Monday, September 08, 2014

Mars Hill Financial Update, "In other words, it is ultimately our people, not our leaders, who determine how much `church' we are able to provide."

Two weeks ago we shared in The Weekly some of the financial challenges we are facing at Mars Hill Church. While our church has been financially healthy for many years, we are now facing the most serious budget challenge in our history. Church budgeting is really a simple process in one respect: we are able to provide the level of staff and ministry programs that those who attend our church provide the resources for. In other words, it is ultimately our people, not our leaders, who determine how much “church” we are able to provide.

The two largest expense items in almost any organization’s budget are facilities and personnel costs. Sadly, we now find ourselves in a situation where we cannot sustain our current staffing levels across the Mars Hill network of churches and must move forward with further reduction of paid staff. This will, unfortunately, also result in a decrease in the number of ministry programs we are able to provide beyond our weekly church services.

While we thank those who will now be leaving our paid ministry team for their service to Mars Hill, we also ask for prayer for them and their families in the weeks and months ahead as some undoubtedly face uncertainty. There is never a good time to make such a difficult decision as this; most of you know our weekly attendance has dropped in recent months, and with a drop in attendance comes a corresponding drop in financial giving. We simply cannot spend money we do not have.

The significant decrease in revenue also requires us to consolidate the number of Mars Hill churches we can sustain as your Lead Pastors shared on Sunday, and Pastor Dave shared online. Some of our churches can no longer support the ongoing costs associated with their buildings and paid staff. Our leaders have agonized over these decisions but have concluded that just because we are a church does not mean we are exempt from economic reality.

Please pray for those who will ultimately be affected by these decisions in the days ahead.

Perhaps realizing they set the wrong tone publishing so swiftly there's an additional italicized paragraph that serves as a prelude.

This update was published earlier in an effort to communicate this news to the Mars Hill community in a timely way. However, in our effort to communicate efficiently we were, perhaps, less clear than we intended to be. While it is true that the generous giving of our members funds the various ministries of Mars Hill Church, the original post below failed to acknowledge that the reason for much of the decrease in attendance and giving falls to us, the leadership of Mars Hill. We shoulder the responsibility for our past sins and mistakes—which has caused many to leave. As we continue to repent, learn, and grow in this season, we also bear the responsibility to lead differently as we move forward—for God’s glory and the good of his church. 

What sins, if any, the leadership of Mars Hill was particularly taking ownership for would be nearly impossible to guess from the statement in any form.

After all, the BoAA didn't consider gag orders, Result Source contracts, mass firings to be sins back in March of 2014

If the reason for much of the decrease in attendance falls on the leadership of Mars Hill which leadership?  After all, Tim Smith was on sabbatical for a good chunk of the period in which a massive decline in attendance happened, for instance.  Paul Tripp resigned from the Board of Advisors and Accountability and made a public statement that the board couldn't possibly keep the executive elders accountable.  Campus staff have been laid off in waves while no apparent personnel changes have been happening at central/executive Mars Hill.  In fact there's no indication that any salary or compensation changes have happened at the executive level.  For that matter, who even knows within Mars Hill how much the executive elders even make? 

How many people that call Mars Hill Church their spiritual home even know that Mark Driscoll hasn't lived in King County for years?  It's harder to take seriously the Driscoll claim that at heart he's always going to be a local church pastor if he hasn't even lived in King County for years. 

The preface is probably a bit too little too late. 

Whether or not Mars Hill executive leadership ever addressed the full scope of the plagiarism scandal and the evidence from at least seven of Driscoll's published books (in first editions) that he made use of the work of others without full citation is probably moot by now.  No one on the Mars Hill side will even wish to acknowledge the extent to which Grace Driscoll's Chapter 7 of Real Marriage used ideas from Dan Allender without so much as a single footnote's credit in the first edition. Then again, the copyright for that book is owned by On Mission, LLC and there's been nary a sign Grace Driscoll was given any copyright credit for Real Marriage in the way that Jon Phelps shares a copyright credit with Mark Driscoll for "Reverse Engineering Your Life" ... .

Wenatchee The Hatchet has already suggested that for those who have read the 2011 by-laws they will understand that the campus pastors have little meaningful power and the rank-and-file members have no power at all except by dint of writing checks.  A financial embargo (or maybe a sex strike) would be the only viable options for the regular members to make their concerns heard because at this point it is only through withholding what the leadership culture expects that the full scale of concerns within the regular congregation might get a more serious hearing.

