Mars Hill by Any Other Name . . .

Posted: September 12, 2014 in Uncategorized, When Church Hurts
Tags: , , ,

I’ve been keeping an eye on the Mars Hill Saga for a while now and I’ve commented occasionally on a couple of blogs about how much the happenings at Mars Hill sound like the-church-formerly-known-as-mine.

Now, let me say right out of the gate that the senior pastor at my former church never spewed vulgarities in any way similar to Mark Driscoll. And while he admitted to me several years ago that he was once against women in leadership in the church, he had changed his mind on that and women have held positions of leadership.

But there are so many similarities between Mars Hill and the-church-formerly-known-as-mine that I often find myself shaking my head that I stayed there as long as I did (over 15 years). Pile the spiritual abuse that I endured on top of what this blog entry is about and you will most certainly question my sanity – I certainly do!

So, in order to be succinct, I am going to simply list some of the areas that are startlingly similar:

1) Governance. Mars Hill’s governance changed from decisions being made with input from all of the elders to only a very few. In the-church-formerly-known-as-mine, this also occurred. They went from having a group of elders who were members of the church making decisions to the senior pastor, his brother (also a pastor), and the business manager making all decisions. The elders visit folks who are making profession of faith, asking for baptism, etc. I was being mentored by a female elder a few years ago and she told me that they were never given any information regarding the decision-making that goes on. A pastor had recently been fired but all the elders were told was that he was leaving.

2) Financial transparency. Mars Hill’s finances were kept secret. People were not told how money was being spent – and often were told money was being raised for specific events, church plantings, etc., when, in fact, that money was used to bolster what was essentially their general fund. Salaries are kept secret.

In the-church-formerly-known-as-mine, all of this is true, as well. While the congregation receives a financial report, it is not itemized. It will give a total amount that is budgeted for worship, for education, for student ministry, etc. But how much did they spend on that new sound system? Nope, can’t tell. Salaries were the first to go secret several years ago. This summer, they increased the budget and were up front in admitting that the increase was mostly to accommodate raising salaries to match those of other churches of similar size. Hmmmmm . . . Where are these churches of similar size? Because a church in a major metropolitan area with a higher cost of living than small-town Iowa doesn’t seem to be the right kind of comparison to make.

3) Where does the money come from? A blogger at Musings From Under the Bus noted in a post today that it appears that one person has been giving money in amounts significant enough to prop up Mars Hill. Also, they have what has been called a “Hail Mary” push to raise funds every December.

At the-church-formerly-known-as-mine, they print a chart in the weekly bulletin of how much is needed (around $63,000 per week for a church of 2000 or so members/attenders) and how much is given. Most weeks, the amount given is several thousand dollars short of the weekly need – lately, it’s been up to $15,000 short.) And there will be “special offerings” at times – often the past few years those offerings have been earmarked to pay off the building debt.

Mars Hill purportedly raised funds by telling the congregation it was for one thing, and then using it for another.

Interestingly enough, one of the lawyers in the-church-formerly-known-as-mine told my husband over two years ago that the debt for the building fund had been paid off through the church’s general fund. But this is not what the congregation was told. Instead, they were given the balance based on their giving toward the building project as though the debt still existed and it was “paid off” last year – after another one of those special offering pushes.

The church had loaned herself the money to pay off the building fund debt and the congregation was none the wiser. Of course, now that the building is “paid off” (or the church has paid itself back, rather), the people at the top gave themselves what I am sure was a hefty raise to match that of churches of similar size. (Are you smiling or shaking your head as you read this?)

Also, a recent article about the senior pastor’s son who plays in the NBA stated that he “gives a lot of it away to his father’s church” which causes me to wonder if this is the one person who financially props up the-church-formerly-known-as-mine?

4) Questions are unwelcome. I wrote a blog post about this already regarding the-church-formerly-known-as-mine, but it bears repeating in light of what we have been hearing about Mars Hill. People there have been “thrown under the bus” for having a dissenting opinion or questioning decisions. At least at Mars Hill, they were up front about it – telling people directly that they were no longer wanted.

At the-church-formerly-known-as-mine, I asked questions and I expressed opinions (you can read about that in my story on the blog). But, rather than being told directly that my questions and opinions were unwanted and ultimately rendered me ostracized and told I could not serve – without giving me the reason or presenting any evidence of unworthiness and not telling me that I was under church discipline – I was simply ignored.

People at Mars Hill who were “thrown under the bus” have begged and pleaded for someone to listen to them, to treat them as a Christian church and Christian leaders and church members should – with love and grace and compassion. Instead, to date, I have seen nothing that indicates that any of them have been approached in an effort to bring their story to a God-honoring conclusion. Some were shunned upon being tossed under the bus and are still shunned to this day.

This is also true with the-church-formerly-known-as-mine. Both while I was still attending the church – for more than a decade – and in the months since we were told to leave, my pleas to be heard, to give and receive love and grace and compassion, have been ignored. I, too, have been shunned since being told to leave last December, as have others over the years who have been treated in such a way that they could no longer stomach attending (I don’t know how many were shown the door or how many were wise enough to leave on their own, but I know several whose experiences were parallel to my own).

Final thoughts:

The conclusion I have come to with regard to Mark Driscoll’s unChristian and unwarranted treatment of and vulgarities toward people at Mars Hill in comparison to the senior pastor and other leadership at the-church-formerly-known-as-mine, is that Mark would have survived all of this if he had taken the “shepherd versus leper” approach. The senior pastor’s brother who I indicated earlier is also a pastor on the executive board, gloated about a year ago that he is “the leper” and the senior pastor is “the shepherd.”

What that means is that the senior pastor is to always be seen as the compassionate, loving, Jesus-like, tender-hearted pastor and his brother is to be the bearer of bad news, heat-taker whom everyone loves to hate.

If Mark had sat back and let others deliver those diatribes and simply proclaimed, as the senior pastor of the-church-formerly-known-as-mine had done, that he’s “not the one who makes all the decisions around here” and that he “has no idea why anyone would say such a thing,” he would have been the person people continue to love and trust.

And then, if he just pretended to be much too busy to help people with such trivial matters as attacks on their character, questions about ill-treatment from church leadership, or what’s up with the money, they would have responded much like I did. “Surely he simply just doesn’t understand how poorly I’ve been treated. Surely he would help me if I could just make him understand. I’ve just not explained it in a way that he can wrap his head around. And other staff members aren’t being honest about what they have said and done to me.”

Mark Driscoll could have been just like the pastor at the-church-formerly-known-as-mine and everyone would believe him because of his tender-hearted, Jesus-like compassion and all of those people crying that they have been hurt and abused? Well, no one would believe them because how could such a wonderful man ever do such a thing?

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