Honest Answers to Hard Questions about Mars Hill Church – Part 1

Warren Throckmorton, Dave Bruskas and Sutton Turner discuss the fallout of Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll.

Part 1 covers Formal Charges, Strange Fire Conference, Janet Mefford, Results Source, and Mark Driscoll.

 

We long to see all who called Mars Hill Church home to be reconciled with one another. And while we are convinced this can only happen by the grace of God, we also believe that we should participate in His restorative work by giving a full account of what happened while we served Mars Hill as senior leaders. We recently sat down with Warren Throckmorton to answer questions that have lingered for some following the last days of Mars Hill Church.

We understand that sharing this information may grieve some who have already come to peace with all that happened. For this, we are truly sorry. However, we believe that repentance and restoration require a foundation of transparency. We don’t pretend to know everything that occurred at Mars Hill nor do we wish to have the last word in this story. Instead, we hope that this interview may be a modest attempt towards the beginning of a new chapter filled with hope and healing.

— Dave Buskas and Sutton Turner

 

View Part Two here. 
Two points of clarification regarding our series on “Honest Answers”

Transcript here.

Warren Throckmorton:

Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, is a story that has inspired millions of words and stories and will continue to be studied for many years. I know I have used my experience with Mars Hill in a couple of my psychology classes as a professor. When looking at the church, retrospectively, it’s hard to know when to start, where to start in the history.

Warren Throckmorton:

There’s a good case to be made to just go all the way back to the beginning, the founding. Maybe you could start with the William Wallace Chronicles where Mark Driscoll took on a fake identity and had a lot of interesting things to say about marriage and family roles and women. One could easily trace elements of the decline to the eviction of Paul Petry and Bent Meyers as elders in 2007. Or one could begin closer to the demise when certain events led to the church closing.

Warren Throckmorton:

Today though, I want to start with more recent events because I have the privilege of talking to Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas. Two of the three executive elders, along with Mark Driscoll during the last years of Mars Hill’s existence. I want to thank these men for taking time today and would like to start by asking them to tell us what they’re doing now and what their roles were at Mars Hill Church. Whoever wants to go first.

Sutton Turner:

Thanks, Warren. Thanks for taking the opportunity to talk with Dave and I about Mars Hill and go in-depth since you walked alongside us back in 2011, ’12, ’13, ’14. Since, I have the privilege for the last two years to be COO of a company called Vanderbloemen, where we serve churches, all different denominations on helping executive search and consulting.

Sutton Turner:

What’s great is, is I’m able to not be back in pastoring a church, but serving a church, and lots of different churches, all different denominations. It’s able to use my business skills, but then again, serve the church. I’m very thankful for this opportunity that I currently have.

Dave Bruskas:

Hey, Warren and Sutton. Thanks, Warren. It’s good to be with you today. I currently serve as the campus pastor at the Village Church in Fort Worth. When I was with Mars Hill, I started out as a lead pastor, which if people aren’t familiar with the Mars Hill nomenclature, that would be the equivalent of a campus pastor at the first out of state campus in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That would have been July of 2009. In about November of 2010, through the closure of Mars Hill, I served as an executive elder there.

Warren Throckmorton:

All right. Well, thanks again. Let’s just talk a little bit about this story. Quite a story that it is and you guys lived it. I want to start in 2013. We’ll go back a little further than that, but I want to start there. That was the year that Mars Hill came on my radar. I want to ask you about something that was happening behind the scenes that may have really started the public slide of the church, if you will.

Warren Throckmorton:

In May 2013, elder Dave Kraft submitted formal charges against Mark Driscoll. He submitted them according to a procedure that was set forth in your bylaws, but they didn’t seem to go anywhere. Nothing really happened with those. From you guys’ point of view, why weren’t those charges, or why wasn’t that letter taken seriously at that time?

Sutton Turner:

Yeah, that’s a good question. Warren, your first question to me was what was my role at Mars Hill? Dave Bruskas, myself and Mark Driscoll were the three executive elders at Mars Hill during the time period. I served as executive pastor. Media, communications, finance, all of the executive pastors, facilities, development, all of those types of things reported up to me, Dave, all of the ministries and the lead pastors reported to Dave. Both he and I both reported to Mark Driscoll.

Sutton Turner:

Not only were we what’s called executive elders, but because we’re executive elders, we were three of the board members that were on the board of directors of the 501(c)3. To answer your question about Dave Kraft, the May of 2013 charges were brought up with nine fellow elders that he said that he could bring forward during some type of investigation. What’s interesting is that if you look back at those May 2013 charges, they’re very, very similar to the charges that the Board of Elders in the late summer, early fall of 2014 actually found of Mark, which was quick tempered… It was three things, really quick tempered, including harsh speech. Arrogant is the second one and then domineering in his leadership of elders and staff.

Sutton Turner:

That’s very similar if you read through Dave Krafts to then what was produced, basically, a little over a year and a half later. Unfortunately, those charges, like you were talking about, in that existing board, in that existing bylaws, there wasn’t really any type of formal investigation that was called out, which was corrected in 2014, with the formation of what’s called the Board of Elders, and we can get into that later.

Sutton Turner:

But at that point in time, there really wasn’t any direct process to handle charges against an executive elder. That’s just my recollection back in that time period.

