Monday, April 26, 2021

Warren Throckmorton has an update on the elderless The Trinity Church that Mark Driscoll is President and CEO of; revisiting the post-MHC resignation role of some board members of TTC and Driscoll on governance as "throne down not pew up"

Warren Throckmorton has noted that The Trinity Church seems to be an elderless church.  There are pastors but they aren't listed as elders.  If Throckmorton's account tells us anything it's that former members of The Trinity Church have indicated that the church does not have elders.  
During the past couple of weeks, several former members of The Trinity Church in Scottsdale have contacted me to talk about about aspects of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. They contacted me due to my coverage of Mars Hill from late 2013 until 2015. They tell stories remarkably similar to those I heard from former Mars Hill members during that span of time. There is one major difference. In the current church, there are no elders who are putting on any brakes. There are no elders to whom appeals can be made. Several former members and staffers have told me that The Trinity Church does not have elders. 
Some things do sound the same. Non-disclosure agreements are again being used. Money is again conditioned on silence. People are describing abrupt decisions about membership without due process. Friends and family who are considered disloyal to the church are being shunned. At some point, these stories may be told. For now, according to former members and staff,  the pastors who are there in addition to Driscoll are not elders in the decision making sense of the office. If elders hold you accountable in one place, eliminate them in the next place.
If that means "friends and family of Mark Driscoll" who are considered disloyal to Mark Driscoll then that may be the case but is also, at the moment, impossible to verify. At some point those stories may be told but to go by the history of Mars Hill Church the likelihood is low.  Few people I can think of off the top of my head have ever opted to go on record about unpleasant experiences they had at Mars Hill.  They don't have to, of course.  Nobody should feel compelled or coerced into going on the record about unpleasant experiences.  So perhaps stories may be shared but let's not presume upon that.

As far as the likelihood of The Trinity Church having a governance that is "throne down" and not "pew up", Driscoll has made a few statements for the record that establish that preference.

Driscoll's book on spiritual warfare, Win Your War, has a chapter on "father wounds" and mentions an Absalom spirit which this ex-Pentecostal literally never heard of before Driscoll used the phrase. That Driscoll's approach to church-planting could be explained in terms of operating out of a father wound and its spiritual fruit is something that should be seriously considered. If you don't know what the Absalom spirit could possibly be it's the male equivalent, more or less, of the Jezebel spirit.  

Throckmorton has noted that there are pastors but there are no elders listed at The Trinity Church.  Throckmorton has also reported that people have contacted him to say that members cannot have access to the bylaws of The Trinity Church.  That's a throwback to Mars Hill circa 2007 where members who asked to see the by-laws could face disciplinary gestures (or, in the case of former elders Bent Meyer and Paul Petry, trials subsequent termination of employment).  There are some things that can be gleaned, however, about the potential structure of the bylaws and/or articles of incorporation from information provided by the Arizona state corporation search.  It's possible for one man to be both secretary and treasure at the organization:

The state of Arizona lists some guys as on the board of directors:

Title Name Attention Address Date of Taking Office Last Updated

8620 E. McDonald Drive, SCOTTSDALE, AZ, 85250, 
Maricopa County, 
USA 11/20/2015 1/7/2020

8620 E. McDonald Drive, SCOTTSDALE, AZ, 85250, 
Maricopa County, USA 11/20/2015 1/7/2020
About Driscoll too much could be referenced. If you're here at this blog reading this post you already know who he is.

8620 E. McDonald Drive, SCOTTSDALE, AZ, 85250, 
Maricopa County, USA 11/20/2015 1/7/2020
This may or may not be the same name as will shortly appear below

8620 E. McDonald Drive, SCOTTSDALE, AZ, 85250, 
Maricopa County, USA 11/20/2015 1/7/2020

Secretary Randal Taylor
8620 E. McDonald Drive, SCOTTSDALE, AZ, 85250, 
Maricopa County, USA 12/13/2017 1/7/2020

Treasurer Randal Taylor
8620 E. McDonald Drive, SCOTTSDALE, AZ, 85250, 
Maricopa County, USA 12/13/2017 1/7/2020

Director Robert Morris
8620 E. McDonald Drive, SCOTTSDALE, AZ, 85250, 
Maricopa County, USA 3/8/2017 1/7/2020

Now about Morris there are a few things we've been able to chronicle, although much of it was first written by Warren Throckmorton and the Patheos links will be dead by now for reasons you can find out about by reading Warren Throckmorton's new site.  

Should you want to wade through a swamp of information about Mars Hill there is a dedicated page now at Wenatchee The Hatchet for that.

As far as an opaque or non-existent document trail goes, we might want to observe a potential lesson from the late Mars Hill Church.  A bunch of documents are available through the Washington state Secretary of State corporation search results but many of those only became available during the process of formal dissolution of the corporation from 2014 to 2015.  

