If you are a member of Mars Hill Church, or considering membership, you may have question about how Mars Hill is governed. The purpose of this FAQ page is to provide answers to those questions.

How is Mars Hill Church governed?

At Mars Hill Church, we make every effort to be obey the Scriptures and have leadership organized as the Bible teaches. This means that we have the following offices:

  • Jesus, our senior pastor
  • Elders/pastors
  • Deacons
  • Members
Each of these offices is described in greater detail below or, for a more thorough description, in Pastor Mark's book Vintage Church.

What does it mean that Jesus is our “senior pastor”?

Jesus Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 1:9, 22–23; 4:15; 5:23), the apostle who plants a church (Heb. 3:1), the leader who builds the church (Matt. 16:18), and the senior pastor and chief shepherd who rules the church (1 Pet. 5:4). It is ultimately Jesus who closes down churches when they have become faithless or fruitless (Rev. 2:5). Therefore, it is absolutely vital that a church love Jesus, obey Jesus, imitate Jesus, and follow Jesus at all times and in all ways, according to the teaching of his Word (Col. 3:16).

What is an elder/pastor?

At Mars Hill, we use the term elder and pastor interchangeably. Elders are the male leaders of the church chosen for their ministry according to clear biblical requirements after a sufficient season of testing in the church (1 Tim. 2:11–3:7; Titus 1:5–9). Elders are nearly always spoken of in plurality because God intends for more than one man to lead and rule over the church, as a safeguard for both the church and the man. This is illustrated by Paul when he speaks of a council of multiple elders ruling in a local church (1 Tim. 4:14; Titus 1:5). Currently there are more than 50 elders and another 50 men being trained and examined for that role. Some elders are paid, and some are unpaid.

What are the qualifications for of an elder?

The Bible defines the qualifications of elder in two primary places in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9, and the lists are virtually identical.

From 1 Timothy 3:1–7

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

From Titus 1:5–9:

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

In addition to the qualifications of an elder, the Bible also provides the duties of elders/pastors:

  • Praying and studying Scripture (Acts 6:4)
  • Ruling/leading the church (1 Tim. 5:17)
  • Managing the church (1 Tim. 3:4–5)
  • Caring for people in the church (1 Pet. 5:2–5)
  • Giving account to God for the church (Heb. 13:17)
  • Living exemplary lives (Heb. 13:7)
  • Rightly using the authority God has given them (Acts 20:28)
  • Teaching the Bible correctly (Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:2)
  • Preaching (1 Tim. 5:17)
  • Praying for the sick (James 5:13–15)
  • Teaching sound doctrine and refuting false teachings (Titus 1:9)
  • Working hard (1 Thess. 5:12)
  • Rightly using money and power (1 Pet. 5:1–3)
  • Protecting the church from false teachers (Acts 20:17–31)
  • Disciplining unrepentant Christians (Matt. 18:15–17)
  • Obeying local, state, and federal laws (Rom. 13:1–7)
  • Developing other leaders and teachers (Eph. 4:11–16; 2 Tim. 2:1–2)

An elder is not a helper who does a lot of work for the church, because that is the definition of a deacon. Rather, an elder is a leader who trains other leaders to lead various aspects of the church. Therefore, no man should be an elder unless he has proven that he can effectively train people to be not only mature Christians but also mature Christian leaders who train other leaders.

What is a deacon?

Unlike members or elders, the New Testament says very little about deacons. When senior spiritual leadership is overburdened to the degree that they are unable to simultaneously get time for prayer, Bible study, and the care of needy people, they are free to appoint pastoral assistants or ministry team leaders to help alleviate some of their burden (Acts 6:1–7). This is the pattern of the New Testament: elders are continually appointed first in local churches, and once they are overburdened they appoint pastoral assistants to aid them.

Deacons are mentioned on two occasions in the New Testament. Both occasions are in relation to elders because the two groups of leaders work so closely together (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1–13). Practically, elders and deacons work together like left and right hands, with elders specializing in leading by their words and deacons specializing in leading by their works.

