Thursday, September 25, 2014

[six] adaptive strategies Mars Hill and Driscoll can consider during this difficult season

Having noted that Rachel Held Evans relatively recently suggested six ways forward, and having noted that Michael Newnham mentioned at Phoenix Preacher at Calvin's Corner that American Christians like to get angry and stay angry without necessarily suggesting any options or alternatives ...

Well, Wenatchee The Hatchet thought it might be interesting to suggest some potential ideas for how Mark Driscoll could weather the current storm and how the culture of Mars Hill Church might roll with the punches.

Before getting to them it must be noted that Driscoll has utterly destroyed his own credibility through the citation errors in half a dozen books; through the Result Source Inc contract; and through the steady revisionism of his history at MH and of MH.  There's little question whether he has any credibility whatsoever to the outside world.  A number of secular media outlets have already pronounced the corporation known as Mars Hill Church dead and even Mark Driscoll's own writing circa 2006 suggest the death/blaming stage has been entered.

That there is a crisis of trust within the church over the honesty and integrity of the leadership culture would seem largely beyond doubt.  There is also little question whether he has credibility to Christians in the US who aren't already devoted to him.

So the crisis at hand is how Driscoll can survive and maintain his kingdom long enough to have a
plausible rebound.  He has to admit that his own ambition led to this in a way that gives him a basis for coming back.  Nobody has a functionary sign a contract with Result Source Inc. who is really only interested in furthering the message about Jesus Christ.  There are plenty of Bible translations that are in the public domain, after all. 

Driscoll has spent a career arguing for and urging young men to pursue a legacy.  Legacy is such a big deal to Mark Driscoll he named a trust Future Hope Revocable Living Trust.  He's got an LLC called Lasting Legacy.  He's also got On Mission.  This is a guy on a mission to create a legacy.  If there's been a problem it is that Mark Driscoll has been so eager to build a legacy for himself he has gotten confused about the possibility that a legacy is something that is only full formed by the time it is too late to control it.  Count no man happy until he is dead, anyone?  You don't know what you're legacy is going to be and if the last year's scandals connected to Driscoll have hinted at anything it may just be that it was Mark Driscoll's vision of a lasting legacy and a future hope that got the better of him--he keeps coming back to starting a music label and a Bible college in spite of fiscal disasters and a lack of infrastructural competence.  Why?  Because that's part of the legacy he wants to have and that he keeps trying to have Mars Hill pull these things off within his own lifetime suggests he's determined to see a full realization of what he wants his legacy to be with his own eyes.

And that, dear readers, may be the simplest way to sum up the problem, a lot of walking by sight and by relying on any and all tools possible to be able to SEE THAT LEGACY in his lifetime rather than walking in a faith that doesn't have to see those things realized within his lifetime to see the possibility that his children might (potentially) see that legacy come about.  If the church has been laying people off in spades every other year for a decade how on earth is it going to start and sustain a music label and a seminary?  Why would Driscoll want to insist on keeping at realizing things that would be better saved for a second or even third generation of the kind of movement he's clearly been so eager to be the catalyst for?  Who knows? 

There is no reason to suppose Mark Driscoll is going to fire himself and he still has a lot of people devoted to him (officially to Jesus).  There are a couple of strategies that may be feasible over the next two years to turn everything around.

Keep in mind these strategies presume that at no point will Mars Hill Church become more transparent about how it actually spends money or make any changes to its governance.  These are just potential strategies that might allay the faithful who are having moments of doubt.

1. let the out of state campuses close or die or become autonomous
Per the March 17, 2012 memo, opening or re:launching half a dozen campuses in half a year was not sustainable.   So Sutton Turner apparently figured out and relayed to leaders what Wenatchee The Hatchet conveyed in 2008. 

Yet Mars Hill has tried to keep pushing for more growth at precisely a point when they should disavow expansion, probably for several years.  They need to regain trust and because so much of the crisis in the last few years has been about the fiscal competency of Mars Hill leadership and fiscal discretion, the best way to restore that is to halt altogether campus additions and expansions.  Let campuses outside Washington state either die a natural death or invite them to remove themselves from the organization.  There are a number of cases to be made for why this could be a beneficial short term meets long term strategy.

a   it  keeps everything inside WA state and regroups so that campuses are all in-state and
b   provides a more stable geographic unit for the nascent Mars Hill Schools to recruit students from
c   reduces likelihood of interstate scandal dealing with evictions, land-use, etc (i.e. Orange County)
d   sends signal of being chastened by overambitious expansion to live within means

A related strategy would be to not open new campuses but

2.  Stop expansion and choose to assimilate existing A29 plants that want to join rather than launch truly new campuses

Let's keep in mind that of the closures that have happened and that are pending there's a pattern.  U-District and Downtown and Phoenix were all raw plants.  Huntington Beach may close but it was a spin off of Orange County.  But these are all raw launches rather than assimilations from Acts 29.  Mars Hill Albuquerque was assimilated.  West Seattle was assimilated.  These campuses still exist, right? 

