Recently Fairfax Community Church (FCC) had a night of worship on October 14, 2015. I held back in writing this post because I had hoped they would do the right thing in the course of time. This post sums up the problems and issues at FCC as well as the lessons and take away. I also wrote what Rod Stafford should have said before musical worship, and want to remind evangelical Christians that worship is not just singing clapping, etc.. Worship is also about how a person or church lives.
“Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.”
W. Clement Stone
“Success on any major scale requires you to accept responsibility…in the final analysis, the one quality that all successful people have…is the ability to take on responsibility. “
“Friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth. They have taught their tongues to lie;
they weary themselves with sinning.6 You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me”, declares the Lord.
Jeremiah 9:5-6 NIV
Rod Stafford, Andy Gingrich, and Eric Nickle had their hand in the cookie jar!
I had planned on writing this post at some point but I held back from penning it for the following reason. I was deeply hurt and disappointed as to how things went with Fairfax Community Church and I had hoped they would take a step or two in the right direction to resolve their problems. So deep down I privately hoped they would do the right thing. In this post I asked why are evangelical churches terrible about conflict resolution? After all didn’t Jesus say blessed are the peacemakers? Where are the peacemakers at Fairfax Community Church (FCC)? FCC knows who I am, as they have removed me from their mailing list, so why haven’t they reached out and tried to resolve this mess? Deep down I hoped that would happen. You know what would have been beautiful… if FCC worked out their issues, said, “Hey we we’re wrong, we made some serious mistakes…” and worked at making a number of corrections. If FCC repented for its mistakes I would love to attend there. After all mistakes are opportunities. Surely Rod Stafford or Andy Gingrich know this. So I held off from writing this post because I hoped FCC would do the right thing.
On October 14, 2015 FCC had their praise and worship night. I attended those in the past. Usually they are an hour and a half of praise and worship music either led by Chris Kim, Rebekah or Brad or Stephanie Cuomo. Rod always gets up and says a few things. Well in light of their praise and worship night, and FCC plugging along deeply mired in ethical issues and problems I felt that it was time to pen this post. You see worship by evangelicals has been redefined to mean singing and having praise and worship sections in a Sunday service or a night of worship. While I am all for that, I think the definition of worship has been bastardized. Worship is also about doing the right thing, how you live your life, and loving those around you. And yes worship is about Rod Stafford and the pastoral leadership at FCC saying, “we were wrong, we screwed up…we made some serious mistakes….” If Rod Stafford led the church in repenting he could have done the most significant thing in his entire career. He could have shown himself to be an amazing pastor. People would have responded in love and embraced him more. That could have spoken volumes, been an incredible thing for FCC to witness and it could have been amazing for the Washington, D.C. area. Instead that is not what is happening, and it’s disappointing to watch this play out. How can Rod lead the church in worship when it’s mired in so much sin and problems? How can Rod Stafford move forward in light of all these problems? How can he preach about sin when FCC is mired in sin? In light of all that I am going to do a summary and a lessons applied in regards to FCC. I learned a lot from FCC which I will get into in this post.
An Overview of the Issues at Fairfax Community Church
There is a lot to go through so please hang with me as I write this out.
- FCC illustrated in the past as to how it’s out of touch within the community it claims to serve. In the scriptures Jesus wept and he responded to all the pain and problems around him. FCC plows on often ignoring the pain in the community around them. The issue that taught me as to how insensitive FCC is to pain in their midst is how FCC responded to the shootings at the Navy Yard. Right in FCC’s own backyard of Washington, D.C. not a lot was said the Sunday after the massacre, and the circus continued. John Falke was the ringmaster of the circus the Sunday after a gunman went on a rampage in the Sea Systems Command building in the Navy Yard. I honestly don’t know why John didn’t ditch his sermon and speak about an issue that probably touched a number of attenders or members of FCC. I wondered what would have happened if FCC had Department of Defense of Navy workers who worked in the Navy Yard that dark day? Shouldn’t they and the community minister and love those people? Aren’t there times when one steps back and says, “we need to weep and grieve as a community?” I wrote about this in detail at this post which you can read right here.