Deacons can be male or female and serve the church by overseeing and caring for God’s people. They must have theological convictions that are true to Scripture (1 Tim. 3:9). Deacons are appointed only after they have proven themselves to the elders as faithful and mature church members (1 Tim. 3:10).

The Greek word for deacon simply means “servant,” and beyond that title we are given little indication of what a deacon should do. This is because while the duties of an elder are universally constant in every church, in every place, in every age, the duties of deacons vary according to the needs of local churches and their elders. In this way, the Bible brilliantly establishes a theologically grounded, morally qualified group of senior elder leaders and grants them the freedom to appoint whatever deacons are needed to help them lead the church in whatever areas they deem require a deacon to lead. The primary list of qualifications for the office of deacon is found in 1 Tim. 3:8–13.

1 Tim. 3:8–13

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

These qualifications are nearly identical to the qualifications of elders—minus the teaching and preaching gifts.

At Mars Hill we currently have over 500 men and women serving as deacons.

What is a church member?

Church members are Christians whose eyes are capable of seeing beyond themselves to the well-being of the whole church. They realize that God died not just for them but also for their church (Acts 20:28). They also realize that he commands them to give selflessly of their money (2 Cor. 8–9) and abilities in order to build up their church (1 Cor. 14:12).

Church members are, in a sense, leaders of and servants in the church who serve according to their abilities in accordance with Jesus’ commands to love God and their neighbor. This shows up not just in what they feel but also in what they say and do. The church members must be trained and released to use their spiritual gifts in various ways so that they too are leading the church, behind the elders and deacons, as the priesthood of believers that Scripture speaks of throughout the New Testament.

To become a member at Mars Hill Church, an attender must be a Christian who has met the requirements of membership established by our elders. Those include being baptized at some point as a demonstration that Jesus died and rose to wash them from sin. Members must also complete the Doctrine series, which explains the essential beliefs of Christianity, and our church as well as the philosophy of ministry and organizational structure of the church, and sign our membership covenant with the elders to serve in the church, pray for the church, give to the church, read their Bible regularly, love their brothers and sisters in Christ in word and deed, respect the authority of church leaders including submitting to discipline if necessary, attend church services, and share the gospel with others in word and deed.

How has church governance within Mars Hill Church changed over the years?

As Mars Hill Church has grown over the years, we have had to reorganize ourselves more than once. We do this because we love Jesus and want to love and serve people and steward resources as well as we can. For example, when Mars Hill started, it was a very small church of a few dozen people all meeting at one time in one room. At that time Pastor Mark was the only pastor, and we did not yet have any other official elders, deacons, or members. When things are small they tend to be informal. Most churches operate in an informal way as the average church in America is roughly 70–80 people. For a church to grow it has to reorganize itself much like a married couple that has done things one way for years has to make serious changes if they birth triplets. In the same way, a church has to make changes when God brings the new birth of new Christians. While the growth makes things complicated, we praise God for it because we love people and want to serve them. In 2011 alone, we baptized 1,392 people! But to welcome that many people across multiple states is complicated.

Pastor Tim Keller explains this well, saying:

One of the most common reasons for pastoral leadership mistakes is blindness to the significance of church size. Size has an enormous impact on how a church functions. There is a “size culture” that profoundly affects how decisions are made, how relationships flow, how effectiveness is evaluated, and what ministers, staff, and lay leaders do.

We tend to think of the chief differences between churches mainly in denominational or theological terms, but that underestimates the impact of size on how a church operates. The difference between how churches of 100 and 1,000 function may be much greater than the difference between a Presbyterian and a Baptist church of the same size. The staff person who goes from a church of 400 to a church of 2,000 is in many ways making a far greater change than if he or she moved from one denomination to another.

A large church is not simply a bigger version of a small church. The difference in communication, community formation, and decision-making processes are so great that the leadership skills required in each are of almost completely different orders.

