Editor's Note: Sutton Turner was the executive pastor and an executive elder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He spent several years in the business world, working in Texas and the Middle East before God called him to serve at Mars Hill. Turner oversaw the church's central operations and business functions, including finance, property, media and communications, and technology. He trained and mentored the executive pastors and deacons across all Mars Hill Church locations.
Mars Hill Church closed on December 31, 2014 and by the grace of God, several new, independent churches were planted out of it. Romans 8:28 is clear that God uses everything in our lives for our good and his glory. Again by the grace of God, the story of Mars Hill presents many lessons to be learned that I pray might help others. One of the biggest mistakes of Mars Hill Church was using a company called ResultSource. It deserves to be a business school case some day, but for right now, let's focus on the leadership lessons.
In April 2011, I joined Mars Hill as the General Manager and reported to the Executive Pastor. I had enjoyed the teaching via podcast from overseas since 2007. My family and I looked forward to attending and serving in the church that we had enjoyed from afar, a church that loved Jesus and preached the gospel. I looked forward to using my gifts and experience to further the mission of Jesus through the local church.
When I arrived at Mars Hill, the financial books were a mess. During my first week, I asked the finance director to bring me the financials. He said he could provide me with September 2010 because they were about to close out the books for October. Financial reporting was six months behind. I thought, "How do they know how they're doing financially?!" The finance team handed me a bank statement. (If you are in finance or accounting, you just cringed as you read the last sentence.)
Through the grace of the Lord Jesus, the efforts of a hard-working team, and the hiring of a chief financial officer, we had put in a new chart of accounts, gotten the books closed out within 30 days of the previous month, and started to figure out where we were financially. That was all within only five months! At the same time, I was getting familiar with other ministries and departments, such as Media and Communications.
In July 2011, a new marketing proposal was already in the works at Mars Hill: ResultSource. I learned of the project from the manager who was overseeing it. ResultSource was a marketing practice that purchased books through small individual bookstores that would qualify the book for the New York Times Best Seller List. Then, these books would be shipped to Mars Hill and sold in our nine church bookstores. It was proposed that being listed on the New York Times Best Seller List would increase the awareness of the church, support the upcoming sermon series, and increase church size.
I had a couple of meetings with the manager who was working on this project and at the time he stated his concern with the marketing proposal. I was not invited to any meetings to discuss ResultSource in my role as General Manager overseeing finance. However, I wrote several memos to my supervisor sharing my concern and lack of support for this marketing practice. I was relatively new to the staff and obviously not on the Board of Directors, nor was I asked to be a part of this particular decision. But due to my adamant disagreement and desire to best serve the staff and church, I wrote a memo on August 26, 2011 to my supervisor saying the following:
- The plan was poor stewardship.
- If the plan were to be revealed, it would look poorly on the stewardship of Mars Hill Church.
- If the plan were to be revealed, it would look poorly on Pastor Mark Driscoll.
A week later, I was notified that my advice was not taken and the plan to use ResultSource was approved. I don't know who approved the plan. I don't know what process was conducted concerning the decision. I do know that it showed that the process of making big decisions was broken and it needed to be fixed.
So what do you do when you are working for an organization that does not take your advice?
Many people will quickly answer, "I would quit." Because Jesus allowed me to personally walk through what became a very public decision in Christian blogs and news, I can humbly yet confidently teach a valuable leadership lesson. (After reading this, you still might conclude I should have resigned, but I think there is more to consider before anyone in a similar situation jumps to that conclusion.)
What You Can Do
First of all, if the decision is illegal, you need to report the decision to the proper authorities. As Christians, we answer first to the Lord and he is clear that we should submit to the authority that he has instituted (Romans 13). There are good whistleblower laws in the United States for protection of people who report crimes. In the ResultSource decision, it was easy to understand that the decision to participate in this marketing practice was not illegal, but again, as I stated, my opinion was (and still is) that its ethics were questionable. It used a loophole in the New York Times Best Seller List process. It did not steward the church's resources well.
If the decision however is not illegal, you need to do one of two things:
- When you are working in the US, you can always quit your job and leave if you don't like a decision that has been made above you.
- During my three and a half years at Mars Hill, I saw many people leave because they did not agree with the way decisions were made.
2. Stay and support the decision.
- You can stay and take ownership of the decision like you agreed with the decision, for better or for worse.
- You can stay and try to change the organization so that decisions, which you believe are mistakes, do not happen again.
What You Cannot Do
1. When the decision is legal, you cannot stay and complain that you did not agree with it. You cannot be divisive while continuing to remain on the team. If you are going to be divisive, you need to leave.
2. You cannot leave the organization and complain to your friends or through social media when you actually had an opportunity to fix it if you had stayed. I have seen many people leave Mars Hill who had positions of influence. They did not agree with decisions, resigned, and went to social media to try and bring about organizational change from the outside. To me, if you stay, you can be part of the solution, but if you leave, you need to leave and allow leaders who remain to make changes for the organization's future.
Shortly after the decision to execute the ResultSource marketing plan was made, my supervisor resigned. After him, I was the highest-ranking employee in administration. The decision had been made but the contract hadn't yet been signed. On October 13, 2011, I signed the ResultSource contract as General Manager a full month before being installed as an Executive Elder. After signing the contract, I emailed an elder, stating my frustration with having to be the one to sign the contract when I had voiced my disagreement with it. But few in the organization (or in the media since then) knew of my disagreement. When you stay in an organization and you do not agree with a decision, you have to own that decision as your own. Unfortunately, I will always be linked to ResultSource since my name was on the contract even though I thought it was a bad idea. If given the same opportunity again, I would not sign the ResultSource contract, but honestly, my missing signature would not have stopped it. Someone else would have signed it anyway since the decision had already been made.
I knew if I left Mars Hill, the likelihood of decisions like ResultSource would only continue. Through prayer and confidence that Jesus had called my family and me to Mars Hill Church, I decided to stay and change the decision-making process so that decisions like ResultSource would not be made again.
My next blog post will detail what changes were made.
The above post originally appeared here: http://investyourgifts.com/resultsource1/