A group of Mars Hill pastors have written a letter to other elders of the church, in which they criticise Mark Driscoll, the "abusive, coercive ministry culture" his leadership has created and call for him to step down from ministry.
The letter – posted in full here – continually reaffirms love and respect for Driscoll, but following a long line of controversies within Mars Hill, the pastors insist they feel "compelled to speak up".
"We are seriously concerned about the state of our church, especially the state our leadership at the highest levels and our continued lack of transparency in general," the letter reads.
"While the current bylaws greatly restrict our authority, we believe we must act like elders none-the-less. There is information in this letter that we believe to be important to the future of Mars Hill Church and our response to it may impact whether or not it will even have a future at all."
Driscoll, who founded the church in 1996, has been embroiled in a number of scandals in the past few months, including plagiarism and manipulating sales figures by paying a company to bulk-order his book.
His controversial leadership style has also garnered significant criticism, and Mars Hill has long been accused of fostering a culture of bullying within its leadership structure.
The nine signatories therefore call for greater transparency and accountability – urging Mars Hill to be open and "love the light".
"Brothers, have we been a church that is characterized by coming towards and loving the light? Do we welcome the light, trusting God's grace and mercy when our weaknesses and failures are exposed?" They ask.
"Where there is nothing to hide, there is no fear of being exposed. But, rather than seeking clarity, we have cloaked ourselves in non-disclosure agreements. We have become masters of spin in how we communicate the transition of a high volume of people off staff. We have taken refuge behind official statements that might not technically be lies on the surface, but in truth are deeply misleading."
The letter also draws on quotes from Paul Tripp, a former member of the Mars Hill board of advisors, who has said of the 14,000-member church: "This is without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I've ever been involved with".
The letter calls for elders to support a leave of absense from Driscoll, suggesting that while they "truly desire his full restoration to preaching Pastor", Driscoll should "step down not only from the pulpit, but from all aspects of ministry and leadership."
The pastors end their plea with a reminder of Driscoll's own words during a sermon in 2006: "And if at any time in the history of this church the elders discipline me, do not be loyal to me. Be loyal to them; be loyal to Jesus."
The letter was posted on August 22, two days ahead of Driscoll's decision to step down for six weeks in what the pastor is calling an "extended focus break" while a review of the accusations levelled against him is undertaken.
At least one of the nine signatories has lost his job following the letter, the Seattle Times reports.
Mark Dunford, pastor of Mars Hill Portland, was let go on 27 August.