So if you want to see the Articles of Incorporation for the former Mars Hill Fellowship for historical purposes:


If you want a sampling of old Annual Reports indicating directors and officers:

Notice how much bigger the board of directors ended up being by 2006:

Compare that governance roster with a later Annual Report
because page 2 was essentially empty, here's page 3

So, that's a sampler of documents, such as they are, that you can go get from the Washington State Corporation Search listings through the Secretary of State's website.

To put things rather bluntly, when Mark Driscoll had two dozen elders on the Board of Directors how good were they at holding him accountable back in the 2006-2007 period?  The answer seems to have been, basically, ,not at all.  Back in 2008 Driscoll had a precedent of describing distrust of or objections to decisions made by the executive elders as demonic. He also took to saying "I see things" 
and talking from the pulpit about how he could pray that someone would be slain by God and God would answer that prayer.

Praying that God would smite the wicked is a fairly "within bounds" thing in the imprecatory Psalms.  There are caveats, of course, such as Martyn Lloyd-Jones noting that when David prayed such prayers in the Psalms they were in connection to his being the annointed leader of Israel.  To say that someone who was in his own account a self-ordained preacher could have the same lee-way is a bit much, and it's particularly a bit much when it has turned out that Driscoll literally and figuratively demonized dissent or disagreement within his own Board of Directors.  

So whatever the future holds for The Trinity Church, the absence of elders in a corporation that has a board of directors with men on the board who publicly vetted him in the wake of his controversies and even made a point to publicly prophesy over him should not be all that shocking. Disappointing?  Yes.  Shocking?  No. 

So Driscoll resigned rather than agree with the disciplinary/restoration plan he said he agreed to after getting wise counsel and being advised to, in Robert Morris' account of things, basically take a season off and "heal up" before getting back into ministry.  

Mark and Grace Driscoll told Brian Houston in 2015 that God said they were released.  There's a sketchy element to that inasmuch as it is rare that God "releases" someone from a divinely appointed position of leadership among God's people ... unless we're talking about King Saul, for instance, but that is probably something to consider at some other time.  Saul, for those who know his story, basked in the privileges of royalty without doing the things God commanded him to do; Saul also had a penchant for a form of godliness that was self-serving and punitive and the fact that his son Jonathan was an upstanding man was not ultimately a reflection on the moral and spiritual vices of his kingly father.  

So it's not really a surprise if Driscoll and company decided there was no point in having elders to keep him accountable beyond a Board of Directors featuring known supporters because if we look at what the elders didn't do last time is there a reason to think a new batch of elders would be different this time?  Perhaps Driscoll and his current supporters just don't see the point in having to live by the doctrines they tell others to live by when it comes to elders?  

I hope to eventually write about Win Your War but there are other things to write about before that.

POSTSCRIPT: 4-27-2021

For those unfamiliar with the history of Mars Hill Church it may be helpful to cross reference the 2006 Annual Report list of Board of Directors to the letter of confession that was published at Repentant Pastor on November 2, 2014.

