Honest Answers to Hard Questions about Mars Hill Church – Part 2

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

Part 2 covers Mars Hill Global, Paul Tripp, Acts 29, James McDonald, Mark Driscoll, Bullet Proof Vest, Severance, Elder Investigation, and Disqualification.

 

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 Bruskas and Sutton Turner

 

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

Transcript here.

Warren Throckmorton:

Okay, so moving on to another issue which became a public relations problem for Mars Hill. Did the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), when they came to visit and look over the finances particularly in relation to the global fund, did they all find anything that they considered to be amiss? Did they have any suggestions for you that they kind of wanted to keep quiet, or how was that all handled?

Warren Throckmorton:

I know you acknowledged that maybe the messaging was confusing, but that was something that I covered a good bit and maybe I thought I found more than I did. I was always very curious about that one. The EFCA (ECFA) has come down pretty hard on some other groups for what seems like maybe some similar messaging issues here in recent days. So I’m just kind of curious how they handled that with you guys.

Sutton Turner:

Yeah, so we called them in. So Dan Busby, who is the head of ECFA, and our auditor from Clark Nuber came to the church and I had them in our office and spent an entire day with both of them going through all of the information on Mars Hill Global. Let me first say, I did a very bad job of communicating about Mars Hill Global. My fault. This isn’t Mark Driscoll’s fault. This is my fault and I take full responsibility for Mars Hill Global.

Sutton Turner:

It was a situation where I think I got a little overly excited about the opportunity to help people in Ethiopia at the same time raising dollars, global dollars, of people that were podcasters to fund not only church plants and those types of things. Mars Hill Global was way before me, but I really put gasoline to the fire as far as Mars Hill Global. From my vantage point, Mars Hill in the past had never really done anything international missions type of stuff, so I wanted to bring in Compassion International let’s adopt a whole bunch of kids all over the world.

Sutton Turner:

I just was really fired up about it. I think what my issue was is that I did not clearly communicate Mars Hill Global and what we’re doing in Ethiopia. Give to Mars Hill Global and you’re giving to Ethiopia. I think that those two quickly because I was so excited about Ethiopia. I still am. My son’s from Ethiopia, so I just love it. But I did not communicate well.

Sutton Turner:

So when I brought Dan and Clark Nuber in, I was like, “Listen. Whatever we need to do …” because this is a situation where I’m in control of this. This isn’t Mark control like plagiarism or something like that. I’m in control of this. It’s my fault. I want to do whatever the hell we need to do to make this clear. So they looked through everything and looked through all the communication. I built binders for them that kind of chronicled the way we launched it.

Sutton Turner:

So basically I said, “Dan, what I’d like to do is I’d like to contact every single person that has given to Mars Hill Global” and say “if you feel like you were giving to Ethiopia, I will make damn sure that whatever the amount of money that you gave to Mars Hill Global will get to Ethiopia.” So I think we sent out like 3700 emails and like 4000 letters and got back like 40 responses. It was like $40,000 that people had said, “yes I really felt like I was giving to Ethiopia.” But that still didn’t … I felt better because I felt like, okay, I’ve contacted every single donor and, if I misled them, I’ve corrected that mistake.

Sutton Turner:

It was one of those things that I feel like, if we had handled other crisis differently in the past, then Mars Hill Global wouldn’t have blown up and we would have been able to do what we did to correct the poor communication. I think everything would have been different. But because … even though we did those things, people assumed there was something behind there, that there was some benefit that Mark was getting, there was some agenda or something like that. That was my fault, clearly my fault.

Sutton Turner:

One of the greatest things that I look at like, Sutton, you failed at Mars Hill. At Mars Hill Global, you absolutely failed. So, that wasn’t Dave’s responsibility. It wasn’t Mark’s responsibility. That was my responsibility.

Warren Throckmorton:

I think what you said there about the PR part is what I’ll just make a quick comment on and then we’ll move on. The messaging about Global when I started raising questions about it, that was really more the issue than what you did. What you did in response to it seemed really fair. By doing what you said, you offered the donors a chance to designate their donation in a way that they wanted to, and that gave them a chance to do just what some of them did.

Warren Throckmorton:

But the stories that the PR, and I’m blocking on his name … Dean I think is his last name.

Sutton Turner:

Justin.

Warren Throckmorton:

Justin. There we go. I wanted to say Jamie. I don’t know why, but Justin Dean. He’s going to ding me for that. We’re still in touch. I talk to him every now and then. Anyway, Justin was telling. I guess I want to ask, who was behind that? This is a curtain I want to draw back now. Was he in charge of messaging, or did someone tell him?

Sutton Turner:

No, no. Mark is the communicator of communicators. So there’s no communication that goes out that Mark wasn’t involved with. The communication and that public side of things was critical important to Mark. Whether it be Mefford, whether it be … When Mars Hill Global broke, I was in Ethiopia, literally taking a bunch of pastors in Ethiopia. I was actually rooming with Ryan Williams at the time because it was his first trip to the big Australian. That’s now in Albuquerque.

Sutton Turner:

I was … because we’re 10, 12 hours difference. I was trying to communicate, but all of that, the communication part was super important to Mark. So he would read through all of that, and the basic principle or the policy of we don’t respond or we don’t comment when news or you or somebody else calls and asks questions, that was very much driven by Mark. What was your perspective, Dave?

