What Fellowship Bible Church of Fort Gibson, Oklahoma can Learn from The Bridge of Newbury Park, California

Bob Dewoody, the Senior Pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma is retiring in early 2017. As this Evangelical Free church searches for its new pastor it has one requirement that stands out in its pastoral search; it does not want the new pastor to theologically hijack the church. There is a lot that can be learned from The Bridge of Newbury Park, which is outside Los Angeles, California which took on a pastor and was apparently theologically hijacked in 2013. This is about the lessons Fellowship Bible Church can  learn from that incident. Also this blog is going to extend an offer to the leadership of this church to help keep it from being hijacked.  

“We do not want the new pastor to hijack the church.” 

From Fellowship Bible Church’s Pastoral Search Steps.

“You define a good flight by negatives: you didn’t get hijacked, you didn’t crash, you didn’t throw up, you weren’t late, you weren’t nauseated by the food. So you are grateful.”

Paul Theroux

I am writing to remind you, dear friends, that we should love one another. This is not a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning. Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.

2 John 2:5-6 NLT


Fort Gibson is a small town in eastern Oklahoma. It is in both Muskogee and Cherokee countries and has a population of 4,054. It is located near the end of the Cherokee’s Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears is the result of Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policy which involved a number of tribes. The Cherokees who did not go voluntarily were forcefully removed in May of 1838 on orders by President Martin Van Buren.  In this area the local Evangelical Free is called Fellowship Bible Church. Don’t let the small town size fool you as in small rural communities a church can attract people from up to thirty miles away. This church is led by Bob Dewoody who is the Senior Pastor. I couldn’t find much about Bob Dewoody except that he graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1977. This church has begun its search for a new Senior Pastor since Bob Dewoody has notified the church that he intends to retire in early 2017.

The Elders of Fellowship Bible Church met on June 13, 2006 to discuss a new search process for a new pastor. The first step that was done is the formation of the pastoral search committee which consists of the following. The Elder at Large is Tom Stiles, and the two Elder Board Members are Gary Hendrix and Lance Crawley. As the Senior Pastor Bob Dewoody is also on this committee. And finally the three members at large are to make up the final part of the committee. The nominations of three members opened on June 19 and ended on July 3, 2016. This blog writer does not know who those individuals are at this time.

Before they start looking for a new pastor there are four tasks that need to completed. Those tasks are the following:

  1. A congregation survey.
  2. Pastor profile, which I believe means what the next pastor should be like.
  3. Prospectus, which is done of the church, and the history and demographics of the community.
  4. Position description which would include qualifications, responsibilities, duties,  and financial salary.

You can read the entire process in the document that is posted below.


What grabbed my attention was the last sentence in paragraph F. That sentence reads as following. “We do not want the new pastor to hijack the church.”  There are many reasons to be concerned as the problems of church hijackings is more of an issue in the EFCA now than many people want to admit. Before I get into some examples let me re-tell the story of another Evangelical Free church in EFCA West outside Los Angeles, California which was apparently theologically hijacked. May the leadership of Fellowship Bible and other Evangelical Free churches learn from this episode so that it does not happen to them.


From Steve Larson to Tim Sherreitt at The Bridge of Newbury Park

Steve Larson arrived in Newbury Park in October of 1978. At the time Newbury Park, was a growing suburb in the Conejo Valley, outside Thousand Oaks and 35 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Steve Larson planted an Evangelical Free Church and as the pastor he poured his life into that church for the next several decades, or 33 years to be exact. In the course of time it had grown to 1,400 members according to this Ventura County Star article. What was also key is how involved Steve’s wife Connie was in the organization. Steve’s teaching touched many people, and the organization had a feeling of family. Many people called Evangelical Free of Conejo Valley home. (Note they changed their to The Bridge of Newbury Park in the 2012-2013 timeframe)  Then Steve Larson who was the Senior Pastor decided to leave the Evangelical Free church he planted and engage in other ministry abroad. On January 27, 2013 a farewell event was held to honor Steve Larson and to wish him well. At the farewell many touched and valuable members of the congregation showed and supported Steve Larson as a way of saying thank you for the efforts he has done. With that the Elder Board of decided to set out to choose another pastor. In that same Ventura County Star article it was touched on it what Steve Larson hoped to see as his replacement. He wanted someone who was committed to building the church and the community.

My question in writing this blog is the following…did this happen in the pastoral transition? In researching this church I really don’t see a lot of indicators that The Bridge of Newbury Park was Neo-Calvinist or Reformed before Steve Larson left.  In the course of time Tim Sherreitt became the new Senior Pastor and it appeared to take a hard turn to Neo-Calvinist/Reformed theology. You can read Tim Sherreitt’s views on Reformed theology in the following post called, Did a Theological Coup Take Place at The Bridge of Newbury Park, California?” In that post which has Tim’s view on Reformed theology I ask the following question. When he was being vetted and looked at as a candidate at The Bridge of Newbury Park, did he make those views on Reformed theology known? Was he questioned? Was he asked? Did he deny and downplay it and then after he came on board did it pop up? Given how some of the Neo-Calvinists are practicing church discipline for minor things or not towing the line, are there people at The Bridge of Newbury Park who have faced church discipline for not believing in Neo-Calvinism or Reformed theology? Did this transition force some people from The Bridge of Newbury Park because they don’t believe in Reformed theology? These are very legitimate questions that deserve an answer. If there are  former members of The Bridge who can answer these questions or who would like to tell their story this blog which writes a lot about the Evangelical Free Church of America would be happy to let them tell their story. In ending this section there is another article about The Bridge of Newbury Park that you can read. Its called, “Did Tim Sherreitt Theologically Hijack The Bridge of Newbury Park (Formerly Evangelical Free of Conejo Valley) When Steve Larson Left?