Letter of Confession to Bent Meyer and Paul Petry

Sunday, November 2, 2014
Dear Paul and Bent, we want to publicly confess our sin against you regarding events that took place at Mars Hill Church back in 2007. We were wrong. We harmed you. You have lived with the pain of that for many years. As some of us have come to each of you privately, you have extended grace and forgiveness, and for that we thank you. Because our sin against you happened in a public way and with public consequences, we want to make our confession public as well with this letter.
On September 30th 2007, you were both terminated from your employment as pastors at Mars Hill Church. Your status as elders of the church was suspended, according to the church’s bylaws at the time, pending an investigation of your qualification for eldership. It’s hard to imagine just how disorienting and painful this experience must have been for you. That night, Bent, you called Mike Wilkerson, your direct supervisor, to let him know that you’d been terminated. Within hours, Paul, you emailed all of the elders to notify us of what had happened to you that night. We had the opportunity and the responsibility to intervene, to care, to listen to you, and to make sure that any harmful treatment against you was corrected. Instead, we allowed the process of your investigation and trial to continue unimpeded and we participated in it. By failing to intervene and by participating in that process without protest, we implied to the members of Mars Hill Church, to each other, and to you and your families that your termination was above reproach. We stood by as it happened, and that was wrong.
We now believe that you were grievously sinned against in that termination. We believe that the termination meeting’s content and tone was abrupt, one sided, and threatening. Hearing each of you recount your experiences of this meeting is shocking and sad. By failing to intervene, we enabled a growing trend of misuses and abuses of power and authority that would be feared and tolerated by the rest of the church’s eldership. We now understand that these sorts of overpowering actions against elders were some of the very concerns that you had each expressed regarding some of the pending proposed changes to the bylaws. It is tragic that you were proved right by your own experiences. The harm permitted by our failure to protect you has had a devastating and lasting impact on you, your families, Mars Hill Church, and the watching world.
Paul, On October 15, 2007, all twenty-three elders at the time—including most of us signers of this letter—voted that you were in violation of the biblical qualifications of eldership. The alleged violations included a “lack of trust and respect for spiritual authority”. All but two of the elders then voted to remove you from eldership based on these perceived violations.
We now believe our decisions were invalid and wrong. The entire investigation and trial process was skewed by the implication that your termination was above reproach and for just cause. If there had been sin in your life that might have warranted a warning about possible disqualification from eldership, we should have patiently, carefully, and directly addressed it with you before the matter became so extremely escalated. By reporting our wrongheaded assessment to the church, we put doubt about your character in the minds of church members, though you had done nothing to warrant such embarrassment and scrutiny. By doing this, we misled the whole church, harmed your reputation, and damaged the unity of the body of Christ.
Bent, On October 29, 2007, all twenty-three elders at the time—including most of us signers of this letter—agreed that you were guilty of “displaying an unhealthy lack of trust in, and respect for, the senior leadership of Mars Hill Church”. We also unanimously approved that, based on your repentance, you would remain an elder of the church on probation.
Bent, we were wrong to have called you guilty of lacking trust and respect for the senior leadership of the church when you had good reasons for challenging the church’s senior leadership. We were wrong to have insisted that you repent of this lacking trust as a condition of your continued eldership, because it was not sinful on your part in the first place.
Bent and Paul, you each had every right as an elder to openly express your strong concerns about the bylaws and to influence our thinking so that we might have made the most informed decision possible. You also had good reason to contact the church’s attorney about those bylaws. These were not sinful acts of mistrust on your part, but reasonable acts of due diligence. We needed to learn from you at that time and we should have trusted you and respected your spiritual authority as elders of the church to educate us about potential problems with those bylaws. Instead, we silenced your voices through our complicity in your terminations and our decisions to remove Paul as an elder and keep Bent on probation instead of examining the issues more closely.
Paul, On December 5th, 2007 those of us who were elders at the time voted to instruct the members of Mars Hill Church to treat you as an unrepentant believer under church discipline after you had resigned your membership from the church. This treatment was to have included “rejection and disassociation” in the hope that you would “come to an acknowledgment of [your] sin and repent.” This instruction was given with the weight of all twenty-seven elders at the time. This disciplinary rejection led to great loss to your family in extreme financial hardship, sudden loss of long standing friendships, spiritual and emotional trauma to your family, and the public shaming of your character. We share responsibility for those losses due to our participation in the vote.
A church disciplinary act of this magnitude is extreme. It’s perhaps the most powerful that can be enacted upon a pastor. We now think that motion was hasty and harmful. We should have challenged the motion rather than approving it. Instead, we used our voting power as elders in a way that resulted in further harm to you. Further, we brought disrepute on the Church and its responsibility to exercise church discipline in a godly, loving and redemptive way. We failed to love you as a fellow elder and brother in Christ.
Confessing our sins against you has been a process that has taken us some time. We have engaged in self-examination, challenged our memories of what happened by reviewing the documents and interviewing one another, and spent time listening to you and your wives tell your heartbreaking stories. Many of us have met personally with each of you over the years to confess our sin and to seek forgiveness for our sinful actions and inaction. We don’t intend to convey by this letter that we are the only elders or former elders who’ve come to similar conclusions, and we hope that in time, the others will join us in public confession. Our desire is to clear the reproach from your names.
We hope that our confession also brings healing to the many past and present members of Mars Hill Church whose hearts were broken for you and your families as a result of our sin. As part of our commitment to walk in repentance, we invite anyone who has been impacted by our sins against you to contact any of us so we can continue to walk in repentance by listening, confessing, and asking for forgiveness.
Paul and Bent, we are sorry for our sinful behavior toward you, for harming you, and for bringing shame to Christ’s church. We hope that you will forgive us. May the peace and grace of our Lord heal our hearts.
Mars Hill Elders as of October, 2007
—Scott Thomas
—Dave Kraft
—Gary Shavey
—Steve Tompkins
—Brad House
—Phil Smidt
—Mike Wilkerson
—James Harleman
—Lief Moi
—Adam Sinnett
—Jesse Winkler
—Zack Hubert
—Tim Reber
—James Dahlman
—Dick McKinley
Additional Mars Hill Elders as of December 5th, 2007
—Jon Krombein
—Matt Johnson
—Joe Day
UPDATE 5-2-2021 7:15pm

Since there are new parts in Throckmorton's series there are new things to consider and revisit at the following post.

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