Capstone Series – Your Chance to Add to the FAQ List

** My Capstone 3 article with responses to FAQs about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church is forthcoming. Here’s your chance to add to the list of questions. **

Months ago, I posted on my Facebook page and on my blog a list of 20 questions I was asking as I launched into research writing on the situation of Mars Hill and lessons we could learn from it. (Click that link and the list starts about halfway down the article.) I will eventually develop those into a FAQ format with short-as-possible answers, based on a lot of research and reflection between then and now.

I’ve added to that list about 10 more questions from other friends, plus 2 new ones I’ve been asking in light of the planned dissolution of Mars Hill Church:

  • What did you hope to see happen before and during the winding-down of MHC?
  • Given what’s happened with the shut-down, what consequences do you think will probably hang over the leaders and their future churches?

I wanted to open this up again. So, if you have questions you want me to consider adding to the list, you can post them here in the comments, message me on Facebook, or use the contact page on my blog. I’ll begin posting responses sometime in the near future, or perhaps just wait and post them all at once. We’ll see what develops …

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

SUMMARY. This article presents a critique of the three possibilities presented on October 31, 2014, 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.

To gain the greatest potential understanding and benefit from considering this Capstone article, first read my series on Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse and the Research Guide to Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church. The former series looks at the theoretical issues involved in abuse, repentance, individual restoration, and organizational renovation. The latter series provides frameworks for understanding personal and organizational problems at Mars Hill, along with extensive documentation, analysis, and interpretation. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex, Part 5 – The Dark Side of Institutionalized Systems

Part 5. Christian Industrial Complexes, institutionalized social movements, and the dark side of toxic systems

In my opinion, any variation of Christian Industrial Complex combines many elements of bounded choice and interlocking directories. It emphasizes specific Christian genres of theological systems or ministry practices, and promotes specific celebrities who embody them. This can be marketed and sold outright as “the best brand,” or somehow ends up as perceived as the right way to go among those vulnerable to looking for a “total system” that answers all their needs. I do NOT think a Christian Industrial Complex is likely to reach the extreme end of the spectrum and become a total institution – although some of its celebrity leaders and/or partner entities may definitely go into that direction individually as toxic leaders or very sick organizational systems. However, the presence of the bounded choice and interlocking directory factors do put a Christian Industrial Complex at high risk for becoming institutionalized and stale. Also, the overfocus on black-and-white “best brand” thinking plus a limited cadre of communicators who promote the variant paradigm means that it’s no longer a vital alternative culture. At some point it has already jumped the shark – and is now overstating its current creativity and has overstayed the brand’s viability. And perhaps it is at this very point in the in-between zone of interlocking directory and total institution when the dark sides of toxic Christian Industrial Complex systems emerge. From what we’ve witnessed in the past five or so years, we seem to have a couple examples where it’s become apparent enough that those who benefit from being in an Industrial Complex engaged in manipulation and disinformation to gain and maintain their power situation. Continue reading

Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex, Part 4 – Psycho-Social Strategies and Structures

Part 4. Framework #3. Psycho-social strategies and structures that lock people into toxic systems.

How do theologians (and others) with a pathological bent use their authority to turn a consumer-culture machine into a self-perpetuating toxic system?

This section cross-pollinates concepts about sick organizations with power-hungry people, to see how toxic systems step up control factors to exert dominion over groups and remove their freedoms. So, let’s think through the systems level of toxic organizations increasingly limit personal choice of the members therein: Continue reading

Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex, Part 3 – Corrosive Power Dynamics

Part 3. Framework #2. Power dynamics that corrode populism into consumerism.

I found the process of subcultural emergence fascinating, and first taught on the subject in about 1996. In the late 1990s, I was applying subculture analysis directly to the emerging ministry movement. I even got to present a workshop on the subject at the 1998 Young Leaders Re-Evaluating Postmodernism conference – “Navigating the Futures of Street-Level Postmodernism.” Even then, I was cautionary about going overboard on subculture ministry. It would be far too easy to end up as “modernist ministers in postmodern drag,” turning the serious work of cultural contextualization into mere consumerist top 10 tip lists.

