10/11/1962 – 09/22/2022
10/11/1962 – 09/22/2022
CHRISTIANITY TODAY Bonus Episode: Everything is Still Falling Apart
Building an institution on celebrity power, charisma, and a spirit of grandiosity attracts a lot of people, money and a certain kind of cachet for everyone involved. It helps them all to feel like they’re part of something that’s big — a movement providing a sense of meaning and purpose. But too often, these movements crumble, and those inside are crushed by the process. — Mike Cosper
CHRISTIANITY TODAY – The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill: Podcast Series
In this Episode 7 of the series, you will be able to hear a brief and concise history of perhaps the most calamitous event that occurred at Mars Hill which created massive turmoil, resulted in 1,000 church members leaving, and set the church on a destructive course that eventually led to its collapse. Hear the stories directly from some of the men and women who were there.
Church planting isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires a tenacity few pastors can fully anticipate when they set out. Healthy planting demands not only clarity of mission and relentless work, but practical partnership, wise counsel, and responsive governance to the changing needs that come with growth. From the church’s beginning, Mars Hill leadership committed to all of these—a vision of Jesus as senior pastor with elders serving with “one vote each.” But somewhere along the line, the vision shifted. Absolutism and a muscular, aggressive form of governance took hold, a campaign led by Mark Driscoll in the name of church growth.
In this episode of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, host Mike Cosper pulls back the curtain to expose the inner workings of church governance at Mars Hill. Guided by careful research and hundreds of hours of interviews, Cosper plots out a story of church growth corrupted by power. Discover a Mark Driscoll you may never have met—a young church planter with a vision for Seattle and for the world. Watch what happens when the friction between accountability and speed causes church planting efforts to combust. And see how prioritizing “reaching people for Jesus” can mask spiritual abuse without the proper checks and balances.
— Mike Cosper
CHRISTIANITY TODAY – The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill: Podcast Series
WHEN MARS HILL CHURCH was planted in Seattle in 1996, few would have imagined where it would lead. But in the next 18 years, it would become one of the largest, fastest-growing, and most influential churches in the United States. Controversy plagued the church, though, due in no small part to the lightning-rod personality at its helm: Mark Driscoll. By 2014, the church had grown to 15,000 people in 15 locations. But before the year was over, the church collapsed. On January 1, 2015, Mars Hill was gone… — Mike Cosper
The TIMELINE has been updated.
Four years ago after much soul-searching and grief I was compelled to write “My Story” – a retelling of the abuse my family experienced by Mark Driscoll and the church we loved. My husband, Paul, was a pastor and elder with Mark at Mars Hill Church in Seattle.
The abusive power and control went from bad to worse and in 2014, after multiple requests both inside and outside the church calling for Mark to step down and seek help, he instead resigned – deciding against a restoration process that was meant to help him and stabilize the church. The church of 12,000+ was disbanded, dispersed, properties were sold, and millions of dollars remain unaccounted for.
Recently Mark and his supporters report that Mark has made amends with those he hurt. For the record, Mark has not contacted us or anyone we know regarding his egregious actions. Countless people and families have been harmed, an entire church of thousands, not to mention the damage done to the witness of the gospel in this city.
To those in Phoenix who are thinking of joining his new church venture I am compelled to warn you – to let the history warn you. In Scripture the Apostles warned the early church about men whose behavior was harmful and divisive. I write this addendum as a witness and testimony to what I know and have experienced first-hand here in Seattle.
May God protect those in Phoenix and elsewhere from succumbing to the deceptions and abusive leadership that hurt so many here. And may God’s love truly impact and transform Mark Driscoll and all of us to be people who “love one another deeply from the heart” and who make right, as far as possible, the wrongs, injury, and damage that has harmed so many.
