All It Takes for Evil to Prevail…

kinnon —  March 20, 2012 — 35 Comments

…is for good people to do nothing. (This quote is often mis-attributed to Edmund Burke. I have little doubt he would have agreed with it, whether or not he actually stated it.)

I am no longer astounded by the number of people — purportedly “good people” — who willingly go along with evil being perpetrated in the church. The specific evil of which I write is that of the easy destruction of peoples’ lives when they dare to question spiritual authority. (The previous post points to the practices of a particular leader who gets a pass from other leaders in supposed relationship with him — to their shame.)

I’ve written at length about the problems with the authoritarian style of Mark Driscoll and what I believe are the problems with his ministry. Contrary to the opinion of many, I do not hate Mark Driscoll. I do, however, hate the leadership style he has been allowed to assume and to teach other men to practice (and it is gender specific). I believe it to be so far from the biblical model of servant leadership as to be almost antithetical to what the New Testament teaches.

In 2007, two pastors, Paul Petry and Bent Meyer, who disagreed with changes to the leadership polity of Mars Hill were subsequently dismissed with apparent prejudice. They dared question the desired direction of Mark Driscoll in terms of his power and authority. Until very recently, these two men remained virtually silent on what they and their families had experienced.

Bent Meyer spoke out first on The Wartburgh Watch. And Paul and Jonna Petry have responded with their blog, Joyful Exiles.

Jonna Petry’s “My Story” is more than worthy of your time to read. It is a powerful story of excitement with something they believe to have the potential for much good in Seattle — that gets turned into one man’s personal ministry. A ministry where those who dare disagree with that One are discarded at best, or destroyed at worst.

From the full document,

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

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

But those things began to change,

Mark pressured all the elected executive elders [with the exception of Jamie Munson] to resign their posts, saying a new structure was necessary. Mark also decided that Lief would no longer function as the pastor of the Ballard campus (the primary and largest campus where Mark taught mostly in person) and as a result the two of them had a horrible falling out. This was an ominous sign for me because Mark had often spoken about his love and appreciation for Lief’s willingness to go “toe-to-toe” with him and how this was vital for the health of the church. (Pg 4)

What had begun as a multiple teaching leadership, elder-led church devolved (and I use that word intentionally) into one man rule. To the point where Jonna writes,

What started with a beautiful beginning – three families sent from Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland to plant a “daughter church” in Seattle that would be authentic and relevant to reach the lost – has turned into the personal ministry of one very ambitious man. Although it is still called a church, I think a more honest and accurate name might be “Mark Driscoll Ministries,” not unlike the name for Billy Graham’s organization, a man who Mark has said he greatly admires. I think what we are seeing demonstrates a confused ecclesiology and I fear this is also being taught to many other young church planters through the Acts 29 Network who want to “have” a church just like Mark’s. (Pg 13) [emphasis added]

Jonna acknowledges her own mistakes in allowing the Mars Hill church system to grow in it’s dysfunction,

I have my own sin in all this. I contributed to the dysfunctional system. I acted in pride, idolatry, fear of man, people pleasing, cowardice, and favoritism. I am truly sorry for all the ways I personally hurt people by my words, my actions or inactions, directly or indirectly, during my time at Mars Hill Church from 2001–2007, especially as a part of leadership. And now, I am also very sorry for how my years of silence regarding the spiritual abuse that I suffered have indirectly contributed to the abuse of other precious people. Though truthfully, I don’t think I could have written about it any sooner. (Pg 13) [emphasis added]

Jonna ends her story powerfully,

If Mark and the organizations he leads do not change, I fear many more will be hurt, Mark and his family included. To not speak is to not love or care and shows no thought or consideration for those who have been wounded and those who will be in the future. We are witnesses. There is a pattern. There is a history. There is an ethos of authoritarianism and abuse. Mark is the unquestioned head of Mars Hill Church and the Acts 29 Network. His elders have no way to hold him accountable. Those under him likely fear him and want to garner his favor so they don’t dare say nor do anything that might anger him. This is tragic.

