Sunday, May 10, 2015

revisiting Turner's recent account of Global in light of Mars Hill's history of fiscal cliffs and mass layoffs

We've discussed the conundrum of Sutton Turner having reported:

*Unfortunately, Mars Hill’s attorneys have requested that I not blog. I have removed some of the financial information as well as other non-financial information in response to their request.

When in the earlier statement they were:
Posted by on
For the past several weeks, I have been planning to discuss the lessons I have learned from events and mistakes at Mars Hill Church on my website. Earlier this week, I wrote three separate blogs regarding the ResultSource decision in 2011 at Mars Hill. Today, I planned to focus on Mars Hill Global. However, last night I received a call to explain that Mars Hill’s former attorneys did not want me to post any more blogs and also to remove what has already been communicated this week.

More recently, Turner seemed to indicate that attorneys in association with Mars Hill had recently invoked litigation.  This comment quoted below does not seem to have referred to a reported pending suit against former MH legal officers, but against Turner individually.
Sutton Turner > Warren Throckmorton  • 9 hours ago  

The litigation threat was against me (personally), nothing outside. I honestly don't understand it. As I said before in my blog, if the church was still a church, I would not communicate about anything, however the church is dead and it is time to learn from my mistakes and my sin.

I wanted to publicly apologize to people that had been hurt by my sin and my mistakes, following my 1:1 meetings with people directly that I needed to reconcile with. I thought it was time to communicate the full story - in detail with $ - however "they" got wind (honestly, don't know how) of what I was doing and told me to stop, with a threat. If I get sued for doing what I have done, my wife and I are fine with it.

It would seem Turner has nothing to lose and everything to gain by sharing where the money was spent and when in terms of clearing the air.  It's a shame that it took the process of the formal dissolution of the corporation to spur him to considering this option. 

However, something that seems worth noting is that the lack of clarity about what Mars Hill Global did and didn't do came in during the Sutton Turner regime.  Back when Munson was legal president, there didn't seem to be any lack of clarity about what Global did. Driscoll explained the 2009-era vision for Global in a sermon that did not get transcribed and that Wenatchee The Hatchet had to transcribe.  It's worth revisiting to see what was being said on behalf of Global in those years.

Whether or not it was former or current Mars Hill attorneys who have insisted that Turner not blog about Mars Hill has yet to be clarified but the statements made dealing with Mars Hill Global can be dealt with independent of questions as to which attorneys that were or weren't with Mars Hill got in some kind of touch with Turner.

Now we can get to the Turner era.

Just a few observations about the following:
Global Focus

The vision and activities connected to the Global Fund must focus on reaching the worldwide church. As a person sits in front of his computer in Qatar, London, Cape Town, or Sydney, he does not care about Mars Hill planting in Everett. As an international citizen, however, he cares greatly about global evangelism, global missions, global causes for Jesus, global church-planting, etc. Though the sentiment is rare among Americans, people abroad feel a sense [of] belonging kinship with the global community.

Flagship Projects
of the money that comes into the Global Fund, designate a fixed percentage internally for highly visible, marketable projects such as mission trips, orphan care, support for pastors, and missionaries in the third world, etc (ten to fifteen strategic operations in locations where Mars Hill wants to be long term). This percentage should be flexible (not a "tithe"), and not communicated to the public. Support for Mars Hill Global would be support for Mars Hill Church in general, but the difference and the draw would be that a portion of Global gifts would also benefit projects that spread the gospel and serve the needs of people around the world.

Even if unintentional the gap between the global/Africa emphasis in soliciting funds and the reality of local use created a problem.  The problem was, basically, that some people felt that if Mars Hill was going to solicit money the solicitation ought to have accented the majority of activity and expenditure. 

The purpose statement in the November 2011 memo below is almost identical to another November 2011 memo I posted in early May of this year which signaled a change of focus for Mars Hill Global.
[WtH the other memo can be found here]
The Global Fund could be beneficial in a number of ways, besides the obvious gain of increased funding:
* For a relatively low cost (e.g. $10k/month), supporting a few missionaries and benevolence projects would serve to deflect criticism, increase goodwill, and create opportunities to influence and learn from other ministries
* Many small churches who may consider joining Mars Hill hesitate because they do not believe we support "missions." While we need to continue to challenge the assumptions underlying a claim, the Global Fund would serve as a simple, easy way to deflate such criticism and help lead change in those congregations
* The ability to communicate and interact with supporters of Mars Hill Global provides an avenue for promoting events, recruiting leaders, and developing Mars Hill core groups in strategic cities

* EE sets specific guidelines on what Global Fund will financially support
  * Possible suggestions: Church Planting, Orphan Care, and Widow Care in Developing Countries
  * Specific targets will easily allow MHC to say "no" to the flood of request that will come.
* Launch MH Global 3 weeks before Easter 2012
  * Website
  * Video
  * Testimonies of Jesus working in developing countries
  * Call to give
* Monthly updates from all global fund projects.