Dave Bruskas:

Yeah. I think the thing that was hard for me personally in that season, Sutton, with Mars Hill Global, and probably because it was so on the heels and I can’t remember the exact timeline, but it was very much on the proximity to the Real Marriage thing. Probably for me, that was the end of my journey philosophically with Mars Hill. I began to be very concerned that we were overlooking our local churches and focusing on the internet broader audience that we had. I understood, Sutton, and you and I have talked many times about this, your heart from your perspective, having really come to faith through an online experience, a remote experience, and your passion to see more people that would have been in your circumstances, that weren’t going to come through the door of a church, but might podcast a sermon and might get connected another way.

Dave Bruskas:

I knew you had a missionary zeal for that. I knew it wasn’t self motivated, but I really began to see that we are out kicking our coverage. This thing is becoming quickly unstable because we’re not taking the time to support our local churches. Our attention really began to be diverted to an online broader, global audience and I really felt like, in the end, that meant we were going to have anemic churches. So yeah, I don’t remember. I appreciated that you reached out and initiated with Dan Busby and our accountants to remedy that situation, but it began to … there just was a transition that happened where all of the sudden …

Dave Bruskas:

I think the people in the pews felt it really profoundly where it almost became like they were secondary and there was going to be this drive to really reach out to a global audience that may … and there were limited resources. We were always doing everything we could to patch and put resources together so we could do ministry. It just felt like there was a season where there was a tipping point where we became much more of an internet organization reaching a global audience, than we really were committed to the local church.

Dave Bruskas:

So for me, I began to see the writing on the wall at that point. I don’t think I can continue to do this. So just a personal thought at that point.

Warren Throckmorton:

All right, well thanks for that. Back to Driscoll now, to Mark. Did either of you ever personally see him domineering or producing? These are the things that were part of Dave Kraft’s charges early in ’13 there, and then these became part of the formal charges then in 2014. Did you see those things that became part of the substance of those charges?

Sutton Turner:

Dave, do you want me to go first? Yeah, so I had a feeling you might ask us this question, so I went back over the last two weeks and circled up with some people that, at the time when these things happened, I don’t know if I realized the gravity of them, but now obviously you do. So I guess I’ll go two different occasions. One was in September of 2013. We had our Leads Pastor Residence Program where pastors would come in, they would do a year’s worth of residency at one of our local churches, and then we would plant them as a Mars Hill Church location. So this was that class coming in September of 2013.

Sutton Turner:

It was really the first time that Mark had met them as a residence team. Just before, literally right before, that couple of days before, we had found out that one of our pastors had disqualified himself and we had to remove him from leadership. So Mark walks into this setting with these lead pastors, and I was there. Several people were there. He says, “If you, (and he’s talking about the lead pastor residents) ever do something like that, (being the disqualifying act) I will f-ing kill you.” It was one of those just chilling moments. He was angry and I think that kind of sets itself.

Warren Throckmorton:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sutton Turner:

Then 2012, we’re at the Ballard location and Pastor Mark was preaching there locally. So this was before we had gone over to the location in Bellevue. We were preaching from there and recording from there. We had a tremendous response from baptism that day and that evening especially. The lead pastor was actually out that day, so somebody else was stepping in that day to lead the church and to do the announcements from the stage and all of those types of things.

Sutton Turner:

So during the sermon, there was a call to baptism. So many people literally get up and want to be baptized. Well, we had I think two, three songs after the baptism and there’s so many people wanting to get baptized that there’s not enough time or change of clothes. It’s incredible. So I’m backstage, Mark’s backstage, and the lead pastor comes through there, or the guy that was basically taking the place of the lead pastor, and Mark grabbed him and put his thumb in his chest and said, “I’m going to rip your head off and S-word down your neck,” and pushed on him.

Sutton Turner:

Luckily that pastor didn’t react back, just went on. Basically we’re all scrambling trying to get baptized. It was the last service of the day, that type of thing. So those were the two things that I recall and then called those people to make sure that I got the words correct because they were directly involved in that.

Warren Throckmorton:

Wow.

Dave Bruskas:

I witnessed a few examples, Warren, maybe more seldom than people might think. A couple of them were private settings and a couple of them were public settings. One of the things that we saw, especially as we began, as Sutton kind of architected the board of accountability and advisors, we would do annual reviews. I remember one … At the end of those, we would gather together, we’d receive our reviews from the independent members of our board, job reviews. I remember one of those years, Sutton, I think you got a hard hat because you were taking a lot of criticism. I received a bull horn, like hey, we need you to speak up more. Mark received a lunch pail.

Dave Bruskas:

An inside joke was, let this be the last lunch you ever pack, because one of the things that Mark will do is he would not practice discipline within the organization chart. If he felt like somebody needed to have their lunch packed, he would meet with that person privately, sometimes even unbeknownst to me or Sutton, pack that guy’s lunch and then come back. So I witnessed that on a handful of times. I think what’s interesting is, when I was aware of those things, I would confront Mark with them, privately, respectfully and just say, “Hey, this is not okay. I think you need to think about this. I think you need to consider this.”

Dave Bruskas:

His response was always interesting because he didn’t push back on me, he didn’t blow up at me. He seemed to take to heart what I was bringing to his attention. He made a commitment in ever instance to follow up with a person that he might have wounded, and I believe followed through with that. I think what was an area that maybe caused me some compassion but also some deep concern is he just didn’t see it. I didn’t sense that these were premeditated, hey I know what I’m about to do and this is going to cause a lot of damage that I can empathize with and I can foresee. When I would bring these things to him, there was almost a shock, surprise, “Really? Wow. I don’t remember that. I didn’t see that.”

