Considering the range of kangaroo courts that people have been made aware of, there is probably not a more obvious example than the Mars Hill Board of Accountability (BOAA). Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner, being senior leaders at Mars Hill Church, have been mired in scandals for the past five months. In the past couple of weeks, the scandals have been flying out so fast from various blogs authored by former leaders, members and lay attendees that it becomes truly hard to keep up.
The curtain has been pulled back (probably not fully, mind you) but in a significant way where people can see some of the motivations and a few of the inner workings of the senior leadership. One may ask a question at this point: if the leader of an organization had raided the church treasury to market his own books which were owned by a for-profit LLC, had engaged in rampant plagiarism (either him or his ghost writers), has had a massive amount of testimony as to the abusive leadership style of his organization, and has continued to demean and degrade women (as well as other groups of people) than why is this individual still at a leadership helm? This brings us to the board of accountability.
Driscoll loves to pontificate from the stage and in his writings that Mars Hill is a “plurality of elders” and that he is ultimately accountable to a Board of Accountability. Should we believe Driscoll? Let’s investigate what is known now about the BOAA at Mars Hill (this post is indebted to research done by Wenatchee the Hatchet and Warren Throckmorton).
The members of the Board are as follows: Michael Van Skaik (identified as the “chairman”), Paul Tripp, James MacDonald, Larry Osborne (the so-called independent wing) and Mark Driscoll, Dave Bruskas and Sutton Turner (all executive elders at Mars Hill). The primary thing to note about the board is that 3 of the members are the absolute senior leadership of Mars Hill. Turner and Bruskas both report to Driscoll and Driscoll has the power (per the by-laws) to remove any of the board members and can fire any of the executive elders. (Source on board members: http://marshill.com/2013/11/23/dr-paul-tripp-joins-mars-hill-s-board-of-advisors-and-accountability)
Is the independent wing of the board truly independent?
1) Michael Van Skaik- Throckmorton has reported that Van Skaik’s consulting firm could have a significant financial relationship with Mars Hill Church. “Michael Van Skaik’s consulting firm relationship with Mars Hill could be relevant. I have spoken to two former leaders who were coached by people from Van Skaik’s firm. If indeed all pastors were/are mentored by coaches from Van Skaik’s group, than that would have to be a significant contract.” (Source: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2014/04/07/mars-hill-church-and-the-evangelical-council-for-financial-accountability-part-one/)
2) Paul Tripp- Tripp has been a speaker at Mars Hill sponsored conferences in the past. He is also a speaker this year at Resurgence. “James MacDonald and Paul Tripp are speaking at this year’s Resurgence conference and have spoken at other Mars Hill events in the past. According to my sources, they get around $5k for a brief session, plus whatever book sales bring in.” (Throckmorton) Furthermore, when I started going to a community group in 2008 where I would later become a community group leader, the groups were going through a book that Tripp co-authored called: “How People Change”. Mars Hill had purchased copies of this book and also encouraged community group members to buy one so they could follow along. How much did Tripp personally benefit from this arrangement?
3) Larry Osborne- Osborne has been described as a “mentor” to Mark Driscoll and characterized as a pioneer of the multi-site church model. (Source: http://marshill.com/2013/09/02/thriving-in-babylon-larry-osborne-sermon-recap) He has preached sermons at Mars Hill (we don’t know if he was compensated or how much he was compensated for the messages). Wenatchee the Hatchet claims, “Larry Osborne is someone Driscoll has name-dropped for years who played a role in the 2007 re-org.” (Source: http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2014/03/mars-hill-board-of-advisors-and.html)
4) James MacDonald- MacDonald is a personal friend of Mark Driscoll’s and has spoken at Mars Hill. Again, no word on what he was compensated for this event however, Driscoll stated that MacDonald would be speaking to support his book, “Vertical Church”- one that Driscoll endorsed. From Driscoll’s own website: http://pastormark.tv/2012/08/22/my-good-friend-pastor-james-macdonald-is-coming-to-mars-hill. Plus, there is the relationship between MacDonald speaking at Resurgence events and the partnership between Driscoll and MacDonald with the charity “Churches Helping Churches”. “On that unforgettable January day, in the wake of a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that all but destroyed Port-au-Prince, Pastor James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel and Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church founded Churches Helping Churches.” (Source: http://www.harvestbiblechapel.org/ministry.aspx?site_id=10780&ministry_id=352425)
As one can see, there is a considerable amount of financial reciprocity between Mars Hill and the alleged BOAA members. The above facts that are known should bring serious doubts to a person’s mind about the Board having “unbiased” opinion of allegations against Driscoll. Driscoll’s personality and his organization are one of the reasons these men benefit in both ministry prominence and financially.
A final item to consider. Mars Hill has apparently been a member in good standing with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability since 2012. Driscoll frequently touts this relationship as well from the pulpit. The ECFA’s mission is described: “ECFA is an accreditation organization dedicated to helping Christian ministries earn the public’s trust through adherence to Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™, which focus on board governance, financial transparency, integrity in fundraising, and proper use of charity resources.” (http://www.ecfa.org/Content/About)
Considering the men who are on Mars Hill’s Board of Accountability, here are two rules from the ECFA about who can be on a Board (http://www.ecfa.org/Content/Comment2):
6. Persons who do not receive a significant amount for consulting or speaking, or any other remuneration from the organization.
7. Persons who do not have relationships with firms that have significant financial dealings with the organization, officers, directors or key employees.
Who exactly is accountable here? With months of scandals and years of abuse of authority allegations, the board is apparently not doing much to challenge Driscoll’s behavior. The Board seems satisfied that change has occurred: “You need to know that I and the other Board members have witnessed the Holy Spirit’s work in Pastors Mark, Dave and Sutton as they’ve grieved deeply over the hurts and sorrows that they’ve been the source of. Their hearts yearn for repentance and reconciliation with those that have been hurt and offended.” (Michael van Skaik, Source: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2014/03/27/leadership-board-at-mars-hill-church/)
But has it?