So, I was aware of how things could go off-kilter if we put populist/open-participation blinders on, and allowed only certain celebrity/closed-consumerist types provide the overriding perspective and hijack the trajectory. Sometimes it happens when people get complacent and also happens if mega-ministries and businesses jump in to select their “star” performers. Continue reading

Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex, Part 2 – Emerging Subculture Movements

Part 2. Framework #1. Trajectory arcs of emerging subculture movements and interactions with the mainstream.

In the mid-1990s, I did extensive research work on the process of how “identity subcultures” emerge, based on a newfound set of core values that drew them together as an “affinity group.” Sometimes those values attracted people from widely different social situations, cultures, races, etc., and they created a virtual tribe based on something they all saw as important that was missing in the mainstream culture. Keep in mind that these viritual-identity, cultural creative entities start out as producing something new – it’s inherent to their emergence. However, it doesn’t always stay that way. Sometimes a forward trajectory runs out of creative energy, or otherwise ends up going sideways. Continue reading

Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex, Part 1 – Culturology, Futurology, and Three Decoding Frameworks

Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex, with Applications to Mars Hill Church and the Emergent Movement

SERIES SUMMARY. A question that’s arisen lately on spiritual abuse survivor blogs has to do with the “Christian Industrial Complex,” or some variation thereon, such as: the Evangelical Industrial Complex, the Emergent Industrial Complex, the Resurgence Industrial Complex, the Patriarchal Industrial Complex. These are contemporary versions of the idea of a Military-Industrial Complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned against in his farewell speech. I’d describe it as a gridlock of military, political, and business interests that formed a self-benefiting association of preferential relationships that went against the public interest. (Some of the classic research behind the Military-Industrial Complex comes from The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills.)

When it comes to Christianized variations of this organizational complex, what exactly is that all about? Why the increased interest at this time? How do we dissect what this thing is, how/why it affects us, and why it’s even relevant?

This series introduces three major frameworks I use for analyzing social movements and toxic systems, and builds toward describing what this phenomenon of a Christian Industrial Complex is, how it works, and how it can inflict damage. It also suggests a list of indicators for identifying layers of enmeshed involvement among celebrity leaders, Christian business industries, and followers/consumers in such probable toxic systems as this. It ends with some initial analysis and interpretation of toxicity issues in two streams that came out of the “emerging ministry movement” – the more conservative New Calvinism of Mars Hill Church/Resurgence and the progressive Emergent Movement of Emergent Village.

Note: These posts are designed to be read in order because of the sequence in which terms and concepts are introduced. Continue reading

Mars Hill, Emergent Movement, Emergent “Meltdown”?

The last few months have brought some amazing contemporary case studies into the public realm of online scrutiny and also “digital dissent” with online push-back by survivors of spiritually abusive ministries and movements. This includes both Mars Hill Church and what I’ve been calling the Emergent movement that arose from the embers of what used to be Emergent Village. I’ve written far above my usual output because of how these two real-world examples illustrate the final material I’ve been writing for a forthcoming volume in my imprint on Do Good Plus Do No Harm. It’s a book for people associated with missional/social transformation endeavors, church plants, and non-profits.

Continue reading

Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse – Part 3G – Step 5, Layer 3 – Affected Groups Need to Deal with Toxic Leaders

Part 3 – Concepts, Questions, and Continuums for Building a Comprehensive “Remediation Plan”

Part 3G. Step 5, Layer 3.

Affected Groups Need to Deal with Toxic Leaders


Layer 1 – How to determine the levels of personal growth and recovery needed by leaders who harm others, regardless of how gifted they are or how much they help others.

Layer 2 – How to identify what levels of peace-making are needed in personal relationships where a leader has caused damage.


Layer 3 – How to ensure individuals qualified for roles to lead the organization stay, when those disqualified should be removed, and when/if they should ever be restored to a former position.

Layer 4 – How to discern whether an organization that is toxic can be repaired, or should not even survive.

[Click on the chart to view a larger version.]

Step 5, Layer 3 ~ Affected Groups Need to Deal with Toxic Leaders

Step 5, Layer 3 ~ Affected Groups Need to Deal with Toxic Leaders


At this point, we switch from a focus on the individual leader with problems to address, to move to the organizations they’ve built. These are influenced by and infused with toxic strategies and structures, processes and procedures. Addressing them means shifting from individual responsibility to corporate discernment and decision-making. To put it bluntly: At this Layer, the sidelined leader is no longer in the driver seat. Period. Continue reading