Mark Driscoll’s Church to Host Church Governance Seminar

Yes, that Mark Driscoll.

In the comments, feel free to suggest other workshops which should follow that one. James MacDonald on transparent, controversy-free church leadership should get you started.

Here’s what you will learn on Feb. 28 in Scottsdale, AZ:

HOSTED BY PASTOR MARK DRISCOLL, THE TRINITY CHURCH

SESSIONS TOPICS INCLUDE

How the Church and pastors’ families both suffer under bad governance
A survey of Church governmental models
The biblical standard of singular headship and plural leadership
Theocratic government: a “kingdom-down” not “pew-up” unity focused model
How to embrace apostolic influence
How to implement a God-centered theocratic Church government

They aren’t hiding it. Megachurches in the Driscoll and Gateway image are little theocracies and kingdoms. They are definitely not “pew-up.” There is a lot of confusion about who the gods are.

The description of need for the workshop is priceless:

In an age of multi-site church planting, bad press for Bible-teaching churches, negative social media, lawsuits, disgruntled former leaders, and board conflicts, being a pastor is perhaps more complicated than ever. And too many times, church health is on the backburner, until a crisis happens.

It is so complicated in this age where everybody is wrong but the pastor. If only there was a right form of church government which could rescue a pastor from these disgruntled people and negative outsiders.

 

Friend of James MacDonald Calls for Close of Cult of Personality

Et tu Mancow?

James MacDonald somewhere might be saying something like that after Mancow Muller’s open letter to him was published this morning in the Chicago Daily Herald. Muller attends Harvest Bible Chapel and is a radio personality in the Chicago area. He says he loves MacDonald but also calls him to change his ways. He ends his letter with this:

For a great many, it’s time for the cult of personality of James MacDonald at Harvest chapter to close and the actual Bible to be opened again.

Muller’s letter is a summary of the public allegations hurled at MacDonald and HBC over the past several years. We learn in it that Muller suggested an attorney for the now dropped defamation suit against a journalist, two bloggers and the bloggers’ wives. In it, Muller claimed that MacDonald asked Muller for a $3-million donation to HBC. According to Muller, MacDonald asked Muller to sell his memorabilia and give the proceeds to the church. In response, Muller asked MacDonald to sell his motorcycle. MacDonald refused.

Muller claims the church has not been honest in messages delivered to the public and that MacDonald has not been truthful about his home.  He also said the Naples sabbatical has been planned as a vacation and is not being described adequately to the public. He says the church is cultlike in trying to keep members from reading about the church from online sources.

Muller doesn’t hold back when describing Harvest elders. He refers to them as a “caldron of yes men” and a “marionette quartet” who have “lost their way.”

Muller’s advice to HBC is drastic:

Pastor James should come home and face his church family and stop this game of charades. The so-called “elders” must all be fired. An outside truly independent group, not picked by the MacDonald clan, must be brought in.

If this is true…

Those interested in HBC should read the entire letter.  I maintain that many people who attend a Harvest church are so far removed that they might not realize any of this is happening. However, if what Muller (and many critics) says is true, donors are enabling a dysfunctional organization. If history (e.g. Mars Hill Church) is a guide, many will quietly do exactly what Muller recommends.

Image: By Esther 5000 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48825134

Gospel for Asia Drops Case Against Liability Insurance Company

In August 2018, I reported that Gospel for Asia sued Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company over unpaid attorney’s fees. GFA asserted that their legal costs should have been fully covered by Philadelphia. The insurance company countered that they paid all fees they were required to pay.  The defendant insurer argued consistently since August that the case should be dismissed.

Earlier this month, the case was dropped by GFA. According to a court filing dated January 2, 2019, GFA stipulated to the following:

Plaintiffs Gospel for Asia, Inc., K.P. Yohannan, Gisela Punnose, Daniel Punnose, David Carroll and Pat Emerick (hereinafter “Plaintiffs”), and Defendant Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company (“Defendant”), file this Stipulation of Dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(A)(ii).

1. Plaintiffs sued Defendant seeking damages under insurance related causes of action.

2. Plaintiffs wish to dismiss their claims against Defendant without prejudice.

Since the case was dismissed without prejudice, GFA could later bring an action. However, for now the suit is over. There is no way to tell if the insurer paid more money.  There is no hint or indication that the insurer budged on that point.

