Kyle Firstenberg, Mars Hill Church's Former Orange County Pastor, Talks of Being Silenced

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Are former leaders of Mars Hill Church essentially being told to shut up lest they lose severance and health insurance?

That's what a Pennsylvania college professor is alleging, based partly on letters he has received from former leaders, including a fellow who was executive pastor of the Malls Hills Orange County church in Santa Ana.

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Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, posted "A Former Mars Hill Pastor Speaks Out and Why Others Are Afraid: The Mars Hill Church Non-Disclosure Agreement." The post describes a non-disclosure agreement current and former employees are to sign "to maintain their severance pay and health insurance."

Among those who received a letter was Kyle Firstenberg. He and his family moved from a Mars Hills Church in Seattle so he could lead the congregation that used to meet Sundays at the Observatory nightclub in Santa Ana. Things went great the first five months Firstenberg was here, as the church was actually receiving buzz from testimony given by Thrice frontman Dustin Kensrue.

But within months Firstenberg stepped down, tried to find another local gig and eventually left with his family for Las Vegas. This was around the time Mars Hill Orange County was facing a deficit and eviction from the Observatory, because the city had informed church leaders they could only stay at that location temporarily due to zoning conflicts.

(The church earlier this year moved to 5082 Argosy Ave., Huntington Beach, where it was renamed Mars Hill Huntington Beach.)

If you follow the links out from Throckmorton's post, and especially read the comments, you see that some Mars Hills followers believe Firstenberg was the patsy for poor management decisions made by church elders. You can also read between the lines that he was foisted into the kind of shaky financial situation that would make someone sign a non-disclosure agreement out of fear of personal financial disaster.

Throckmorton mentions fear when he tries in words to understand the non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

Reading the NDA, it appears to me that MHC leaders hope to use fear of legal action and loss of severance pay to keep former staff quiet. Some who have been watching the Mars Hill saga unfold have asked me privately why few have been aware of the incredible tensions, discord and significant staff turnover at MHC. Furthermore, I have been amazed at how fearful staffers have been to discuss their experiences. I think both of these observations relate to the fear that the massive engine that MHC is will come down on individuals who have relatively few resources to defend themselves.

Firstenberg is quoted in the piece questioning whether church elders, including his former boss Mark Driscoll in Seattle, have taken "ownership" of the problems that have plagued Mars Hill for years. Firstenberg also noted that just about all the pastors who were serving Mars Hills congregations the same time he was are no longer affiliated with Mars Hill.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!



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