The Problem of Theological Hijackings in the EFCA

There are a number of church hijackings that have occurred in the EFCA over the years. Let me illustrate with some examples. This blog has broken the story and continues to write about Steve Estes and Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania. This Evangelical Free is about an hour outside Philadelphia. While this blog has written about how Steve Estes orchestrated the practice of church discipline on an alleged sexual assault victim, who the Senior Pastor’s son allegedly raped, many of its problems go back much further. In the 2000 to 2002 time-frame this Evangelical Free was theologically hijacked into Reformed theology. What tore the church apart and caused about 100 families to leave? It was when Steve Estes wanted to practice infant baptism. Another example of a church hijacking took place in Atascadero, California at Cornerstone Community Church which is led by John Marc Wiemann. Janet Varin whose troubling story of facing church discipline which was done for illegitimate reasons told me what Cornerstone was like before the hijacking. It was a pleasant place and had a lot of families. Under the leadership of John Marc Wiemann this church became hard core Calvinist with a heavy emphasis of double predestination. It modeled itself after John MacArthur and recently became a member of 9 Marks which is the ministry of Capitol Hill Baptist Church here in the Washington, D.C. area.  When this church was theologically hijacked it drove away a lot of people and a good portion of the congregation lost their home. Then there is another situation in an Evangelical Free north of Oklahoma in the state of Nebraska. At Highland Park Church in Columbus, Nebraska that church went through a theological hijacking. Mike Escen leads that church and it was turned into a John MacArthur type church. From my understanding many people were driven away. This is but a mere sampling as I am quite confident I will learn of more as this blog probes deeper into the EFCA. 

One thing that is key to tracking these problems is the doctrinal survey that the EFCA does every so often. Here is the last one from 2013, and you can see the growth or influence of Reformed theology. Here is the problem that the EFCA faces which I believe will undermine and eventually result in the implosion of this denomination. When the EFCA was set up and merged in the 1950’s it was done so in a loose frame work with the goal to allow churches and organizations to have greater autonomy. That autonomy was designed to give freedom and allow churches and organizations to be more flexible and free. However at the time the Evangelical Free Church was created Reformed theology was not an issue, where as today it is. Today you have a growing segment of Neo-Calvinism/Reformed theology in the denomination. The EFCA is not designed for Reformed theology at all. Its not its ethos, history or culture. What is happening is that those into Neo-Calvinism/Reformed theology are exploiting the autonomous nature to exact control or hijack a church or gain a greater presence in the denomination. That is what happened at Cornerstone Community Church and The Bridge of Newbury Park, both of which are in EFCA West. That is what also happened at Highland Park in the Midwest District. This is the reason why this blog is aggressively writing about this problem set and calculating the growth of Neo-Calvinism in this denomination. It is why this writer has done analysis on six EFCA districts and is starting work on the seventh. Its why this writer has studied and analyzed 544 church websites, social media, blogs and more to calculate where things stand with each church, and ultimately in the Evangelical Free Church of America.

One of the goals of this blog is to tell a few stories of church hijackings in the EFCA to be able to illustrate the problem in this troubled denomination. After all he more that is learned and the more that is revealed the more that churches like Fellowship Bible Church can be kept safe form a theological hijacking.


An Offer to the Leadership of Fellowship Bible Church

Theological hijackings can be painful, traumatic and tear the church and adversely affect families. Fellowship Bible Church has been a good steward in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. There are many people who consider this church to be their home and a part of their family. With many of the problems growing in the EFCA due to Neo-Calvinists/Reformed exploiting the autonomous nature of the denomination this blog does not want to see this church become another statistic in the EFCA. In a few years down the road when I come through the Texas and Oklahoma District again I do not want to put this church in the Neo-Calvinist camp. Theological hijackings create spiritual homelessness, and help create the growing ranks of the “dones” in the church today. Plus it steals from people places, communities, friendships and can create division in their families. But what if you are were involved in an EFCA church for years or decades? A theological hijacking can also force an older person from their  spiritual home. Who will do their funeral upon their death, especially if they lose their home?

Here is an offer that I extend to the leadership of Fellowship Bible Church in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. As this blog writes a lot in the EFCA, I would be willing to write about and cover this transition at this church. I would be happy to do this for two reasons. One is that it could help keep you from being theologically hijacked in drawing attention to this issue. Second, if this church does bring on a pastoral candidate who is later revealed to be someone that the church did not plan for,  that would further cement the deep concerns about the issues of Reformed theology in this denomination. This blog has no desire to see this church be harmed or divided by Neo-Calvinism.  I would be happy to feature and write about this issue in the Texas and Oklahoma District over the course of the next few months and beyond. That decision rests with the leadership of Fellowship Bible Church, and if they do not want to do that their wishes will be respected also. With that take care, and know that I love you guys!


2 thoughts on “What Fellowship Bible Church of Fort Gibson, Oklahoma can Learn from The Bridge of Newbury Park, California

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