Fired Mars Hill Church Pastor Releases History

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Those who do not remember the past will have it rewritten for them.               Well, not in this case. Not anymore. Four and half years ago, I was fired from Mars Hill Church because I refused to resign under pressure. I was a pastor on staff, an elder, and an officer of the corporation along with a group of other men.   I spent months seeking formal reconciliation and years hoping for a better course.   I have not spoken about these matters publicly until now. With the mounting stories and “histories” coming out regarding Mars Hill Church, it no longer seems right or beneficial to remain silent.

This website serves as a depository, a historical record of the events I and others  experienced at that time – including documents, written correspondence, and personal narrative – with the hope that greater love and reformation will emerge    and transcend our weaknesses and failures.

In addition to the straight history, my wife, Jonna, has written a personal narrative describing these events.  It is an important story and I am thankful she had the courage to write it. Our journey with Mars Hill Church began as a wonderful season God used to grow and strengthen our marriage, our children, and me – then came a very dark time, but by God’s grace, our marriage, our family, our faith (and our noses) remain intact, though forever changed.

For my part, what was written in these letters and documents speaks volumes and is enough for now. Perhaps at a later date I will have the time and inclination to contribute more. There are many fellow sojourners with their own stories yet untold. Though we are “joyful exiles,” we do not take joy in sharing this sad history. It is much like uncovering “hidden abuse” the family was unwilling to talk about for years, yet is necessary for healing and freedom.

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” — Ephesians 4:14-16

My Story

By Jonna Petry

This past summer I saw the movie, “The Help”, and a seed of courage was planted in my soul. One of the last lines of the movie:

God says we need to love our enemies. It hard to do. But it can start by telling the truth. No one had ever asked me what it feel like to be me.     Once I told the truth about that, I felt free.

This story is an earnest attempt to speak the truth in love that freedom and new life may flourish.

My husband Paul and I started visiting Mars Hill Church back in the summer of 2001. I had recently read and loved J.I. Packer’s classic, Knowing God, and was finding great solace and security in a deeper understanding of God’s sovereignty. In those days, Mars Hill Church was about 400 members. There were not many families with children. And we came with five – our oldest 12 and our baby just turned one. We were very warmly embraced. Our family was rather ooo’ed and ahh’ed over. We seemed to have found a place where we were wanted and where we could lovingly serve (even if the music was completely unfamiliar to our ears). And, what we didn’t realize, where our pride would be amply fed as well.

We were not without caution or discernment. We had seen enough upheaval in churches to know you’d better look closely at who’s in charge, how the leadership is structured and where the money goes. A year earlier, we had come across Alexander Strauch’s fine book, Biblical Eldership where he instructs about church government:

“By definition, the elder structure of government is a collective leadership in which each elder shares equally the position, authority, and responsibility of the office.”

In comparing this structure to what we had experienced previously, it was easy to embrace the premise that shared leadership, authority, and accountability are necessary for the healthy functioning of the church. For us, this became an essential for any future commitment to a church. And, our first Sunday at Mars Hill, there on the book table was a copy of Strauch’s book.

So we started attending regularly, heard a number of the pastors preach (because in those days they took turns preaching), listened carefully to what was said and mostly delighted in what we experienced. Mark Driscoll stood out then, as a persuasive speaker with a strong attitude but, we had confidence the leadership team, Mark included, was committed to the distinctive of biblical eldership. Though Mark was young, he was surrounded by a group of godly older men – Bent Meyer being one who also had years of pastoral experience behind him. This was very reassuring to us.

The church was growing and we became completely immersed in loving, serving and teaching. My father (who had not been in church for almost 40 years) and my sweet stepmother joined us monthly and then weekly for worship services – ferrying over from Poulsbo, Washington, to spend the day with us. Mark often used the expression that our church was “family” and we rather believed it – so effective in building a sense of belonging.