- FCC has become too focused on growth and its made church growth its God. That is the idol that Rod Stafford, Andy Gingrich and the staff of FCC are worshipping in this plant that is done at Clarksburg. I explain it all this post here. In focusing on growth they are neglecting the people in their midst at FCC. People are falling through the cracks or walking away frustrated. Each sheep that walks through the doors of FCC is precious. They are not Rod Stafford or Andy Gingrich’s personal ATM. The obsession with church growth is a major problem within evangelical Christianity. Personal empire building does not honor the Lord, it shows an infatuation with man and wanting to impress man in the end. Those are two very different things.
- Then there is the issue of Eric Nickle. FCC has a Care Director on the Commonwealth of Virginia’s sex offender registry. FCC hid this information from the church and concealed it. People came and went and interacted with Eric unaware that he had sexually abused a child in his past. They didn’t know the risk that had existed to their family or loved one. Eric had access to information about families, worked events like Grouplink which dealt with forming small groups, he prayed with people in a darkened service with children nearby. He also had access to the children’s classrooms. I was involved at FCC before I stumbled across this information and I was deeply concerned. I had tried to have conversations with FCC about a couple of other issues but it didn’t go well. After I left I had this information and was stressed over it and was concerned that someone would get hurt. I didn’t want to read the Washington Post and learn of a child sex abuse scandal at FCC. So I contacted Amy Smith of SNAP, who wrote this post. There was a protest outside FCC by SNAP. And Dee Parsonss my East Coast Mom wrote this post and let FCC share its side of the story.
- As is common in questionable religious organizations FCC was caught with its hand in the cookie jar. That’s why I led with that very cute video for this post. They issued a statement which I read and was in disbelief over. FCC is being dishonest and tried to spin the situation. I wrote a response to FCC’s statement which you can read in this post here.
- FCC struggles with authority issues as I learned. I encountered this issue with Andy Gingrich and the small groups ministry. I believe Andy’s background in is the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church. (Andy correct me if I am wrong…) The totalitarian approach that Andy has reflects his roots. I was stunned by how controlling or how hard he came down. Evangelicalism is struggling with authority abuse issues. It’s not limited to denominations like Sovereign Grace, Acts 29, or Harvest Bible Chapel. It can also be found in seeker sensitive and other denominations as well. There is too much of a desire to control people. Authority is too much of a drug and people don’t know how to use it. The meek and mild need to be in critical authority positions, not a spiritual wolf who lord’s over their authority.
- The issues of the Clarksburg Church plant spilled out on The Wartburg Watch in this post. In that post the lead pastor from Clarksburg David Bullock went for Dee Parson’s jugular. Now here is the fascinating albeit disturbing aspect of this mess. When Dee Parsons at The Wartburg Watch was writing about the issues in Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Seattle she wrote a post that led to members of Mars Hill threatening her. She and Deb reported the threats to the police. This was the first time when writing about a church that a pastor attacked and went after Dee at her blog while the story was unfolding. It stunned her, it stunned me to think that I thought FCC was once my spiritual home yet leadership affiliated with FCC would behave in such a manner. It left me to wonder more so…what was I involved with? Maybe David Bullock should wear a WWJD wrist band. The WWJD would be “Who Would Jesus Dagger?” I wrote about the situation with David Bullock in this post here.
Applied Lessons from Fairfax Community Church
There are many, many lessons to reflect on as I pen this post. I want to write about lessons learned from Fairfax Community Church under Rod Stafford’s leadership. The congregation and people that may show up need to be aware of this information.
