The church Bill Clem and James Noriega were pastoring, Doxa, was a boon to assimilate into Mars Hill for various reasons Mark Driscoll explained in his July 2006 sermon. It was also advantageous for Clem, who was approached by Driscoll shortly after Clem got word that his wife Jeannie had been diagnosed with cancer. For James Noriega the assimilation meant he was also transitioned into leadership within Mars Hill. In a strange and improbably coincidence the two remarried men who were pastors at Ballard both came from what is now Mars Hill West Seattle.
On November 9, 2011 the following video got posted. In the video Bill Clem says about what is now the West Seattle campus:
"It isn't as though we do a lot of ministry here on Sunday morning, but this is where we did all of our ministry when we first started a church plant called Doxa, which was an Acts 29 church in partnership with Mars Hill."
The close of the video establishes the following statistics.
Doxa launched in 2002 with eight people.
Today as many as 1,000 people meet to worship in that same building every week.
In 2009 the West Seattle campus planted the Federal Way Campus.
So the majority of what Driscoll said in the July 2006 sermon about not developing the 50th street property and the advantages of acquiring Doxa check out. It’s a bit surprising to read now in 2012 what Driscoll said in 2006, that he had made a bid for what is now Mars Hill West Seattle way back in 1996 and was rejected. Having Bill Clem plant an Acts 29 church at that property matches up with what Clem himself says about his time as a church planter in Doxa. It would appear that by Driscoll’s own account he’d had his eyes on the property that is now Mars Hill West Seattle from the first days of his ministry way back in 1996. He finally got the property for Mars Hill and with it he got both Bill Clem and James Noriega as pastors. Despite his history of felonies and being newlywed into his second marriage James Noriega was vetted for pastoral work at Mars Hill.
Because Mark Driscoll was president of Mars Hill in 2006 and, by his own account, a professional journalist, it’s not entirely clear why Mark Driscoll had no observable qualms about suggesting Noriega be a pastor at Mars Hill. Noriega was reported by the Seattle P-I as having been baptized in June 2004. Noriega was escorted away by a police officer who was a member at the church he was baptized in and then, months later, was reported by the Seattle P-I in late November as “newly ordained”. If Noriega was escorted off the church property by a member who was a cop in June 2004 and then, months later, back as a pastor what exactly happened?
In the following sermon preached by Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll on November 4, 2007 (The Rebel’s Guide to Joy in Humility) Driscoll explained that James Noriega was one of a number of men who were “seeking humility” and had been added to the Mars Hill elder team.
Mark Driscoll on November 4, 2007
... The last one is James. He was running a drug and alcohol treatment center, I think for the Union Gospel Mission. He was an elder at Doxa Church in West Seattle. He and Pastor Bill were there and I approached them and said, “I think we should partner together,” and turned that building into Mars Hill West Seattle. I don’t know what the building’s worth – $4 million, whatever. He said, “Well what’s the deal?” I said, “Give us the building, resign as elders, work through the membership process, work through the eldership process. I guarantee you nothing – no power, no job, no eldership. If you meet the qualifications and the men vote you in, we’ll make you an elder, but I guarantee you no job. Nothing. If you believe it’s right for Jesus, give us the building, resign, give up all power of authority, give up your position. Walk away from it all for the cause of Jesus.”
He said, “Okay, I think it’s best for Jesus.” He resigned, voted to hand us the building and the people. Humbly went through the eldership process. After he finished the membership process, oversees our drug and alcohol addiction recovery. We just voted him onto the Board of Directors. Why? Because God opposes the proud and he gives grace to the humble.
That this James was James Noriega is beyond doubt because of an article published by Pastor A. J. Hamilton describing how Mars Hill first became a multisite church:
On October 7, 2010 Mars Hill Pastor A. J. Hamilton wrote the following:
In early 2006, Mars Hill first became a multi-site church when we launched the Shoreline campus with live-streaming over the Web. This meant that at times, the sermon would look like a badly dubbed Samurai movie or Pastor Mark's image would explode into a messy digital kaleidoscope of color. We also increased the number of elders from 15 to 24, adding Pastors James Noriega and Bill Clem from Doxa (a former A29 church plant that is now our West Seattle campus). Campus planting took off for a season and Bellevue, Downtown, Olympia and Federal Way launched and continue to grow, relaunch into new facilities and plan for further expansion through new works.
By Mark Driscoll’s account, then, he proposed the partnership with Doxa. He also made no promises that Noriega would even end up having a job within Mars Hill but that if Noriega believed “it’s best for Jesus” to give Mars Hill the real estate.
So Clem and Noriega, it seems, voted to give the Doxa property to Mars Hill and in exchange they were formally promised nothing, to go by Driscoll’s sermon, but in practice it would appear that Clem and Noriega, as pastors at an Acts 29 church plant, were grandfathered in along with the property.
Mars Hill West Seattle
Mars Hill West Seattle was a result of conversations I had with Pastor Bill Clem, who now leads our Ballard church. Bill planted Doxa Fellowship in West Seattle after having served as the North American Director for Sonlife Ministries, a national discipleship ministry. The church was part of the Acts 29 network and running under 100 people when Bill and I began talking.
At the time, Bill’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, from which she eventually passed away. I called up Bill to offer support for the tough battle he and his wife were facing, and I also asked if he’d be open to letting us use Doxa’s building on Sunday mornings, as Doxa was only meeting on Sunday nights.
Eventually, as our church met in his building in the mornings, as we talked more and more, and as Bill’s wife faced a continuing and difficult battle with cancer, Doxa decided to merge with Mars Hill and become part of our church. We gave Bill many months off, paid him a full salary, and let him care for his dying wife and get a break from the exhausting work he’d undertaken in planting a church with an often bedridden wife. Her funeral was held in the church building that Pastor Bill had been given, and once he was ready, he started working for Mars Hill and is now our lead pastor at our biggest church, Mars Hill Ballard. Additionally, he has published the book Discipleship for us, and is the Northwest regional director for Acts 29.
The old church building we inherited needed a lot of work. So, the people of Mars Hill generously gave $1.8 million in one massive special offering to renovate it. It’s been a great transition over the last five years or so, with the church growing from less than 100 people to now well over 700 people coming together to worship Jesus and serve the West Seattle area, many of whom are new believers who’ve met Jesus and been baptized at Mars Hill West Seattle. Not only that, Mars Hill West Seattle has gone from being a church plant to planting churches, having planted Mars Hill Federal Way in 2009.
In this account the idea to merge comes from Doxa and not Driscoll. While who is credited with taking initiative to merge changes across accounts, what doesn’t change is the reality that the previously announced plans for property renovation and expansion of the 50th street property in Driscoll’s Reformission Rev was a bust; it was also a boon for Clem, who could be paid a full salary while he had months off to care for his dying wife. Not coincidentally, Driscoll was able to have Mars Hill receive as a gift the property he’d always wanted for Mars Hill to begin with. Along with that deal, of course, Mars Hill gained James Noriega.