In other words, until Mars Hill executive leadership is willing to be transparent about where every cent goes they have not shown themselves to be so trustworthy as to get a cent from you, if you're a member.  If the leadership culture is willing to say they own their sins then let them say precisely what those sins are, let the confession be specific and let the restitution be clear.  So far nothing of that sort has happened and it will be unfortunate that the leadership at Mars Hill may prove incapable of living out what it has so long required of others.

Now suppose that you're a member and you still feel committed to stay in spite of the controversies associated with plagiarism, sales-rigging, consolidated power and the like.  Let's suppose that you still feel you should stay in spite of all of that because you want to support your local community.  Well, as Driscoll used to say the church is not a place but a people.  You don't need to tithe and tithing is not, as Driscoll has discussed in the past, necessarily explicitly commanded in the NT. 

But Mars Hill leadership has indicated that you, the regular member, ultimately have the power to decide how many resources they have.  That is an invitation to use that power. 


Well, if you want to support the local church try writing checks or making donations to the church with a notice that the gift is restricted for campus operational costs only.  This will simultaneously give notice that the monies have to be used in a certain way and may at length give you an opportunity, should it be necessary, to request an accounting of how your donations have been spent.  A non-profit should be able to establish that a restricted gift was spent for the cause for which the gift was restricted, right? 

It is being reported another large wave of layoffs is coming along.  Rest assured people must have already lost their jobs as of right now if that's even being hinted at by Mars Hill.  This would simply further highlight the problem in the culture, the leadership of Mars Hill opting to lay of 30 to 40 people when it won't even disclose the salaries and compensations of the executive elders is a leadership culture that could stand to be more transparent.  If Mark Driscoll wants to persuade people at Mars Hill that at bottom he wants to be remembered as a local church pastor how many people at Mars Hill Church right now even know where he lives?  How can you be a local church pastor to a web of churches in King County from Snohomish County?  Has Driscoll moved incognito for the sake of family safety/  All right, fair enough for the sake of his family but then let's remember the career of Mark Driscoll up through this point has included the rantings of William Wallace II and to date Driscoll has never conceded in public the possibility that his cultivated incendiary persona may have played a role in inspiring emotionally unstable people to want to throw down with him. 

And for that matter, having lately compared the 2001 "Using Your Penis" thread of William Wallace to the 2012 Real Marriage, it's not at all clear that Mark Driscoll has really changed the substance of his views on sex and marriage in the last fourteen years.  He's more likely to publicly endorse anal sex as an option for others now but Mark Driscoll has never repudiated the substance of what he said in those screeds.  It is worth noting that in spite of his narrative from 2006 in Confessions of a Reformission Rev about how he blasted emergent/liberal types for anyone who actually read "Pussified Nation" some of his most vitriolic put-downs were for the Promise Keepers and James Dobson crew.  Driscoll has a longer history of saying "I'm sorry people were offended by things I said and did" than of saying "What I did and said was wrong."  He's said that a little more this year after what he said and did was brought to light but as a rabbi reportedly once put it, repentance is demonstrated by the fact that when presented with a comparable opportunity to sin you refrain from doing so.  In light of the 2011 dust-up about Driscoll inviting people to share stories about technically male but effeminate worship leaders it's not at all clear how much progress Driscoll really made in the last fourteen years. 

But should you feel loyalty to your local church community you can find ways to do that in a way that doesn't necessarily rubber stamp a set of sins that the leadership culture may have started alluding to but is so far reluctant to define.  They seem to admit you have the power and if you don't wield it in a way that shows you will hold them accountable for not being transparent about money and governance you cannot currently be completely certain they have earned and merited the kind of trust they have so often asked of you. 

At this point it would be prudent for those who feel led to support Mars Hill financially to start putting restrictions on their donations for their local campus.  If you're going to stick with it at this level then it may be worth noting that nearly every scandal associated with Mars Hill in the last year has been a scandal of executive leadership rather than local pastoral activity (so far, and perhaps only so far has gotten media attention).  And something to bear in mind, too, is that by this point Mark Driscoll has a lot of books and a lot of places will still sell them.  Let's recall that back in 2009 Mark Driscoll expressed the following hope about his books, that one of them would "pop" and that he could one day just live entirely on book royalties and not even draw a salary.