- Many evangelical Christians have elevated pastors and hold them high. They often forget the following. Pastors are sinners, fallen, and broken. Rod Stafford is as much a sinner as Eric Nickle, or me. Christians need to remember that pastor’s are fallen and broken. To look at someone and hold them up high and forget their frail nature or their sinful nature is setting up people for a fall. That is what happened at FCC. Rod Stafford is deeply mired in sin and this needs to be remembered.
- Evangelical Christianity is often ethically and morally bankrupt. There are issues of cronyism and nepotism that shine and reveal the failings of evangelicalism. One person works at an organization and he/she uses their influence to get their loved one, or spouse on board. There are multiple examples or this…Kyle and Loretta Cooper, Dan and Stephanie Cuomo, Jon Falke and Josh Falke. In the secular realm there is a strong emphasis on ethics and a concern about conflict of interest. For example when I worked in banking I remember how I was taught about the Bank Bribery Act. My father was in medicine which also strongly emphasized ethics. Ethics and conflict of interest awareness is also known in the business realm, accounting, education, government and military. It makes me ask the question…why does the secular world have higher values than a place like Fairfax Community Church? Many churches struggle with nepotism, cronyism and ethical conflict of interest.
- Corruption is a major problem in evangelicalism. Okay…so here’s the run down. I came to a church in Milwaukee that reeled in pain from a case of child sex abuse. I wrote about it here. I noticed in other churches how families or relatives had a lock on the elder board, pastoral staff, etc.. Then I was invited to Sovereign Grace when all the issues hemorrhaged out of it. I had my faith crisis and chose to re-engage only to have the one church I get involved with have a high risk sex offender in a key position and be disingenuous about it in the end. Corruption is a major problem and keeps rearing its ugly head, again, and again and again. Evangelicalism needs to be open and honest about this corruption if its going to move forward or become healthy.
- FCC has twisted the definition of sin. They talk about sexual sin as I learned in their men’s program but down play or ignore other sins. Consider the following:
- It is a sin for Andy Gingrich to abuse his authority and try and control people.
- It is a sin for FCC to hold back the information on Eric Nickle from the congregation.
- It is a sin for David Bullock of Clarksburg to attack Dee Parson online. Is he ever going to repent? I still ask that question.
- It is a sin to be obsessed with growing a church and for Rod Stafford to be concerned with people driving away because they can’t find parking when you don’t give a damn that people and attenders are falling through the cracks and walking away frustrated. People come in the front door and exit through the back door and are disposable in the model that FCC has.
- It is a sin to manipulate the Bible to justify your programs, wants and desire.
- It is a sin to manipulate people to give money. It is a sin to guilt them into giving into another building campaign. Rod Stafford sinned when he promoted Alaethea Hensley who talked about cleaning out her savings account to give to FCC, “A Better $tory.” It is also a sin to put fine people like Kathleen Otchy and others in a difficult position and force them to make decisions about a church growth campaign.
- It is a sin for members of FCC to give, tithe and support the system. The attenders from my former small group to other people help perpetuate the system. Many atheists have wondered why don’t Christians who support the system be called out. Its a legitimate question and its why this needs to be raised.
- For the advisory council to be silent on all these problems is a sin in itself. Is it an advisory council? Or is it Rod Stafford’s committee filled with “yes men.” I think the answer reveals itself with the passing of time. After all no answer is an answer.
- It is a sin to shut down questions when people ask them. It’s a sin to silence those who have concerns. That includes members at FCC or former attenders like myself or the media which was allegedly placed under incredible pressure not to report this story with Eric Nickle.
- It is a sin to not repent and say I’m wrong. I know God has hardened people’s hearts in scripture…is that what is happening to Rod Stafford or Andy Gingrich?
- It’s a sin to not take care of the sheep or to do it in name only.
- If FCC is being dishonest about Eric Nickle and that situation what else are they being dishonest about? It’s an honest question and they behavior only invites more scrutiny.