Dave Bruskas:

One of the things that I think was problematic with that, Warren, was the chairman of our board at the time, really interpreted what was going on with Dave Kraft and Mark as a personal dispute, and really handled it that way, became a mediator between the two of them. Met with Dave regularly, talked with Dave, talked with Mark. Rather than it being a formal objective process, it was more informal and relational.

Dave Bruskas:

The problem with that was, by all accounts, those two men were pretty good with each other. Dave wasn’t bringing to the table personal disputes with Mark, he was forwarding formal charges. I think it was a frustrating experience for everybody involved because it seemed like as the two men were fine with each other, and there wasn’t a personal dispute that the issues that Dave was bringing to the table just weren’t being addressed or being resolved in any way.

Warren Throckmorton:

What did you guys think about it? Did you think, wow, this is going to be a problem, or did you think all right, somebody’s saying something? At that time, where were you in seeing that, yeah, there’s something going on here with the leadership?

Dave Bruskas:

My thought was, as that continued, as that continued to be an issue and wasn’t resolved to Dave’s satisfaction. My thinking was, the only way that we could really move forward with the degree of integrity was to have a formal process and formal charges brought which would either exonerate Mark or come with some sort of correctional process too. We just couldn’t leave that out there. That couldn’t just go away. That would not have integrity and that would not help anyone for that matter. That’s probably what morphed into Sutton putting together just a more specific plan to address those issues and Sutton, I don’t know if you want to address that.

Sutton Turner:

I really didn’t know Dave Kraft, he had gone down to California right around the same time that I came on the scene, which was in April of 2011. I really never had any… Really didn’t get to know him at all. But as I saw that thing unfold, I compared it to Paul and Bent and that investigation and basically how… I’ve never met Paul or Bent because that happened in 2005 and 2006. But the great hurt that was in the culture from what happened with Paul and Bent, fast forward to 2011, 2012, that was still very real and there were still a lot of people that were very, very upset.

Sutton Turner:

To me, I saw this as like with Kraft, same thing like, this isn’t going to go away. That was the thing that I was thinking about was, Paul and Bent, that never went away. Even today, there’s some hurt that’s around that. Dave Kraft, especially him being an elder, this isn’t going to go away. I realized that there needed to be something formal put in place that was going to need to take place and that’s when literally I started planning on some way of having the Board of Elders created, which later on what was the early spring of ’14 is when that got added to the bylaws.

Warren Throckmorton:

Okay. The letter, in a way was a trigger for that process being added.

Sutton Turner:

Yes, definitely.

Warren Throckmorton:

Personally, were you guys thinking there’s nothing to this. Or, well, maybe there’s something here in what he’s saying. Where were you and the trajectory of… because by now and by the end, you were thinking, yeah, there’s some stuff here. But were you anywhere on that train at that point, or were you just trying to do your jobs?

Sutton Turner:

Yeah. There’s something… Go ahead, Dave.

Dave Bruskas:

Yeah, you’re insightful in asking that question. For a lot of the time that I was in Mars Hill I did feel over my head, in over my head with, as our campuses are growing, as we’re multiplying quickly, I felt in over my head just to keep the thing moving forward. Most of it… We didn’t see, I don’t recall seeing the formal charges, and I don’t know if you did at the time. I can’t recall seeing them.

Dave Bruskas:

The explanation we would get from Mark and others was that these were things that were largely in the past, that these were things that had been corrected and addressed in the current. As we can talk later, perhaps, I personally didn’t witness many of the incidents that people would talk about from the past. My thinking was that things had changed, that Mark had changed, that there was a progress being made on his part. But it also made me think that we didn’t need to have a formal process that we could assess that, and we could evaluate that.

Dave Bruskas:

I felt for Mark’s future at Mars Hill, there had to be a reckoning, there had to be some formal sense in which these things were brought forth, or people had the freedom to express their concerns to a group of people that would be unbiased and objective, and then we could move forward and then hopefully even not only move forward with whatever corrective action needed to happen, that we could actually move forward in true reconciliation, that people could be reconciled together.

Dave Bruskas:

My hope was, that would be a springboard. I certainly had concerns. I was still relatively new to the organization at the time, at least at that level. I didn’t see the things that people were hinting at and alluding to in the past going on in the present in the same way. I thought maybe some progress was being made. But even the things that were bringing were beyond imagination.

Warren Throckmorton:

Yeah. Anything to add to that, Sutton?

Sutton Turner:

Just from the standpoint of going back. So, May of 2013, there were so many things going on with the launching of those new campuses, that when something like that would happen, especially if I didn’t know the people or was involved, I typically would put my head down and had so much to do, would not… Mark said, “I’m dealing with this, with Michael or whoever.” I would assume that it was being handled, which of course, in hindsight was the wrong thing to do. I should have been more involved. I should have really read through and like the situation that I have great heartburn about, even through today, that I didn’t go back in my capacity and meet with Paul and Bent during that time period. Dave and I should have met with Kraft and we should have heard his side of it and we should have done our own research.

Sutton Turner:

We were executive elders, we were on the board. We had, you would think, control or actually power or whatever you want to call it to do something. But as you’ll find out, there was a lot of things that Dave and I didn’t get a chance to participate in. Kraft is one of those.