Perhaps at some point, with enough outcry and exposure, Mark will come to his senses, own his harmful behavior, and get the help he needs to change. I hope so. Our common Enemy can make terrible use of our weaknesses and blind spots. Our Lord’s harshest words were for leaders who used their status, power, the Scriptures, and God’s people for their own self-aggrandizement. Surely this is not what Mark meant to do.

A Christianity which perpetuates the exaltation of mere men to god-like status, while belittling and wounding so many of God’s children in the process, is completely antithetical to what Jesus taught and is just as harmful to the leaders as it is to those who follow. Sadly, this is not the love of Jesus Christ or the power of the gospel we are called to demonstrate to one another and to the world. (Pg 14) [emphasis added]

To which I can only add, a loud AMEN!

Please read the entire document, and the full blog of Paul and Jonna Petry, Joyful Exiles. If this doesn’t cause you great concern with the Celebrity-Driven Church culture in North America, nothing will.

Side Note: Imbi and I are on the road in the EU working on a number of projects. This is the primary reason for my blog silence. The introduction of Paul’s and Jonna’s blog was well worth me taking a moment to write this new post.

kinnon

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

35 responses to All It Takes for Evil to Prevail…

  1. Sadly I’m now waiting for the upcoming set of responses from Mars Hill trying to spin this to their own advantage.

  2. This is very concerning.

    Honest question: We’re only getting one side here. I can think of a number of people who could post a ton of gripes about me, some of which may not be completely true. How do we deal with this?

    • Darryl, I’d say their story is consistent with what other people have reported about Mars Hill’s leadership style and the fact that they have remained silent for almost five years is a point in their favour.

      Driscoll’s interaction with Justin Brierley and then his complete twisting of that interaction for his own purposes further supports what is being said by both Bent Meyer and Paul & Jonna Petry.

      As well, I know someone who has counselled former Mars Hill folk and the story is, again, consistent. (My last conversation with that person on this topic was probably two years ago.)

      In your case, there are enough people with whom you are in real relationship (hopefully including me) over a fairly broad spectrum who would vouch for your integrity. Even if you have some who don’t like you. Which I do find hard to believe — but that’s my perspective. :-)

    • Darryl, I appreciated that they included an excruciating number of documents along with their story. That helps with their credibility.

      • As Michael @ Phoenix Preacher says about this,

        If you have to blog about these situations, this is how to do it… with stacks of communication and documentation concerning the issues you are addressing.

    • Darryl … In addition to what Bill has said concerning your very perceptive question, I would add that Mrs. Petry’s account included some excruciating details about her own failings in the matter, as well as that of her husband’s. Times and events where they failed people and contributed to the oppressive atmosphere. And, she expresses deep concerns for how not holding Mark accountable will affect the Driscoll’s as a family and as individuals, she does that over and over again throughout her account. Having taken over 4 years to break her silence, this is not a woman who is trying to gain anything by doing this.

    • Darryl – this is a very good question and I appreciate your asking it.

      My wife and I were, for a decade, part of a congregation here in the UK that was similar in several crucial respects to Mars Hill. In particular, it was run by a single leader whose word was, to all intents and purposes, law. When we left – also over the leader’s claims regarding his own authority – we found ourselves similarly denounced and shunned over dubious charges of sin. I say “dubious”, not to assert our unquestionable innocence, but to point out that our guilt was never established by anything but the leader’s own word and version of events. We were never given opportunity to state our case, and indeed anyone we tried to contact refused to listen to us and simply stated their unconditional loyalty to the leader. To me, this is a clear example of a faction, and for our part, we are commanded to have nothing to do with factional and divisive people.