Dave Bruskas:

So I began to think that maybe he just doesn’t see things they way I see things and he’s not acting from a premeditated, malicious place of heart. He’s blind to some things. He’s got this blind spot. Yet, that becomes more concerning. If you’re wounding people deeply and you don’t even know it, that becomes a real concerning issue. So those are kind of the things I saw. So yeah, I did see some of those. There was a strategy that I think was unannounced that Sutton employed, and that was to begin to almost isolate Mark from the organization.

Dave Bruskas:

So he moved offices. Mark had very limited interaction with the staff. Usually when he did, it was in the best possible place that he would serve. It would be up front teaching, it would be encouraging, it would be sharing good news, but we didn’t interact with many staff. Sutton and I really began to oversee almost the entirety of the staff. I don’t know if that was intentional, Sutton, on your part to kind of isolate Mark so that we didn’t have regular interactions.

Dave Bruskas:

There was progress that he made along the way. Those that were in the organization for long seasons, a decade or so, would say hey he’s changing, he’s not the guy he was 10 years ago. These incidents are far and fewer between. He’s making progress, but they never stopped entirely as far as I remember.

Sutton Turner:

One thing to point out there is that Dave had that opportunity to talk with Mark. I never had that. We played different roles.

Warren Throckmorton:

Okay.

Sutton Turner:

I was not able to have those types of conversations or that place in leadership. But Dave did many times, a couple of times in front of me. I know when I resigned, Dave really stood up for me. So there were times that I saw, from my vantage point, to where Dave was like, wait, this isn’t right, and called that out. I would say probably the only person that I know that’s probably ever done that or that I’m aware of that’s done that as far as, hey this is out of line, hey … those types of things. Most people were like me in my place, which was Mark would tell me to go do something, I’d go ahead and do it.

Sutton Turner:

Mark would tell me to lead something or take on this responsibility, I’d go do that. Very much he was my supervisor and that felt like that. Dave was more on a different level than most everybody else was.

Warren Throckmorton:

I see.

Warren Throckmorton:

I have here with me the charges that were filed, the former charges. Let me just read a couple and get your reaction to those. Here’s one. Mark said in a meeting that he didn’t want a certain elder to take on a certain prominent leadership role because, “his fat ass is not the image we want for our church.” Do you remember that?

Sutton Turner:

So I don’t remember that specific one. Do you Dave?

Dave Bruskas:

I don’t. I don’t remember that specific one.

Warren Throckmorton:

That sound unusual though?

Sutton Turner:

oh-no.

Warren Throckmorton:

Well, here’s what you might remember. In a meeting with lead pastor, shameing and bullying of the lead pastor to break his conscience and swear in front of the group … it says cuss in front of the group.

Dave Bruskas:

Yeah, I was present for that.

Warren Throckmorton:

Yeah. I think he wanted him to use the F word, didn’t he?

Dave Bruskas:

As I recall, he wanted him to swear. He … godly guy that he was asking to do this, different cultural background from anglo culture and came from more of a prime and proper culture. He wanted him to swear, and I think he used the word damn, as I recall.

Warren Throckmorton:

Oh okay.

Dave Bruskas:

Yeah. I think he just wanted to hear him swear, and I think that’s the word he used as I recall. I may be wrong. Sutton, I don’t know if you remember that directly.

Sutton Turner:

No, I remember it. Yep.

Warren Throckmorton:

In that same meeting, he asked another lead pastor if he’d had sex with his wife.

Dave Bruskas:

Yeah, I witnessed that.

Warren Throckmorton:

Yeah. I haven’t gone to a lot of churches in my life, but I’ve been on … most of the ones I’ve gone to, I’ve been on the board or something. I’ve never heard that, anything like that, in a board meeting. So yeah, I would think that would be a little concerning. There’s one, two … let’s see, three. There’s two or three pages of this, of these different things. These were investigated then by … we’ll get to that in a minute, but investigated by a group of elders who interviewed lots and lots of people who gave their testimony about things.

Warren Throckmorton:

There were other people around too who were part of leadership. Another person who was around Mars Hill at the time was Paul Tripp. Many of those watching this video, the viewers, will know who Paul Tripp is. He was on the board of advisors, but he stepped off of the board in July 2014. I want to ask you guys if you know why he stepped off the board. He did say in reply to elders that he’d been consulting with that, “This is without a doubt,” referring to Mars Hill, “The most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.” Is that part of why he stepped away?

Sutton Turner:

Yeah, it’s interesting. The whole part of Paul Tripp, it wasn’t very long. He actually … It came out in July that he had left, but he actually left early June. It’s just that we kept it under wraps because we knew that it would explode. What’s interesting is that Paul, as you can imagine, is an extremely busy person. When we asked him to come out, he actually took a red eye the next day to come out and meet with me and Dave, and Mark and our board chairman, and then also met that afternoon with some former elders.

Sutton Turner:

He (Paul Tripp) quickly, I think, realized what he said, that we had a horrible culture. Unfortunately for Dave and I, he had lots of meetings via conference calls, but Dave and I were never included on those conference calls with board members. So we were actually excluded. What’s interesting is that he had come out, he had come out twice, he had met with former board members … I mean former elders. He had met with Dave and I and Mark. Then the next thing I know, and Dave might have a different story, but next thing I know is he resigns, and I was shocked because honestly I was hoping, of all the people that were on the board, that he was going to basically provide accountability onto the board.

Sutton Turner:

For him to quit, I was shocked, to be honest with you. I had very little interaction with him, but in hindsight after I had seen what he had said … So he had resigned and then a lot of that stuff came out. I was like, dad gum, I wish I had been a part of those conference calls because I would have said “amen” to many of the things that he was saying. I think that that’s the reason why Dave and I were not included in those conference calls as well.