Warren Throckmorton:

Okay. All right. Well, I think that gives me some insight into your thinking at the time. As things begin to move pretty quickly, toward the end of 2013, which leads me to another event that brought the church into some notoriety at John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference. It was in October 2013. I believe both of you were with Mark and James McDonald there at John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference. Driscoll, he said he just happened to show up there with his book A Call to Resurgence. That’s the title of the book and started handing them out to conference goers. What’s your recollection of that event? I got a few quotes from Driscoll, and after you tell me your recollection, I want to ask you what you think of what he had to say. What do you remember about all that?

Dave Bruskas:

As I think back, Warren over all the things that I participated in at Mars Hill, that certainly is the most embarrassing to me. It was just disrespectful. It was disrespectful, and it was just wrong. We were in the area. We were down, I believe, Sutton, if I recall correctly, we were in Long Beach, where we were going to participate in an Act Like Men Conference that was going to be held on a Friday, maybe Saturday or maybe a Saturday.

Dave Bruskas:

I think Strange Fire was going on just immediately prior to that. The initial… Mark already had the books with him. We were in town, he was going to be… I think the books were going to be available, maybe at the Act Like Men Conference.

Dave Bruskas:

It started out that the concept started out with us going to a nearby Starbucks, having books available, tweeting out using social media to invite anybody who was going to the Strange Fire Conference to come and pick up a free book, maybe even signed by Mark in this space. I think Mark, as I remember the conversations we had, his seemingly motivation was to provide an alternative to cessationism for a broader evangelical community. Maybe there’s this place between cessationism and the charismatic movement as it was at the time, that was open to a continuation of the gifts. I think that was the motivation.

Dave Bruskas:

But as the plan unfolded, it just got weirder and weirder. It quickly went from let’s go to a nearby coffee shop, hey, let’s drive on campus. Let’s go out right during a break session in the main place where all the participants would spill out into. Let’s hand out books. I have so many regrets over that. I didn’t say anything, and I just knew as we were doing it, it was wrong. I just knew in my heart, it was wrong, and I felt that urge, I need to say something, I need to do something, and I was cowardly and didn’t.

Dave Bruskas:

I don’t know that could have changed the course of action. But I think Mark would have listened. In that instance, not only did I participate in something I’m really embarrassed about and was very wrong, I didn’t serve Mark well, either. I just didn’t speak up when I should have. What was going to be an opportunity to go alongside and provide an alternative for people who wanted to leave the conference to come to us quickly involved to us causing a ruckus at that conference itself, and it was really bad.

Sutton Turner:

Yeah, I think to give you a little background and understanding that how something like that happens. We were in Long Beach for Act Like Men. We had brought down the lead pastor residents to have lunch with us. We’re sitting at a table, long table with all of… With Mark, with James McDonald, with all of our lead pastors residents, Dave and I. I don’t know, 12, 14 people at this table on a long table.

Sutton Turner:

The relationship between Mark and Dave (James) was one of a big brother and little brother. Being James being the big brother, Mark being the little brother and James… I typically, what I saw, this is my interpretation of the situation, there would be a, “I dare you to do this,” or “I dare you to say this” That would happen over and over again.

Sutton Turner:

Knowing Mark, you dare him to do something and it’s going to happen, especially when you dare him to do it in front of the lead pastor residents and a whole bunch of people. Not only is he going to do it, but he’s going to take it one notch up, and that’s what happened. We get in the car within. I can remember Dave, it was like, within 30 minutes, we’re in the car after the dare, books in the back. James is going to meet us there. Me and Dave and Mark are in one car, James is in another car coming there. We’re not close. This isn’t down the street. We’re driving all the way from where we were staying, all the way over to Sunnyvale or whatever the town is that Grace is in, where Strange Fire Conference was, I can’t remember the town there now.

Warren Throckmorton:

It’s like 40 minutes, isn’t it?

Sutton Turner:

Yeah, it’s a drive. Dave’s right, we were planning on going to the Starbucks or whatever, and then it quickly turned into we’re in the parking lot. Not only are we in the parking lot, we’re getting out and we’re walking towards the breakout and it’s outside, and we’re right in the middle of it. I got out. Just like Dave, I wish I could do that all over again. Gosh, it was so cowardly, and it was just horrible. It was just a horrible act.

Sutton Turner:

But I stood there with Mark the whole time, and saw the whole thing happen. Wish we could go back and do that again.

Warren Throckmorton:

Well, Driscoll told the Christian Post, he said that, “I wasn’t planning on it. I just happened to be in town.” Is that right? The way you’re telling it, it sounds like you just happened to drive 40 minutes to the town.

Dave Bruskas:

I don’t know how premeditated it was. It really did, and I think just on the background Sutton just shared, I didn’t certainly go to Long Beach knowing that we were going to do this. It felt like a spontaneous action. But obviously there was 40 minutes to think it over, and there were multiple steps along the way that we could have changed our mind. I don’t believe that Mark intended to do that days in advance, months in advance. I do think it was kind of a spur of the moment thing. Sutton, I don’t know if you would agree with that.

Sutton Turner:

I’d totally agree with that. It was a dare. I’m just thankful because the next dare was that we were supposed to go drive by and find Rob Bell’s house. I’m glad that that never happened, because it could have gotten a lot worse. I literally, I can close my eyes and see the security guard that was standing right next to us and he was being so gracious and so, “Hey guys, can we take this somewhere else? Hey guys… ” He was not… I know that the word confiscated was used. It was not that, it was more of hand in the books to the security guy saying here, if anybody else wants the book you can give them out.