These were happy fulfilling years for us. My husband and I hosted a weekly home fellowship group that quickly grew to be the largest in the church. We had the space to welcome people in and hospitality was ministry for us. We hoped to demonstrate to the best of our ability the sacrificial love of Jesus because we believe this is the foundation of our lives as Christians. We were delighted to find a church home and thought we’d be there always. We loved and gave our very lives to the people in this church. Strong bonds of commitment and love were made and reciprocated. (We thought.)

After two years had passed, in the spring of 2004, Mark approached my husband, Paul, and asked him to consider serving as a pastor/elder. Mark at this time had become the primary preaching pastor in Ballard and Lief Moi, who bought an old theater for the church in Seattle’s University District, became the primary preacher at that venue – the Paradox Theater – which featured concerts by local bands on weeknights and was active in street ministry. Each venue had its own feel and crowd and we were blessed to see the diversity and unity in the Body of Christ.

After much consideration and prayer, Paul started the elder process and was confirmed a pastor/elder – before the entire church with the laying on of hands by the eldership. How excited we were, I was. I was so proud of my husband and the ways God was moving in our lives. Paul served as a pastor, unpaid, almost full-time, while he continued to work as an attorney in private practice to support our family. It was a big commitment, a lot of work, but we loved it. We loved the people we were with. It was a great season for awhile…

→ Continue reading HERE.


Seven Years Later: 18 Mars Hill Elders Issue Letter of Confession to Bent Meyer, Paul Petry, and the Church

Letter of Confession to Bent Meyer and Paul Petry

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Dear Paul and Bent,

We want to publicly confess our sin against you regarding events that took place at Mars Hill Church back in 2007. We were wrong. We harmed you. You have lived with the pain of that for many years. As some of us have come to each of you privately, you have extended grace and forgiveness, and for that we thank you. Because our sin against you happened in a public way and with public consequences, we want to make our confession public as well with this letter.

On September 30th 2007, you were both terminated from your employment as pastors at Mars Hill Church. Your status as elders of the church was suspended, according to the church’s bylaws at the time, pending an investigation of your qualification for eldership. It’s hard to imagine just how disorienting and painful this experience must have been for you. That night, Bent, you called Mike Wilkerson, your direct supervisor, to let him know that you’d been terminated. Within hours, Paul, you emailed all of the elders to notify us of what had happened to you that night. We had the opportunity and the responsibility to intervene, to care, to listen to you, and to make sure that any harmful treatment against you was corrected. Instead, we allowed the process of your investigation and trial to continue unimpeded and we participated in it. By failing to intervene and by participating in that process without protest, we implied to the members of Mars Hill Church, to each other, and to you and your families that your termination was above reproach. We stood by as it happened, and that was wrong.

We now believe that you were grievously sinned against in that termination. We believe that the termination meeting’s content and tone was abrupt, one sided, and threatening. Hearing each of you recount your experiences of this meeting is shocking and sad. By failing to intervene, we enabled a growing trend of misuses and abuses of power and authority that would be feared and tolerated by the rest of the church’s eldership. We now understand that these sorts of overpowering actions against elders were some of the very concerns that you had each expressed regarding some of the pending proposed changes to the bylaws. It is tragic that you were proved right by your own experiences. The harm permitted by our failure to protect you has had a devastating and lasting impact on you, your families, Mars Hill Church, and the watching world.

Paul, On October 15, 2007, all twenty-three elders at the time—including most of us signers of this letter—voted that you were in violation of the biblical qualifications of eldership. The alleged violations included a “lack of trust and respect for spiritual authority”. All but two of the elders then voted to remove you from eldership based on these perceived violations.

We now believe our decisions were invalid and wrong. The entire investigation and trial process was skewed by the implication that your termination was above reproach and for just cause. If there had been sin in your life that might have warranted a warning about possible disqualification from eldership, we should have patiently, carefully, and directly addressed it with you before the matter became so extremely escalated. By reporting our wrongheaded assessment to the church, we put doubt about your character in the minds of church members, though you had done nothing to warrant such embarrassment and scrutiny. By doing this, we misled the whole church, harmed your reputation, and damaged the unity of the body of Christ.

