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Still learning from my experiences at Mars Hill Church!

Lessons learned from my Mars Hill experience!

Due to what’s currently going on with a lawsuit being filed, and Mark Driscoll starting a church in Phoenix on Easter Sunday, I felt it would be good to repost this, which I originally posted on October 8th of 2014.

Hopefully we can all learn from what happened in (and with) Mars Hill Church and aquire a heart of wisdom in our respective callings, ministries and churches.

“Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction.”

~ Proverb 24:32 ESV

For the record, I regularly pray for Dave Bruskas, Sutton Turner and Mark Driscoll as well as many of the pastors and leaders I had the joy of working with during my years at Mars Hill; praying for repentance, reconciliation, restoration and healing!


I spent eight years as a pastor at Mars Hill Church, both in Seattle and here in Orange County CA where my wife, Susan, and I now live. There were some good-to-great things that happened and some sad/bad things that happened during those eight years. I have reflected a great deal about my years on staff since leaving. I want to share four lessons I’ve learned (and continue to learn) and am applying to my current leadership responsibilities and opportunities.

These observations are mine, and mine alone. Some may not agree with my conclusions and they are certainly welcome to their opinions. These observations form an acrostic for ACTS.

One more thing before I jump into the ACTS. The observations and lessons learned came mostly from my experience at Mars Hill; but as I read about what’s currently going on in Christian leadership as well as what I’m learning in my coaching of leaders at other churches, I’ve come to understand that my experiences at Mars Hill are not unique.

What I saw first-hand while on staff at Mars Hill is still happening in other churches and Christian ministries around the country/world.

If I have one regret, it is that I didn’t speak up more often and sooner than I did.


There were numerous situations and instances where top leaders had almost no accountability in their lives and ministries.  They had it on paper, but not in practice. The tough questions were not asked. There wasn’t a willingness to defer to others on staff who had experience and wisdom. A certain degree of pride and arrogance set in and ruled a lot of the time. There wasn’t an openness to being genuinely accountable to others for attitudes and behaviors that were sinful and harmful.


Sin was committed over a number of years (in clear violation of I Timothy 3, Titus 1 and I Peter 5), but that sin was not adequately owned and confessed.  There was a good amount of excuse-making and blame-casting. We didn’t have a confessional culture where the leaders who were confronted accepted responsibility for their sin.


Top-level leaders were not open to receiving honest inquiries from other pastors on staff. Decisions were not discussed but rather announced with very little dialogue or input. There was a defensiveness when an idea or direction was questioned or challenged.  Asking good questions, listening well and being on the hunt for new and better ideas and ways of doing things was not a part of the culture.


The pace of ministry and functioning in crises mode a good deal of the time, due to hurried and last minute decisions without time to think through and adequately process things, resulted in a lot of exhaustion and an unhealthy work-life balance.

The speed at which things happened and the lack of time to make better decisions was an unsustainable model. The principle of Sabbath was very much absent with people working insane hours at an unsustainable pace.

There were many on staff who experienced, or were on the verge of, burnout a lot of the time. We survived on the adrenalin rush, which hurt and harmed people. The pace and the work environment was unsustainable, unhealthy and unwise.

As l live my own life as a leader and as I coach other leaders, I am much more aware of doing what I can to make sure there is:

1.  Good and genuine accountability, coupled with vulnerability and transparency.

2.  A clear value in keeping short accounts, with sin being quickly confessed and owned.

3.  An attitude of being teachable and open to new ideas and ways of thinking.

4.  A culture of pacing that is realistic and sustainable, resulting in good morale and joy.

It is my prayer that the Lord of the Harvest will use these simple observations to convict, convince and correct leaders who may be heading down an unhealthy road and prevent them from making these same mistakes again!

As always your feedback is welcome! Use the section below to make a comment!



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Reader Comments (1)

Hi Dave,
I appreciate this repost. As one still living in Seattle and still dealing with the fallout left behind in our city; I've often contemplated what lessons I can take away and also how I can help others. I agree with and am helped by everything you wrote. For me the main issue was the complete lack of humility that seemed to pervade the young leaders of MH in the final couple of years. (For the record, I've always found you to be a very humble guy, but I'm talking about the period after your influence was no longer being felt). There were at least three occasions where I was asked to get time with young MH pastors or leaders during that period. After the third one, I decided that I would no longer meet with any because they were all so sure of themselves, proud, and even arrogant, that there was really nothing I could offer. As Hugh Halter wrote, "Jesus does not need any more arrogant soul-winners who go out to make more arrogant soul-winners. Jesus wants us to point people to who he really was – a man of humility and love – then allow that image to change them in whatever way God wants". We are wise to heed this counsel. It’s also helpful to remember that our sin nature gives us all an exaggerated sense of self-importance. But gospel humility leads us to esteem others higher than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). This seemed missing in those final couple of years. I'm reminded of the phrase repeated several times in scripture that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. It's a good reminder to me that my commitment to Christ and to His calling on my life must always be held in the container of humility. Knowing that God has many people with a variety of unique gifts and perspectives and that I don't have the complete picture is essential.
March 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAl Engler

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