Sutton Turner:

It was not like … The guy was not adversarial. He was trying to be as nice, trying his best for there not to be any type of blow up or anything. The security guard actually handled it extremely well. Anyway…

Warren Throckmorton:

Driscoll tweeted that the security confiscated his books. That’s where that word came from. The video shows clearly what you just described, that that did not happen. All right, well, that’s a fascinating inside look at that. It certainly didn’t ring true at the time, now we even know a little bit more of the rest of that story. How did he react later? He had gotten caught in a deception there. He said that the security guard confiscated the books. Pretty much the video showed that it didn’t happen. Did he ever talk about it after the fact?

Dave Bruskas:

I don’t recall many conversations about it. What was confusing in the moment is what the security guard did explain to us, Warren, was there are many vendors that had paid to be at this conference to distribute and therefore it wasn’t appropriate for us just to show up unannounced and hand out free books. Where the confusion was, I think in Mark’s mind, was the security guards let us know like, “Hey, we can’t let you do this.” Then I believe one of the security guards, it’s not the primary security guard offered to pick up the books and take them to Mark’s car.

Dave Bruskas:

I think that’s where confusion happened for Mark that, “Are you confiscating these books?” Because I think he even said, “Hey, if you’re just going to go and throw them away, just give them to whoever wants them.” There’s a disconnect there. Yeah, there’s a disconnect there. However, we easily could have clarified that in hindsight and said, “Hey, you know what, they weren’t confiscated. The security guards took those books back.” I can’t remember if they ended up, Sutton, in James’ car or the car we were driving, but I’m confident, Mark left with all the books that he brought, other than the ones that he gave away in that time. So, yes, there could have been a clarification of that, that would have put the story to rest, that we could have made, and it just didn’t happen, I can’t recall why. I do remember us talking about that. I don’t know why it didn’t happen, but it should have.

Sutton Turner:

Then it moved, if you remember, quickly right after that, Mark gave an invitation to MacArthur to come and be a part of our conference, the Resurgence Conference. There was that escalating type of activity that then took place. Really, the next focus was not looking in the rear view mirror and saying, “Hey, you know what, that wasn’t.” It was more of the next thing, going on the attack and saying, “Hey, come have a sit down with me at the Resurgence Conference,” and that’s where things turned.

Warren Throckmorton:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. Well, then not long after that, Mark went on Janet Mefferd’s Show. This was now Janet Mefferd, the radio host she wanted to talk about the book, the same book A Call to Resurgence. That didn’t go so well. That was November 21st, of 2013. She asked him about the Strange Fire Conference, first of all, in that interview, and then eventually accused him of plagiarizing some material from Peter Jones.

Warren Throckmorton:

But that was a pivotal point for some publicity concerning Mark and the church and that book and plagiarism in general. He seemed to hang up. I don’t know on your end if he did indeed hang up, or there was a connection loss, but he appeared to hang up during the interview. What was his reaction to that interview as far as you guys know, after the fact? Did he discuss any of that with you? Then more broadly, how did he handle all those allegations of plagiarism that came pretty fast and furious after that interview?

Sutton Turner:

Yeah, my recollection of that, right after that happened was… You’ll see a pattern of behavior here, happened with Kraft, happened with John MacArthur, happened with Mefferd, happened… Anyone happened years before with Rob Smith. Anyone that comes in conflict with Mark, he’s going to double down and come back after them. He was really mad at that whole situation.

Sutton Turner:

From my understanding, had no idea of the plagiarism that was in the book or any of that. I think he was pretty shocked at that point in time. But then again, he was very aggressive back, I remember towards Mefferd the same situation. Same situation we just talked about with MacArthur, escalating that and wanting to escalate with her. But that was… We can talk a lot about the whole process on the plagiarism and how that came to be, but specifically about Mefferd, he was really, really angry.

Dave Bruskas:

I remember, I believe Sutton and I were in Salem, Oregon when that happened. We were exploring a partnership with Corbin University, great people there. What it would look like for us to provide some sort of… Seattle just didn’t have something like Corbin, at least we didn’t to our members. We were exploring educational opportunities remotely and what we could do in a partnership.

Dave Bruskas:

We got notice that this interview had happened. When we got back to Seattle, I remember two things that Mark felt, one was he was really surprised. I think he felt like he was going to enter into that interview and just talk about his book, The Resurgence. I think he was really surprised by Janet Mefferd’s aggressive stance and pushing on, hey, the plagiarism issue.

Dave Bruskas:

Then the other thing I remember, Warren, is he was really saddened as Peter Jones was a friend, and I think he was saddened that… He was sad and maybe surprised that Peter hadn’t reached out to him directly to express any concerns he had over the issue. I do remember there being mixed feelings about it, but that definitely put us into a series of events that we just never recovered from as far as being able to gain momentum and credibility among the members of Mars Hill and even fellow leaders. I just think things really begin to steamroll in my recollection after that.

Warren Throckmorton:

Well, that did open a number of other books to scrutiny at that point, and that’s what brought me into it in a bigger way, at that point. I’m just at this moment pausing to reflect that six years ago would have been hard to imagine what we’re seeing on the screen right now, that you two and I would be sitting down to talk. Because I got into it. I’ll just say to you, that I got into it initially because I thought Janet Mefferd was probably wrong. That was my first thought was that she’s probably not right about it, he probably didn’t do that.