Dave Bruskas:

Yeah, I have deep respect and appreciation for Paul Tripp, and really so appreciate the men who serve in that capacity voluntarily, and especially at a time where Mars Hill was having a lot of problems. They did so at great cost. My understanding in follow up conversations and just the work I did after the fact was I think Paul came to the conclusion that the system as it existed, and specifically me and Sutton, were just not going to be able to hold Mark accountable to bring about the changes that he thought were necessary. I think he was committed to us as long as he saw the possibility that we were going to be able to make the changes that he felt needed to be made, and I think he came to the conclusion like some others did too, that this just is going to happen this way and stepped away.

Dave Bruskas:

So, that’s my understanding. The quote that you mentioned, Warren, came from the conversation he had. It actually happened as we were having an elder retreat with a subgroup of elders who were concerned. I think he communicated that same sentiment to them, that neither Sutton and I were capable of really helping Mark and holding Mark accountable, and that moving forward he had no confidence in us being able to do that, and I think he was right in that.

Warren Throckmorton:

Yeah. How about James MacDonald? Right around the same time, didn’t he step off of that same board?

Warren Throckmorton:

Do you have any sense of that?

Sutton Turner:

Yeah. So that was August, actually right before the Acts 29. So we had Paul Tripp leaving, we had James MacDonald leaving, and then Acts 29 removes us as members. But James leaving, because he called me and talked to me, that he had just previously called Mark and had resigned to Mark. So he had called me and said that he was sorry. His reasoning was he didn’t … This was just his comment. He didn’t want what’s happening to Mark to happen to him.

Warren Throckmorton:

Okay.

Sutton Turner:

He said it. So he didn’t want his elders … His elders, supposedly at that point in time, were asking him questions and everything. This is when the pressure … so this is late July, early August of 2014. The pressure for there to be an investigation on Mark. So I’m actually vacationing. Mark is taking his sabbatical in Leaven … not Leavenworth, Wenatchee. I’m actually in Wenatchee at the same time as Mark, and James calls and resigns and then calls me to tell me that he has resigned.

Sutton Turner:

So literally, within a very … publicly. Now, Paul had actually quit the month of June, but publicly it came out in July that Paul had. So Paul resigns, then James resigns, then soon after that, I think it was August the 8th that Acts 29 removes us. So those sequence happened in, I want to say, less than a month.

Warren Throckmorton:

Oh, the dominoes were falling. Wow. I think I wrote something that the worst week of Mars Hill’s history. Then Acts 29 removes Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll all at once. So what can you … You probably have some recollection about that event. Acts 29 drops that bomb. What’s that like inside the house?

Dave Bruskas:

Yeah, that was a devastating event. When I would talk with the men I was responsible to serve, Warren, the lead pastors of all the churches, that’s when the mass exodus happened. Probably in hindsight, our credibility as a church was riding upon our ongoing connection to Acts 29. There had been such a … Mars Hill had been more influential than any church in getting Acts 29 up and going. It was really an extension of our outreach ministry, even though it had been transferred over to Matt Chandler and the Village Church. So people were thankful and proud and grateful.

Dave Bruskas:

Actually, Matt Chandler had a tremendous amount of credibility, so when we were removed from that network, the lead pastors I spoke to said that’s when the most people at any point in time walked out the doors and never came back. I was actually in Texas when that happened. I was taking one of my daughters to college and dropping her off, and spending the last few days with her. So I was on central time. I was up early. I think I got that at about 8:00 in the morning central time, which would have been 6:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time. So I called Mark and shared with him the news. He seemed like he was stunned.

Dave Bruskas:

We even had a brief conversation to the extent of maybe this is it, maybe this is over at this point. We later had time to think about it later. So I was blindsided by that, had no idea, no idea whatsoever that that was in jeopardy, had no idea the conversations that Matt and Mark were having, was unaware of the conversations that Matt Chandler was having with board members like Paul Tripp and maybe James MacDonald as well. That’s what I think Sutton’s alluding to in some of the other issues. Although he and I were part of the BOAA (Board of Accountability and Advisors), there were many conversations that would happen, either one member to the next or all of them excluding us, that we were blindsided by that. We had no idea that was even a possibility.

Dave Bruskas:

So that really eroded any credibility that Sutton and I had too with any other leaders in the church because they felt like we were sitting on this information for a long season, which we weren’t. So yeah, that was tough. I’ve had conversations with Matt since, and he’s convinced me that he and Mark did have quite a few conversations. Whether Mark realized the seriousness of those conversations and the formality of what was about to happen, I don’t know. I can’t speak to that. He says he doesn’t and I’ll take him at his word. But yeah, that was a huge blow.

Dave Bruskas:

That was really … there was no turning back at that point. We were really in a tough spot.

Sutton Turner:

Yeah, one thing to keep in mind is, so the conversations that Paul Tripp was having with Mark and with James MacDonald and the two other board members, Dave and I really didn’t even know. Supposedly Paul presented a seven point plan and only got through four points of it. That’s what Paul has said. Of course, Dave and I weren’t on the call. Similar, at the Act Like Men conferences, Matt Chandler was talking to Mark that whole previous year. So all the year of 2013, they have Act Like Men events which Mark is speaking, James MacDonald is speaking, Matt Chandler is speaking.

