Synthesizing the “Mars Hill Research Guide” and “Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse” Series – Introducing the Capstone Articles and Case Study

Introducing the Capstone Articles and Case Study

In August and September 2014, I posted six segments in my Research Guide on Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church (totaling over 22,000 words). I presented material on:

During that same time period, I blogged a large, 11-post series on Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse (30,000 words). It was sparked by a series of questions about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill that I’d developed weeks before, posted on Facebook, and gotten a few add-ons from friends. Coincidentally, the first article in the series – on “Culpability, Complicity, and Responsibility” – got posted earlier on the same morning that Mark Driscoll announced his six-week leave during investigations of the formal charges brought against him of character issues and abuse.

That was a lot of writing in a two-month period. Totaling over 50,000 words, those two series create the equivalent of a book of about 130 pages!

It’s been over six weeks since I finished those two series. Meanwhile, I’ve been working on capstone pieces that synthesize my research findings and my interpretations of their significance. So far, I’ve come up with three probable posts. These tentative capstone articles synthesize my theories about toxicity and responsibility, my research findings on Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill, and some of my interpretations about their significance.

Capstone Article 1 – Three Official Options for Dissolution of Mars Hill Church

A critique of the three possibilities presented by Executive Elder Dave Bruskas for individual campuses in the multi-campus system of Mars Hill, which tentatively will be dissolved by January 1, 2015.

  1. Becoming an independent, self-governed church.
  2. Merging with an existing church to create one independent, self-governed church.
  3. Disbanding as a church and shepherding current members to find other local church homes.
Capstone Article 2 – Some Words for Discernment for Those from Mars Hill

Explores what I believe all this research means for various categories of people in the systems associated with Mars Hill. This includes:

  • Current and recent leaders (as there have been hefty turnover due to financial reasons and firings for apparent insubordination).
  • Current and former members and attenders.
  • Survivors of spiritual abuse, church discipline, and/or shunning from Mars Hill.
  • Partner individuals and entities (e.g., publishers, conferences, networks) that have kept this toxic system propped up over the years.
Capstone Article 3 – Answering the Original FAQ List About Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill

Gives short responses to an initial list of 20 questions on culpability, complicity, and recovery for spiritually abusive individuals and toxic organizations. I developed this list in the summer of 2014, and received another 10 questions from my friends. Somehow it seems appropriate to conclude it all by going back to the origins, and see what I’ve learned.

Case Study – The Disqualification from Ministry of Mark Driscoll and the Dissolution of Mars Hill Church

The Mars Hill situation is complex. It’s complicated by so many layers of issues and people and organizational entities involved, and the many interconnections among them all. I am already working to turn the Research Guide and Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse series and capstones into a more manageable case study on Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church. I won’t be posting that online, but it will appear in a book I’m currently completing on Deconstructing Systems that Damage. I plan to add to it other material on what I see as:

  1. The paradigm that led to authoritarianism and endemic spiritual abuse at Mars Hill.
  2. Challenges from internal and external sources that helped bring pressure on leaders’ conscience for change.
  3. Historical turning points in the trajectory of Mars Hill, and tipping points for when it reached thresholds requiring major decisions from its leaders and followers.
  4. Lessons by extension for the larger Church, and relevant trends already underway.

I don’t consider myself a “discernment blogger” or a “watchman on the wall.” My specific calling as a futurist is to instill hope, and as a research writer to focus on personal and social transformation. Both callings necessarily involve understanding development of healthy versus toxic organizational systems, and the practical how-to’s of transformation from sick to safe. I’ve been engaged in research on related topics since 1990 and boiling down my findings since 2009. The current book series I’m writing, Do Good Plus Do No Harm, has four volumes. The first book, Deconstructing Systems that Damage, looks at how and why things go wrong when we want to do what’s right, how to repair damage to people and systems when it happens, and how to work toward prevention of recurrences and sustainability of a safe work environment for ministry.

That volume is first because I’ve found it is just too easy to go the conventional way – start with the theory of how to supposedly do things right – and think that’s sufficient. If we believe right theory leads automatically to right practices, we will never really get it for why things go wrong … until it’s too late and we’re experiencing them! Instead, it makes more sense to me to look at consequences of toxic leaders and sick systems first. That raises stark, real-world questions that any supposedly good theory must answer. And then we develop our theory, ensuring it matches reality. (And I do present my theory and practices for wise construction of safe/healthy systems in volumes 2 and 3, Setting Up Spaces that Empower and Compositing Ventures that Transform. I add practical exercises and practice projects in volume 4, Workbook: Readings and Resources for Developing Viable, Integrative Teams.)

I do see it as providential that I’ve had Mark Driscoll in my peripheral vision since 1997 with the beginnings of the “emerging ministry movement,” and have been tracking Mars Hill more steadily since 2008. And so, I anticipated there would eventually be “denouement drama” with some kinds of events eventually crumbling Mark Driscoll’s credibility, and bringing Mars Hill Church either to a point of restitution and renovation or of dismantling and shut-down.

I do not rejoice in what has resulted. It’s been spiritually (and financially) costly and stressful for many people. But I am rightfully glad for the vindication of those who for years have attempted to point out the personal character issues, toxic leadership, untrustworthy communications, and sick organizational systems at Mars Hill – plus aid survivors of the resulting spiritually abusive practices there. I hope my Research and Responsibility series, capstone articles, and case study will help disciples discern what happened, interpret what it means, and decide what to do for prevention. In the long run, our best antidote is to ensure these types of abusive leaders and systems get identified early on as being at risk, and so do not just pop up and get propped up.

Intervention is important. But prevention and interception are better. When any of these happen, my providential purposes will have been fulfilled …

Capstone Series Links:

Synthesizing the “Mars Hill Research Guide” and “Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse” Series – Introducing the Capstone Articles and Case Study

Capstone Article 1 – A Critique of the Three Official Options for Dissolution of Mars Hill Church

Capstone Article 2 – Some Words for Discernment by Those from Mars Hill

Capstone 2-1: Consequences

Capstone 2-2: Restitution

Capstone 2-3: “Decisive Moments” and Trajectories of Transformation

Capstone 2-4: Trends, Turning Points, and Tipping Points in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (2014) – Part 1: Setting the Stage

Capstone 2-5: Trends, Turning Points, and Tipping Points in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (2014) – Part 2: New Observations, Analysis, Interpretations

Capstone 2-6: A Lawsuit Against Mars Hill Church Could be a Just Cause Because …

Lawsuit Against Mars Hill Church Leaders – Resource Bibliography

Captstone 2-7: Seven “-Ologies” in Mars Hill’s “Parasitic Paradigm.”