James - Ballard 2007-14

Your Name




Which describes your role at Mars Hill?

Regular Attender, Member, Group Leader (any leadership role)

What Mars Hill location(s) did you attend?


What years were you involved / attending?

2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014

How did you first hear about Mars Hill?

I don't recall.  We had landed several blocks away from the Ballard campus when we moved to the area, and had perhaps heard it mentioned a couple times.

What were your first impressions?

Good music - skilled musicians, current with music culture, combination of hymn-derived and original pieces (no "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs).  Entertaining and challenging preaching - sounded very authentic.

Why was Mars Hill your church home?

It was full of real people, open people, needy and seeking people.  With that "culturally liberal but theologically conservative" blend, people were not there to be comfortable in the church-culture sense.  Being challenged was what it was all about, and the need was always there as things grew and grew.

What about your time at Mars Hill has had a positive impact on you?

I retain an improved meta-focus on the "what now, what next", what I might call the growth mindset.  I've made and kept good friends through the community group network that still meet regularly even today.  Some of these are people who would not have been friends in any other context, but truly did come together in Christian community.  It's the best model and execution of small groups that I've seen.

What about your time at Mars Hill has had a negative impact on you?

Well, the leadership culture did turn out to be poisonous.  Even before Kraft et al's revelations, leadership was short-minded, too hierarchical, and chaotic.  We told ourselves it was because of the growth and just trying to keep up with things, but by about the third time staffers got laid off around Christmas, something stunk (at least about money management - we hoped that Turner would clean that up).  CG leadership was sincere but chaotic and unempowered.  I had 5 coaches in 4 years as a CG leader, and merely counted myself lucky that I didn't actually need anything from any of them.

Which describes you?

I left Mars Hill prior to closure.

Please describe why you left Mars Hill and what that experience was like.

The Kraft charges in March were the big game changer.  It was the incredible missing piece that made the hundred other oddities all connect to each other.  Everything clicked into place and made sense: Driscoll wasn't putting on an act in the pulpit, being more extreme to provoke and challenge people.  He was even more anger-driven outside the pulpit!

I spent a couple months researching, documenting the timeline, mostly waiting to see if and when Driscoll would come clean and fully repent.  He got sad and apologetic, but still defiantly unrepentant (saying he couldn't engage with anonymous detractors) regarding his core characteristic sins.  More and more pastors and leaders from the formerly silent inner circle spoke up, wrote, and the evidence piled up.

At Ballard, the loyalist (to Driscoll) leadership faction held on over the righteous rebels.  The beloved RG author pastor was already gone, and the "Lead" pastor was the boss/manager of the Ballard pastors there.  He fired one for not being "on-board" enough regarding Driscoll's repentance to that point, and half of the rest resigned in protest at that point.  I spent hours talking with that pastor personally at that time and later, and even after Driscoll ran away, as the church dissolved, he still believed that he would do it all over again the same way.  Unbelievable.

The seal-the-deal moment was Driscoll's wretched but prophetic (to himself) sermon on wolves - the one where he started with the audio clip of howling.  He asked, after talking of shepherds and wolves, "Who is *your* alpha?"  All I could do is sit there with jaw dropped and say "It's you, Mark!  This church is following you, you're that alpha wolf!".  Honestly, I still can't understand what Driscoll thought he was saying that day - the term "alpha" isn't/wasn't applied to shepherds.

Our CG (including 2 CG leaders, 2 CG coaches, and an RG leader) all left the church at the pretty much the same time, together.  May and June, the vision breakfast and member meeting were the last chances for anything to turn around, and it clearly wasn't going to.

How would you describe the reason for Mars Hill's closure to an outsider.

Forget plagiarism, misogyny, or anything financial.  The reason Mars Hill closed is because Mark Driscoll was angry, prideful, abusive, and unrepentant.  Oh, he apologized for things - but he never really owned it, never really repented.  He still hasn't, in any speaking appearance since.  He was a "master manipulator" (direct quote from abused pastor) and brilliant speaker, but behind the scenes he used shame, anger, fear, verbal and emotional abuse to rule the church leadership.  THAT is why Mars Hill collapsed.

What's changed for you since your time at Mars Hill came to an end?

I'm a little more cynical, and will be calling BS a little quicker in any similar situation in the future.  We collectively put too much faith, with too little verifiability, in a too-distant leader.

In leadership myself, I've learned to focus more on giving intent instead of orders.  That empowering leaders is key to their growth.