Warren Throckmorton:

Then when I got into it, I thought, well, it’s more than credible, what she’s saying. Then I went into other books and found other citation problems and a term came up that I had really not thought much about before, and that was content management system. That there was a content management system at Mars Hill, that was blamed for some of the errors, maybe many of the errors. Do you know what I’m talking about? The content management system where there was a lot of pressure internally to just put out lots of material with Mark’s name on it? That ring a bell?

Sutton Turner:

Yeah. Dave, you want to go first, or you want me to?

Dave Bruskas:

No, please go ahead. Sutton would have been more privy to all that information that happened.

Sutton Turner:

Yeah. Really, if you go back to when I got involved with Mars Hill in 2011. I was a General Manager, but I was in charge of a lot of different things. Jamie Munson left as executive pastor and I stepped into that role in the late summer of 2011. At that point in time, Mark had previously signed a speaker type of events with Real Marriage, which we’ve been planning on releasing at Christmas time at the end of 2011.

Sutton Turner:

There was these events that were going to be advertised, marketed, all those types of things with Mars Hill staff, Mars Hill… Literally, the media and communications team of Mars Hill was going to advertise these things and push these things through social media. Honestly, Dave can talk about this as well, but there was just a culture at Mars Hill of using the platform for your career, your personal career, and also your personal financial benefit. Selling books, honorariums for events, all of these different types of things.

Sutton Turner:

I’m sure we’re going to get into Real Marriage and the ResultSource, but, that was just a part of that whole thing, that it’s all about building that platform for each individual people. There were several people that had platforms. Obviously, nobody is as big as Mark’s. They were on the writing part, Docent… I can’t remember the-

Warren Throckmorton:

Docent Research?

Sutton Turner:

Yeah, Docent Research was used heavily for not only Mark’s research for speaking or sermon series, but also for these books. There were contractors that were contracted to write, but Mark was the editor on all of that. One of the things that happened with Janet Mefferd and plagiarism, is that the reason why I agree with Pastor Dave is it was the beginning of the end, is because there were things that were wrong, that were found out publicly to be wrong, but we never came out and were honest with our church or honest with the people.

Sutton Turner:

Whether it be you writing the blog post or somebody else writing a blog post, but it was always spinning it. So, this idea that oh it was a “contact management system,” that’s just a big word that, basically, there was a book published that used somebody else’s material in the book, and it was wrong and most people would qualify that as plagiarism. Most people called it plagiarism because you’re using not your own original work.

Sutton Turner:

You use an excuse, instead of saying, you know what, yes, this was plagiarism, this needs to be corrected, I’m very, very sorry… It was not. I think that that was for the critics of the church. When people saw that, of us not being forthcoming and truthful, and using excuses, I think it was chum in the water that just bought more and more and more people to circulate around there. It’s like, wait, wait, something’s not right here because they’re not being honest and forthcoming. There’s got to be something more, and of course there was.

Sutton Turner:

I think it just led and we just have one after the other, after the other of these types of situations that led to the downfall of Mars Hill.

Dave Bruskas:

Just to maybe add one more piece to that. I can’t recall a single time that Mark would ever say that he intentionally plagiarized. I think that was his stance throughout, that this wasn’t something I intentionally did in hopes that I could get away with it. I think that kind of content management system was his explanation of I don’t know how this happened. It slipped through the cracks, we can do better but it wasn’t my intent to try to get away with something here. I didn’t sneakily try to slide in somebody else’s work and make it my own.

Dave Bruskas:

Again, it put us in a weird place of trying to figure out how is this happening and what can we do to correct it? Then looking back, what do we need to do to address… Do we need to rerelease books, do we need… With correct citation, do we need to… What can we do?

Dave Bruskas:

In the midst of why we’re trying to figure that out and work that through and remedy that, all these other things continue to happen, and it just feels like some issues were open ended and left undone when it all ultimately came crashing down.

Warren Throckmorton:

I think there are two things that really hooked me in that story. One is the, as you said, Sutton, the obvious, something’s not right here, and the explanation doesn’t make sense. You tell somebody like me, an explanation that obviously doesn’t make sense and I’m all over it. That’s going to get my attention. But then the other thing that really brought me in was the explanation of a, “content management system” as supposedly a valid explanation of how you creatively produce work.

Warren Throckmorton:

I don’t have a content management system, I write my own work. For the little people who write their own work, it really highlighted the gulf between celebrity pastors, and their machines, and the rest of us. I think that maybe made… Was one of the factors that made the Mars Hill story, a huge story that captured a lot of people’s attention. Is it’s one of those big guys versus the little guys stories. A lot of little guys thought, well, if that’s how the rest live, why are we going to tithe to that? I heard a lot of that throughout 2014. You guys felt that, right? Because donations started to dry up throughout the year and things were not going well for you.

Warren Throckmorton:

Well, you mentioned, Sutton, ResultSource. I have to tell you, that was a story that a lot of people were chasing. Warren Smith eventually broke it in the world, I believe it was. Then the next day I came out with the contract, and it had been leaked to me that had been used between the church and ResultSource. I know you’ve written about it some, Sutton. Could you guys again, tell me what you know about that and just some of the understanding of what ResultSource did for the Driscolls in that book, Real Marriage?

Sutton Turner:

Yeah. Let’s talk about what ResultSource was. It was a company that you could hire as an author, and they would go around to the book stores in New York City, and they would actually buy the books in these bookstores in New York City, to then allow the person to be on the New York Times bestseller list. It was a contract to basically ensure that the book is going to make the New York Times bestseller list.

