Thursday, October 16, 2014

On Resignations, Golden Parachutes, and Erring Towards Transparency

On Tuesday, Mars Hill Church's co-founding and teaching pastor, Mark Driscoll, tendered his resignation after a six-week leave of absence in the wake of the allegations made against him by many former staffers and congregants.  My prayers this week are with Mars Hill as well as Driscoll himself, that they may both emerge from this period of turmoil and transition made better and more whole by God's presence.  I fervently hope that this tumultuous, churning experience will result in some sort of spiritual good for them.

I tweeted this when the news first broke:

Driscoll permanently vacating the pulpit of Mars Hill, whether by hook or by crook, was probably what needed to happen.  Giving has plummeted, more and more documents and stories of the toxicity within the church are coming to light, and the writing on the wall was becoming increasingly obvious that Mars Hill would face an uphill battle if Driscoll remained at the helm.  I had hoped at the time that it looked like Driscoll had seen this and wisely stepped aside.  If it is, then he absolutely did the right thing.

But there's the dollars-and-cents dimension to it as well.

For a bit of context: in late August, 9 current MH pastors/elders signed a letter asking Driscoll to step down for the good of both Mark himself and the church.  As of October 6, all nine have either left or experienced change in their positions at Mars Hill.  Only three did so voluntarily through resignation.  The rest were either laid off or had their eldership revoked, even as other MH campus pastors who had not signed the letter were offered other opportunities within Mars Hill even as their own campuses closed.

I'm emphatically NOT an expert on Washington state labor law (or on any law written after the first century, really), and it may well be nigh impossible to prove retaliation in a court of law, but if it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a get my point.

Anyways, some of these pastors were let go with as little as one month's severance.  Meanwhile, reports are that Driscoll himself is entitled to an entire year of full pay and benefits if he voluntarily resigns, per his own contract with Mars Hill...which might explain why he voluntarily stepped aside even though his investigators did not find enough cause to disqualify him from ministry.

According to internal Mars Hill memos, that annual pay was, as of 2012, between $500-565,000, or 7 to 8 times more than the median household income of $65,677 in Seattle that year.  And a $100,000 pay raise for 2013 was apparently on the table.

Now, I'm not disputing that the pastor of a church of Mars Hill's size should be paid more than your average parish pastor (ie, me); they should, just like Bill Gates is entitled to higher pay than the guy who runs the corner computer store in Davenport.

No, what concerns me is the multiplier at play here--not only was Driscoll making more than the people whose tithes paid his salary, he was being paid way more than most of them.  Similarly, he wasn't just paid more than his associate pastors and lead pastors of individual campuses, he was paid way more.

Assume, for argument's sake, that a laid off staffer at Mars Hill was being paid that median household income of $65,677 (it's impossible to tell how much Mars Hill workers are paid, but at least some jobs there seem to be in that $65K neighborhood)--their month of severance pay would amount to $5,743 and change.  Even if we figure on the low end that Driscoll's yearlong severance pay ends up being $500,000, he would be receiving about 87 times more in severance pay than the people his church just laid off.

87.  Eighty-seven.  Eight Seven.

What we are seeing here is the church equivalent of a golden parachute.  Because financially, Driscoll is going to be fine.  He'll be back in the saddle eventually, and can probably still command substantial speaking fees in order to support his wife and kids.  A half-mil (at minimum) severance package doesn't just cushion the financial blow of a pastor stepping down: it covers it in pillows and marshmallows and down feathers.

And that's just fine for Driscoll personally--after all, he's the guy who spends over $200,000 of his church's money gaming his own book to New York Times bestseller status, so I'm pretty sure the person Mark Driscoll cares most about is Mark Driscoll.  But I'm not as sure the same can be said of his worker bees who have found themselves without work in this year of pain and turmoil at MH, many of whom also surely have families to support in addition to bills to pay.  Per the "one month severance" link above--some of those pastors are resorting to gofundme crowdsourcing in order to make ends meet.

It's a saddening Christian witness to see happen.  Think about how much good funds like that $200,000 could have done, and could do now, in similarly cushioning the financial blow of pastors suddenly finding themselves out of work.

And really, the church administration has brought this upon itself.  Financial opacity combined with admissions of significant funds not being used for what they were earmarked for is a surefire recipe for financial collapse (and the job losses that inevitably follow)--just ask the folks who were left standing in the wreckage of First Family Church near my hometown in Kansas.

My parish publishes monthly financial reports that document every single expenditure for our monthly board of directors meetings, and those meetings have, without exception, been open to the entire membership of the church to sit in on for at least as long as I've been here.  If anyone in the church wanted to know how the money was being spent, it was (and is) put out there in black and white for them.  It's a win-win for everyone involved: our membership has open access to information that they are entitled to have, and our volunteer servants who are tasked with making sometimes big decisions on behalf of the church are protected from any whiff of malfeasance.  It may make some actions tougher in the short term because I or anyone else can't simply do whatever they want, but in the long term, it is almost certainly more beneficial.  Exceedingly so.

I get that this isn't really feasible for a church of MH's size, but in the question of convenience over transparency, churches have to err these days on the side of transparency.  Especially when it comes to how we are spending our members' tithes.

Sadly, though, it appears as though far more in tithes will be going towards one person leaving Mars Hill than the dozens others who had been laid off before him.  And such disparate distribution of funds is neither Biblical or spiritual in nature.

Yours in Christ,

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