GFA’s class action fraud suit is slated to be tried this year.

Another Reparative Therapist Unrepairs

David Matheson was a well known defender and practitioner of reparative therapy for many years. He founded Journey Into Manhood with Rich Wyler. JIM was inspired by New Warriors Training Weekend and the Manhood Project. The Manhood Project and their weekend getaways came to the public eye after several bad experiences by several men who attended the events. One committed suicide and directly attributed his mood decline to the Mankind Project.

The premise of Matheson and Wyler was that gay men don’t experience themselves as masculine. Due to lack of masculinity, they are attracted to men instead of women. JIM seeks to provide members with masculinity building experiences along with lots of hugging and touching. Ultimately, the foundation for their work is in the psychoanalytically influenced work of Elizabeth Moberly and Joseph Nicolosi. They believed gay people were attracted to others of the same sex due to a reparative drive which propelled gays to seek the love they missed from their same-sex parents. Theoretically, if a gay person could get non-sexual connection from same-sex peers, the deficit would be filled and heterosexual longings would naturally emerge.

In practice, this hasn’t worked out well. Numerous former ex-gays have become ex-ex-gay. For instance, John Smid once ran Love in Action, an ex-gay camp in Memphis. He is now married to a man. Randy Thomas was number two man at Exodus who is now dating a man. Most recently, Matheson has announced that he is living as a gay man.

Matheson’s announcement will surely send shock waves throughout the small reparative therapy community. He has been one of the most articulate defenders of gender affirming counseling and reparative therapy. After about two decades of being at it, he is still gay.

 

Harvest Bible Chapel Won’t Reply to Media Questions During Peacemaking Process

Last week I wrote Harvest Bible Chapel’s spokeswoman Sherri Smith a couple of emails with questions about the firing of former Harvest Bible Chapel-Naples pastor John Secrest. Since I did not get a response, I wrote to ask if HBC planned to respond. In response, Ms. Smith answered this afternoon with the following explanation:

While the peacemaking process is underway, Harvest Bible Chapel does not presently intend to respond to further media inquiries. Our focus remains on seeking the Lord and ministering to our church family.

While I understand the impulse to go quiet, the time to do that is after all action has been taken. HBC told the world James MacDonald was going to take a sabbatical and the leaders planned to engage in peacemaking. Then just a couple of days later, those same leaders fired John Secrest as pastor of the same church James MacDonald was advertised as a speaker.

I asked Ms. Smith if MacDonald was still planning to speak there but didn’t get a response to that question. Julie Roys reported on her blog that the elders of HBC in Elgin, IL confessed to “shortcomings” in their handling of the situation at Naples. According to a source cited by Roys, no mention of Secrest’s firing was made at the Naples’ service.

I don’t see how peacemaking is served by swiftly firing a pastor who expressed dissent as a reflection of care for his congregation. By their own admission, HBC elders and Rev. MacDonald have made numerous mistakes and they are still in place with MacDonald being given a sabbatical. Why didn’t Rev. Secrest get a sabbatical?

Organizations don’t need to comment in order to communicate to the public. HBC is sending messages via their actions and silence about them and they are not about peace. If HBC really wants to make peace, start at the end and work backwards. Start with Rev. Secrest and a public apology and private conference to come to a mutual agreement about the situation there.

Martin Luther King, Jr. – I Have a Dream – March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. today, I link to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered August 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

I showed this today in one of my classes and was moved as I always am when I listen to it.  Be inspired.

For a transcript of the speech, you can consult the National Archives at this link.  It is fascinating to examine the draft of the speech. In particular, the phrase “I have a dream today” isn’t in the draft. He improvised the phrase.  He had used it before but it wasn’t in the prepared remarks. In the moment, inspiration came to him and he took the speech to another level. See this interview with Clarence Jones for more on that story.

Harvest Bible Chapel Fires Pastor of HBC – Naples (UPDATED)

John Secrest today informed Julie Roys that he has been fired from his position as pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel in Naples, FL. Secrest planted the church there as a ministry of Harvest Bible Fellowship. HBF was once affiliated with HBC. Those organizations parted ways last summer.

