Mars Hill’s Non-Compete Clause Claims to Preserve Church’s “Purity”

A former pastor and elder at Mars Hill Church is reported to have been removed from his position over objections to the church’s non-compete clause in his annual performance review. The issue of whether a church should even have a non-compete clause is being debated in other blogs and articles, but the upshot is that no one who signs this is permitted to establish a church or join a church staff that operates within 10 miles of any Mars Hill site. As the map in that last link shows, any Mars Hill staffer in the State of Washington would have to sell their house and move away in order to find work unless the Mars Hill leadership approved the new job. That’s a horrible way to treat a fellow member of the family of God.

What I’m also concerned about is the non-compete clause’s self-justifying language:

We would not want our actions to cause confusion or harm by making the people of Mars Hill question our love for the Lord, the purity of our church, or their decision to worship Christ here.

It looks like they are trying to say that setting up a new church within 10 miles of them would cause people to question the leadership’s love for God, the purity of Mars Hill Church, and the decision-making skills of individual members. What the clause really does, of course, is cause all those things to happen.

Its very existence calls into question the things they say it protects.

Questioning the “Purity” of the Church

The most disturbing phrase in the clause is that part about causing people to question “the purity of our church.”

Why would Mars Hill – or any church for that matter – look on itself as possessing the type of purity that can be protected by a non-compete clause? What do they even mean by “purity”?

The only purity we have, as individual believers or collectively as the church, is the purity of Christ through his finished work. (1 Corinthians 6:11, Hebrews 10:22, Revelation 7:14.) The church is not made less pure because a pastor leaves to serve in a nearby church, nor is it more pure because the leadership prevents pastors from leaving for nearby churches.

Mars Hill appears to be concerned about protecting a purity it doesn’t really possess, a purity that apparently depends on the efforts of its pastors. But a local church – Mars Hill or any other – is pure only insofar as it is part of the larger Church, the Bride of Christ which is itself made pure because of who the Groom is and not because the Bride has done anything to make herself pure enough for its pure and holy Savior.

So let’s hope we hear no more about needing a non-compete clause to protect the purity of a local church – Mars Hill or any other. That’s just nonsense.

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32 Responses to Mars Hill’s Non-Compete Clause Claims to Preserve Church’s “Purity”

  1. Deanna says:

    Ridiculous! The idea of a non-compete clause for a church is shocking and rather sad. Fundamentally, it means that they see the other churches in the city as competition rather than part of the same body (which is honestly all too common of an attitude for churches, even ones without non-compete clauses). Can the arm compete against the eye? I am again grateful for my pastor who says often that there is one church in our city, and we are just a local expression of it-and who blesses and honors people who feel called, for whatever reason, to a different fellowship!

  2. Aimee Byrd says:

    Just goes to show that the business model is not for churches!
    My brother-in-law is planting an ACNA church in a small town, and was invited to be part of a group of pastors that meet to help with church plants in that area. They all pastor different churches, even in different denominations, but they want to support one another. It’s quite remarkable. The pastor who leads it actually paid for my brother-in-law to go to away for a seminar on planting.
    That just makes the non-competition clause sound even more silly, doesn’t it?

    • Tim says:

      That type of cooperation and fellowship shows exactly how silly a non-compete clause is, Aimee. I hope your brother in law enjoys many more opportunities to join with those other leaders in bringing the gospel of Jesus to their neighbors.

  3. lauradroege says:

    This leaves me speechless. It’s so odd and freaky-weird that I can’t even fathom why they’d put in this non-compete clause in the first place. Who came up with this idea, and what in tarnation were they thinking?!?! (Not expecting you to answer, just saying that I’d like to open up their brain and poke around a bit, just to see how it’s wired.)

    • Tim says:

      Self-preservation is the only motivation I can come up with for it, Laura. It’s an odd motivation for a church to have, since we are preserved by the Holy Spirit himself.

  4. stephanielynn75 says:

    Mars Hill is not a church at this point, in my humble opinion. It’s a corporation driven by the desire for profit, and the actions of those in leadership have proven this time and again. Corporations have people sign non-compete clauses all the time. So, really, Mars Hill is doing what any smart business would do. It’s protecting its bottom line, which in this case is the almighty dollar. Gotta protect the purity of Mark Driscoll’s massive income.

  5. Marsha says:

    Mars Hill seems frantic in their efforts to maintain control. For a long time, Mark Driscoll seemed to take satisfaction in the growing “pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus,” but now they seem to be worried about the loss of members and income. I think they are going to implode.

    • Tim says:

      The pastor who resigned over the non-compete clause was helping to lead the small group ministry. The unmitigated desire to control everyone involved all the way to the small groups meeting in people’s homes is astounding.

  6. Jeannie says:

    I agree with the comments above about the business model just not fitting the church. Hard to believe this is happening.

  7. Maureen says:

    I’ve been following this on other blogs, thank you for picking up on this purity thing. A growing list of (unnecessary) rules coincides with growing fear. But ‘purity’, tossed in nonchalantly, is what law enforcement calls spontaneous utterance. It seems to define the whole document. Possibly this was written by someone other than The Three Kings, but the final words have to be agreed to and carried out by them. What do they fear?