Bent, On October 29, 2007, all twenty-three elders at the time—including most of us signers of this letter—agreed that you were guilty of “displaying an unhealthy lack of trust in, and respect for, the senior leadership of Mars Hill Church”. We also unanimously approved that, based on your repentance, you would remain an elder of the church on probation.

Bent, we were wrong to have called you guilty of lacking trust and respect for the senior leadership of the church when you had good reasons for challenging the church’s senior leadership. We were wrong to have insisted that you repent of this lacking trust as a condition of your continued eldership, because it was not sinful on your part in the first place.

Bent and Paul, you each had every right as an elder to openly express your strong concerns about the bylaws and to influence our thinking so that we might have made the most informed decision possible. You also had good reason to contact the church’s attorney about those bylaws. These were not sinful acts of mistrust on your part, but reasonable acts of due diligence. We needed to learn from you at that time and we should have trusted you and respected your spiritual authority as elders of the church to educate us about potential problems with those bylaws. Instead, we silenced your voices through our complicity in your terminations and our decisions to remove Paul as an elder and keep Bent on probation instead of examining the issues more closely.

Paul, On December 5th, 2007 those of us who were elders at the time voted to instruct the members of Mars Hill Church to treat you as an unrepentant believer under church discipline after you had resigned your membership from the church. This treatment was to have included “rejection and disassociation” in the hope that you would “come to an acknowledgment of [your] sin and repent.” This instruction was given with the weight of all twenty-seven elders at the time. This disciplinary rejection led to great loss to your family in extreme financial hardship, sudden loss of long standing friendships, spiritual and emotional trauma to your family, and the public shaming of your character. We share responsibility for those losses due to our participation in the vote.

A church disciplinary act of this magnitude is extreme. It’s perhaps the most powerful that can be enacted upon a pastor. We now think that motion was hasty and harmful. We should have challenged the motion rather than approving it. Instead, we used our voting power as elders in a way that resulted in further harm to you. Further, we brought disrepute on the Church and its responsibility to exercise church discipline in a godly, loving and redemptive way. We failed to love you as a fellow elder and brother in Christ.

Confessing our sins against you has been a process that has taken us some time. We have engaged in self-examination, challenged our memories of what happened by reviewing the documents and interviewing one another, and spent time listening to you and your wives tell your heartbreaking stories. Many of us have met personally with each of you over the years to confess our sin and to seek forgiveness for our sinful actions and inaction. We don’t intend to convey by this letter that we are the only elders or former elders who’ve come to similar conclusions, and we hope that in time, the others will join us in public confession. Our desire is to clear the reproach from your names.

We hope that our confession also brings healing to the many past and present members of Mars Hill Church whose hearts were broken for you and your families as a result of our sin. As part of our commitment to walk in repentance, we invite anyone who has been impacted by our sins against you to contact any of us so we can continue to walk in repentance by listening, confessing, and asking for forgiveness.

Paul and Bent, we are sorry for our sinful behavior toward you, for harming you, and for bringing shame to Christ’s church. We hope that you will forgive us. May the peace and grace of our Lord heal our hearts.

Signed,

Mars Hill Elders as of October, 2007

—Scott Thomas

—Dave Kraft

—Gary Shavey

—Steve Tompkins

—Brad House

—Phil Smidt

—Mike Wilkerson

—James Harleman

—Lief Moi

—Adam Sinnett

—Jesse Winkler

—Zack Hubert

—Tim Reber

—James Dahlman

—Dick McKinley

Additional Mars Hill Elders as of December 5th, 2007

—Jon Krombein

—Matt Johnson

—Joe Day

LINK to the letter: HERE

New Disclosures By Former MH Pastor/Elder Bent Meyer

August 28, 2014

The unfolding distortions of power, authority and obfuscation of factual information now seen at Mars Hill Church were identified by many going back to 2000. It was experienced by just a few then, since the church population was small and not enough instances of deception, bald-faced lying and hiding salient information had been exposed to determine a pattern.