According to Roys, Secrest partnered with the HBC through the winter. Secrest did so without being aware of Roys’ investigation and pending article. In a letter to his congregation, Secrest said:

Dear Harvest Naples Friends,
I want you to know that I have asked the elders to reverse their decision to allow Pastor James to preach in Naples while on his sabbatical as outlined in the elder update sent to you on Wednesday 1/16/2019. This request was denied.

The good intentions of our ministry partnership with Harvest Chicago have been overshadowed by these developments. Furthermore, when we entered into this agreement there was not a disclosure of the investigative reporting which led to a lawsuit and the resulting fallout.

Read Roys’ article here. Secrest regretted his decision to enter the partnership and wanted to regain leadership of the church.

Secrest also wrote HBC yesterday and asked to reverse the agreement:

I am writing to express my disagreement with the decision to have Pastor James preach in Naples during this season of sabbatical.  Based on our conversations and other factors over the past 8 months I believe it would be best to revoke our ministry partnership and return Harvest Naples to self-governed autonomy.

Today, Secrest said he was fired. It is not clear if he was fired in response to his requests about the church or because he provided this information to Julie Roys. HBC did not return a request for comment.

I have a hard time putting this action together with the contrite statement by the HBC elders dated 1/16/19. In it, HBC leaders said they wanted peace and to listen.

UPDATE

This email was sent to HBC members:

Dear Harvest Naples Family,

It is with great sadness and regret that we write to inform you that John Secrest is no longer an employee of Harvest Bible Chapel.

Despite great efforts and reasoning, John has chosen not to yield to the consensus of our local leadership team or the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel. Conversations with John over the last few months, culminating this week, have made it clear that he no longer desires to work for Harvest Bible Chapel.

Because of his continued unwillingness to yield to the direction of the elders and the insubordinate email he recently sent counter to the elder direction, it became clear that he should not continue in his role.

Our hearts are grieved as John’s contributions to the Naples Campus cannot be understated. We wish him, Jessica, and his family well.

Harvest Naples will continue as a campus of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago with Pastor Rick Donald serving as interim Campus Pastor and Associate Travis Doucette as Pastor of Worship and Leadership Development. Pastor James MacDonald will not be preaching this weekend. Services will continue this Sunday at 9:00 and 11:00 am.

We recognize that situations like these often yield more questions than can be answered in one email. The local elders of Harvest Naples, Scott Stonebreaker and Fred Ananias, are available to field any additional questions.

We ask for your prayers as our church grieves this loss.

We are believing for good things as we lean into God and His Word.

Standing together,

The Harvest Naples Leadership Team and Elders

Unless there is a different email, the email sent by Secrest and posted by Roys expressed disagreement but certainly didn’t seem insubordinate.

 

WSJ: Liberty University Administrator Involved in Michael Cohen Fake News Scheme

They will know we are Christians by our fake news.

In a surprising plot twist, the Wall Street Journal reports this morning that President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen is being accused of failing to pay the Chief Information Officer of Liberty University John Gauger for his poll rigging services. Cohen arranged with Gauger’s tech firm to manipulate the results of two online polls and set up a fake Twitter account. Gauger claims Cohen didn’t pay him in full.

Womp, womp.

According to the WSJ report, Gauger doesn’t dispute the work involved. He got paid a portion of the fee in cash which Cohen allegedly gave in a Wal-Mart bag.

My interest in the story is less about Cohen and more about Gauger. According to the story, Gauger set up an algorithm to repeatedly vote for Trump in a CNBC online poll of top business people. Even with Gauger’s help, Trump couldn’t crack the top 100. The Liberty administrator also tried to manipulate a Drudge poll and set up a “Women for Cohen” twitter account. Sounds like fake news to me.

Most people (I hope) realize those polls are worthless for reasons such as implied by this news. However, some people use them to shape their image or manipulate public opinion. Does anyone doubt that Trump would have used positive results to his advantage?

It is one thing to vote a few times for your favorite band in an online poll, it is another to craft a service around dishonesty. This firm sells the ability to use technology to make fake news. I wonder if the IT classes at Liberty University teach that.