By ceasing all active site planting and only conditionally excepting volunteers for assimilation the potential advantages could be as follows:

a.  this avoids fiscal/infrastructural problems in start-ups from scratch
b.  allows for only those churches that have already beaten their real estate/zoning problems to even be up for consideration
c.  could also show that maybe A29 leadership may have made a bad call in cutting Driscoll loose if A29 churches are willing to align themselves formally with or even merge into MH

This (c) might become pertinent in the wake of Acts 29 basically throwing Mark Driscoll off and under the Acts 29 bus.  If Acts 29 participants show solidarity with Mars Hill and their local leaders have enough rep within the network it could signal that maybe Acts 29 Network leadership seemed too hasty and reactive in simply cutting ties.  Not that that would actually be the case in light of all that has come to light, but for those already disposed to be sympathetic to Driscoll after all of this that would likely be the net effect, that Acts 29 leaders would seem more heartless with respect to its co-founder for cutting him loose if individual churches join from A29. 

Of course you'd have to be sitting on some pretty kick-ass real estate ... but Wenatchee digresses.

There's a risk here in all this that Mars Hill will become far more insular as a corporate culture ... but then again it's arguable they couldn't possibly be more insular and on the defensive at this point than they already are.  The plagiarism scandal wasn't exactly a small deal for those who kept track of the sheer scope of the citation errors which gets to a third potential future strategy.  In light of Sutton Turner's recent resignation without any clearly announced changes to Resurgence Publishing Inc ...

3.  Re:consolidate publishing of Driscoll books into Resurgence Publishing Inc and/or make a point of having his books owned by Mars Hill Church and not Mark Driscoll as an individual or Driscoll via corporate proxy.

Even if Tyndale is stoked about continuing to work with Mark Driscoll in spite of all this controversy about plagiarism, having a back-up plan wouldn't be a bad idea.  In light of the problem that Mark Driscoll could appear to have personally benefited at the expense of Mars Hill resources  In a secular setting the level of citation problems Driscoll had would have destroyed his writing career but Christians may well love to forgive and some even say that intellectual property isn't even really all that Christian a concept anyway.  But it may help Mars Hill's financial woes if Mark Driscoll begins to assign the copyright to subsequent books to Mars Hill both to force him to be more careful, for the sake of the church, to avoid citation problems of the sort Intervarsity Press felt obliged to comment on and also to ensure that royalties and such go to keeping the church more financially stable. 

Now this next one might not go over well.

4.  Get rid of Justin Dean and/or at least drastically reappraise his role in MH PR
Do we really need to review highlights from Justin Dean's time at Mars Hill?  Probably

Let's start with the disciplinary case of Andrew Lamb back in 2012
[Justin] Dean told me, was that the letter was intended to be read aloud, not posted online, and only to a “handful” of people. Instead, the group leader received unclear instructions and posted the letter online, a move Dean insists was not meant to hurt.

Oh, so the whole thing could have been avoided if Mars Hill weren't fraught with organizational and communication incompetence?  Sweet.

Moving along to 2013
Mars Hill spokesman Justin Dean explained that congregants intended to teach to the neighborhood's "AIDS victims" about Jesus ...
It turns out, Mars Hill Church hasn't filled out any volunteer application forms or undergone a screening process to affiliate itself with Lifelong AIDS Alliance, ...

Then, still in 2013, there's Justin Dean's contribution to the public discussion about Mars Hill and the International Paper Building:

The Church had accused Sound Transit of taking the property by eminent domain, which Sound Transit denies. The Church has since backed down on that claim. Now the church leaders are questioning International Paper's acceptance of Sound Transit's offer. "We bid $250,000 over Sound Transit's bid," Dean said.

 In an email, a spokesman for International Paper in Memphis said that's not the case.
 "We accepted the highest and best overall offer which was from Sound Transit," wrote International Paper spokesman Kyle Morgolis. "Given our confidentiality agreement, we are unable to disclose the terms of the transaction".

 Sound Transit bristles at the idea it finalized the purchase agreement by undercutting and pushing Mars Hill out of any negotiation.

 "The idea that we intervened in the purchase of the property by them late in the game, that wasn't true," Patrick said. "We didn't hear from them until a week after we entered a binding agreement to purchase that property".

So it doesn't matter that Justin Dean said MH was going to pay 250k more than Sound Transit because the real estate was already bought anyway.