What Turner and the others may not yet fully appreciate is that what can seem controversial about Global is that whatever good it did and whatever funds it raised, the nature of the memo highlights the benefits of Global for the brand of Mars Hill more than those whose needs would be met by Mars Hill's financial resources and activity.

There's an obvious point that could be easy to miss in the memo.  You might not have spotted it but it's the Easter 2012 part.  The November 2011 memos published by Turner explore Global as a "sleeping giant" but why would Turner and company have been interested in that?

In the spring of 2012 Turner sent a memo indicating that Mars Hill, at the risk of putting things to simply, was teetering on the brink of financial ruin, pursuing a series of projects at the same time that were not financially sustainable.  The multiple campus launches and relaunches, the promotion of Real Marriage, these things were taxing the resources.  Turner seemed convinced giving was not what it could have been.  Whether the church should have been renting the city of Ephesus for a day didn't come up but it might have been part of the concern, maybe.

The point is, let's suggest that given that by the spring of 2012 the memo linked to above suggests a panic mode about the fiscal competence of the Martian culture.  Global looked like an untapped resource, "a sleeping giant" that would be beneficial to the church.  Now in the spring of 2012 there were mass layoffs and adjustments.  In spite of that Driscoll would go on to declare that FY2012 had been the best year ever.
Pastor Mark Driscoll
August 5, 2012
... And in that same spirit, we like to notify the church of how things are going. That includes monthly updates for all of Mars Hill. In one sense, we’re one church, in another sense, we’re fourteen local churches scattered across four different states, and pregnant with five more churches, hopefully to be birthed in about a year. And what we like to do is give a global update for how Mars Hill is doing, and then also allow the lead pastors of each local church to give a local update for how things are going at that particular location.

Our fiscal year, our budget year, runs from July through June, so we just finished our fiscal year, and those who are administratively gifted and allow us to steward the resources that God has given us, have put together a final year-end report, and I’m really excited to share it with you.
Before I get into the details, let me just say, we have just completed the greatest year in the history of Mars Hill Church, any single way you measure it: number of people, number of baptisms, number of Community Groups, number of people in Community Groups, number of Redemption Groups, number of people in Redemption Groups, number of weddings, number of children, number of services, number of locations. Whatever variable you would take a look at, it’s the highest it’s ever been. [emphasis added[

In the fifteen years of Mars Hill Church, we’ve just completed the greatest year we’ve ever had, and I can say with full confidence, it’s firstfruits and there’s much, much more to come. So, I want to start by saying thank you, Lord Jesus, for loving Mars Hill Church. And I want to thank you who love Mars Hill Church, and some of Jesus’ love is coming through you as you give, as you serve, as you pray, as you care.


Just off the top of my head, I know that Pastor Sutton Turner, your executive pastor, is negotiating deals for Mars Hill Everett, as they’ve outgrown their kid’s space, Mars Hill Downtown, as they’re at five services having outgrown their facility as well, in negotiations for Mars Hill Orange County, also in negotiations for Mars Hill Federal Way, also hoping, trusting, praying that we’ll be able to open Mars Hill Tacoma, Mars Hill Renton, Mars Hill Kirkland/Bothell-ish, and so lots of real estate negotiations in play, in addition to others that I’m sure that I’ve forgotten. But, just be in prayer for that, that we would have the space to see more people come to church and come to Jesus.

Driscoll had landed a best-selling author status (thanks to Result Source) and had scored a million dollar home in Snohomish county. His star was higher than it had ever been and he could afford to issue pre-emptive character attacks on Justin Brierley and rear-guard defenses of shaking hands with T. D. Jakes.  2012 was probably a "best year ever" for Mark Driscoll.  But what about Mars Hill as a whole? What about the Orange County eviction?  What about the more rank and file staff?

