Saturday, December 06, 2014

Throckmorton: Dave Bruskas/Mark Driscoll email MH elders in May 2012 said "we really need your help" in light of layoffs, days after the Driscolls bought their million-dollar home in Woodway

Today Warren Throckmorton has published something old that is a must-read.  Wenatchee The Hatchet does not customarily frame an issue in those terms but the date of a missive from Dave Bruskas, described as sent from Bruskas to other MH leaders on The City, has a date on it that in itself makes it a must read for the history of Mars Hill. Whether this was the formal publication date of the content to The City or the date it was received via email is not necessarily important by itself.

We Really Need Your Help
From 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]

A couple of final thoughts. First, we know this isn’t your fault, but the result of past decisions and practices. And while we will provide you a new and helpful global narrative soon to communicate this really tough news to our members, to be critical of the past means that we have to say things publicly that might hurt good leaders with great intentions who served Mars Hill well. Some of whom are still faithfully serving along side us today. And that to us seems like a losing proposition. We also know that this process has had some starts and stops along with some conflicting information. Please forgive us for that. We are continually receiving new financial information that has caused some hiccups along the way.

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.

We love you all very much and appreciate your devotion to Jesus and His church in this tough season. We do feel loved and supported by you and hope you feel the same from your Executive Elders.

From Pastor Mark:

These are tough seasons. Personally we love our staff. Pastorally we are concerned for our staff. Practically we grieve for our staff. Professionally we don’t have a choice but to reduce our staff. We simply have to live within our means. If we reduce staff now we can provide lead time for people to find an option while receiving severance. Had we not done this we would have had to reduce staff without severance this summer. We know this is hard but it is better than the alternative. The various leaders making these decisions across four states have prayed and labored over these tough calls. Your Exec Elders have cut first and deepest. Central is reduced 40% and working double time. We are vacating our offices reducing our staff and in contact nearly every hour every day pulling together and seeking Jesus’ wisdom. Your Executive Pastor Sutton is up at 4am everyday praying for our church. Now is a time for everyone to pray and love a lot. Lastly, without being improper we’ve frankly been through tougher times and deeper cuts before. After 15 years i can say this is not the worst storm we’ve weathered. We will get through it together by Gods grace. Trust me on this fact.

Read more:

There is a great deal of Mars Hill history that has to be borne in mind in light of this communication quoted above.

In April 2012 Driscoll was broaching the question of "is your church interested in becoming part of Mars Hill?"

If Mars Hill was privately in a financial strait dire enough that a large-scale layoff was being finessed in May 2012 what did Mark Driscoll think was a reason to write to the public as though wanting to assimilate into what may have been a less than fiscally stable Mars Hill was a good idea?  To be sure Chris Rosebrough has provided an explanation for how he thinks the church growth paradigm depends on leverageable debt to catalyze more growth ... but if we assume for sake of conversation the average church target of Driscoll wouldn't know this why would Driscoll have assumed it was reasonable to encourage churches to give their assets to Mars Hill if internally he was aware that Sutton Turner considered the financial situation of Mars Hill to be precarious?

Now people may understandably not recall that in April 2012 Sutton Turner had a post about how "we serve a king, not a sheikh"  The page is 404 gone now but Wenatchee The Hatchet preserved at least some of its content:
Working for a church, my salary is no longer what it used to be, nor is my job. I’m analyzing $4.90 lattes and scrutinizing nearly every dollar that goes out the door to ensure that our staff stewards the church’s resources well. It gets tedious at times, but the little stuff matters to me, because it matters to Jesus.
We could plant hundreds of churches. We could see thousands more people meet Jesus. We could see cities transformed by the gospel. As a collective body of believers, God has given us the money we need. The question is, what will we do with it?

For those who don't recall what was getting tossed off but excited mention, March 2012 was around the time Driscoll mentioned "we even rented the city of Ephesus for a day".