Then, of course, there's Result Source Inc. from 2014 news
church spokesman Justin Dean responded via email, saying, “Mars Hill has made marketing investments for book releases and sermon series, along with album releases, events, and church plants, much like many other churches, authors, and publishers who want to reach a large audience. We will explore any opportunity that helps us to get that message out, while striving to remain above reproach in the process. Whether we’re talking about technology, music, marketing, or whatever, we want to tell lots of people about Jesus by every means available. That’s what we’re all about and have been since 1996.”

and yet later the Board of Advisors and Accountability would describe the use of Result Source as "unwise" and Mark Driscoll would go so far as to say he realized it was wrong (a bit more than two years after Sutton Turner signed the contract is a pretty long time to realize that).

By now, perhaps, you'll see that it seems that when Justin Dean opens his mouth in the wake of a controversy associated with Mars Hill things don't come off looking better for them when the stakes are high.

Because things have gotten to a point where even Mark Driscoll has broached 2006-2007 with a number of not entirely matching narratives, here's a bit of unsolicited strategy from Wenatchee The Hatchet.

5.  pretend that the 2007 firings and trials didn't have any problems with them or let the bureaucratic inertia documented at Joyful Exiles serve as the plausible deniability it already basically is. 

As in Driscoll should make a point to disavow having any role in the by-laws and constitution revisions of 2007 because if he ever even once said he did all that himself then he might as well admit to a power grab because shrinking the size of the executive elder board and expanding its powers will only ever look like that.

Wenatchee The Hatchet noted when Joyful Exiles came out that if you look at the documents Mark Driscoll was thoroughly insulated formally and bureaucratically from the firings and from correspondence.  If things ever hit the fan the furthest back it might go would be Scott Thomas as head of the EIT or Jamie Munson and now both those guys are gone.  Driscoll as politically brilliant enough to have so many levels of plausible deniability that even if things came to light that were slightly less than flattering it would still be on the council of elders that voted at the trials or on Thomas or on Munson but it would never necessarily ever have to go directly back to Mark Driscoll even if "everybody" knew he made a decision.  It's what lawyers might call "hearsay", it doesn't matter if it's actually totally the truth if you can't prove it in a court with documents and someone willing to swear an oath to tell the truth.

In other words, Munson and Thomas are even more convenient fall guys for the 2007 re-org now that they're both outside the corporation.  The formal insulation Driscoll had in 2007 from having to be directly involved in documented ways (well, up until Bent Meyer's documents emerged, at least) meant that it was possible to let people imagine Mark Driscoll wasn't an active agent in these disciplinary scenarios.

Something Wenatchee The Hatchet has mentioned in a handful of settings is that the protection that bureaucratic insulation afforded Driscoll in the controversies of 2007 could also become a weakness if the underlings ever ended up being party to things so economically or ethically dubious a ripple effect would kick in.  If the bureaucratic insulation of executive elder and formal boards shielded Driscoll from having any direct connection to the 2007 firings for a time the opposite problem kicked in circa 2012-2014 where Sutton Turner's activities as executive with Result Source anchored Mark Driscoll to a contract that the executives apparently approved of and that had to get a public apology for. 

But for 2007 stuff, silence would be golden.  The last thing Driscoll would ever want to do (that he's unfortunately already done) is to make any public statements (ever) crediting himself with direct and active agency for revising the constitution and by-laws of Mars Hill Church in 2007.  Now that he's done that his best option is complete silence if he's not going to publicly apologize for how he let former elders be treated.  And keeping his story straight as to how, when and why he decided the structure of the corporation needed to change to begin with might be a place to start ... but silence is probably more golden.

Finally, if Driscoll is determined to present a fatherly image of himself (which, unfortunately, was also what he did in 2007 describing the by-laws revision and trials) then ..
6.  Mark Driscoll should hand off a majority of preaching and teaching to campus pastors.

He needs to consider this for two reasons

a   his own reputation is shot

b   if he's going to be the mentoring fatherly figure he needs to be able to prove there are any spiritual "sons" competent enough to rise up and continue the legacy he's working toward.  The longer he stays the dominant face behind the pulpit the more he destroys his own reputation at this point.  Taking a year or two off to let others recycle his older material newcomers don't have access to since the media purge of 2014 gives him time to reconsolidate.  Nobody's going to believe Driscoll's really trying to be a more fatherly type if he's insisting on doing the lion's share of preaching year in and year out.  But if he steps away from the pulpit for the majority of the time and lets all those younger guys he keeps claiming he wants to see rise up actually do so ... well ... that might improve his image some.

This would not persuade the world at large that Driscoll's moral compass has found true north, as such, but it would probably make strides toward restoring trust among those who are still at Mars Hill and not sure why they should be.  All of these adaptive strategies could have large positive effects within the corporate culture.  Whether or not any of them may be considered remains to be seen.

Driscoll actually displaying any real competence in exegeting biblical texts might be a nice change of pace, too.

It would also not require that anyone change the governance or become more transparent about finances at any step of the way.