      All of which, returning to your question, put us in a difficult position. On the one hand, we had witnessed what we believe to be gross unrighteousness. The fact that it was directed at us does not disqualify us from commenting on it, any more than being the victim of a criminal assault disqualifies one from being a witness in a court of law. On the other, we did not want to create a faction in turn, or cause division on our own account. By the same token, scripture tells us (in a nutshell) on the one hand that unless we forgive our brother, we will not be forgiven; and on the other, that if our brother sins against us and refuses to listen, then after due process we should treat him as a “pagan or taxgatherer”. And here’s another square circle: we are instructed to follow the Matthew 18 steps. But we – like messrs Meyer and Petry – had no practical recourse to Matthew 18, because once the leader refused to listen to us, there was no-one else we could turn to who was willing to be a witness. I tried, and was called a gossip.

      So I can sympathise with the Meyers and the Petry’s. As others in this thread have pointed out, their accuser has had more than his fair share of the witness box, in the church and publicly on the internet; whereas they have been silenced. When one faces all these conflicting duties, what is the Kingdom thing to do? Obviously, you don’t just pick your favourite verse and use it to explain away the others, because all scripture is God-breathed, etc. And I don’t believe one size fits all either. In essence, you have to wait on God and follow the Holy Spirit; he wrote the bible, so he has final authority when it comes to applying it.

      (As it happens, the church we left suffered a major exodus of members three years later when the leader tried to denounce another couple who were too well-known and widely respected for the charges to stick. Someone once said that the devil always overplays his hand.)

  3. I read that last night. As sad as it all is, I was also encouraged that people out there are stepping up and speaking the truth in a loving way. It’s good to know that there are people who have stuck with Jesus and can still offer healing and prayer for those who have wounded them.

  4. I appreciate the years, they took to slowly bring this to light. I think it speaks to credibility and that it was not a lashing out in anger!
    I was totally ashamed and convicted, because I would not have been as gracious and loving and calm… granted I am a jerk!

  5. len hjalmarson March 20, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Painful to read – so sad..

  6. I would add that the other side of the story has been speaking in pulptis all over the place, in books, at conferences, on the internet etc, etc. There is even a youtube of Mark threatening to go “old testament” on these guys who questioned his decision to change the bylaws.

    Mark’s bigger problem is that his personality, his own words for years and years makes this too easy to believe. I have heard him say with my own ears that he filters his wife’s emails, even fields her interactions with women because they are all “gossips”. I have heard him say on a stage that every word out of his mouth when preaching is from the Holy Spirit. I suppose this also included his porno divinations with those he was counseling. There is just too much there, there.

    No one is thinking or saying of this, “Driscoll? No way”.

  7. Bill –
    Glad you took a break to post this. I read about this elsewhere, but always appreciate your perspective and forthrightness.

    Godspeed on your projects.

  8. This is absolutely an eye opener. Especially when leaders and pastors believe that they are not to be questioned because they are God’s anointed. In many churches christian are told to do what they are told and not ask any questions. They tell you to “Do it all unto the Lord.”
    I have been following up on the abuse and the false teaching of Mark and believe me it’s saving my life as to stay grounded in God’s Word and judge, that’s right judge these false teachers.
    My concern is more with the young men (hipsters) that are so messed up in regard to relationships and sex, and how Mark is using in martial art psychology on them as to break them to submission. Like he said, breaking their noses. To him men are dudes and women are chicks. Women means nothing to him. He sees women only for sex and to service him. Poor Grace. I wonder if she is a battered wife herself. Mark Driscoll is like many false teachers and many people like Paul and Jonna Petry, their eyes opened and God made a way of escape. What I picked up in Jonna’s story is that she wanted to gather some women together to pray. But Mark got very angry at Paul for NOT controlling his wife. That is a cult mentality. His bylaws sound like a beginning of Jim Jones city. The church of God is a place of free worship. Nowhere in the Bible does it talk about membership and bylaws. Those are Mark cultish bylaws. Mars Hill people better wake up and run for their lives. This is seriously a cultish church. He is learning from his mentors John and Al. It’s all about greed and power. He has no relationship to the members their, because in a video he said that he has no relationship with Mars Hills members whatsoever, other then the leaders outside the church. That is very disturbing. Mark has all the sign of an abuser and many of these people in Mars Hills are being spiritual abused. There are many good spirit fill churches in this country and I pray that God would lead these Mars Hills Refugee to the Presence of the Living God. That God would restore and blessed each and one of them. Many christians are fully aware of Mark Driscoll insanity and false teaching. I pray to he comes to his senses before it is too late.