Sutton Turner:

I arrived in April of 2011. I became over the media and communications team even though book writing was reporting directly to Mark, and I reported at that time to Jamie Munson, and it was the executive pastor that I then replaced after Jamie left.

Sutton Turner:

The person that was head of the book writing and Real Marriage came to me, I was not his supervisor, but he came to me saying, hey, you’re the finance guy because that’s part of what I had underneath me was finance, and we’re signing agreeing to this contract that’s going to cost the church a lot of money. Not only it cost the church a lot of money to pay them, pay ResultSource to buy these books in New York City, but you’re buying these books at full retail price. Whereas, if you’re a church, most of the time, if you have a celebrity pastor and he writes a book, you’re able to buy those at wholesale, where basically there’s no royalty involved and there’s no markup involved. So, the church is able to buy them at the low level, mark them up to what people were buying them in Barnes and Nobles, and the church is able to make some money.

Sutton Turner:

Actually, in this situation, the churches or the church not only is paying for ResultSource, the contract, but the church is actually paying and buying these books at full retail. I think if I remember correctly was like 10,000 books. We’re not talking a small amount of money here. If you include not just the check that you paid to ResultSource, but buying of all these books.

Sutton Turner:

I brought it to Jamie’s attention saying, “Man, this is totally not aboveboard.” “This guy has this well…” He did, he had all of this well documented. I use that information that I was supplied to make my case, because I had one on one meetings with Jamie. Nothing really happened for, I’d probably say four or five, six weeks, I’d ask about it. Then the next thing I know, Jamie quickly resigned.

Sutton Turner:

Then I don’t really have… I had met Mark one time prior to that. I really didn’t have any real interactions with those book decisions and those types of decisions, was not a board member at that time or anything like that. Then we fast forward, obviously, that contract, and that agreement was made. Then I remember the day specifically because it was in October, when the ResultSource and all the plans and all the marketing and all these plans are already in place and up and running. I get an email saying, “Oh, by the way, we’ve never gotten a signature on the ResultSource agreement.”

Sutton Turner:

That’s when I remember, either I texted Dave or I emailed Dave, and I was like, “This is, (insert bad word here), this is frickin wrong, that I’m the one that’s going to end up signing this frickin thing, and I was the one that was fighting to try to stop it.” To be honest with you, I had a really difficult time making that decision to sign that because I disagreed with it.

Sutton Turner:

I remember talking to my wife about it, and I was like, “We either quit, and this type of behavior continues to go on, or we stay and we try to change and make some changes here.” That’s when I’m like, this board situation that currently exists, and in hindsight, it wasn’t just the board, wasn’t the board members, it was just the lack of accountability whatsoever, that was involved there. I made the decision to stay, I signed it. I tried to do my best to change the board that next spring, which was the spring of ’12 when we had the new bylaws that were put in place.

Warren Throckmorton:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dave Bruskas:

My recollection is that, and this is going to be perhaps revealing of just how we did business at that time. I had one conversation with yet another executive elder, it was Jamie that Sutton was referring to. I remember specifically, we’re driving across the 528 Bridge over there in Lake Washington, I think to go to Bellevue and look at what was going on there. Jamie just said, “Hey, there’s an opportunity we have with Mark’s next book to see that it gets on the New York Times bestseller list. What do you think about that?” I said, “Is it legitimate? Does it have integrity?” He said, “Yeah.”

Dave Bruskas:

I trusted him and I said, “Okay.” Just moved ahead. That is not an excuse, Warren, that is a dereliction of responsibility on my part, and I really blew it. That was the only conversation I ever recall the executive elders having about that book. Sutton, I know went back and looked at minutes and meetings that we’d had. I don’t recall ever a time that the three of us sat down and approved the contract. I don’t remember a single time where Mark wasn’t pushing it. I don’t recall Mark ever sitting in a meeting and saying, “Hey, we really need to do this.” Any interaction we had, I think particularly Jamie and me may have had or even Sutton may have had would have been through his literary agent at the time. I’m really sorry, I blew it in that, I should have asked questions.

Dave Bruskas:

I would like to believe had I really known and pressed into it the way I should have, that I would have said, “Let’s not do this. This is bad stewardship, this is lacking in integrity. This isn’t the right way to go about things.” But that’s easy to say, in hindsight. When I did learn more of the details to conversations with Sutton later, and the person he’s referring to that brought a lot of incremental costs and things to his attention, to my attention of how it was not right. I asked him what was going to happen next. I was told that Mark was going to pay everything back, that he was going to pay back all the incremental costs that Mars Hill Church incurred to do it. Then I would check in regularly with our finance people just to make sure that happened.

Dave Bruskas:

I was assured that that did happen, that he did, in fact, reimburse the church for those differential costs. Again, I don’t know if Sutton can speak to that, but that was… I wanted to make sure that it was made right, it was remedied, and then in time, obviously, it became more public as our BOAA began to look into it, as things became public, it became very clear this was wrong, we need to own that. Mark removed New York Times bestseller list from his bio online. It was dealt with more publicly. It was too bad, and it was a broader pattern at Mars Hill that things like this seemingly never came initiated by Mars Hill, they were always reactive and responsive to things that Warren Smith wrote, things that you brought to our attention that we just were always playing a game of how do we respond to this, rather than I think just what would have built more credibility, the right thing to do is be transparent and say, “Hey, as we look back on this, no, this is wrong. We shouldn’t have done this. Here’s what we’re going to remedy it.”

