How Do You Lovingly Lay Off Church Staff?Every year across the United States, 4,000 churches close their doors. The closing of Mars Hill Church was one of the more public in modern history because it was widely reported across social media, websites, and blogs. When I got to Mars Hill in 2011, layoffs and terminations were not done well. I would love to say that I always laid off staff in a loving way in my role as pastor. I did not. One of the greatest lessons I learned while at Mars Hill was to lead as a pastor and not a professional. Over time, Jesus taught me a lot from and with Pastor Dave Bruskas as he led our staff through the pastoral epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) each week. By the grace of God, at the end, we had gotten closer to getting it right than what we had in the past.
This looks like another case in which Turner presents Mars Hill as in bad shape and not doing well at the time he arrived. But here he does not say that how he handled things early on was very good on his side. That might be putting things mildly.
Let's consider just "How to Leave Well" and some of the golden nuggets of wisdom therein:
6. BE PREPARED TO SACRIFICE
If you resign, do not request or expect to receive severance pay (severance is for layoff situations). Sudden staff loss is painful and expensive for your church. The recruitment process is a costly, time-consuming distraction, and severance essentially doubles that cost. If you’re the one who wants to leave, don’t ask your church to invest in a new hire and keep paying you a salary after you’ve gone.
Turner seemed to establish a precedent that if anyone by chance did leave for sake of conscience at Mars Hill a voluntary resignation would be met with a refusal to pay severance unless the situation was unusual. One can only wonder whether Turner himself accepted a severance package for being a quitter. If you did quit working for Mars Hill in the 2011-2012 period out of an objection to something like Result Source (if you even heard of it) it sounds like based on Turner's managerial approach you should have expected to get no severance pay.
But to get a fuller sense of what may have been going on in the 2011-2012 period let's consider what MH leadership has had to say for itself.
By: Board of Advisors & Accountability
Posted: Mar 07, 2014
In a 2 year period ending in the fall of 2013, Mars Hill Church endured significant turnover of key staff members that made many wonderful contributions to the development of Mars Hill Church during their tenure. A number of these staff transitions were acrimonious. Pastor Mark and the other executive Elders own their part in any discord that could have been avoided with a better process or a more patient interaction.
During the Spring of 2013 the BOAA mandated that a thorough review be conducted with all former staff from that period, soliciting their feedback so that no needed lessons for a healthier future would be neglected. In the summer of 2013 the BOAA reviewed that report, and needed corrections to policy and detrimental management patterns had been made. A former staff elder, Dave Kraft, whose disagreements with Mars Hill policies have recently been made public, had previously communicated with the BOAA numerous times that he was satisfied with the steps we have taken to address his concerns.
The BOAA supports the policy of requiring staff to commit their signatures to a mutual agreement, such as a separation agreement, that private matters of the church learned during a season of employment not be divulged outside the organization. We have seen this practice as wise for stewarding the resources entrusted to the church while engaging in common human resources practices.
A letter from Michael Van Skaik posted at Warren Throckmorton discussed the following back on March 27, 2014
Earlier this evening (3/26), a letter went out to Mars Hill Community Group leaders from the Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA)* regarding the formal charges filed by Dave Kraft in May of last year. In addition, the BOAA commented on a “reconciliation process” but did not specifically mention the 20 former pastors who asked for a mediator. ...
text of letter read as follows]
Dear Mars Hill Leaders,
I wanted to take the opportunity to give you, the current leaders of Mars Hill Church, an update as to the status of some of what we’ve been working on as a board over the course of the past year. Thank you for all that you do. We know it is extra difficult right now, but good fruit is coming out of these trials!
On May 10, 2013, a now former elder filed formal charges against Pastor Mark Driscoll and other leaders at Mars Hill. While stating that he had not personally been sinned against by Pastor Mark, he had at least seven unnamed witnesses who would testify to the offenses and hurts he claimed, which if found to be substantiated, could result in disqualification. We requested the names of the witnesses to exercise Matthew 5:23-25, but he refused to disclose them. While the issues cited as evidence from these charges came from anonymous sources, the issues all revolved around the theme of mistreatment of fellow leaders and staff. As the governing body responsible for the accountability of Mars Hill’s senior leaders, the Board took these charges extremely seriously.
In an effort to substantiate the validity of the anonymous charges, we immediately sent out over one hundred letters to former elders and staff at Mars Hill Church from the previous two years, inviting their feedback and perspectives regarding their time on staff at the church, particularly their interactions with Pastor Mark and the Executive Elders. We received eighteen responses. [emphases added] While some were very positive, every response was read and reread, looking for anything that would disqualify Pastor Mark and any other Mars Hill leaders from serving, or that would require further investigation. Additionally, the Board looked for repetitive patterns that may also lead to potential disqualification. After a thorough review, the charges were determined to be non-disqualifying. [emphasis added] However, the Executive Elders were individually and corporately given corrective direction by the Board. Those corrective actions have been followed and have been bearing fruit over the last seven months. We have been very encouraged to see the Executive Elders learn, grow, and repent where needed.
However, we are hungry for reconciliation and are continually grieved that many offenses and hurts are still unresolved. We want to seek out and hear the hurts in a biblical manner. A Board-approved reconciliation process is currently underway and is being overseen by Dr. Paul Tripp who flew to Seattle and recently spent a day with the Executive Elders. [emphasis added] He has also been in conversation with a person who is very capable of facilitating these reconciliations. Additionally, each of the Executive Elders has taken the initiative to reach out to people with whom they may need to reconcile. Our prayer is that as a church we can learn from this experience as we continue to grow in love and grace.