The situation behind the scenes in 2012 looked a bit different.  There's the "we're in a big mess" memo, and then there's Dave Bruskas' communication from May 25, 2012.

We Really Need Your HelpFrom Pastor David Bruskas:
From Pastor Dave:

As the final days of putting together a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 are here, some Lead Pastors are wrestling with the reality of letting a few good people go at the local church level. And some of you have had recent conversations with your Lead Pastor regarding upcoming transitions that have been painful. I understand firsthand how hard it is to let a productive staff member go whom your church loves. I also know how hard it is for the people who have been served well to let staff go without a fight. So that makes Lead Pastors twice as vulnerable. They must face the disappointment of the departing staff member and the disappointment of the church. And much like I would expect any good leader to do, many Lead Pastors are fighting hard to keep staff and avoid cuts creatively and boldly. But we need to let go of that fight at this point. Here are a couple of reasons why.

First, we have, in reality, a single budget for all of our 14 churches. So this means for every cent in exceptions that once church receives above the $10 per adult compensation and ministry operation allotment, another church loses the same amount. So the only way for one church to win is for another church to lose. Second, the cost numbers per adult that Pastor Sutton and the Finance Team have given for targets aren’t arbitrary nor merely guidelines. They are hard targets that have been carefully researched and must be met. And if we don’t live within our means, we won’t just face the loss of future expansion opportunities, we will have to scale back our current ministry services significantly. And in the most dire circumstances, shut down a few of our churches. As of today, we are paying extra fees in financing the costs of existing buildings because of our unattractive financial condition to potential lenders. This must change for us even to be good stewards of what we already have. [emphasis added]

Second, these are decisions the Executive Elders are making in unity. We have spent countless hours discussing together both the state of our finances and our present staffing model through face to face meetings, emails, texts and phone calls. We have worked through each of your staff rosters in an attitude of prayer thinking through every angle we could imagine to keep as many people as possible. [emphasis added] We grieve the fact that this cut is deep and results in letting go of some very good people who are performing well and helping the church. We have done the same thing with our central team reducing our costs 40%. It is super painful and we are very sympathetic towards you, your team and your church.And more than anything, we hurt for those who have lost jobs. We would request that you abide by our spending targets per person. Please respect these decisions by not coming to us individually in the hope that they may be changed. Pastor Sutton and I are happy to clarify anything that is confusing. But we can’t devote any more time to hearing appeals

Internally layoffs were happening in the first half of 2012 that Bruskas said could not and should not be appealed.  The financial situation of Mars Hill was bad enough that potential lends would consider Mars Hill an unattractive candidate for future financing. In June 2012 Driscoll mentioned that Mars Hill had been operating on a financial model that wasn't good for its long-term future. You won't find that in the sermon if you go to download it at Mark Driscoll Ministries, because it's been cut out.
While Bruskas was internally urging laid off staff to not make appeals and Driscoll had bought a roughly million-dollar home in Snohomish county, and in June 2012 mentioned a tough "season" by August 2012 he was declaring in his sermons that 2012 had been the greatest year ever for Mars Hill.

Then ... by 2013 Driscoll was talking about how Mars Hill managed to avoid slipping over a fiscal cliff.

With Mars Hill at times seeming to be teetering on the edge of fiscal cliffs every other year, it's "possible" the leadership was so focused on finding some way to keep the corporation solvent it was not nearly as careful as it could have and should have been about the nature of what Mars Hill Global was.  It's not necessary to propose all out intent to deceive if we connect all the dots, if Mars Hill was as fiscally incompetent as Sutton Turner's 2015 narrative indicates, a failure to grasp the gravity of the fiscal situation could fuel a subsequent lack of proper concern for how to convey what Global had become.

Or, of course, it is also possible to propose that the way Global was promoted was too slippery and evasive, too.  These are not mutually exclusive explanations being proposed. Wenatchee leans more toward the sloppy incompetence theory as to what went wrong with Global.  What does seem to be the case, given the evidence and narratives at hand, was that the controversial lack of clarity about Mars Hill Global didn't come up until the Turner era.  Whatever Turner's general story of the fiscal incompetence of late Munson-era leadership on Mars Hill financials (and one can only wonder how long Munson's going to let that stand as the new public narrative about his era of leadership), it can be said in Munson's defense that there seemed to have been nothing at all about Mars Hill Global during his tenure that could become any basis for controversy.

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