Sutton Turner did seem to say "we're in a big mess" back in March 2012. By May 2012 the campaign to get Real Marriage on the NYT bestseller list had come and gone but not without doubts expressed internally about whether or not the campaign was going to benefit Driscoll in a way that might be bad for the welfare of Mars Hill Church as a whole.

So in light of all that, there's another detail about the unity of the Mars Hill executive elders.

All the elders at the executive level would have had to have known about the eviction situation at Orange County, correct? If Bruskas' missive was sent on or before May 25, 2012 that was about the time the eviction notice was inescapable for Orange County.
Part 7 of Jesus Loves His Church
Pastor Mark Driscoll
August 5,2012

... 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.
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.
So by August 2012 Driscoll was saying they'd completed the greatest year they'd ever had.  That didn't quite add up (literally or figuratively) in light of the systemic deficits Driscoll had been explaining were part and parcel of the Mars Hill financial model in the preceeding months.
But, somehow, against all financial realities, Driscoll interpreted the fiscal year as the best year in the history of Mars Hill.  What Dave Bruskas was explaining, apparently, behind the scenes in May 2012 was not a summation of how it was the best year ever for Mars Hill on the financial side.  And that was just before the eviction at Orange County became an unavoidable headline.

For a bit more reading from the time.

What is even more striking, if we bear in mind that Sutton Turner's memo on the financial mess of Mars Hill was as of March 17, 2012, is this, that Mark Driscoll was explaining on March  2012 to Mars Hill "we are not a wealthy church".  This was discussed on March 18, 2012 at Wenatchee The Hatchet.

So we've got a Mars Hill in May 2012 that was about to face the Orange County eviction, had rigged a spot on the NYT best seller list for Mark and Grace Driscoll, and was internally getting word at the highest levels that the financial situation was bad.  Driscoll, in the wake of all this, opted to tell Mars Hill Church "we're not a wealthy church".

But, incredibly, that's not the whole story here.  We need to bear in mind that in 2012 Driscoll made somewhere in the zone of 500k and that it was advocated that Driscoll get a raise to 650k a year and also have a 200k housing allowance stay where it was. Driscoll cut (or let be cut) his salary to about 480k some time in FY2012, which was itself also presented as a reason to raise the compensation.  Details available in the memo published over here (for those who haven't already seen that):

Dave Bruskas' March 25, 2012 communication can't just be seen in light of the fiscal crisis of Mars Hill as a whole but needs to be seen in light of a specific real estate purchase, one that had been finalized just days earlier.

Now if you'd like to read more about the history of the acquisition of the house in light of the Real Marriage arrangements you can read the series of tagged posts on the matter over here. The permitting for renovating the house in Woodway started getting clearance some time in the summer of 2012.

The Driscolls had finalized the purchase of a roughly one-million dollar home in Woodway mere days before Dave Bruskas was telling leaders within Mars Hill "we really need your help".  So while at the executive level there was some awareness that Mars Hill was "in a big mess" over finances this was handled by what seems to have been a mass layoff and a temporary compensation cut for Driscoll that was leveraged as evidence for Driscoll to get paid even more and amidst all this in 2012 Mark and Grace Driscoll bought a million-dollar home in Snohomish county in a year in which Mark Driscoll was telling Mars Hill "we're not a wealthy church". 


C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

What dirves Throckmorton?

Google: Throckmorton "Michael L Brown"

rom said...

I keep reading statements to this effect: "...Driscoll cut (or let be cut) his salary to about 480k some time in FY2012,..."

What the memo actually said, though, was: "...he finished the year at an annual salary rate of $480,679."

My skeptical reading of everything about this 'church' leads me to think that he probably made much more than $480,679, but that the pay he was receiving at the end of the year weekly, or bi-weekly, or whatever, worked out to $480K at that point. Just wording, I know, but wording with wiggle room much like everything else I've read from them.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

The next MHC post will be about Rob Smith's RICO lawsuit? Just saw that one over at the "other place."

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

eh, maybe ... but I was thinking of recycling a few posts I wrote about the music of Stevie Wonder in light of the amazing show he did in Seattle last week. :) I mean, this DID start out as more of a musical blog, after all.