The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports…
“The latest report to members by Seattle-based Mars Hill Church shows upbeat pictures of members meetings at branches of the megachurch, from the Rainier Valley to Phoenix, plus a friendly game of softball between two congregations.
A ways down, however, came a less upbeat message: The church has made a “very tough decision” to lay off central staff, as well as staff at local churches, and is requesting members’ prayers “as we navigate through a tough season.”
The redoubtable Warren Throckmorton, who writes about Mars Hill for the Patheos website, has traced the troubles to conflicts surrounding founding pastor Mark Driscoll, which have apparently spilled from staff to membership in a church that has claimed 14,000 members.
“One staff who was laid off told me that the budget crunch caught the executive elders by surprise and was related to a dramatic decline in attendance and giving,” Throckmorton wrote Tuesday.
The newsletter explained to Mars Hill members:
“Last week we had to make the very tough decision to transition a number of people off of staff from our ministry support departments, as well as some staff at a few of our local churches. These are all faithful people who served and worked hard for the church, and we regret that we had to make these changes …”
Nine staff members at the church were apparently let go. “If you know any of them, please reach out to offer your prayers and support during this transition, and please continue to pray for the church as we navigate through a tough season,” said The Weekly, a church publication.
“At this week’s Staff Chapel, we had the opportunity to invite these friends back so that we could honor them and pray over them. It was a meaningful time of worship and reflection as a church family … While they may no longer be on staff, we love them and they are still part of our church family.”
The layoffs have coincided with a sharp uptick in requests for money. “A current member told me that he received five solicitations within the space of three days requesting (fiscal) year end donations,” Throckmorton wrote.
Not even the 2012 Jay Inslee for governor campaign hit up donors that frequently in such a short period of time.
One appeal, from Executive Pastor Sutton Turner, began: “We are ending our fiscal year in one of the most trying times for our church in recent memory. We know that God calls us to pursue humility and faithfulness during all seasons and also look to Jesus for continued growth as leaders and as the body of Christ.”
Mars Hill has just been through a rough spring.
In March, Driscoll sent members a letter promising to “reset” his life, by refraining from social media for the rest of 2014 and relinquishing his status as a “celebrity pastor.”
He admitted hiring a firm, using Mars Hill resources, to get his latest book on top of The New York Times’ bestseller list. The gambit was to have Mars Hill place 6,000 individual orders for the book, plus a bulk order for 5,000 copies, while disguising the source of the order.
Driscoll has also faced charges of copying ideas and themes in his books without giving credit to their authors of origin.
“In my last year or two, I have been deeply convicted by God that my angry-young-prophet days are over to be replaced by a Bible teaching spiritual father,” he wrote.
But 20 former pastors at Mars Hill have called on the founding pastor to repent and enter into a mediation over the church’s structure.
An ex-worship leader and musician, Luke Abrams, has urged members to cut back on time and money given to Mars Hill, saying, “Mark and his executive elders will only respond and repent when their scorecard turns red.”
“You can’t get a face-to-face with Mark but you can talk to him loudly through how you participate,” wrote Abrams, who devoted as much as 20 hours a week to the church.
A former senior pastor at the Mars Hill Orange County church, Kyle Firstenberg, went public, saying: “I participated in the cult of fear and promoted it through my actions with others. I wrongly believed the lie that Jesus is not working in other churches and that He is only working at Mars Hill.”
And, this week, Throckmorton revealed in the Daily Beast that Driscoll’s Christian publisher, Tyndale House, has put its plans to publish Driscoll’s latest book, “The Problem with Christianity,” indefinitely on hold and will not reprint or publish a paperback edition of his book “A Call to Resurgence.”
In his latest sermon recorded on video, Driscoll puts it this way: “I’m in one of the most difficult seasons of my whole career as pastor. I am asking, ‘OK, Lord, what do you want me to do?”