    Blessings,

  9. This is the video I was talking about where Mark posted to answer questions.

    link to theresurgence.com

  10. A more general comment on size and a biblical model. As one reflecting on church planting in Québec, Canada, I wonder if there is an almost direct link between size and a biblical elder structure?

    1) Once an a group of elders grows past 20 or so, the lines of communication increase exponentially and make effective organic communication and relationships between all elders impossible.
    2) 20 or so elders cannot effectively shepherd, lead and protect more than a thousand or so people (a ratio of 50/1). More are required if the church grows. However…
    3) Once an « executive » elder team is established (for a church of over a thousand), all others relinquish their leadership role. But the inverse is also true, « executive » elders relinquish their shepherding role. Neither are practicing the full-orbed meaning of eldership.

    So perhaps, regardless of the intentions or character of the main/lead/senior person (which may be exemplary), the size of a local church may have a very practical, natural maximum limitation. Probably around a thousand or so?

    If this is true, and our desire is to reach an entire population with the gospel, this would force us to plant more churches with a plurality of relational shepherds/leaders/teachers, and actually plan on them not growing past this size.

    I may be way off here. But just trying to play out the ramifications of a society transformed by the gospel. Would love input.

    • Much of what you’re saying here makes sense to me, Rob, especially for a post-industrial, post-individualism society. The West is not really there yet, which is part of the reason I don’t believe there will necessarily be “church planting movements” for perhaps another generation or two *among those cultures that are primarily Caucasian-European-Western* in orientation. We’re still to saturated with a machine mindset to go the organic route that you’re suggesting. (And which is, as best I understand, far more sensible with the communal-oriented cultures of biblical times.)

      If the executive/elder “team” for a larger organizational church loses it’s function of shepherding and goes into institutional management, what is very bothersome is that this model basically blocks the identification and development of those from younger generations who are spiritually gifted for shepherding roles … our next wave of eventual elders who both lead and care pastorally. It’s a self-perpetuating, metaphorical mutilation of the Body in order to squeeze it into a box it was never EVER meant to fit in.

      The thing I might disagree with is that I wonder whether 1,000 people with 20 elders in a 50/1 ratio of pastoral care. That ratio befits what we know about the maximum *reasonable* social network being about 20 people that one can interact with regularly at a level that develops relational intimacy. But why go to 1,000? Why not have 1 or 2 elders plus interns/apprentices with 20 to 40 people and that be sufficient and necessary for a more “viral” and decentralized missional movement? Is there something worth re-evaluating, in terms of the social-missional value of smaller scale that truly overrides any economic consideration of “economies of scale” that a large organizational form would provide? You might want to check out the stuff Sean Benesh has been learning from journeys in urban church planting in Chicago, Vancouver B.C., and now Portland, OR. *The Multi-nucleated Church* is his latest.

      Maybe the direct link is not size and eldership structure, but the underlying paradigm assumption about organizational strategy, which predetermines assumptions about size and therefore also about eldership. If the elders of such a mega-structure have a faulty paradigm underneath the obvious organizational structure, the thing could implode not because of size, but because of something far deeper … and that is where I personally believe we need to look.

      If gasoline prices go up 1/3 to 1/2 more per gallon, say over $5 or $6 U.S. my various predictions about the demise of commuter-based, energy-consuming, mega-churches may not seem quite so crack-pottish. If the mega-churches have not apprenticed pastoral care ministers for parishes/neighborhoods by then, and only organizational managers, how utterly devasting their main campus implosion could be …

      Anyway, you hoped for some feedback, and hope this was helpful. May your investments in a French-language movement prove fruitful …

      • Seriously Brad… did you have to go and respond so profoundly? You just ruined my next few weeks (or longer) of already limited time of reflection and research. Thank you for your thoughtful and challenging response.