Sutton Turner:

So from my understanding, Matt was talking to Mark that whole year because they would come together for those Act Like Men conferences and Matt was telling Mark. Of course, Dave and I weren’t involved in those conversations, so when Matt cuts off Mars Hill from Acts 29, it becomes a big shock to Dave and I, the same way that Paul Tripp quitting was shocking. So during that whole summer, both Dave and I, it was just one thing after another we’d be shocked in. Then people would turn to us because Mark was very much disconnected, like Dave was talking about, from the standpoint of a culture and Mark not packing anybody’s lunch anymore.

Sutton Turner:

Mark was distant from the rest of the staff, so the staff was coming to us saying, “Okay, so what about Acts 29? What do y’all …” We would not be able to answer those questions. So it was just a crazy time during that summer of ’14.

Warren Throckmorton:

Yeah. Then right after the Acts 29, that’s when the formal charges came, mid August of ’14. Then the 21 elders brought the formal charges. It was about a week after they were submitted that they were leaked to me and published. That took through the rest of August and September to investigate. That’s when we get to October. The findings are presented to the decision making board (BOAA) by the board of elders.

Warren Throckmorton:

Now I’m going to let you take us through that. The board of elders and the board of advisors, and there’s so many boards.

Sutton Turner:

Yeah.

Warren Throckmorton:

I think I’ve got it, but I know you do. So I’m going to let you two take us through that. There are some shenanigans here because the board who investigated the charges came up with one finding. There were several findings, but they came up with a particular finding that really didn’t see the light of day, right? It didn’t really come out, and we’re talking about disqualification here. So if you guys could kind of take us through that, I think it would help maybe set the record straight on some things.

Sutton Turner:

So I’ll try to start, Dave, and then you can team in here. I think you go back to the early part of 2014. Early part of 2014, we add into the bylaws that an investigation will include … So what we have is we have the Board of Accountability and Advisors (BOAA). That’s the main board of directors basically of the church, of the 501C3. There’s seven members. Me and Dave are two of those members. Mark’s one and then we have four outside board members.

Sutton Turner:

That Board (BOAA) puts into the bylaws that a Board of Elders (elders), and we’ll just call them elders, can investigate and do investigate allegations of any of the executive elders, and that that is led by one of the Board of Accountability of Advisors. So that was huge because that’s what didn’t happen in May of 2013 when Dave Kraft and nine elders brought similar charges. There was no process. There was nothing. There was no group to do that.

Sutton Turner:

So those happened and that gets put into the bylaws. So then we go all the way around and we’re in August now. These 21 elders now are putting forth formal charges very similar to Dave Kraft’s 2013 charges. But what happens differently this time is, as per the bylaws, these elders, board of elders, investigate these charges. So what they do early part of … or middle of August. They really start at the end of August and they go through September. They’re investigating and they do 40 different interviews with 40 different people.

Sutton Turner:

There’s two elders, there’s a note taker, and they go through this. Hundreds, literally hundreds of hours, of testimony is being taken down. Luckily, through the process, I have all of those records. So I have not only the interviews, but also what’s important and what was good for Dave and I to review was there was an October 1st, October 2nd, October 8th, October 13th, October 14th and October 18th Board of Advisors, which is the main Board, Board of Advisors with these Board of Elders, with these investigating elders. So we have transcripts of those meetings.

Sutton Turner:

Dave nor I … I think, Dave, you might have been in one of those meetings, but I had already resigned. So I was not a part of those, but I have all of the transcripts from those meetings. So it documents basically out those … pretty much their three main charges. I said them earlier in the podcast, but it’s quick tempered, including harsh speech, arrogant, and the third one is domineering in his leadership of elders and staff. So that’s the findings that these investigating elders have and that they are bringing those charges to the Board of Overseers, which does not include Dave nor I in that, or Mark. So those are those outside four board members (Board of Overseers).

Sutton Turner:

Then I think actually, Dave, you might have been a part of one of those phone calls, but you can address that. That’s kind of where we track everything, and I think we can hit into the differences of those two groups and what ends up happening because this all unravels very quickly in the first two weeks of October. If we’ll remember, when Mark took his sabbatical, he was supposed to be out until October the 14th, I think, but it was right around there. Let’s just throw out the second weekend in October of 2014. So that’s what was trying to be wrapped up during that time period and that was kind of like the drop dead date for the investigating, for the findings to come out, and for there to be something going forward.

Sutton Turner:

Of course, during this whole time, the churches, the people are leaving in droves, especially after Acts 29. That’s really where you see the great exodus from the Mars Hill churches.

Warren Throckmorton:

Yeah.

Dave Bruskas:

Yeah, let me speak to the meeting I was a part of. I probably not should speak to meetings I wasn’t privy to. That would be dangerous. So I would have met, Warren, with … let’s just call them, as Sutton has used the language already, the Overseers. Those were the ones who … those are the outside board members that were making the final decision regarding … they were rendering the verdict of the investigation. Then the elders who had done all the investigative work.

Dave Bruskas:

So I met with them, I believe it was Monday, October 13th. The reason that date is significant is the Overseers had met previously to that, the weekend prior to that Monday. They had met with Mark and Grace, communicated to them the findings of the investigation and gave them both some restorative plan, a restorative plan of what changes were going to have to happen and needed to happen for Mark to be leading the church moving forward. So I was part of the meeting where the Overseers communicated to the elders, the investigative group, here’s what we’ve communicated to Mark and Grace.

Dave Bruskas:

There was some agreement in that meeting, and the two things that were really … even looking back over the notes from that meeting, two things that I think are important particularly for members of Mars Hill to hear, the two points that were just evident were both bodies expressed deep love and concern for Mars Hill Church. That was clearly a point of agreement. Both groups expressed a deep love and appreciation for Mark and really wanted good for Mark, wanted Mark … Both groups wanted him to thrive longterm in ministry.