- Many evangelicals are aloof and don’t consider the sensitivity of their actions or behavior. For example I can think of at least two ways this played out at FCC
- FCC placed into a sensitive position a Care Director who had sexually abused a child for his own personal pleasure. He’s on the sex offender registry for a reason. The sex offender registry exists for a reason. FCC is down the road from Sovereign Grace Fairfax which is a toxic and unhealthy church. For those people from Sovereign Grace Fairfax who show up at FCC, well FCC is not helping them in trying o rebuild trust. Can you imagine being one of the families shattered by child sex abuse at SGM Fairfax and migrating over to FCC and discovering that you have a pedophile in a key position. Is that being sensitive to other situations, or show signs of discernment or critical thinking skills?
- FCC has used a lot of material from Stephen Furtick’s Elevation Church. It includes Lysa TerKeurst and their praise and worship. Many Christians down in Charlotte consider Elevation Church to be a cult or cult like. There are family members concerned about loved ones at Elevation Church. Likewise the problems and issues at Elevation Church are drawing attention of the media who are reporting the problems. Is it wise for FCC to promote the material of Elevation Church against the wisdom or concerns of other Christians in the North Carolina area? Because of this problem I actually decide to throw on a song from Elevation Church on that end of this post. I most likely would not do it otherwise…but this is a question that must be asked.
- A leader can not lead when their is doubt or questions. It doesn’t matter if its the military, business world or the church. There is a cloud that hangs over Clarksburg and FCC that is a serious issue itself. The only thing that that helps is honesty and to be transparent. FCC needs to address these issues as they will not go away, and people will learn about them when they google FCC or Rod Stafford or Andy Gingrich. I noticed that FCC got a new website and deleted other information. Sorry, but moves like that do not help, they only draw more attention to the problem. Let me ask this question…I’m a history major who had studied history. What got Richard Nixon in trouble…was it the Watergate break in or his attempt to cover it up? The same applies here…what is adversely affecting FCC? Is it their mistakes or their effort to downplay, ignore and not deal with them. Problems don’t go away they grow, they fester. That’s why FCC needs to deal with their issues.
- The other issue that is a take away in FCC is how money has adversely affected a church in the long run. Money has created a lot of problems and is affecting evangelical Christianity. In the case of FCC they embarked on a church growth plan, and are driven by finances now. The finances and their fear that people who made financial pledges as part of “A Better $tory” will back away or leave are what is driving FCC now. I think it’s safe to say that the personality of FCC changed when it moved from Hunt to its location on Braddock and grew. The growth has not been healthy, or good.
What Rod Stafford Should have said at The Night of Worship
Before FCC’s night of worship Rod Stafford should have walked onto the stage, faced the people attending and said the following:
FCCer’s I need to say something, and I need to say it as a Pastor. We’ve made a lot of mistakes and before we worship God in song, I want to worship him in repenting and saying we screwed up. You see there are a number of things that have happened. We grew a lot from our Hunt road location. Many of you probably never saw how cramped it was there, but we’ve grown a lot. Our growth has been too emphasized and we got carried away. It’s not about numbers or counting how many cars have difficulty with parking. It’s not about how many people attend. It’s about loving and serving…damn the numbers. This is a church, it’s not a corporation in a business perspective. Our priorities have been backward. Here’s what I would like to do. We’re going to slow down the growth and we’re going to repent of making growth an idol. We’re going to alter significantly “A Better Story” and were going to learn to live within our means and work with what we have. We’re going to do what families must do regularly. We’re going to take it back a notch because frankly church…we don’t need to do all this growth. I’d rather see that capitol invested in the homeless or struggling families in the congregation. I want to create a family, a church family that nurtures and looks out for each other and loves each other. You can’t pastpr a large mega church, that just doesn’t work. Here’s what I am going to do….if you gave money sacrificially to “A Better Story” we’re going to give it back to you. We’re also going to request maybe transferring it to a ministry of your choice or a benevolence fund. We also want to agree to support Clarksburg but we want to reign it back and not get carried away in this growth. FCC was created by God to serve people in Fairfax and that’s what we want to do. What good is a local church that is too caught up in outside growth and activity?