    Our denomination has a clause for not planting a new work within 5 miles of an existing one (same denomination of course). The reason is to honor the work already carried out by others who came first. BUT – this is clear with the paperwork and process for credentials. No surprise. Don’t have to sign anything on the way out the door. You can leave your credentials with them and do your own work if you like. I’ve watched this scenario play out a few times with cooperation and blessing.

    • Tim says:

      You make a good point about it all being up front at the start. this pastor was going over an annual review, with the implication being that if he didn’t sign it he could not continue a ministry he was invested in. What a wrenching decision for him to face, and how unfair of the church leadership to put him in that position.

      • Marsha says:

        I can see where a church might – up front – hire a pastor and include in his contract that he cannot plant a new church in the area within a certain period of time after leaving his position. But the idea that a pastor couldn’t accept a position in another church in the area is ridiculous; it sounds like involuntary servitude.

        • Tim says:

          Especially in this instance, since the pastor was volunteer staff heading up just one part of a small group ministry. What’s he supposed to tell the leadership of the next church he attends in the area? “Sorry I can’t serve or volunteer in any capacity at this church. Mark Driscoll made me promise not to.”

  8. Ken says:

    Weird, slick, church-branding…
    I wonder if in the vacuum of local churches loving and expressing concern for each other, aberrant ideas emerge, such as the bizarre concept of one church protecting its “purity” by preventing the birth of other churches… We can do so much better than this, really.

    • Ken says:

      What I meant was, “…in the vacuum of local churches NOT loving and expressing concern for each other…” Type-A, couldn’t move on with the day till I made that right….

      • Tim says:

        Solidarity on not being able to let a typo go, Ken!

        I get what you mean about the vacuum of inter-church fellowship too. What a sad state of affairs among the body in western Washington.

  9. Growing up Roman Catholic and then growing away from that church, I had a grudge against some aspects of it for a time. Then I started really reading the Bible and read how time and again the Israelites wandered away from God and His plan. I read exhortations to the New Testament churches to stop their errors and get back in line with God’s plan and way. Is has been interesting to step across the aisle from Roman Catholic to Protestant as an adult. I’ve learned that any community can become warped and twisted. I’ve also had the privilege of being part of communities humbly seeking “What does God’s Word say, and how do we put it into practice?” Of course, as you so ably point out, that can’t happened without submitting to the Holy Spirit.

    We people have a terrible tendency to wander off, set up our own idols, and all the while convince ourselves we’re doing right by God. And God in His graciousness sends prophets time and again to point the way back to His Word, His Ways, and Him.

    “But a local church – Mars Hill or any other – is pure only insofar as it is part of the larger Church, the Bride of Christ which is itself made pure because of who the Groom is and not because the Bride has done anything to make herself pure enough for its pure and holy Savior.”

    Thanks, Tim, for always pointing the way back to God’s Truth and God Himself.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Ellen. Your insights from personal experience help show why it’s so important to stay focused on God and stay in his word when it comes to how we are to act as individuals and together in the body.

  10. No More Perfect says:

    Does the average MH “church”-goer know about this? If I remember correctly, MH controls its members by telling them not to read gossip about MH. Or maybe that was SGM.

    Either way, I am curious what people at MH really do know. It seems that the higher-ups would keep tight-lipped over this clauses/agreements/disclosures because any normal person reading them would realize how ridiculous it all is and perhaps hightail it out of there.

  11. Ruth says:

    Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel. When did the bit about ‘not in my back yard, I was here first’ become part of the Great Commission?! I think I don’t want to stand next to these men if there is a lightening strike any time soon! Lol seriously , every attempt to spread the Word, even by (shudder) feminists, should be the first thing we think of,on rising, and on sleeping, in our prayers, and in our every day life. How can anyone take away any effort to witness? To be a stumbling block to any sincere Christian is more than I would dare do…..unbelievable! 😦

    • Tim says:

      Paul even said that those who preached Christ out of a desire to harm him were welcome to spread the gospel as far as he was concerned. That’s the opposite of a non-compete clause!

      • Ruth says:

        So true, let us speak out to all who will hear, and pray for the spread of the Word, no matter if we are not welcome with open arms, Jesus does that for us.

  12. Marsha says:

    Just read that yet another pastor, Phil Smidt, has been fired for asking questions. Phil and his wife were part of the core group of church planters back in 1996. Can’t the members see that there is a serious problem with a church whose focus is on the head pastor getting his way at all costs rather than on Jesus and His Way?

    • Tim says:

      This information is not being talked about within the church, from what I’ve read. Lack of information leads to lack of action.

  13. MM says:

    Most long term members are aware of what is being plastered all over the internet, and do have concerns about a number of things. Prayerfully considering how to approach those concerns and leaving at the first sign of trouble are two very different things. What no one seems to want to talk about though is the other side of the story.
    What about the God-fearing, people-loving followers of Christ who are attending MH and feel called to stay? Do they not have the Holy Spirit and would you call them foolish, stupid, or ignorant for obeying the Lord?

    • Tim says:

      If they are led by the Spirit to stay, they should stay of course. The leadership should also change its ways immediately, no matter who stays and who goes.

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