Dave Bruskas:

But here were the two points of differentiation and they were significant. The investigative group, the elders, wanted Mark to be disqualified from the office of elder and have an open timeline with his restoration process to restore him to the office of elder and ultimately to resume his role as an executive elder at Mars Hill Church. The overseers did not want Mark to be disqualified as an elder and they had set a target date of I believe it was January 4th, 2015, so roughly … what would that be? Two and a half months for Mark to resume his duties, albeit in a reduced role of power. That was very clear in their plan.

Dave Bruskas:

Sutton had already resigned. I’d already communicated to the Overseers that I would step away as soon as Mark came back in the pulpit, but Mark needed a clean start and he needed new guys around him to gain credibility. He needed a new place to begin from. So during that meeting, Warren, on that Monday, it was clear that those two groups were at an impasse, and a decision was made by the Chairman of the Board of Overseers to have a followup meeting where they could maybe resolve those two differences. Again, whether Mark was disqualified or not, and at what point in time if there was any set in the calender for him to come back.

Dave Bruskas:

I was very convinced that neither side was going to budge. I was very certain that if … What I mean by that is, if the overseers would have said, yes this is what … we’re doing this and you guys got to live with it, I think there would have been mass resignation from the Board of Elders and maybe even the Lead Pastors in their entirety. I don’t believe the Board of Overseers was open to Mark being disqualified from ministry, from the elder role. I don’t think they were going to give an inch on that issue, and I do think they were set on him coming back in January.

Dave Bruskas:

Before those two groups could reconvene and come up with some sort of resolution, Mark resigned. So yeah, it’s left the story open ended in a way that I think it just needs to be told. I think people need to know what happened. I will say this. Looking back on the work that the Board of Elders did, and even after they were finished with their work, I know Sutton and I met with several of the people that were hurt that they interviewed. Just to see the devastation and the hurt in those folks, they did a tremendous amount of work.

Sutton Turner:

Yeah.

Dave Bruskas:

They were very principled. Their contention was we can’t be pragmatic in this at all. We’re either going to follow out what the Bible says regarding Biblical qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and domineering as it’s addressed in 1 Peter 5. They felt like to not disqualify Mark would be partial to him in a way that they wouldn’t be for any other elder in that position and place.

Dave Bruskas:

So yeah, it was tough. I don’t believe they were free to tell their story after that was said and done. I don’t know that anybody’s really shared anything from that to this day. Anyway, there was an impasse. I don’t believe it was going to be resolved. Before there could be a followup meeting between those two groups, Mark resigned.

Warren Throckmorton:

The resignation was an interesting story. He said something about he and Grace got separate messages from God about being ambushed or a trap had been set. I don’t know if either of you have any insight into that from knowing him or just knowing of the situation, but the Elders again said one thing, and the Board of Overseers said another thing. So do you have any insight into what that might mean?

Sutton Turner:

Yeah. So I don’t know, Dave, if Mark called you. He called me to tell me that Grace was upstairs. He was downstairs. That God spoke to him and said that it was going to be ambush, that they were going to be ambushed by obviously the Elders. Then she came downstairs and had the same thing. Therefore, that’s why they resigned. So that was on that day, and that’s just what he told me.

Dave Bruskas:

Yeah, he and I never spoke about that, so we really didn’t talk about that.

Warren Throckmorton:

So in the middle of the impasse between those two boards, that’s when the resignation came.

Dave Bruskas:

Yeah, I think it was literally … I think the resignation was submitted the day after that first meeting or the second day after that first meeting.

Warren Throckmorton:

Now, there was to be a report that was released, or maybe I’m wrong about that, but everybody was kind of chasing that report for a long time. The elders were very tight lipped about it. Was there ever a written report or was it more of a word of mouth report given to the decision making body, the Overseers?

Sutton Turner:

So we don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know if it was a written report that the leader of those Board of Elders was producing. I do know that there were those meetings on the first, the eighth, the 13th and the 14th that you see the documentation of the Elders basically giving their findings to the Overseers verbally on conference calls. Then those conference calls having detailed notes of this person said this, this person said this, that type of transcript I would say.

Dave Bruskas:

I’ve never seen a formal report.

Warren Throckmorton:

Okay. Then there was a kind of script that some of the Elders read to their congregations that did describe the results and findings that they did find him disqualified on those three counts that you listed. But I don’t know that that conflict between the two Boards has been laid out quite as clearly as you just did ever before. I think you may have made some news there.

Dave Bruskas:

I’m not sure that I’m excited about making news, but I do believe, and I think you maybe were the first person that published it, Warren. I think you had the transcript of what Alex Gioni wrote or said to the congregation at Sammamish (Mars Hill Church in Sammamish, WA). The content that was read in the churches on, I believe it was October 19th, 2014 was a compromised statement between the Overseers and the Elders. In other words, there was no disagreement, but that was a worked out compromise together forged document that they read and that was scripted together. So that was actually the outcome of a followup meeting that they probably had on the 18th, I think, to what was going to be read at all the churches on the 19th.

Sutton Turner:

That’s why in those statements that were read in the churches, the words disqualified and those specific charges weren’t outlined. So, that was that combined. So I think that what you’ve later published, which was a statement that came out from the Elders, which is different than what was actually communicated in the churches on that night, October 19th.

Warren Throckmorton:

Well, okay. So at the time, the members would have been and were in the dark then. They really didn’t realize that all of that investigating had led to the actual body who did the investigating coming up with the result that now you’ve described that he was considered disqualified with an open ended restoration plan.