Prophets, Priests and Kings
 Trial: 8 witnesses from 1 & 2 Peter
May 3, 2009
1 Peter 5:1-5

... So in all of this, as well, I've had people ask, "So what about the book sales?"  Here's how it works, I didn't start a separate company. One of the ways that guys work this, they become a leader in a church and they have a company on the side and they use the church to funnel business into their side company and I didn't start a side company (like a lot of guys do) for my book writing. Instead I publish under Mars Hill.

So the way it works, I don't get all the money. Mars Hill gets a huge take. Mars Hill gets all the marketing dollars, they get paid by the publishers. Mars Hill gets half of all the royalties so the books that I publish, about 75% of the revenue goes to Mars Hill Church, not me. Not me.  Because I'm worried about this issue, greed, shameful gain. Just using Mars Hill as a platform so I can start a business to rake in massive dollars. I don't think it's a sin for a pastor to get a salary but we're now at the point where the books and the marketing, that a huge portion of my salary is covered by income that I generate.  And, I'll be honest with you, I hope one of my books pops or I get enough books on the shelf, titles in print , I'd love to see the day where I'm basically working for free and that the book sales and royalties and such let me generate enough money for Mars Hill that I can work free of charge. That's my hope and my goal. I don't know if we'll get there but that's what I'm trying to do.

This was back in 2009 before a lot of things happened.  Sure, he's got a side company to manage royalties of precisely the sort he said he didn't have and considered a sign of selfish greed for gain ... but since the company exists now.

Maybe it's time to let Driscoll see how far he goes with the money he gets from the royalties on all those books and stop drawing a salary as a way to show that he's repentant.
Go back to this post about people who have done ghostwriting for Mars Hill and see how many of those guys still work at Mars Hill as of today?  The number is low.  As in zero.

The thing is there have been and still are a lot of wonderful people, talented people, sincere people at Mars Hill.  And whether you believe it or not Wenatchee The Hatchet thinks those people deserve better than the leadership culture they appear to still be getting.  Mars Hill leadership has told the rank and file the power ultimately belongs to them.  Mars Hill leadership now has to prove they have merited the trust of donors.  Between Result Source and the lack of transparency about the Mars Hill Global Fund it is not entirely clear the executive leadership merits the trust of the rank and file even if everything is copacetic at the campus level.  So far the only times when Mars Hill leaders seem willing to tell the rank and file the power belongs to them is to pump more money from them.
Part 1 of God's Work, Our Witness
Pastor Mark Driscoll
December 04, 2011

... Mars Hill has often really just, quite frankly, stunk at giving, and I think the last thing to be saved is a person’s wallet. And so I’m just going to tell you that most of the people in the church need to be giving a whole lot more. Some of you are being generous. I’m not talking to you. For those people, we’ll have a separate conference for you in a phone booth. For everybody else, the sad, cold, hard truth is about 24 percent of people at Mars Hill this year have given nothing. In addition, another 41 percent have given $500 or less. So that’s 65-ish percent of Mars Hill, two-thirds of Mars Hill’s twelve thousand people who are giving nothing or nearly

... So is it about the money? Yes, it’s about spending the money to reach people for Jesus. Everything costs something. And we think that if you love Jesus and you believe people are going to hell, you should give at least as much money to that as toilet paper, and many of you aren’t. Bottom line: you can do better. We love you and we trust in the grace of God. You will be more generous.

The most striking thing about the 2011 statement now is that it was made via film a month or so after Sutton Turner signed that contract with Result Source Inc and Mark Driscoll got invoiced for the plan to buy a spot for Real Marriage on the NYT bestseller list

And in June 2012 Mark Driscoll mentioned, amid an update on how there were systemic deficits at every campus that there was this myth at Mars Hill.  What was that myth?  More importantly, who was believing this myth?  The people ... or the leaders.

Now, you look at this, you say, “Fourteen churches.” See, this is the myth at Mars Hill: “There’s a money fairy somewhere and the money fairy takes care of it.” Okay. You’re the money fairy. Okay.

So ... if you haven't left Mars Hill already and do feel a need to stay, restrict giving to operational and salary expenses for just your campus, dear Mars Hill member reading this post.  Driscoll's already gone on record saying that his hope is that at some point he can just draw income from his book and media sales and not even draw a salary.  Now might be the time to help the executive leaders remember this old 2009 statement.  If the top brass aren't willing to explain where every cent of your money goes when you ask they don't deserve a single cent from you, do they?

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