– Jonna Petry
To investigate the historical record that has accumulated regarding Mars Hill Church please see:
For all those who care about the Church, the Bride of Christ, and believe Mark Driscoll should truly acknowledge and repent before he is given another platform, please consider writing Pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston of Hillsong Church with your concerns and signing the petition. It might be easier to ignore this and not care, it’s all been so disheartening, but what does love demand? The most loving gracious acts call us to acknowledge ourselves, our weakness and our great need for the love and forgiveness of the Savior – and this includes owning our wrongdoing toward others and working to make things right. — Jonna Petry
CHRISTIAN TODAY – By Mark Woods
A campaign aiming to persuade Hillsong to rescind its decision to have the disgraced former pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle at its Europe conference has been launched with an online petition.
Mark Driscoll resigned from the church he founded last year, following a string of revelations about his leadership style, which was said to be bullying and coercive. The church, which had grown to be one of the largest congregations in the US, folded at the end of last year, with its different campuses either closing, merging or becoming independent. It is facing a possible racketeering lawsuit arising from allegations that it misused funds given for church-planting work.
Hillsong’s invitation to Driscoll to take part in its conference at London’s O2 Arena (July 22-24) pre-dated his resignation from Mars Hill, and he will be interviewed by Hillsong founder Brian Houston rather than delivering a platform speech.
However, the petition says that allowing the invitation to stand is “both disappointing and of great concern to many across the UK and internationally”…
…While it says that people can be restored and forgiven, the petition says that Driscoll has not repented of the damage he has done to many former Mars Hill members and leaders. “It has been only six months since Mark Driscoll resigned and to give him such a platform as the O2 arena does not represent the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness, but that of cheap grace,” it says. Hillsong is “both endorsing and legitimising Mark’s messages about women and ignoring the concerns being repeated by many across the US and UK about his abusive behaviour, which has been corroborated by ex-members and ex-leaders of Mars Hill Church”.
Link to article HERE.
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.
Mars Hill Elders as of October, 2007
Additional Mars Hill Elders as of December 5th, 2007
LINK to the letter: HERE
Steve Tompkins served as an executive elder of Mars Hill Church, Executive Director of the Acts29 network, lead pastor of the Mars Hill Shoreline campus, and just before the collapse of Mars Hill served as the Director of Mars Hill Schools, a partnership between Western Seminary (Portland OR) and Corban University (Salem OR). Steve wrote the following letter on October 27, 2014, which he emailed directly to many former members of Mars Hill Church.
Dear Former Members and Attenders of Mars Hill Church, especially those of you for whom I have had shepherding responsibility at Mars Hill Shoreline:
I am deeply sorry that so many people have experienced profound hurt over the years at Mars Hill. It breaks my heart that many continue to live with deep emotional and spiritual wounds, even long after leaving the church.
I also realize that in my role as an elder, including as Lead Pastor at Shoreline, I share responsibility and complicity in some of the ways you have been hurt, disappointed, and sinned against at Mars Hill. For me this has been an ongoing process in which the depth of conviction and realization of my own sin seems to grow almost daily as does my sorrow over how people have been hurt. This has especially been so as I have had opportunity to sit down and hear people’s stories directly. My purpose in this letter is to share some of the ways my perspective has changed, to confess my sin, to spell out my ongoing process of repentance, and perhaps – should God allow – play some role in his work of healing.
Let me tell you a bit about the journey bringing me to write this letter. Eight or nine months ago as I was reflecting on Revelation 2-3 (the letters to the seven churches), I began to feel that Jesus was placing Mars Hill under discipline and calling us to repent. Over the course of these past months this text of scripture, especially the first and last letters (those to Ephesus and Laodicea), have consistently formed the paradigm through which I have come to view events, attitudes, and decisions at Mars Hill.
In these letters we see Jesus walking among his churches. He knows what is happening. He speaks his words of commendation as well as rebuke. He calls the churches to have ears to hear. He calls them to repent, and puts them on a timeline of his choosing. If they prove to have ears to hear, choose to humble themselves, confess their sins and repent, then the corporate outcome is joy and fruitfulness. If however, they fail to repent then the consequences are serious and severe, including the removal of the lampstand of his presence and his light. What strikes me as significant is that our sovereign King places the outcome in the hands of the church itself. This has profound implications.