Every church has a culture that goes with its size and which must be accepted. Most people tend to prefer a certain size culture, and unfortunately, many give their favorite size culture a moral status and treat other size categories as spiritually and morally inferior. They may insist that the only biblical way to do church is to practice a certain size culture despite the fact that the congregation they attend is much too big or too small to fit that culture.

At Mars Hill, this means we have had to make changes as we have grown. For example, for the first year or two of the church, we had one formal elder, Pastor Mark. Then, a few other elders were added. By 2007, the church was approaching 6,000 people and meeting in multiple locations but still had the same governance structure that required more than 20 elders to vote in 100% agreement on everything. It was impossible for the elders, many of them unpaid volunteers with more than full-time jobs, to keep up with everything that was going on across the various Mars Hill churches. So, the elders voted for a new governance structure at that time which has allowed us to now become one church, meeting in 14 locations across four states, caring for upwards of 14,000 people each weekend.

In the fall of 2011, we undertook yet another restructuring as we planned for more churches in more states to serve more people. As part of the restructuring, we researched the governance structure of other large churches across the United States. We sought counsel from outside attorneys with practices devoted to providing legal services to large churches. With this background and research in mind, Mars Hill’s in-house legal counsel, who specialize in corporate law and came to Mars Hill as a partner in a national law firm, together with our Executive Elder Team, proposed a revised organizational structure for the church that would allow us to plan for, rather than react to, the rapid growth we have experienced by God’s grace.

What does the organizational structure of Mars Hill Church look like?

Mars Hill Church is an elder-led church. Therefore, the leadership and governance of Mars Hill is established within the office of elder.

What is the Full Council of Elders?

The Full Council of Elders comprises all the elders at Mars Hill Church. Currently there are more than 50 elders, and another 50 men are being trained and examined for this role. Because of the size of our church, leadership within the church has to be local. The primarly role of the elders is to provide leadership within the local church in which they serve with the lead pastor for each local church, serving as a “first amoung equals” among his local elder team. In addition, the Full Council of Elders elects the Board of Elders and Executive Elder Team based on slate of nominees presented by the Board and votes on any amendments to the Mars Hill Church doctrinal statement. Finally, the elders serve as the civil members of Mars Hill Church for purposes of the Washington nonprofit corporation act.

What is the Board of Elders?

Mars Hill Church is a Washington nonprofit corporation, and as such is required to be governed for civil law purposes by a board of directors. The Board of Elders fills this role and performs other functions within church government. The principal function of the Board of Elders is to assist and advise the church on those matters concerning executive compensation, financial audits, and formation and oversight of the annual budget, as well as any other duties required under the Washington nonprofit corporation act. In addition, the Board of Elders has the following powers: (i) alter, amend, or repeal and adopt new articles of incorporation or bylaws; (ii) oversee an evaluation of the performance of the Executive Elder Team and approve the annual compensation for each member of the Executive Elder Team; (iii) appoint, retain, compensate, evaluate and terminate the church’s independent auditors; (iv) establish the annual budget for the church; (v) alter, amend, or repeal and adopt a new conflict of interest policy for the church; (vi) indemnify an officer (or former officer), or make any other indemnification other than as authorized in the articles of incorporation and bylaws in accordance with Washington State law; (vii) adopt a plan of merger or adopt a plan of consolidation with another corporation; (viii) authorize the sale, lease, or exchange of all or substantially all of the property and assets of the church not in the ordinary course of business; (viii) authorize the voluntary dissolution of the church or revoke proceedings therefor; (ix) adopt a plan for the distribution of the assets of the church; or (x) make a material tax election under the Internal Revenue Code affecting the church.

How is the Board of Elders comprised?

The Board of Elders consists of seven elders: three employee elders who form the Executive Elder Team, and four nonpaid elders. A “nonpaid elder” is an elder (i) who is not an employee of Mars Hill Church; (ii) who does not have any family or business relationship with any member of the Executive Elder Team; and (iii) who does not have any material business relationship with the church.