I know much of what we run into online is an effort at persuasion and manipulation. I hope this story raises awareness about the many ways we are surrounded by efforts to move and shape our opinions and behavior. Furthermore, I hope Christians begin to recognize that fake news is coming from sources within the camp.

 

 

James MacDonald to Take Sabbatical to Focus on Peacemaking

Last night, several sources told me that James MacDonald had resigned. I asked church spokeswoman Sherri Smith about those reports and she responded that MacDonald had not resigned.

However, MacDonald was about to make a change.

This morning Harvest Bible Chapel posted the following Elder Update:

Dear Harvest Family,

We have tried a variety of different strategies to address external criticisms over the past several years. It has become apparent that these efforts have failed to fully identify and address our personal failures, sins, and errors in leadership, thus perpetuating a continuation of the criticism. In prayerful reflection upon all that has happened and how we got here, a private meeting of the Executive Committee of the Elders on Monday, January 14, led to the decision to be part of a peacemaking process that seeks both reconciliation and change where needed, which was reviewed by the entire Elder Board last night.

We are reminded of these biblical imperatives:
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.’” Matthew 7:3-5

In an effort to invite others to join us, we are working with two highly respected ministries (modeled after “The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Conflict,” though not directly aligned with the organization of that name) that specialize in helping churches resolve issues in God-honoring ways. The peacemaking process will include:

    • The selection of a team of experienced and highly respected conciliators and organizational consultants who will guide us through an objective and comprehensive review process.
    • Reaching out to individuals who have left our fellowship or have complaints against us, listening carefully to their insights and correction, and asking God to enable us to confess our sins and make needed changes in our leadership.
    • Thoroughly examining our church’s organizational, financial, management, and leadership policies and practices, and making whatever changes are necessary to ensure that every area is being managed according to professional best practices and in a way that honors God.

While we had hoped that successful audits and re-examined/confirmed ECFA compliance would help heal some relational wounds, it simply hasn’t happened. As part of the peacemaking process, Pastor James is taking an indefinite sabbatical from all preaching and leadership at our church in Chicago. He has recused himself fully from any direction of this peacemaking process, other than to participate when and how requested. He may continue preaching at Harvest Naples through some of the winter months and will be on sabbatical, pending the completion of the reconciliation process and a full report to the congregation. Please be in prayer for Pastor James and Kathy through this season.

We are asking the Lord to lead us as we engage in this peacemaking process. The Lead/Campus Pastors will continue to lead the day-to-day ministry of the church, and we ask for your support as they do so. Campus Pastors will be present and available during normal Wednesday ministry tonight on all campuses.

– The Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel

___

From Pastor James:
For a long time I have felt unequal to all but the preaching task at Harvest. I have battled cycles of injustice, hurt anger, and fear which have wounded others without cause.

I have carried great shame about this pattern in certain relationships that can only be called sin. I am grieved that people I love have been hurt by me in ways they felt they could not express to me directly and have not been able to resolve. I blame only myself for this and want to devote my entire energy to understanding and addressing these recurring patterns.

I have long known and taught it is not about the messenger, it is about the message and I am grateful for a time of extended sabbatical, during which Harvest will be in capable hands. I may continue preaching at the Naples Campus through some of the winter season and have postponed all writing and leadership to begin in earnest now. I will continue this focus as long as it takes and participate wholeheartedly as requested in the process shared above. 

Please pray that this welcomed time of sabbatical rest will lead to needed changes in me and a fresh opportunity to reconcile with others in God’s time.

Christ is all He promised to be and more… “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me by still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:2-3). Please pray for me and Kathy as we step away from the work, so God can do all He wants to do in the worker.

HBC and MacDonald recently dropped a defamation suit against two bloggers, their wives and journalist Julie Roys. The church and founding pastor have been under pressure amid allegations of financial mismanagement, lack of transparency, and authoritarian leadership style.

MacDonald’s move is reminiscent of Mark Driscoll’s sabbatical before he resigned as pastor at Mars Hill Church in 2014. As noted in a previous post, the path of HBC and MacDonald seems similar to Mars Hill and Driscoll’s. Throughout 2014, Mars Hill tried many things to address criticism without success. Focusing on Driscoll, the ex-members and ex-elders became increasingly vocal and public. The same thing is happening now with HBC.