In subsequent years there were statements made by Mark Driscoll in which he was aware of his need to be restrained and accountable to others locally. He would speak about structures implemented to maintain accountability. He would also complain. He feared the power those around him had to censure him and even dismiss him. He knew in those days restraint was real and he did not like it. There were long stretches of time that Mark was hedged in.

Mark Driscoll, however, maintained the power to frame the message and hide his behavior. His attitudes leaked constantly in his sermons. He isolated his victims from others. He held messaging jealously. As long as he could frame the communication, he could spin events, characterization of people, and his own actions to appear innocent through blame shifting.

The one being dismissed or characterized never had the same access to venues of communication. Mark held and kept the microphone.

Those of us who labored both behind the curtain and on the floor with congregants did see and experience Mark Driscoll’s behaviors and attitudes. Some of us spoke at various times to Mark about his behavior and language, but far too infrequently. We allowed an environment in which Mark could intimidate and insist on control of vision, and the means of building that vision. We allowed Mark to become progressively more outrageous and dysfunctional. When it was too much it was also too late to shift the inertia.

I for one, would ask for a meeting with Mark, knowing full well that I might enter his office like Nathan entering David’s chamber to confront him about Bathsheba. Nathan feared for his life. Well, I didn’t fear for my life, but I did for my livelihood.

When dismissed or fired, some believed fervently, as I did, that it was important to not complain in the public media. They sought instead opportunity to speak to peer authorities, who would address Mark’s character failures. The silence that subsequently followed from Acts 29 or other networks was vacuous: they appeared to be totally impotent in exercising, if it had ever crossed their mind, 1 Corinthians 6. The result? Those harmed were silenced, lonely, and wounded, not trusting their own ability to discern perpetrators of abuse from those that are kind guides. Far too many have today no trust for church servants/authorities. Still countless others will not darken the door of an organized church for fear of what they already have come to know.

The attitudes and behaviors Mark Driscoll exhibits, as well as those of too many of his staff, trickle down to community group leaders and into every crevice of the church. Great numbers of people come out with new accounts revealing abuse of power. Cash flow is an important fuel for Mark’s ambitions. The insistence, humiliating rants and threats associated with people’s giving practices are unbiblical. For people of the Book to not understand the principle of not being under compulsion to give related to amount or destination is appalling. Does anyone there read Corinthians?

By 2007, proposed new bylaws were presented to the elders, who at the time had real power to stop what we have now witnessed. The elders at the time, surrendered to threats, intimidation, and manipulation that I and Paul Petry resisted coming from Mark Driscoll’s office. Yes, threats, intimidation and manipulation happened to me. Some of the stories of members and former elders have now been disclosed for all to read. The chorus is large now and the patterns are clearer. The people who experienced Mark Driscoll’s violence were alone in the past, but not now.

What made Paul Petry’s and my dismissals different from others that happened afterwards? It happened to us both at the same time, in the same room, with the same people. We were witnesses together. Unbeknownst to either of us until much later, we each independently of the other wrote contemporaneous transcripts of the dialogue during that meeting – of the words spoken to us before they would evaporate from memory. Our quotations of the dialogue are almost verbatim. The others in the room were also witnesses. Some are now talking.

Our experience represents the testimony of two witnesses. Jamie Munson told me later that he and the other executive elders had learned a lesson: 1) never to fire two people at the same time, and, 2) the process of a trial would never happen again. Of course not, since the adopted new bylaws set in place, for the first time, “at will employment.”

The issue at the time related to the consequential nature of the proposed bylaw changes. The issues were technical, a little on the boring side at the time to read and think about. I remember some of the elders admitted not reading the proposal and wondering why I was making so much fuss. Two of them told me, “Just trust Mark.”

I diagrammed the reporting structure spelled out in the proposal and ran many scenarios to test them to see what ways abuses of power could happen. I discovered many. I talked about it, but I was not taken seriously. For my part, I had enough experience with Mark Driscoll to identify his mode of operating. The proposed bylaws would implement an organization that gave Mark near absolute reign.