Sutton Turner:

Well that was the detail that wasn’t ever worked out. That’s the key. Those two sides ever coming together with a plan on what the church … it was never … because Mark resigned before any type of a restoration plan, any of that was ever been able to be finalized.

Warren Throckmorton:

Yeah. So something else that has been asked by a number of members of Mars Hill was about a payout. Follow the money. Was there a payout to Mark Driscoll at the end of Mars Hill? Does anybody know anything about that?

Sutton Turner:

Yeah. So obviously I know a lot about the finances having overseen them for four years. If you go back … So let me give a detailed answer to that question because I think people need to understand why I’ll say why I’m saying it. In May of 2014, I put a plan together where we needed to lay off 40% of the staff because, at that point in time, we had decreased giving and you could pretty much project that there was going to be a wall if we didn’t do some massive staff reductions and reduce down the size. Of course, we’re at 15 churches, all of those having either debt or lease expense.

Sutton Turner:

So you have a large amount of ongoing expenses and you need to cut. Unfortunately, that plan was not put in place. Then you fast forward September 10th, we lay off 127 people in one day. So that cut was too late basically, and the dollars that were consumed during that time period and that whole summer, when you have decreased giving, pretty much consumed the majority of the dollars that were in the church.

Sutton Turner:

Now understand, Mars Hill never really had any assets. Most of the churches that we (didnt) own (they) were leased. The ones that we did own, we put very little money down and didn’t have really any equity in them. The one church that we had equity in, which was Ballard, that was finally sold really to help pay off some of the additional debt that was on the other buildings. So when I left in the middle part of September of ’14, I really wondered if they were going to be able to make that last payroll.

Sutton Turner:

So to say that there was some kind of big payout to Mark just wasn’t going to happen. He resigned two weeks later after I left. So within the time period of two weeks that there’s going to be millions of dollars that are going to be … it’s just not going to happen. So I just … Dave stayed to the very, very end December 31st, but I’m going to just tell you what it looked like, the financials looked like in the middle of September of ’14. I couldn’t see that there was any way to pay off those buildings, and even a couple of those buildings like the offices on 50th street there in Ballard, that was a contaminated building that had significant contamination. It was a real chore to try to get rid of that after they closed Mars Hill.

Sutton Turner:

So, that’s the detail that I can give you. I don’t think, in my opinion, was Mark given any type of major payoff because there was no money to pay anybody else out.

Warren Throckmorton:

Okay.

Dave Bruskas:

Yeah, I would have … Like Sutton said, Warren, I would have been there through December 31st. Clearly the organization continued in a season after that with a very reduced staff. There were odds and ends to close down, there were documents to be filed, there were all kinds of things that happened. Up unto the time that I left, I’m not aware of any payout that was made to Mark.

Warren Throckmorton:

Well, that will be of interest to some of the members I think who are curious about that. Another question, did Mark ever wear a bullet proof vest?

Sutton Turner:

Go ahead, Dave. You can answer this one.

Dave Bruskas:

Yeah, I think you’re probably referring to … is that the Carey Neuhoff interview that he did where that statement was made?

Warren Throckmorton:

Well, yes. There, and I think he has something on a website recently to where he said that.

Dave Bruskas:

Okay, yeah. I personally never witnessed Mark wearing a bullet proof vest. I do know we always had security teams that watched him, watched after him. We do know he had some strange encounters with people that seemingly were unstable or might want to hurt him. I believe there’s one episode that happened way before Sutton and I ever showed up where maybe somebody charged the stage with a machete while he was preaching, but I personally never witnessed him wearing a bullet proof vest.

Sutton Turner:

Yeah. Just to leave it open, I think when I was there, 99.9% of the time that Mark preached, I was there. Most of the time drove with him to the location wherever he was preaching, and I never saw bullet proof vests at all.

Warren Throckmorton:

Okay. Well, all right. What about Phoenix? Phoenix just pop up here recently or has there always been a design on a warmer climate?

Sutton Turner:

Yeah, so if you go back and look at our board documents from ’12 and ’13, when we met on our annual board meeting, we were always talking about either Phoenix or Orange County doing either a host and moving the capture location of where Mark would preach to either of those two locations. So we had talked about that even when we were leasing the building in Orange County. We talked about how that could be a capture location. Then when we went down to Phoenix and opened that church in Phoenix, we did a ton of surveying of the area of what would be better, downtown Phoenix or Scottsdale or those types of areas? Were there any old churches?

Sutton Turner:

I spent a lot of time doing research in Phoenix, looking for old church buildings, those types of things. So that was nothing new for us to have talked about that. Now, if you go to the summer of ’14, we had planned on by that time really focusing on Bellevue being the capture location. That being said, we had done all those research many years before.

Warren Throckmorton:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dave Bruskas:

Mark did genuinely suffer from seasonal effective disorder. You could feel it. It was a heavy thing for him. Then particularly in the later years, Warren, with the disability growing of Mars Hill with already some of the issues that Mars Hill was unpopular, and certainly the message that was being taught wasn’t widely received in Seattle. It was difficult and I witnessed this personally with him, it was difficult for him to go anywhere in Seattle and not be at least approached by somebody. So yeah, my thought was always that the viability of Seattle longterm for him, especially if he’s going to do something else outside of Mars Hill, just was not an option.

Dave Bruskas:

Yeah, we had decided, as Sutton said. We even went so far as we looked at an opportunity in Los Angeles. I don’t know when that was, Sutton, but we actually looked at a building there and didn’t pursue it. We’d been thinking about maybe relocating headquarters to Los Angeles in that season. We had really settled on Bellevue. I believe it was Mark and Grace’s intent to raise their kids in Seattle and get them to college there, so we had kind of settled. Hey, we’re going to make Bellevue the home of this thing longterm. We had some big dreams for that, and then everything came undone.