You need to know that I and the other Board members have witnessed the Holy Spirit’s work in Pastors Mark, Dave and Sutton as they’ve grieved deeply over the hurts and sorrows that they’ve been the source of. Their hearts yearn for repentance and reconciliation with those that have been hurt and offended.
By God’s grace, the reconciliation process will continue to move forward one person at a time.
Michael Van Skaik
Board of Advisors and Accountability
Okay, so if according to Michael Van Skaik in a letter dated March 26, 2014 Paul Tripp personally flew in to Seattle and spent a day with the Executive Elders was that not in a meeting that qualified as a meeting of the Board of Advisors & Accountability? Because just this week Sutton Turner insisted that:
Posted by Sutton Turner on
... Few people know that Dr. Tripp never physically attended a board meeting during that time. In fact, he had never met all of the board members in person.
Yet if that's the case what's the deal with Michael Van Skaik, writing on behalf of the BoAA, assuring anyone that Paul Tripp was overseeing a reconciliation process and even flew to Seattle if, by Sutton Turner's account, Paul Tripp was never physically present at a board meeting of the MH BoAA during his time as a formal member of the board? It seems like there's no way to get Van Skaik's statement in the 3/26/2014 letter to match up with Sutton Turner's assertion about Tripp. Then again, Van Skaik's account of Turner's role in the history of MH doesn't always seem to gel with Turner's own account, either.
Note that earlier in the letter Van Skaik described more than a hundred letters being sent out to former staff to assess whether or not Dave Kraft's formal charges had legitimacy. There was a letter that was sent out in the spring of 2013 but the letter that was made available to Wenatchee The Hatchet by a former staffer from Mars Hill simply didn't mention anything about formal charges.
As noted before, there's nothing in the above letter, if that's the letter that was sent out, that indicated the BoAA was attempting to assess the legitimacy of formal charges made against an executive pastor, let along Mark Driscoll. There's no certainty this letter was "the" letter Van Skaik referred to, but even if it wasn't, it's remarkably telling that "more than one hundred" letters were sent to former staffers who stopped being employed by Mars Hill in the previous two years. That suggests that from the time Sutton Turner started being General Manager and working with and for Mars Hill more than one hundred people were transitioned off staff by termination, lay-off or resignation. For an organization the size of Mars Hill that's a staggering turn-over rate.
... Looking back at the two large layoffs we had at Mars Hill in May and September of 2014, we had a prayer time on Wednesday, September 10th. It was one of the toughest days of my professional life. In fact, I gave my resignation to our board a few days before the prayer time because I could not stomach laying off staff and then continuing at Mars Hill myself (along with a personal reason I will discuss in a later post). In August we had 133 staff members and on September 9th, we had 70 – a 52% reduction in workforce.
Van Skaik may have already generally covered the personal reason last year:
UPDATE FROM THE BOAA
Dear Mars Hill,
Earlier this month Pastor Sutton Turner informed our board of his intention to resign from his current staff and elder position. His personal decision is a sober acknowledgement that it would not be financially feasible for him to stay on staff as the church rightsizes itself, and secondly, not emotionally prudent to subject his family to what has been an ongoing season of personal attacks. We want to be clear: there are no disqualifying factors related to his decision.
Sutton put it this way: “Since 2007, Pastor Mark has impacted my life in a significant way. I am thankful to call him my brother, my pastor, and my friend. When I came to Mars Hill in 2011, my plan was to be here for a year, get theologically trained, and focus on the adoption of my son before entering back into the business world. Three and a half years later, I have been able to serve a church that I love as a staff member, but it is now time that I transition off of staff and return to the business world.”
We believe one of the greatest legacies Sutton has established at Mars Hill is a passion for international church planting. He has lit a powerful fire for this at Mars Hill that will last, for what I hope, will be generations. Sutton’s tireless work in this area will have an eternal impact on hundreds of people who he may never meet, but one day in heaven will get to share the part he played in their story.
We, as a board, are very thankful and grateful for Sutton’s gifting, expertise, and commitment in leading and guiding our church operations in the role of executive pastor and executive elder. We fully support his decision and will as a board be assisting the staff leadership teams in the transition of day-to-day responsibilities with Sutton through September 30th. Please join me in praying for the Turners as they seek direction and the next assignment that God has for them.
Michael Van Skaik
Chairman, Board of Advisors and Accountability
It seems the conclusion was Mars Hill could not afford to keep Turner and he felt it was unfair to his family for them to have to deal with the criticism or personal attacks that were coming his way. as
Tough though that may well have been, go back and look at that "more than one hundred letters" referring to people transitioned off within Turner's first two years. He had to have been able to stomach the termination, layoff or resignation of more than 100 staff since he joined Mars Hill in the spring of 2011. What made the season in later 2014 actually different? Mars Hill seemed like it was having a catastrophic turnover in staff and eldership from 2011-2012 while Sutton Turner, by his account, was revising governance and leadership. Turner somewhat famously advised on "How To Leave Well" in a way that suggested that those who were still planning to quit not expect severance pay or to get much by way of encouragement. If it was tough for Turner in 2014 what about the more than one hundred people who transitioned off between 2011 and 2012?
And at the moment it seems that Sutton Turner's assertions about Paul Tripp have turned out to be contradicted by at least one statement by Michael Van Skaik, unless either Van Skaik or Turner are able to square the circle here and explain how Paul Tripp flew to Seattle but was nonetheless never at physically at a meeting of the BoAA.
Maybe the circle can get squared here?