        As far as the number 1,000. It was just a quick pragmatic calculation:

        1) What is the upper limit of true relationship in an elder community?
        2)What is the upper limit to personal shepherding? (You may be right, that 20 may be a more accurate number than 50 in terms of shepherding.)

        I’ll check out Sean Benesh.

      • All is ruination. Better than all is rumination, I guess, not being a cow, though who knows, might kow-tow though not a cow.

        Bill Kinnon usually likes my mini-raps. That wasn’t my best, but gotta get thru the so-so ones to get to the good’nz. (And I can see Bill shaking his head, as if it say, “Still waitin’ …”!)

        But seriously, you were thinking about some really great questions, Rob, and they got me thinking too.

        One additional thought on human genetics, physiology, and the limits of infrastructure. On hulu.com there are links to a couple of documentaries and news reports on gigantism, where for a variety of reasons, people’s bodies don’t stop growing. At some point, their bone structure simply can’t bear the weight; their heart is stressed from having to pump so much blood through such an enormous system. It wouldn’t be hard to argue from nature that there are inherent limits to a productive combination of growth AND health. So maybe the most important thing isn’t so much finding The Magic Number, but understanding the kinds of human and cultural and urban-geographical features that create parameters.

        And then, remembering that parameters are not merely restrictions, but requirements for catalyzing creativity. If there are no boundaries, there are too many options and what could have been power within parameters gets dissipated …

        Rock on, Rob …

  11. Reading the 3000 and 5000 in Acts, we don’t see any one person leading. It seems that the apostles had a very fluid ministry that lacked a defined hierarchical structure. It may have been more like dozens of mini churches (a sort of house-church model?) scattered across Jerusalem rather than resembling a modern-day mega church… with the apostles/elders sharing teaching responsibilities throughout the entire city.

  12. The whole episode reads like a nasty corporate takeover/reorganization except that it involves a church so every ruthless decision must have a christian color put on it to make it digestible. Machiavelli would be proud. Of course, he was exiled. Perhaps, Mars Hill Church should take one of his quotes into account ” . . . no prince ever benefitted by making himself hated.”

  13. Of course I bring up the size/model question because I wonder if there is something nearly inherent, (when leaving aside the model of a plurality of leadership, with the constant stream of emotionally charged issues as are experienced constantly in a local church, and access to such huge resources and influence), that causes the momentum to swing toward certain consequences almost regardless of the intentions of those who lead.

    • I might suggest that the DNA of the organization lays out the maximum range (both how wide and how long) possible for its trajectory. There simply are consequences inherent in any paradigm, as well as limits to what is possible.

      I find one of the best metaphors to consider is how most aberrant genetic combinations in XY chromosomes typically lead to sterility / non-reproducibility, whether there are extra Xs or Ys, or one of the genes is missing or broken. Turner’s syndrome (XO where the “O” stands for the second X that is broken or missing), Klinefelter’s syndrome (XXY). And then there are aberrations that occur where the genes are normal XY, but because of “androgen insensitivity syndrome” with environmental inter-reactions between the child in the womb and the mother’s hormonal systems, the child presents physically more as a girl instead of what the genes read to be, as a boy.

      Back to the organizational model: What’s actually in the DNA pre-selects the eventual consequences, barring acts of God and discerning paradigm/culture shifts made by leaders. And well-intended organizational DNA can interact badly with culture to create unintended but toxic results. This doesn’t mean all things are doomed, so do nothing. It means plan, implement, observe carefully, paradigm shift prayerfully, and listen in stereo to what’s sounding forth from our own hearts and the culture around us, compared to what the Spirit seems to be saying to do in our situation …

      • Another issue I’ve faced trying to think through these issues is this: I’ve got an entire shelf of books about “alternative” types of church models and movements. I come away from almost all of them feeling like they’re trying to sell me their gimmick.

        At the same time, I’d love to hear people like Andrew Jones go into more detail about “movements” he’s seeing. My friends involved in church-planting-related ministries from other continents have a hard time coming up with examples of “alternative” movements that are actually movements. By that I mean something that is generally growing and reproducing over a long period of time (I’m not talking about some of the CPM literature of a decade ago).