None of the other elders appeared to have understood Mark’s feet of clay, except Paul Petry and me. To me a major power grab was happening, which stripped away the last vestige of accountability and real balance of authority to restrain Mark Driscoll from self-destruction and the church with him. In my estimation, this was not healthy for Mark, or anyone else associated with Mark. The emerging dilution of brilliance Mark spoke of possessing, he had actually come to believing. Mark was sliding ever more, headlong into foundational character erosion. His existing belief in his entitlement, grandiosity, exploitiveness, demeaning nature and rageful vengeance, were already present and needed consistent restraining by those around him.

Mark would talk about “accountability,” but that was to geographically distant people like John Piper, C.J. Mahaney, or Paul Tripp. To me that was less than credible, and not at all Biblical, since distance insulated Mark from being experienced in everyday life by those he would be accountable to. Mark again would have control of framing the message and blame shift without those distant knowing what was going on. Those close in proximity were marginalized. Those who saw and knew would have no voice. They would have no authority. They were under threat. They came to know they could be fired, for any reason or no reason at all, with no venue of appeal or redress. They would no longer be Biblical peers (elders), but were employees, hirelings. All power would be possessed in as few as three men and ultimately in Mark Driscoll alone.

Now it is clear, finally, my voice can be heard. If I had released the following source documents seven years ago, I would be dismissed as a “bitter” former employee out for revenge. I have held on to these documents hoping those left behind in Mars Hill leadership left would wake up and confront Mark Driscoll and correct the misstep of agreeing with the reorganization without accountability or balance. I also hoped those at the Acts 29 Network would pressure Mark to restore authority balance. I hoped other alliances would do the same. None have, with the recent exception of Acts 29 which recently ousted him from their association. I despaired of those associations as they did not handle I Corinthians 6 well. In their hands it would not work – not because St. Paul was wrong, but because the evangelical church leadership too often operates unbiblically when it comes to inter-church discipline.

I have had to change my assessment, since the Acts 29 announcement of not only their removal of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from the network, but also their direct instruction to Mark that he seek professional (my word not theirs) help and surrender the microphone to someone else. This is an important move for the members of Mars Hill Church to recognize and insist on. To not take this seriously, exposes the likely reality that they are more enamored with their ears being tickled than really taking seriously the instructions regarding lying, abuse, intimidation, dereliction of fiduciary duty, hostility and slander directed toward fellow believers, freedom of people to associate and give via the dictates of their conscience, etc.

For everyone’s sake, Mark Driscoll needs to step away forever being in the post he now occupies. I say this because what ails Mark is very much like being addicted to opium or alcohol. Mark does not know how to handle communications honestly, simply because he cannot be honest with himself. Shame is too much for him to experience without employing minimization and denial. He cannot be in a position of power, since for him, it is an elixir to fuel his fantasies of grandiosity. He cannot be in a position which places him in authority, since his firm stance on entitlement will emerge again. In such an environment, everyone in his surroundings will be beneath him.

Having stated the above as background, I am releasing these documents to give historic context to patterns of abuse of power wrought by Mark Driscoll and those closely associated with him. You can examine them and see the workings of these moments in time. What happens on stage in the public setting is entirely different from the intrigue behind the curtain. Hopefully, for the reader, these documents will open up the curtain a bit. It is, of course, from my perspective and dated. It also reveals as much of my shortcomings as anyone else’s. I stand with all the others, soiled, and culpable for not firmly hedging Mark in for his good and the good of all. I stand with the others as one timid, and putting financial wellbeing over confronting Mark on many occasions in elder meetings with witnesses.

The other reason for releasing these documents is that many Acts 29 startups adopted the Mars Hill model bylaws and membership agreements wholesale as their own church governance documents. Both are profoundly flawed and do not follow a biblical pattern of leadership, authority, or freedoms to give generously without compulsion. They need to be examined and revised in line with biblical boundaries.

I have been confined by professional responsibilities and ethical restraints as a therapist to exercise caution related to my public communication, since I have had to consider the possibility that future clients might be current members or past members of MHC. In that context it is not ethically appropriate to influence or convolute my experience with theirs. Thus, publishing must consider the unintended consequence to clients who struggle with their conflict and their wellbeing, not mine.