Warren Throckmorton:

Yeah. Well, gentlemen, six years ago I would never have believed that we would be having this conversation. First of all, I would never believe that we would be on anything called Zoom in a pandemic, but I certainly wouldn’t have believed I would be chatting with you guys. It’s a tribute to grace and all of that that we are doing that. So I do thank you for your time. I ask you one last question here, and that is, is there anything you would like to say to former Mars Hill church members and attenders or even to Mark? Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?

Sutton Turner:

I’ll go first. Thanks Warren. First, I want to apologize to you. I personally have attacked you in the past, never having met you before. When I got to meet you post Mars Hill, realized that you’re being a genuine Christian and loving the church, and looking to do the right thing and to record the right thing. I appreciate that very much and I appreciate your friendship post Mars Hill.

Warren Throckmorton:

We’re all good

Sutton Turner:

I appreciate that.

Sutton Turner:

Dave and I since, probably the last two years … or no, probably the last six months have done a bunch of podcasts with I Am Called Ministries. I think we did like nine of them or eight, eight or nine. I’m trying to chronicle the lessons learned from Mars Hill for pastors. I know I’ve met, and I know Dave’s met, but I can only speak for myself. I’ve met with a bunch of people that I needed to reconcile with, I needed to own things, apologize for things, the way that I handled things. I’m going to continue to do that for people that need to … It may be something in this video that’s something that’s triggered that they want to talk to me about. I’m totally open to continuing to have those conversations, to helping people heal and move on from Mars Hill Church.

Sutton Turner:

One of the reasons why I wanted to do this podcast with you, Warren, is because you are a part of the Mars Hill story and, if we were going to sit down with somebody and put a period, and to go through all the details of the stuff that we knew at Mars Hill, we’d want to do it with you. So we really appreciate you. so I’m just sad. I still have a hole in my heart because of Mars Hill. I have a hole in my heart because I know that there were things that I could have done, woulda, shoulda, coulda done differently that might have changed the outcome of Mars Hill. That always … that’s going to be there always.

Sutton Turner:

So I just love the people of Mars Hill. I’m thankful of my time. I try to remember all the good things that happened because there was a lot of good things that happened.

Warren Throckmorton:

Yes.

Sutton Turner:

But I’m also not shying away from the bad things and what people need to learn about to possibly change churches as they go forward. So that’s one of the reasons why … My wife asked me this morning, why are you doing this today? I’m like, “Marci, we’ve got to go through this. We’ve got to talk about this, and we’ve got to bring some of this stuff back up maybe for this never to happen again.”

Warren Throckmorton:

Thank you. Dave?

Dave Bruskas:

Yeah, thanks Warren. I do appreciate the opportunity. I think there are still a lot of holes in the Mars Hill story for a lot of the members. My hope in sharing these things wouldn’t be to open up old wounds, although I know that’s maybe inevitable. But maybe to fill in some gaps in the story because I do think that the truth helps us heal. Knowing exactly what happened is a step in knowing, okay where do we go from here, how do we do that. So I would say I feel three primary things.

Dave Bruskas:

I want to say three primary things to the people of Mars Hill. Number one, I’m sorry. Not only did I personally fail you as a leader, we did. Sutton, Mark and I failed you. It’s easy and I think it’s simplistic to pin this on Mark. I don’t think that’s fair, and I failed, and Sutton failed, and we failed together. I know for some that’s had devastating consequences. Some people deconstructed their faith and are still really hurting to this day, and I’m sorry. I’m deeply sorry and pray for you. I want Jesus’ best for you. I want healing for you.

Dave Bruskas:

I’m thankful. I want to say thank you to the members of Mars Hill Church. I’m thankful for everybody, but I’m especially thankful for those who either participated in the church plants that came out of Mars Hill, whatever the circumstances were around that, or stayed with the remnant churches of Mars Hill and found strength, found grace of God to move forward, and walking with Jesus today and staying faithful in His mission. I’m super grateful for you. Really thankful for the great people I got to serve with there.

Dave Bruskas:

Probably the last thing I would say, and this may sound really strange after this interview, I’m hopeful. This story isn’t over yet, and I think we have to have open hearts and open hands to the way in which the Lord might bring about redemption to this story. By that, I mean everyone who participated. We know ultimately that will happen. From Biblical perspective, we know Jesus is going to make all things right ultimately. But I think even before that ultimate experience, I just want everyone who can, by the grace of God, be open to what does it look like for repentance and reconciliation and some form of healing to happen.

Dave Bruskas:

Anything I could say to Mark I feel like I could say to him personally. I don’t have personal hard feelings towards him. I don’t feel like there’s any personal offenses between the two of us that need to be resolved. If I did, I think I could pick up the phone and find out a way to communicate to him, and we could work those things out. I appreciate the opportunity to share this story and I hope in some ways, and maybe unexpected ways, this is healing and hopeful to the people who will watch and hear this.

Warren Throckmorton:

Well, I think there are people who needed to hear what you guys have had to say in this time, so bless you both. Bless you Sutton, bless you Dave. Thanks for the time. Thanks for going over these very hard questions. We’ll just trust that indeed these will be redemptive words and that they will do what they need to do. So again, thank you, and again, thanks for being with me today. God bless.

Sutton Turner:

Thanks, Warren.

Dave Bruskas:

Thanks, Warren.

 

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

 

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