Dave Bruskas:

I think that would have at least given people in the church a little sense of credibility and integrity, but it just never happened.

Warren Throckmorton:

Yeah, I think what tended to happen was, there would be a denial or a statement from the public relations department and then somebody within the church would leak something to me. For instance, a memo came out saying that… A memo from someone in the Content Management Department saying that the church shouldn’t do the ResultSource, because it would reflect badly on the church and it was unethical, and it would cost the church money and it would actually benefit Mark more than the church. I can remember that memo and publishing that after your PR fellow came out and said, “Oh, it was a great thing.” There was three different stories.

Sutton Turner:

Two things I want to add, Warren, I wasn’t on the board until late 2011. One of the first things I did was to go back and look through the board minutes of really, July, August and September of 2011 to see if it was approved and how it was approved and all that kind of stuff. I found nothing. I found nothing, and there was never a vote, it was never even discussed in any of the board… Whether it be the board minutes or the actual notes that people took that were attending the meeting. That was the first thing, which to me was like, man, how could this happen, and then never even discussed by leadership?

Sutton Turner:

Then the second thing which Dave asked me in 2012 when all this stuff comes up, he said, “You got to make sure, Sutton, that we make this right financially, because we bought all these books, Mark made a royalty on those books, and we need…” In December of 2012, one year after I signed that, I made sure before we closed our books in 2012 to make sure.

Sutton Turner:

That wasn’t a popular thing for me to make sure, but we did. Because I told Dave that I would make sure that that happened. To me, that was the start of Dave and I trying to do some things that were the public… You were never going to see that during that time period. We could never come out and say, “Yeah, Mark, cut the check to offset the money that he made in that.” But it was more of the behind the scenes like okay, that was the right thing to do, even though in the public, that was the right thing to do, which I thought built trust between he and I, during that time period.

Warren Throckmorton:

Why wouldn’t it have been good for Driscoll to say, “I repaid the church.”

Sutton Turner:

There was never, that I remember, many occasions to where it wasn’t spun. A mistake, whether it be plagiarism with Janet Mefferd, or whether it be ResultSource, we called it a “marketing scheme.” All of those things were spun. Plagiarism was, well, it was our “content management.” There was always somebody else that needed to take the blame for that happening, versus somebody standing up and saying, “Hey, I was wrong, this was wrong.” It just never was the case.

Sutton Turner:

Literally, over and over and over again, that was the cycle of Mars Hill, and I think, previous to me and Dave, that was the cycle of the church, and the response for the church that it was never… They were pretty much a victim. The church was a victim of something else that they would have never have done that, even though behind the scenes, that’s not true. Behind the scenes, it was clear the reason why they did ResultSource was to be the New York Times bestseller. Clearly, pay this money and this will happen.

Sutton Turner:

But to say it was a marketing scheme is to try to nuance it in the end, or to say in which we said at the time, well, David Jeremiah and these other people, prominent people had done it before us, so therefore it makes it right.

Warren Throckmorton:

Yeah. Was there a belief internally that Mark was the brand? Was it that kind of a pervasive belief that you could convince enough people that the scheme was… You have said that you see now that it was wrong, you saw them that there was not an ethical approach, but there were other people too around and that may have known about it, and there were people bringing it to you that thought it was just fine. Was the focus on Mark being the brand? I’m going now maybe you want to even say something about that speech, the “I am the brand speech.” Was that belief that if we could advance Mark, get him on the bestseller list, that it will somehow be good for the church?

Sutton Turner:

Yes, 100%, that it was going to fill the churches up, and it would increase the size of the platform of Mars Hill. Yes, 100%.

Dave Bruskas:

I think, even within that, Warren, one of the things that if you weren’t a part of Mars Hill, you wouldn’t know offhand is there were just so many conversions happening. In the midst of all the broken things, people were legitimately meeting Jesus. Those things all got lumped together. That if we can expand Mark’s platform and give him a broader platform, and he can utilize that platform to preach the gospel, more people will get saved, more churches will get planted, and those two strategies begin to become aligned in ways.

Dave Bruskas:

I think a lot of people weren’t thinking about just making a celebrity out of Mark. I think a lot of people at all different levels of the church were thinking, let’s see if we can reach as many people as we can. Let’s see if we can plant as many churches as possible. Just again, those two things really became intertwined in time.

Warren Throckmorton:

Well, that was some of the rationale I think when the first story, one of the first stories about why ResultSource had to do with expanding the brand, so to speak, or expanding the platform, but when you say “I am the brand,” in a Christian church, man that has some potential to sound, a little self-centered, doesn’t it?

Sutton Turner:

What you’re referring to was a media and communication, we call it medcom, I don’t know, 30, 35 people, plus all the other people that were there in the 50th building there in Ballard where we all… Main office basically. Mark was, if I can remember right, there was what I feel like some struggle between Mark and some people on the media and communication team with what’s bringing people, basically. What’s selling books, what’s doing all these things? Mark did make that comment in his… What would you call? It wasn’t a speech, it was more of communication, like a staff meeting kind of feel to it, and definitely said that he was the brand.