First of all it means that what has been happening at Mars Hill is the work of Jesus in our midst. It means that the root of the problem is not satanic opposition or attack, nor is it social media or vocal online critics, nor is it the members or attenders of the church (past or present). Nor is it elders, deacons, staff and leaders who have called for change from within. In fact the root of the problem has been the leadership of the church who have been blindly committed to maintaining the status quo as if we simply need to push through what has so frequently been referred to as a “difficult season.”
All such attempts at crisis management and damage control are futile, foolish, and in fact create more harm since they are the polar opposite of repentance. I am convinced that Jesus is bringing his word of rebuke to the leadership (including me) through the Spirit. This is his word of loving discipline. In Rev 3:19 Jesus says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” I personally must have ears to hear and a heart to respond.
I have been at Mars Hill for over 12 years, on full time staff for more than 11, a pastor for 10, and served as Lead Pastor of MH Shoreline for more than eight years. Jesus’ call to repentance therefore is spoken to me as much as anyone at Mars Hill, for I have helped to build and perpetuate the culture of this church. Through sins both of commission and omission at various times I have been complicit. Recognizing this, I have been seeking over the last eight months to respond diligently and humbly. I have been asking Jesus to reveal my sin and show me where we have gone wrong as a church. He has proven faithful, progressively removing blinders and exposing my own MH-specific blind spots. He has been giving me new eyes and I now look back on my years at MH very differently. I see my sin in ways that previously I simply did not. It has been simultaneously painful and good.
For example, if the leadership and ministry culture at Mars Hill has been marked by arrogance (and it has), then I am coming to see how I have been marked by that same arrogance, and how I was blind to it, both in others and in myself. I now see how my own sin of arrogance within our arrogant culture therefore went unrecognized and unchallenged. In saying this, I am in no way blaming my sin on others or on the culture. On the contrary, my sin is my own sin which I freely confess. That is what I am now seeing with painful clarity.
The same is true with the sin of domineering leadership. In fact, if you mix ministry arrogance together with top-down domineering leadership along with idolatry of church growth and numbers, then inevitably you create a ministry culture where many end up hurt, burned out, feeling used. I see this now, and I see how I helped to build such a culture. In fact, I am now beginning to see how my own idolatry of performance and ministry “success” played so well at Mars Hill. Again, I do not blame my sin on others or our culture. Rather, I am now seeing how I contributed to the hurt of faithful and trusting members, attenders and leaders. Please forgive me.
But there is another – and related – area of great sin and blindness that I need to address. In fact, I would say I consider this to be the darkest, most destructive and most hurtful aspect of Mars Hill’s ministry culture by far. I call it the “ad hominem” narrative.
Ad hominem is the Latin term for a tactic used when facing off with an opponent over an issue, whereby one seeks to win by attacking and discrediting their opponent rather that honestly debating the issue at hand. In one form or another, ad hominem narrative (which can sound very reasonable, especially because it can contain elements of truth), has been consistently used for years to discredit voices of dissent and to silence accusation of wrongdoing and sin.
What I have seen on multiple occasions is that when a leader raises an issue with Mars Hill or Mars Hill leadership, they themselves soon become the issue rather than the issue they raised. What they said, for example, is invalidated by how they said it, or because they did not follow proper procedure or protocol. Then, almost inevitably it is not long before they are gone from their position, their job, or the church itself. Often, their integrity was then slandered and their character maligned.
Resorting to ad hominem narrative as a response to conflict is horrible and devastating in the extreme. Ad hominem narrative is essentially to defend one’s own righteousness rather than to trust the righteousness of Another. It never confesses or takes responsibility for sin. It is inconsistent with humility. It resists repentance at any cost. It is therefore antithetical to the gospel. Sadly, I confess that I bought into this narrative in many ways and for too long. I trusted our leadership and sincerely believed their words. I sincerely led others to believe their words. Perhaps our leadership believed their own words, but this consistent narrative over the years became woven into the core of the culture of the church. It is profoundly dark and ugly. I see that now, but for a long time I was blind to it. I am so sorry.