The impingement has been very difficult in light of the continual refrain of abuse of power and control and the suffering of so many. I have consulted on the matter of disclosure as it relates to professional ethics and I have been told it is not unethical to tell my own story publicly, or to advocate for the marginalized. Thus I am now releasing the following material as a historical set of documents which others may analyze and come to their own conclusions.

I have been approached by many in the media for my account, but have held to the notion that my communication needs to be penned by my hand, not someone else’s. I have had too much reframing of my words and intentions to have it happen again for someone else’s agenda. What I write, I am responsible for.

Let it be known, the existence of a binding non-disclosure agreement did not exist in 2007. There was no demand or threat of legal consequences if I publish correspondence between myself and others or publish internal documents. Further note that Mark Driscoll said, in the presence of a witness, that he put no restraint on me publishing documents (see the transcript at the end of this set of documents, page 107). The restraint has been mine and in consideration for my profession and clients and keeping the resolution of these matters within the Christian community.

I have given this set of documents to Paul Petry to publish via “Joyful Exiles.” It makes sense to have my set of documents with Paul’s, since together a fuller picture can be discerned. I have been advised that there are many typos, grammatical errors and sentence constructions that are awkward or hard to understand. As embarrassing as it is to leave them as they are, in my mind it is not important, since changing them for my comfort would be to change history to avoid personal shame and embarrassment. With few exceptions, the documents are as they were.

I have obscured one executive elder’s email content from the documents. He added a non-disclosure paragraph at the end of each email. I will honor this. I have, however, provided the sense of the content in my own words. I have also obscured some salary information, since it has little import to the controversy the documents reveal.

Speaking of embarrassment, I regret one document that I wrote to gain a transfer of membership in good standing from Mars Hill (see page 101). Experience as a pastoral counselor provided a shift and discovery of what God has likely equipped me for over the course of my life to date. The experience introduced me to being a licensed therapist in the larger community, for which I am grateful. But I regret the casting of the letter I wrote for two reasons:

1. I wanted to leave MHC without complications, so I made statements that subsequently fed into what I came to know would be spun to obscure the real issues.
2. I did not want any more attacks on my character, which happened anyway.

I betrayed Paul and Jonna Petry. Their brutal, unjust excommunication was not resolved and was further obscured by my framing of the letter. The statements I made appeared to endorse the practices embedded in MHC, which would envelop the actions taken to scapegoat the Petrys as justifiable. This was done for my personal gain without regard for Paul and his family. It was plain wrong! Paul and I have long since resolved this and are good friends today.

Bent Meyer
Seattle, Washington

TIMELINE Update

WORLD Magazine

Signs and Wonders: Megachurches order staff to keep their mouths shut
By Warren Cole Smith

Gag order? Two megachurches facing scrutiny for questionable behavior – Seattle’s Mars Hill Church and Charlotte’s Elevation Church – have something besides controversy in common…

LINK: http://www.worldmag.com/megachurches_order_staff_to_keep_their_mouths_shut

More: TIMELINE

TIMELINE Update

PASTOR JEFF BETTGER has been removed from the list of pastors
on the Mars Hill Church website.

There has been no apparent official public explanation why.

Jeff Bettger and his wife have been faithful Mars Hill members and have served the church since its early Paradox days.

In his 2006 book, Confessions of a Reformission Rev, Mark Driscoll explained how he set up his first punk-rock worship team, and his relationship with Jeff Bettger (aka Jeff Suffering): “So I grabbed one of our punk-rock worship teams that had recently come together, with Matt drumming, Jeff (Suffering), who had been the front man for a punk band called 90 Pound Wuss, and a college student named Luke singing and playing guitar. They have remained with our church ever since as the worship team humorously called ‘Team Strikeforce.'” (Confessions, p. 100)

For MORE information and a link to Jeff Bettger’s recent comments,
go to: TIMELINE.

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