How common is this practice?

Posted: March 13, 2014 in Uncategorized, When Church Hurts

As I read this article about Mark Driscoll (click on link below), I was fascinated to see that the section dealing with how money is spent and salaries describes our previous church exactly.

Those who claim Driscoll is strategically shrinking the number of people he is accountable to are closely watching recent leadership changes at Mars Hill. His inner circle now consists of two executive elders who are close allies; they and Driscoll sit on the seven-man board that sets salaries and appoints elders.

The church may have stamped out its latest fire, but there are other serious issues on the horizon. For example, Mars Hill does not publicly report Driscoll’s annual salary. In a current climate of acrimony and scrutiny, that number could become a matter of controversy, depending on how high it is.

(Mars Hill’s most recent annual report lists $12,515,894 in spending on personnel, but does not provide a breakdown of individual salaries. The church has been a member of the the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a respected accreditation agency, since 2012. The ECFA’s president, Dan Busby, sent me a statement confirming the church’s good standing in light of the fact that it terminated the ResultSource contract before applying for ECFA membership; Busby called participation in schemes such as ResultSource’s “unethical and deceptive.”)

Kyle Firstenberg, who served as a salaried executive pastor at the church’s Orange County site until 2012, told me that Mars Hill’s finances are “not anything close to transparent.” If members asked him questions about the church’s finances, he was authorized to provide general information about the individual branch’s budget, but not the church as a whole. Generally speaking, churches do not always disclose every budget item to their members, but transparency is the rule of thumb; at both of the churches I have been a member of, detailed financial reports, including the pastor’s salary, were presented to all members at annual meetings. “Mars Hill is very shrouded in how they spend and what they spend,” Firstenberg said.

When our church changed it’s governance structure so that a handful of people – mostly top-level staff, with the pastor given the title  of CEO, had all of the decision-making power – we were concerned.  But, no one was talking about it – at least not to us – and no one seemed to mind.  Of course, if the leadership appears to be trustworthy and have integrity, what is there to worry about?  And, experience taught us that asking questions or expressing concern simply made one the problem for pointing out the problem.

We also found it fascinating that our pastor was quoted in an interview declaring that part of what makes the church successful is that there is a strong emphasis on transparency.  I would say that if you aren’t transparent with how money is being spent or what salaries are, there’s a good chance that you’re not transparent on any level.  (Forget the fact that I was ordered not to tell anyone about my ostracism or that they refused to tell me why I was not being allowed to do anything except attend church services – not sure how anyone could define that as “transparency.”)

Now that we have some distance between us and the church, we are recognizing that these integrity issues are more troublesome.  And I’m wondering, is this common practice among churches these days?

Comments are welcome.

  1. Scarlett says:

    I don’t care how charismatic, witty, brilliant or good looking a pastor is, or how influencial, or popular a church is…when or if they should exhibit any of the tyrannical tactics Mark Driscoll is using, run from that church like your hair is on fire. Mars Hill has gone the way so many other churches have that become authoritarian and abusive. God’s not in that.

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