I have frequently chosen, when things get hard, to put my head down with my eyes forward, and simply to work hard. As a result I have had almost no rear view mirror, which I now realize contributed to my blindness. There are so many things I frankly did not see.
Looking back prayerfully however, I now realize there were also a few situations where I did see but did not speak up or stand up when I should have. My silence in those situations was sinful and cowardly. In our coercive culture of fear I gave in to fear of man. I am so sorry. Please forgive me. May God have mercy on us. With blind Bartimaeus I continue to call out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (see Mark 10:46-52). May God bring true repentance, redemption and healing to me, the church, and indeed all of us.
Some may wonder why I have stayed at Mars Hill if indeed these are my convictions. The answer is quite simple and brings me back to Revelation 2-3 where Jesus calls – not just individuals – but entire churches to repentance. And if Jesus is calling Mars Hill to repent, then it is incumbent upon the elders to lead the way as those who must give an account. Therefore, I must repent as an elder in the office of elder taking responsibility for my sin as an elder. I must also seek to lead repentance and call others – especially among the elders – to join me every chance I get. This is what I am doing within Mars Hill as Jesus graciously continues opening my eyes.
In addition, I have felt conviction before Jesus that I need to apologize and repent personally, face to face when possible, to former members, leaders and staff. I have therefore been revisiting situations that are years old as well as recent. I have been seeing them with new eyes and coming face-to-face with my own sin. This includes, for example, the events in 2007 ensuing from the (what I now believe to be the unjust and unfair) firing of pastors Paul Petry and Bent Meyer. I was involved in the subsequent events which included the official investigation process, the trial conducted by the elders, and the official shunning of the Petry family which followed.
These events were profoundly devastating and damaging to both the Petry and Meyer families. I deeply regret my actions. I sinned against them through my participation as an elder, and desire to publicly redress these wrongs. I have recently reached out and apologized, repenting to them and seeking the beginning of reconciliation. From them I have received only grace and forgiveness. I am so grateful and humbled.
In many ways I feel like I am late to the table, but I am grateful to be here now. I have been reaching out to and meeting with a number of other former members, leaders, and staff as part of this ongoing process. God’s grace has been profoundly present each time. Recently, I had the chance to stand on the stage at MH Shoreline, shoulder to shoulder with my fellow elders in front of gathered members as we each expressed our own repentance. I therefore intend to continue as an elder at Mars Hill as long as the process of repentance continues moving forward, and as long as there is hope for a more biblical and healthy plurality of elders to arise.
In light of Mark Driscoll’s resignation I believe this is a crucial time, representing an opportunity to truthfully acknowledge the destructive elements of the legacy of Mars Hill’s leadership. Leaders need to confess sin specifically, taking full responsibility. Apologies need to be given in person where possible. Now is the time for genuine open-hearted face-to-face repentance. I would love to see healing come to thousands of former and present members, attenders and leaders so that we can all embrace a more healthy and joyful future. We have hope for this through him alone who is our loving and risen Savior. For this reason I intend to continue down this road inviting others to join me. It is because this is so important that I have decided to put my thoughts in writing at this time. I intend to personally send this letter to as many people as I can. I freely give you permission to forward this to other former members and attenders of Mars Hill.
Brothers and sisters, I humbly ask your forgiveness for my sin in my role as a Mars Hill elder. I am deeply sorry for your suffering, and pray that Jesus will grant emotional, spiritual, and relational healing. I do realize that this letter represents a blanket confession, which in and of itself is inadequate.
I do realize that confession and repentance needs to be specific and personal. So, I want you to know that I am not simply asking for blanket forgiveness from a distance as if that will result in the healing grace you need and long for. I do hope to reach out personally to as many as I can, but please know that you are welcome to contact me directly, or through someone you trust (just drop me a line on Facebook). I would be happy to speak with you or meet with you as soon as our schedules allow.
October 27, 2014
“There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus…”
— Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll
Audio clip HERE.