The Board of Elders currently consists of: Jamie Munson, who serves as chairman of the Board, Michael Van Skaik, Will Little, Mark Driscoll, Dave Bruskas, and Sutton Turner. There is one vacancy on the Board of Elders which will be filled in the coming weeks.

How are the Board of Elders members selected?

Members to the Board of Elders are elected for one-year terms. Each year, the Board of Elders nomininates a slate of seven elders to serve on the Board of Elders for the upcoming year. This slate is then voted upon by the Full Council of Elders. If the slate is not approved by the Full Council of Elders, the Board of Elders nominates a new slate until approved by the Full Council of Elders.

What is the Executive Elder Team?

The Executive Elder Team is a first-among-equals committee within the Board of Elders and serves as the executive leadership and management of Mars Hill Church. In so doing, the Executive Elder Team oversees and manages the day-to-day affairs of the church and ensures execution of the church’s vision, mission, and strategic objectives. The Executive Elder Team currently consists of three elders: Mark Driscoll, Dave Bruskas, and Sutton Turner. The Executive Elder Team is elected on an annual basis by the Full Council of Elders, as part of their election of the Board of Elders.

What is the Senior Ministry Council?

The Senior Ministry Council is a standing committee established by the Executive Elder Team consisting of the members of the Executive Elder Team and other key ministry leaders designated by the Executive Elder Team to serve on the Council. This council is the primary discerner and guardian, after Jesus, of the organization and overall mission of Mars Hill Church. In this role, the council recommends to the Executive Elder Team programming based on its appropriateness and effectiveness in furthering the overall mission of the church.

What is the Leadership Council?

The Leadership Council is a standing committee established by the Executive Elder Team that consists of key ministry leaders and the lead pastor of each local Mars Hill church. The Council functions to (i) facilitate communication by the Executive Elder Team of the church’s vision, mission and strategic objectives, as well as changes in church programming; (ii) facilitate communication by and among executive elders, senior ministry leaders, and lead pastors; and (iii) advise the Executive Elder Team on the licensure of individuals to perform sacerdotal functions, appointment of lead pastors to local churches, and the appointment and removal elders.

What is the Compensation Committee?

The Compensation Committee determines the total compensation for each member of the Executive Elder Team and discharges any other responsibilities delegated to it by the Board of Elders regarding staff compensation and benefit plans at Mars Hill Church. In determining the total compensation for each member of the Executive Elder Team, this committee hires an independent compensation consultant to prepare and deliver a report detailing compensation levels and benefits for similarly qualified individuals in comparable positions at similar organizations.

The Compensation Committee consists of at least three members of the Board of Elders chosen from among the nonpaid elders serving on the board. The members of the committee are appointed by the Board of Elders. Currently, the following elders serve on the Compensation Committee: Michael Van Skaik (Chairman), Will Little, and Jamie Munson.

What is the Audit Committee?

The Audit Committee advises the Board of Elders and oversee all material aspects of the organization’s financial reporting, internal control, and audit functions. The committee’s role includes a particular focus on the qualitative aspects of financial reporting and organization processes for the management of risk and compliance with significant and applicable tax, legal, ethical and regulatory requirements. The role of this committee also includes coordination and strong, positive working relationships with management, external auditors and other committee advisors. In carrying out these fucntions, the Audit Committee is responsible for the following areas:

Financial Reporting
  • Review and assess the financial statements before they are released to the public or filed with funders or regulators.
  • Review and assess the key financial statement issues and risks, their impact or potential effect on reporting financial information, the processes used by management to address such matters, related auditors’ views, and the basis for audit conclusions.
  • Advise financial management and the external auditors that they are expected to provide a timely analysis of significant current financial reporting issues and practices.
  • Review the management letter and review management’s response to the management letter.
Risks and Controls
  • Review and assess Mars Hill Church’s operating and financial risk management process, including the adequacy of the overall control environment and controls in selected areas representing significant risk.
  • Review and assess the organization’s system of internal controls for detecting accounting and financial reporting errors, including computerized information system controls and security, fraud and defalcations, legal and tax code violations.
  • In that regard, review the related findings and recommendations of the external and internal auditors, together with management’s responses. Review the results of the annual audits of directors’ and officers’ expense accounts and management perquisites prepared by the external or internal auditors.
External Auditors
  • Recommend the selection of the external auditors for approval by the Board of Elders.
  • Review the performance of the external auditors.
  • Obtain a formal written statement from the external auditors as to their independence. Discuss with the auditors any relationships or non-audit services that may affect their objectivity or independence.
  • Consider, in consultation with the external auditors, their audit scopes, fees and plans to ensure completeness of coverage, reduction of redundant efforts, and the effective use of audit resource.
  • Review and approve requests for any consulting services to be performed by the external auditors, and be advised of any other study undertaken at the request of management that is beyond the scope of the audit engagement letter.
  • Review with management and the external auditors the results of the annual audits and related comments in consultation with other committees as deemed appropriate, including any difficulties or disputes with management, any significant changes in the audit plans, the rationale behind adoptions and changes in accounting principles, and accounting estimates requiring significant judgments.
  • Conduct an annual self-evaluation of the committee and its performance, which includes an evaluation of the adequacy of this Charter, and recommend changes, if any, to the Board of Elders for its approval.
  • Oversee administration of the church’s conflict of interest policy, including the review and approval of significant conflicts of interest and related party transactions.

The members of the Audit Committee are appointed by the board and must include at least one nonpaid elder. Adequate financial expertise is required to be represented on the committee. Currently, the following elders serve on the Finance Committee: Will Little (chairman), Chad Toulouse, and Bubba Jennings.

What is the Finance Committee and what do they do?

The purpose of the Finance Committee is to advise the Board of Elders in the areas of financial planning and budgeting. This committee’s primary responsibility is to review and provide advice regarding Mars Hill Church’s annual budget and recommend the church’s annual budget for approval by the board. The members of the committee are appointed by the board and must include at least one nonpaid elder. Currently, the following elders serve on the Finance Committee: Jamie Munson (chairman), Brad House, and Justin Holcomb.

What other expertise does Mars Hill have when it comes to finance?

In addition to the Finance Committee and Audit Committee, Mars Hill is blessed to have a number of financal and accounting experts on staff. The two most visiable within the church are Pastor Sutton Turner, who has MBAs from both Southern Methodist and Harvard Universities, and Kerry Dodd, who spent nine years in the audit group of Deloitte & Touche LLP. In addition, Kerry has compiled a fantactic staff of finance and accounting experts to ensure that Mars Hill stewards the resources God entrusts to us in a way that best honors him.

Who are the officers of Mars Hill Church?

For state law purposes, Mars Hill has a president, Mark Driscoll; a vice president, Dave Bruskas; and a secretary/treasurer, Sutton Turner. Mars Hill also has a chief financial officer, Kerry Dodd; and a chief legal officer, Chris Pledger.

What accountability structure is in place for Pastor Mark?

Given that Pastor Mark serves as the most visible representative of Mars Hill Church, we have put in place an accountability structure that includes both internal accountability and external accountability. Internally, Pastor Mark is held accountable to every elder at Mars Hill Church, through the Executive Elder Team, the Full Council of Elders as well as the Board of Elders. He also has external accountability among church leaders outside of Mars Hill Church.

In the event that a formal charge and/or accusation is made against Pastor Mark that, if investigated and found to be true, would disqualify him from his position as an elder in Mars Hill Church, a group of five men consisting of both elders within Mars Hill Church and Christian leaders outside of Mars Hill Church, will investigate the charge or accusation and determine if it is true. This group currently consists of Jamie Munson, Dave Bruskas, James MacDonald, Darrin Patrick, and Larry Osborne. If the charge or accusation is found to be true, this group can rebuke Pastor Mark or, if warranted, remove him as an elder at Mars Hill Church. If Pastor Mark is removed as an elder, he automatically ceases to serve on the Board of Elders, on the Executive Elder Team, and as president of Mars Hill Church.