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Mark Driscoll preaches at a worship service at Mars Hill’s flagship location in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle in 2007.
Associated Press/Photo by Scott Cohen
Mark Driscoll preaches at a worship service at Mars Hill’s flagship location in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle in 2007.

Mars Hill board stands behind Driscoll

Religion | The church’s Board of Advisors and Accountability admits a book marketing strategy was ‘unwise,’ as former staff members continue to cite dissatisfaction

The Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church issued a statement Friday addressing controversies involving the church and its founding pastor, Mark Driscoll.

The statement, posted on the church’s website, said the decision to use California-based ResultSource to market Driscoll’s book Real Marriage was an “unwise strategy” the church has not “used before or since, and not one we will use again.”

ResultSource uses methods to ensure its clients’ books make prominent national best-seller lists, including the coveted New York Times list. Mars Hill entered into such an agreement with ResultSource in October 2011.

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The board’s statement, in general, defended its actions and those of Driscoll and other members of the executive team, saying they had endured “false accusations,” though no specific untrue allegations were identified. The statement mostly clarified the church’s position regarding accusations that it acknowledged were true. For example, the decision to use ResultSource, the statement said, was the result of advice from “outside counsel.” The statement also said use of ResultSource was “not uncommon or illegal.”

While not illegal, the practice is uncommon among Christian authors. The number of Christian authors who may have used ResultSource is not known (the marketing company’s website lists mostly mainstream writers as its clients), but the close to $250,000 needed to pay ResultSource and purchase a sufficient quantity of books to make the New York Times best-seller list is well beyond the budget of most churches.

The statement also addressed the cost of the campaign: “The true cost of this endeavor was much less than what has been reported. And to be clear, all of the books purchased through this campaign have been given away or sold through normal channels.”

According to the statement, all revenue generated by Driscoll’s books at Mars Hill bookstores go to the church and Driscoll did not profit from Real Marriage book sales through the church or the ResultSource marketing campaign. But because the church does not release detailed financial or compensation information, these claims cannot be verified.

The board’s statement also addressed the issue of recent staff turnover and the use of non-disclosure agreements as part of the staff severance procedures. “The BOAA supports the policy of requiring staff to commit their signatures to a mutual agreement, such as a separation agreement, that private matters of the church learned during a season of employment not be divulged outside the organization,” the statement said. “We have seen this practice as wise for stewarding the resources entrusted to the church while engaging in common human resources practices.”

But the board did acknowledge turmoil and turnover involving the Mars Hill staff in the past two years: “A number of these staff transitions were acrimonious. Pastor Mark and the other executive Elders own their part in any discord that could have been avoided with a better process or a more patient interaction.”

The statement specifically addressed issues made public by WORLD involving former elder and staff member Dave Kraft. The statement claimed Kraft “had previously communicated with the BOAA numerous times that he was satisfied with the steps we have taken to address his concerns.”

Kraft denied he was satisfied with the outcome of formal charges he had made against Driscoll early last year, adding that he was “saddened and disturbed” by the board’s announcement. “The statement is full of partial truths and some lies,” Kraft told me. “And the spin goes on.”

He said early in the process he had seen progress and had expressed some satisfaction, but that satisfaction ended when any movement toward addressing his charges ended. Kraft said Friday’s board statement was particularly troubling because he communicated with the board as recently as last week about his ongoing concerns.

Kyle Firstenberg, a member of the church for 13 years who served in leadership for 10 of those years and was on staff from 2006 to 2012, also found the board’s statement unsatisfactory: “There has been no repentance from those leaders. How is that ‘owning their part’?”

Firstenberg added that the statement undermines confidence in the board as a body that will hold Driscoll accountable. “This is the first time I have heard from them in almost two years and it only comes out when there is a story in the media,” he said. “This is not accountability; it is damage control.” 

Despite these concerns, the board said it stands “unreservedly” behind Driscoll and fellow pastors/executive elders Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas. “We are confident that God is preparing Pastor Mark and the ministry of Mars Hill Church for a great harvest of souls in the days ahead,” the statement concluded.

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