Sutton Turner:

It was a, if I feel like it, it was a “get in the line” type of speech from Mark to the media and communication. Of course, media and communication were working a lot of different projects, not just Mark’s stuff. They were doing, whether it be the curriculum, and the Bible studies that were involved, a ton of stuff was done on Resurgence. Some of the information that was being produced, there was so much material that was being produced for the lead pastors.

Sutton Turner:

Yes, that was the most popular that people saw was what Mark was working on. It was kind of, everything needs to get in line behind what Mark was doing, and singular focus around that. That was that speech.

Warren Throckmorton:

All right. Okay.

Dave Bruskas:

I remember that meeting, Warren, Sutton, it was at the Ballard Church that Auxilary room. Specifically, what I-

Sutton Turner:

You’re right, walked over there.

Dave Bruskas:

Yeah, I recall what Mark said is, the branding image is him holding a Bible preaching the Word, what was really the branding of the church. Probably the reason that needed to be said or he felt it needed to be said was there was a real cultural shift happening with just the philosophy of what we were doing, Warren. What Mars Hill was known for up until that time was just faithful work through Bible, books of the Bible expositionally, one at a time.

Dave Bruskas:

Among our creative team, there were guys who were raising the question of, this is different. We’ve never had somebody, particularly Mark, stand up and preach from a book he wrote, it’s always been him in the pulpit preaching the Bible, and we let that stand for itself.

Dave Bruskas:

It really began… This was the other part of it that a lot of people didn’t see, it really began a rift in culture, and what was going on in the midst of all these things that people were reading about online, what people were seeing was they begin to see staff departing, really in mass, and it wasn’t going well. In the midst of seeing the public stories regarding Mark, if you’re at a local church, and you’re watching your lead pastor leave and it’s not going great, you’re watching staff that you’ve grown close to begin to be disenfranchised from leadership in the church and all these things were just creating a perfect storm that ultimately would lead to the demise of Mars Hill.

Dave Bruskas:

Credibility was continually being lost when you watched staff, transition for whatever reason, and then you have this narrative in the background that Mars Hill lacks integrity, and it’s not being truthful about everything. All this was culminating in just dark, dark storm clouds that were about to burst.

Sutton Turner:

Remember, right at this point in time is when Mars Hill Music is really blowing up, and there’s a lot of notoriety around the country, and people are starting to sing some of these songs that these different Mars Hill church bands are putting out. They’re becoming very popular. There’s a struggle for resources, financial resources, but more importantly at Mars Hill, it was the people and what are they going to push through the platform of Mars Hill, whether it be social media, blogs, those types of things.

Sutton Turner:

There’s Mark wanting his stuff to be pushed, the Mars Hill Music wanting their stuff to be pushed. It was really a struggle that was going on for that, at that time.

Warren Throckmorton:

Okay. You feel like that he was asserting his position in the middle of the growth of the church?

Sutton Turner:

Yes, absolutely.

Warren Throckmorton:

All right. Well, back to ResultSource a minute, thinking about the role that that had in branding because there was not only the book, there was the seminars around the country, just really very well done marketing campaign, I have to say. But it all hinged on the success of the book. He acted surprised when it came out, “Oh, look, it’s a bestseller.”

Warren Throckmorton:

What do you think now… What would you advise, I guess, what do you think now a subordinate should do if a pastor or lead pastor comes and says, I want to do something like this? We want to grow our church by growing the brand.

Dave Bruskas:

I think I have real strong feelings about that today, Warren, obviously, hindsight is 20/20. But I think if you’re in a position where you really feel that your integrity is going to be compromised in decisions that are made, then the first step is to respectfully and use the right channels to protest. I think I would tell anybody today and if that isn’t met with some sort of openness towards doing the right thing, then I’d walk away.

Dave Bruskas:

I think that the thought that somehow, some way, I can be an agent of change, although maybe is nobly motivated is just a short sighted. Once you’ve made your point and if it’s not received, I really do think your integrity and your conviction and your conscience is so much more important, even if it means there’s going to be financial hardship and maybe even ministry closed doors in the future, I would just strongly encourage… Again, that’s me looking back, obviously, I didn’t do that, and honestly I regret that, but those are my thoughts.

Sutton Turner:

I saw a lot of people for example, the guy that brought me the information on ResultSource that tried to lead that change. He left, like a lot of people left. Some people would stand up and say, “Hey, this is wrong.” And write a letter or request a meeting or something like that. But there wasn’t any change that was, or any receptivity to hearing how things needed to change. I think, even though it led to the ultimate closure of Mars Hill as an entity, I think some of the things that we did on bylaw changes and putting… Basically forcing some type of accountability around the situation was probably the only way that that was going to end, and the pattern was going to change.

Sutton Turner:

That being the case, if I were to tell an executive pastor today, that was in my position, and they had the same situation, I would tell them, they need to go to whatever authority. You would hope that there would be some type of authority structure, Godly authority structure that would be over a church and to humbly appeal to them of the situation and try to be that… To me, that’s the only way to make change in these mega church type of structures is to hope that there is some type of board or some type of authority structure that’s in place that really loves the local church. That’s trying to do what’s best for the local church, and that will exert their authority on the leader to make changes that need to be made.

Sutton Turner:

That would be what I would tell the person that would be facing what Dave and I were facing back when 2011, ’12 and ’13.

 

View Part Two (on Thursday) here. 
Two points of clarification regarding our series on “Honest Answers”

 

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