        So, I’d love to see and hear more about what God is doing around the world that is affecting various types of transformation with minimal types of stuff referred to in this post.

      • we love andrew and debbie jones! and their kidz!

        in my opinion, if we start with learning the skill of cultural analysis, and from there go into ministry contextualization, then we’ll be able to think through our own situation to listen in stereo to what the Spirit is telling US right where WE live. no need then to lift-and-shift someone else’s contextualization for their locale and air-drop onto our ‘hood. it’s no good, even if the ministry model “worked” in the author’s – speaker’s – celebrity’s neighborhood.

        nothing dampens Christmas more than getting the exact same toy your brother who’s only a year older got. do we think the Spirit is so dull that we can’t find and/or design something indigenously brilliant where we’ve been led, instead of getting someone else’s decision-making leftovers?

        whatever.

        read Andrew. read Roland Allen. read George Patterson. read the people who are doing what the head of the Church told THEM to do, not told their siblings to do … extract their espresso and go with your own flow …

        i know some of this is off topic, but that’s how discussion with Andrew and Debbie roll … right?

      • I guess our discussion may be off-topic, if this post is limited to Mars Hill and company. However, if the discussion is a wider consideration of systemic issues that may just be in the water, then, it seems that we may be treating the same topic from another angle…

      • Not off topic, at all, Rob. Am loving your conversation with B-rad. :-) Just wish I had time to participate. Imbi’s and my Northern Europe business trip is jam packed. (We’ve been able to visit relatives in Estonia for the past few days, as well.)

      • huzzah! something to distract us from what detracts from us! what a relief …

      • I guess being Spirit-led may have something to do with it.

        I may have read a book about that once… a guy that was even stopped by the Spirit from entering Asia…

  14. One of the subtler things that I noticed in the Petrys’ account was a contrast: Driscoll forced out MH co-founder Lief Moi, Bent Meyer who Jonna Petry characterizes as have years of pastoring experience as well as her husband who appears to have been one of the older, more established (being a lawyer and all) members early in MH’s history. By contrast according to Driscoll seems to have made Jamie Munson his right-hand man in spite of what Jonna Petry recalls of his relative youthfulness, newness to the faith (at the time), and inexperience.

    Is it just me or does this suddenly sound like Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12 where he ignores the elders who served his father in favour of the young men who were his friends?

    • WenatcheeTheHatchet March 24, 2012 at 2:01 am

      Funny you should mention that Dan …

      link to wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com

    • WenatcheeTheHatchet March 26, 2012 at 7:22 pm

      link to marshill.com

      The above link mentions Munson voluntarily stepping down late last year. The above photo illustrates succinctly how Munson came to be nicknamed “mini-Mark” in some circles. In that the conflict between Petry and Meyer with Munson as it was perceived was considered grounds for “necessary and inevitable” termination whether or not the by-laws passed it’s strange to realize Munson isn’t lead elder now. He’s currently listed on the pastoral team at Ballard.
      link to marshill.com

      Munson has stepped down and been replaced with Sutton Turner.
      link to marshill.com

      “By God’s grace, Mars Hill Church is in an amazing season of growth. With that comes significantly more complexities, however. We need help and we’ve been searching for a leader of Sutton’s caliber for awhile. God is faithful and brought the right man at the right time.”

      So Munson stepped down and Turner stepped up into a position of leadership with a caliber of leadership Mars Hill had been searching for for a while. In the past as growing and changing responsibilities came along folks inside and outside Mars Hill would hear of this or that elder getting cut loose because the ministry had “outgrown his giftings”. Munson and Driscoll might have agreed that the “next level” of growth was beyond Munson’s giftings for all we do and don’t know. Given the revolving door in executive eldership over the last few years it’s hard to know how long Turner is going to stick around. For executive elders who are described in the by-laws as having life terms there’s been some turnover. WIthin five years of the firings it looks like Munson’s not in charge and Mars Hill could say they’d been looking for a leader of Turner’s caliber for a while.

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