Fccer’s there’s so much more to say. I also have to tell you that Eric Nickle is a part of our congregation. We love him, we care about him, and we’re grateful he is here. However, we need to put different protocols in place for the sake of Eric, the sake of this congregation and the sake of every young child. We’re going to let him work with men only and keep him from interacting with children. Plus we’re going to post the fact that he’s on the sex offender list here at FCC and in the bulletin. We’re going to do that so we can be as transparent as possible. But there’s more…we have people here at FCC that came from a nearby church I won’t name that has had a lot of problems with child sex abuse, and even was involved in a lawsuit. Again I don’t want to name names, but it’s important for those hurting individuals that we take this act so that they can learn to trust again and realize that yes…you can indeed trust a church. We want to do this for the benefit of all parties involved. Plus for the people who we dismissed in the past who raised this issue we’re going to reach out to them and listen to them. We’re going to repent of abusing our authority and ignoring their concerns. Who wouldn’t be concerned? I’m the father of Zach and a grandfather I want this to be a safe place for my family to attend and not have any issues.
FCC we made some honest mistakes about Eric Nickle and we want to atone for those mistakes. We also want to say that we didn’t mean to make these mistakes The situation erupted and we were found in this extremely difficult position. We were scared, we were frightened. It’s a different time now as the internet is a game changer and an attender or a person who sits in the pews can talk openly about something. We welcome that and we encourage it. The more people who care the better. In the end we’re all on the same side it’s just we’re trying to overcome some difficulties. In the heat of the moment we did some things and we’re not entirely truthful. We should have reached out to SNAP and listened to them. We should have brought in Boz Tovidijian and asked him to do a full review of our policies and procedures. Dave Bullock and I talked before this announcement and Dave told me that he regrets attacking a blogger and former Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher called Dee Parsons online. He is like me and you, he’s a great guy but he can be emotional. In the heat of the moment he made some mistakes and he wants to meet with Dee and talk things over and work them out.
FCC we want to do this for Jesus. Northern Virginia is like a modern day Corinth, and we want to do this for the health of our church, the health of our pastoral staff, for the health of the Washington, D.C. area. We want to do this because we love and care about people. Jesus commands us to take care of his sheep and we want to do that action. If you have had difficulty or any issues with me, Andy Gingrich, Kyle Cooper, whoever…let’s talk and let’s work it out. Owning mistakes and repenting of them is a part of worship. Worship is not being led by an extremely talented Stephanie Cuomo, it’s about confessing and working to make things right. We want to get this right we’ll you help us and walk with us through this time? With that said let’s praise Jesus in musical worship and go forward wanting to get this right. After all this is all about Jesus. Now we have something to sing and praise God about.
If something like that happened, I would go back to FCC in a heart beat. I’d get involved in the next small group program. It would be beautiful and I would want to support them in an open and heartfelt effort to change. It would be amazing and loving and as a Christian I would feel compelled to support it.
I want Rod and the staff to know that I don’t write all this posts because I have a chip on my shoulder. I write these posts because theologically I have been through hell. I don’t want other people to endure what I went through in my life. This issue rests with FCC and Rod Stafford but I am always open to meeting with them and discussing these points of contention. I am a guy willing and eager to meet a lot of people. It’s who I am, just the other week I met with another person who reads me. I’ve met several people, and I love it! But why wouldn’t I want to have conflict resolution achieved in this case? After all I approached 140 people to seek forgiveness. I did it at a great cost both emotionally and I offered to put myself on the line financially. If I went to that effort I would go to any effort with a place like FCC or Redeemer Arlington or anywhere else. So if anyone from FCC wants to meet and talk about all this I would be delighted. With that I am going to call it a night and say I love you guys. Rod and Andy I love you as well.