars Hill there will be never-before converts. I don't doubt that but if these converts are people who show up to Easter events and spontaneously decide to get baptised be cautious.  They could be responding to Jesus and God can use anything, but they could also be responding to a dog and pony show and an altar call, too.  This does not have to be a strictly binary assessment.

Driscoll saying now is a great time to contact Mars Hill.  Yep, he's withdrawn from the Gospel Coalition after announcing that Jakes is one of us and letting it be known that he's open to learning from people outside his tribe.  He's appointed Matt Chandler to run Acts 29 and this the week after Petry went on record about the firing he went through in 2007.  Although Driscoll said he wanted to invest more and not less time in Acts 29 back in February 2012 now things are just so busy with Jesus growing Mars Hill he's gotta step back and manage the growth.  What growth?  Well, four new campuses.  Sammamish is a fairly new assimilation Driscoll has just shared about lately. I trust we all get that assimilating an existing church is, by definition, transfer growth.  If you agree to this deal then you're agreeing to let your assimilation and transfer growth be credited at some point as though these were lives reached for Jesus by Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill.  In comic book nerd land this could be interpreted as "work for hire".

How do we know for sure that this isn't the ecclesiological equivalent of Amway?  If your church is growing without Mars Hill you can surely trust it can grow without Mars Hill.  Isn't unlimited growth even during a recessionary period indicative of consumerism or unrealistic expectations out in the real world where people do real work?  If former Lead Pastor at Mars Hill Jamie Munson could seriously say that spiritual growth will be reflected in numerical growth is this a church you really want to join?  Did membership equalling discipleship work out for Andrew? 

If nothing else learn from Andrew's mistakes and read absolutely everything you can get your hands on BEFORE you sign any dotted lines.  Find out why half of Mars Hill didn't renew back in early 2008.  If you're a pastor and your church is doing okay or if its growing consider staying where you are.  You don't need to make a move that could ultimately sacrifice your ministry on the altar of a Martian pursuit of numeric growth.  Sacrificing your ministry and your flock so that transfer growth can be presented as Jesus growing Mars Hill doesn't seem like a good trade to me.  If you're an unknown pastor with a growing, successful church where people love the Lord and people are meeting Christ already then you shouldn't aspire to be more like Mark Driscoll's ministry or Mars Hill, he should be aspiring to be more like you.  If it's really all about Jesus then Driscoll's invitation to join Mars Hill is a waste of time.  Christ will build up His church just fine without Driscoll, won't He?

Driscoll is inviting churches to assimilate into Mars Hill just after he's withdrawn the Gospel Coalition and has moved himself to a less obvious spot on the Acts 29 board.  He's got less formal power officially but plenty of informal power.  If he's still on the Acts 29 board he's still in the position to call the shots. Chandler will answer to him and not the other way around. He's got more power and influence now than before.  If you hadn't heard about 14 churches have pulled out of Acts 29 since news about Mars Hill came up this year, well, now you know.

If it's all about Jesus then Driscoll can appreciate the words of John the Baptist who said of Christ, "He must become greater and greater while I must become less and less."  Accepting Driscoll's invitation to you to ask if you can join Mars Hill doesn't look quite like that, at least not to me. You don't really want to risk giving your flock that God has called you to love, protect and serve over to Mark Driscoll so that the subsequent transfer growth can be touted in next year's annual report as Mars Hill, the miracle of God, who is growing Mars Hill, do you? That's not a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody on the jumbo screens, pastor, that's you.  Your present identity in Christ is Driscoll's catchphrase. You actually are what Driscoll pretends he is. Don't trade that out for a "maybe" job at Mars Hill if you're already sharing Christ with people and loving the people where you already are.


Juniper said...

I was going to comment on the soterian language I've heard out of Mark Driscoll lately then, I read the earlier post. I agree that he's taken on some charismatic appearances, but I can't see him as pentecostal. He certainly wouldn't fit in with the A/G. He misses the liberty that is the best thing about being pentecostal. (So do many pentecostals, but that's another issue.) I must, however, agree with you that his attitude towards seattle has that revival air in the "we're gonna take this city for Christ" sort of way. I don't see the redemption groups as anything other than confessional versions of deliverance ministries as found in many charismatic churches. Maybe he wants the "cool" factor of the young restless and reformed and the energy of a really good bunch of holy rollers. Sorry for the length of the comment. I get going sometimes.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

UPDATE 05/22/2012

Anyone who read this entry will want to read this more recent update looking specifically at the history of how Mars Hill got what is now the West Seattle church.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Update 06.03.2012

This is now a tagged post that is part of a series on Mars Hill real estate. Because the open invitation to ask to join Mars Hill got issued in April 2012 and I urged pastors considering application to do some investigation I have attempted to investigate for myself the history of how a number of campuses developed and were acquired. I won't be able to find out everything, obviously, but I can provide salient points about campuses for reference.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...


One of the things that Driscoll has not discussed publicly (that I know of) is what has happend with Scott Thomas, who is now Pastor of Pastoral Development at The Journey. There's a blog post here documenting that for those who may be curious.

Noriega was definitely fired but is, reportedly, at the Ballard campus. He was one of the elders that was brought on with the West Seattle campus acquisition.

Using West Seattle as an example of a successful church merger needs two caveats. The first is that Doxa was an Acts 29 church plant set up when Driscoll was Church Planter Scout for the network. The second, more important caveat is that Driscoll by his own admission had wanted the real estate that has become Mars Hill West Seattle for at least ten years.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...


Another update, Bill Clem's resignation

So now the case studies of leaders acquired through assimilation might just be Dave Bruskas.