The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports…
“A newly formed board of elders at Mars Hill Church, in a letter Friday, condemned news leaks, sought to reassure the flock and warned that public airing of internal “allegations and concerns” would be used by enemies of the faith.
The letter seemed to carry a triple message: Keep the faith, keep quiet and we will take care of it.
“Pray that the watching non-Christian world would not be given the opportunity to discredit not only our church but the very gospel of Jesus: Pray that Jesus will be glorified through all of this,” said the letter, sent five days after Senior Pastor Mark Driscoll announced he was taking an “extended focus break.”
The letter follows Thursday’s leak of a critical letter signed by nine pastors at the Seattle-based mega-church.
The nine excoriated the church for “lack of transparency,” and “the transition of a high volume of people off staff.” They urged that Driscoll remove himself not only from the pulpit but from any role in church administration until a “restoration plan” is worked out.
One of the nine has been fired from the Mars Hill Portland church.
The Friday official response, signed by 16 elders, repeats a frequent mantra that accusations against Driscoll and other seniors, ranging from abusive behavior to shunning to plagiarism, will be fully investigated.
“To address these allegations and concerns, a newly formed Board of Elders, made up of trusted lead pastors, has been appointed to examine these charges,” it said. “These men have already met for many hours this week to begin this important process.”
Unfortunately, added the elders, “almost everything that goes on in private” at the church “is leaked publicly to online media.”
The principal recipient of leaks has been Warren Throckmorton, a redoubtable Pennsylvania psychology professor who writes for a believers’ audience at the serious, reflective Patheos website.
But the elders turned to St. Paul to condemn the airing of bad news.
“Your elders are deeply grieved over the manner in which this has happened,” they wrote. “In particular, we are grieved because 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 gives us a very clear (and even stern) command that when we have grievances against one another, we are to work them out in such a way that non-believers are not invited into the discussion.
“This passage shows us that even in cases of serious wrong or disagreement, God wants us to exercise appropriate discretion. We are terribly sorry because this is incredibly distracting and harmful to the cause of the gospel.”
The faithful at Mars Hill have been asked to take much on faith.
They raised $2 million over and above tithing in order to put on an August “Jesus Festival” at Marymoor Park. It was touted by Driscoll as late as February, but then quietly scrubbed.
In a March mea culpa, Driscoll confessed to using church money to hire a consulting firm to create illusory sales of his book “Real Marriage” in order to get it on the New York Times bestseller list.
A key indication came Friday that Mars Hill is going to keep key decision-making in house.
Two prominent pastors recently quit as “outside” members of the church’s Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA). One of them, author-professor Paul Tripp, was deeply involved in dealing with charges against Driscoll.
The Thursday letter, from the nine pastors, quoted Tripp as calling Mars Hill “the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.” He was also quoted as questioning Mars Hill’s ability to recover while its current leadership team is in place.
On Friday, the 16 pastors criticized Tripp but did not deny the substance of his criticism or the Thursday letter from the nine.
“Paul Tripp’s comments to our elders were never made directly to the Board of Advisors and Accountability, as we have minutes of these meetings,” they told the Mars Hill flock. “We are deeply disappointed that Paul did not bring these concerns to our full Board or to the Executive Elders directly.
“The concerns brought forth by these elders and the comments from Paul Tripp have been heard and are being taken seriously. Their letter, as with past letters voicing accusations toward Pastor Mark, will be processed in accordance with out bylaws.”
The church filled two vacancies on the BOAA, both from within its ranks.
Pastor Mark Rogers, a volunteer pastor at Mars Hill-Bellevue, will join the oversight board and serve as chairman of the new Board of Elders. The other vacancy on the BOAA has been filled by John Phelps, a businessman and longtime Mars Hill member.
The promise is that the new Board of Elders will provide increased accountability in areas of financial responsibility, staff and elder transitions, and “church culture.”
The Mars Hill sage has stirred the world of America’s evangelicals.
The seriousness of charges against Driscoll came to light in complaints lodged by former pastors and program leaders at the church, including a co-founder of Mars Hill. Twenty-one former pastors lodged charges earlier this month.
The key blow came when the Acts29 Network, a nationwide group of “church planting” evangelicals, expelled Driscoll and Mars Hill. The church’s 15 campuses were removed from its listing of more than 500 churches in the U.S. and abroad.
Seven directors of Acts29, which Driscoll co-founded, urged him to take leave of the ministry for a prolonged period and to seek help.
Driscoll has said his “extended focus break” will extend for six weeks and that he is meeting with a “professional team of sincerely Christians.”