The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Church has lessons for First Christian.
Mars Hill Church was founded in spring 1996 by Mark Driscoll, Lief Moi and Mike Gunn. The church started at the rental house of Driscoll and his wife Grace with the blessing of Antioch Bible Church and the exodus of about 30 of its students. They outgrew the apartment and started meeting in the youth rooms of another church. The church had its first official service October 1996, with 160 people attending; attendance quickly fell to around 60 because of discussions about the visions and mission of the church.
There are a lot of similarities to how things are handled at FCCF.
Formal charges filed by former elder Dave Kraft (2013)
In May 2013, now former Mars Hill elder Dave Kraft filed formal charges (under Mars Hill Church bylaws) of “mistreatment” against Mark Driscoll and other leaders at Mars Hill. He specifically accused Driscoll of being “domineering, verbally violent, arrogant, and quick-tempered”. Kraft further argued that this “established pattern of… behavior” disqualified Driscoll from church leadership.[note 1] Mars Hill Church’s Board of Advisors and Accountability responded, saying that they sent one hundred letters to former elders and staff in an effort to substantiate Kraft’s charges. They received eighteen responses, which they reviewed, and determined them to be “non-disqualifying” with respect to Driscoll’s leadership position. However, the Board did initiate a “reconciliation process” to address “many offenses and hurts that are still unresolved”. Dave Kraft worked at Mars Hill from 2005 to 2013 and was Driscoll’s personal “coach” during that time
Mars Hill Changed their bylaws and the church began to fracture.
Mars Hill Church reorganization (2006–07)
Driscoll, Mars Hill’s first paid pastor, had been its main preaching pastor and public face since its inception. As the church grew, he began to train other elders and deacons, moving himself into a more executive role in setting vision and continuing to preach. By 2006, the church counted 4000–5000 weekly attendees at three campuses in the Seattle region. In that year, Driscoll claimed that he had reached a personal crisis due to his “overwhelming workload”—at this time he was the principal authority in Mars Hill, president of the Acts 29 Network, president of The Resurgence, an author, and an international traveler with speaking engagements. He was, by his own account, sleeping only 2–3 hours per night and began to despair and feared that he would die early from a heart attack. Ultimately, in 2006–2007, he began to restructure the church and claimed he was going to divest power. Within Mars Hill, he publically stated that he resigned as “legal president,” president of the elder board, and chief of staff, while retaining his roles as public face and preaching pastor.
Prior to the reorganization, Mars Hill was governed by a full council of two dozen church elders (including Driscoll) who had equal voting authority and voted on major decisions, and a five-member council of “executive elders” (also including Driscoll) who handled daily operations but deferred to the full council for major decisions. According to then-Mars Hill pastor Paul Petry, in summer 2007 Driscoll “replaced the [executive council] with yes-men” and began to make major decisions, such as purchasing a $4 million new building without consulting the full council.
Proposed bylaw changes
In September 2007, Driscoll proposed changes to the bylaws that would grant indefinite terms of office to the “executive elders”. Driscoll and proponents of the changes argued that the church had outgrown its original governing structuring, while detractors contended that the changes consolidated power with Driscoll and his trusted lieutenants. Paul Petry and another pastor, Bent Meyer, both dissented to the changes. In response, Driscoll fired both from their jobs. In a Mars Hill forum posting, the pastors were not named, but they reported that one was fired for “displaying an unhealthy distrust in the senior leadership” and the other for “disregarding the accepted elder protocol for the bylaw deliberation period” and “verbally attacking the lead pastor [Driscoll]”.
The morning after Petry and Meyer were fired, Driscoll said to his pastors and other church leaders at a conference: “Yesterday we fired two elders for the first time in the history of Mars Hill…. They were off mission, so now they’re unemployed. This will be the defining issue as to whether or not you succeed or fail. I’ve read enough of the New Testament to know that occasionally Paul [the Apostle] puts somebody in the wood chipper.”
In addition to the loss of their jobs, both were put on ecclesiastical trials to review their church membership. Petry was charged by Driscoll and the other elders with “lack of trust and respect for spiritual authority” and “improper use of confidential information”, the latter charge because Petry had discussed the bylaw changes with church deacon Rob Smith, who was not part of the council of elders but had been asked to join. Petry was permitted to respond to the charges, but was not allowed to attend his full trial. The elders came to a unanimous conclusion that Petry was no longer qualified to be a church elder. Driscoll urged his congregation to shun Petry’s family.
Meyer was given a “gentler” ecclesiastical trial but chose to resign. Rob Smith had written an email to the elders calling for a fair trial for Petry and Meyer; Smith said that in response, Driscoll told his congregants to stop giving to Agathos, an independent economic development charity that Smith also ran, causing donations to drop by 80 percent.
Within a year of the changes, Lief Moi, co-founder of Mars Hill and a close friend of Driscoll, left Mars Hill and started a pizzeria. He later explained that he was disillusioned with the bylaw changes and fallout; he felt it best to “leave quietly” rather than “add to the difficulty” that the restructuring had caused. He repudiated his past actions and met with Petry and Meyer to apologize for “not doing more to stand up for them”.
In 2014, Petry, Smith, and Moi all joined and, in some cases, organized online protests against Driscoll. Commentators linked the summer 2014 “unrest” at Mars Hill to the structural changes of 2007 along with other developments in Driscoll’s career.