One hopes that HBC can review the Mars Hill timeline and demise with an eye toward learning something of value. If history repeats itself, the multi-site HBC may splinter into local churches as did Mars Hill. Sources have told me that such an outcome has been discussed by HBC leaders.

Image: By Esther 5000 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48825134

Why Aren’t Evangelical Trump Supporters More Curious About Trump’s Behavior Toward Russia?

The easy answer is that evangelical leaders don’t want to mess up their power relationship with the president. It is easier to rationalize his actions. Even though the same actions from a Democrat president would bring outrage, they have tasted political dominance and don’t want to give it up.

There may be other factors. Social psychologists study the role of consistency and cognitive dissonance in maintaining attitudes. Taking a public position helps to solidify that attitude. Also, dissonance over a position can often be resolved by finding a sufficient justification for it. Subjects in studies have been induced to lie and say dull, boring tasks were fun. Subjects only paid a small sum to lie later said the tasks were interesting in contrast to those who were paid 20 times as much money to lie. The well paid group had sufficient justification to lie whereas the low pay group did not. The low pay group resolved their dissonance by later rating the tasks as more interesting than all other subjects.

Evangelical leaders may tell themselves that getting judges or support for some other policy or access to the president is justification for lack of scrutiny of the president’s behavior toward Russia. They may tell themselves that Russia isn’t really that bad after all. However, to people outside of the circle of his evangelical supporters, the president’s actions are very troubling.

If this article interested you, you probably have heard that the FBI investigated Trump’s possible ties to Russia after he fired FBI Director James Comey. Over the weekend, it was also reported that Trump has taken steps to keep his meetings with Vladimir Putin highly secret. There are other signs which have been documented elsewhere and summarized below. In short, Trump has deferred to Putin and Russian interests in ways that depart sharply from previous U.S. policy.

Even actions which appear to signal a willingness to respond firmly to Russia raise questions. Some supporters of the president point out the administration imposed tough sanctions on Russian interests, including those very close to Putin. An incurious supporter of the president will stop there. However, even the tough actions aren’t always what they seem to be.

For instance, in April 2018, the U.S. imposed tough sanctions on a group of Russian interests. One such person whose name is recently in the news was Oleg Deripaska. However, the action was delayed by the Trump administration almost a year past the time when it would have done the most good. Congress wanted sanctions imposed much earlier but for reasons never made clear, Trump delayed imposing them. In that time frame, the targets (who were well aware they were coming) had time to move funds into locations which are not covered by the sanctions.

Now the administration is lobbying to remove sanctions from companies previously associated with Deripaska. It isn’t clear to me how much Deripaska personally would benefit from the action but the timing of request should raise questions. However, Trump supporters don’t seem to ask questions.

As a child of the 60s, I am in disbelief to see evangelicals numb to Russian efforts to destabilize our elections. To hear Trump excuse Russian aggression is jarring and raises so many red flags. Trump’s behavior with Putin and in relation to Russian interests are truly and objectively troubling. Even Andy McCarthy, a Trump defender writing at the National Review, saw it recently. McCarthy doesn’t support the Mueller investigation but wrote, “If Mueller’s highly elastic warrant is to probe Trump “collusion” with the Kremlin, why would he stop if the president keeps giving him reasons to continue?”

McCarthy then lists Trump’s unbelievable support for Russian rationale for the invasion of Afghanistan, his praise of Putin as a leader in the face of evidence that he ordered the murder of dissenters, his obsequious response in Helsinki to Putin’s denial of election meddling, and his lies about having business dealings in Russia as reasons why someone might want to investigate. Trump supporter McCarthy doesn’t think Trump is a Russian agent, but he understands why someone might question Trump’s behavior.

In contrast, evangelical and other supporters of Trump just close their eyes and minds. Although I think it is highly likely that there is compromising information known by the Russians which motivates Trump, I will withhold judgment until Robert Mueller completes his work. However, whatever motivates our president, his actions are not helpful to the U.S. and demand a response from Congress and the people.