An email from someone inside Community Evangelical Free Church highlights the issues in the culture of this Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania. My response is posted below but I never heard back from the person, which is disappointing to me. This is a tutorial on the culture that exists in Steve Estes church and the tactics of questionable churches.
“I think if I had to do it over again, I’d do it the same way. I would just put more resources into getting the public diplomacy part much stronger than we were able to.”
“Diplomacy is fundamentally working with people, bringing people together to deal with difficult issues.”
Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you.
Love her, and she will guard you.7Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!
And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.
Proverbs 4:6-7 NLT
This is a quick post that I would like to use as a tutorial in regards to the culture in Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania. I invite your comments and thoughts on the email exchange that happened below.
Diplomacy and Analysis of CEFC Culture
I am a firm believer in diplomacy, I have reached out to Community Evangelical Free Church multiple times as I would like to see this situation resolved. Recently I called up Dave Stoltzfus at Stoltzfus Enterprises and I thanked the leadership of CEFC for removing Brock from the Elder list. I said that it was one of the most encouraging developments Community has done. In that conversation I offered to meet with David, Merle or Steve Estes face to face and talk. I communicated the fact that I do not enjoy writing about this church and I asked them to do the right thing. David told me they need peace, I encouraged them to say that they made a mistake. I have made mistakes in life and its guaranteed that I will make more mistakes in the course of time. I also encouraged the CEFC leadership to work with Greg Strand and Eddie Cole of the Evangelical Free Church of America. That said, I love people and I prefer to meet and talk with them either on the phone or face to face. If any of the leadership in Elverson wants to meet and talk I would be happy to do so. I also sent an email to Steve Estes encouraging him to do the right thing and thanking him for removing his son from the Elder’s list.
I want to give a sneak peak on some of the comments and emails that I receive. For the record let me say that 99% of the emails stay confidential. It does not get published. The only times I have published an email are when they are insulting or degrading. For example not long ago I got an email from a Pastor in an Acts 29 church in Frederick, Maryland. You can read about that in this post called, “Redemption City Church in Frederick, Maryland and an Email from Jeff Estes.” Other than incidents such as that I won’t publish private email correspondence.
In May of 2016 I received an email which I have published below. It was from someone on the inside of CEFC and my gut tells me that this person most likely a relative of the Stoltzfus family. Though the email was off considerably I appreciated the fact that someone reached out and wanted to speak. I give them credit for taking that action. I had honestly hoped that this could lead to a conversation or discussion. I was hoping that I could meet the person face to face, shake their hand and discuss this situation in Elverson personally. So I responded to the email, which I included below, but I never received a response. I honestly hoped that I would, and prayed that we could have a discussion but that never happened. So I sat on this for a while for a series of months and then I decided to publish it to use it as a tutorial about CEFC culture. These are things that the email communicates to me:
- This email shows the issues of one family have too much influence on a church. There is no balance especially when that one family sets the modus operandi for the church. In order for any church to be healthy its best to have diversity and to disperse control.
- The email below seeks to normalize the problems in Elverson and downplays it. Because a small town in Nevada, Arizona or West Virginia may be corrupt that makes the situation in Elverson and the church situation there okay. That is another red flag.
- While I grieve for the story of the abuse it also makes me ask this question. Wouldn’t someone who is knowledgeable about abuse be especially sensitive and aware of it? Wouldn’t they be the first to be outraged and upset? I would value your comments below on that point if you are knowledgeable in that area.
- The sad part is that people and families can be more complex than some evangelicals want to admit. Yes the Stoltzfuses are nice people…I don’t doubt that, but they still made a major mistake. In my story involving a former Sovereign Grace Ministry church in the D.C. area the guy who made the false accusation that threatened my name is also nice. Does that justify or excuse the behavior because he is nice? The same goes for the Stoltzufs or Estes family just because they are nice does that mean one overlooks the way this church treated Hurit? No…you have to consider all aspects.
- I have to push back on the claim that the biggest threat the church faces is the destruction of the family. After all my experiences in evangelical Christianity I think the biggest threat to the church is internal corruption. Let me ask you this…is God being glorified by practicing church discipline on an alleged rape victim? Is the church in Elverson shining for the Lord? People in the church are trying publicity stunts, such as this article in the Berks-Mont News called “Treasures Among Us.” I know Jeff Hall goes to church at Community Evangelical Free Church; is that article an attempt to foster good public relations especially in how this church is viewed in the Elverson, Morgantown, and Phoenixville area? Its my understanding that Community has a negative reputation in the area and that people are still leaving. But if Steve Estes church cared about the Gospel then they would be open about being wrong and be transparent in the community.
- This email also shows the mentality inside the bubble. People are in pain because of my writing. Brock is not the source of the pain, nor is Steve Estes. Instead it is this author in the Washington, D.C. area. That reflects poorly on this church as they attempt to blame shift. Now I am the problem not the man who allegedly raped his wife or allegedly pointed a loaded gun at her. When you have to justify the community you are in by taking that kind of action that shows the high toxicity of the culture. Its cognitive dissonance on steroids.
- Despite this email and my hopes for dialog in the end this person was not interested in dialog. Dialog and discussions are what I value. You can’t have dialog in a one sided conversation where you reach out once and then shut down.
Addressing the Legal Disclaimer
The legal disclaimer which you will see below is flawed in many ways. The first is that it is an attempt to intimidate someone. Is that how Jesus would operate? This is a tactic of unhealthy churches. Here is another tactic of un-healthy churches that I have seen in differing stories. The leadership internally is aware that there is a blog writing about them and they instruct the people in the church to disavow any knowledge of the blog and down play it. They act as if it doesn’t exist or if they acknowledge it exists they have to call it stupid. That was the modus operandi of Sovereign Grace Ministries, and without having knowledge I believe that is how the leadership of CEFC is reacting to this blog. Deny it exists, act like it doesn’t exist. But getting back to the legal disclaimer, people in unhealthy churches try this tactic. Its their attempt to try and influence the blog or shake up someone. Now here is the reason why it doesn’t work….neither I, nor another party met with a lawyer and drafted up paperwork of which I am bound. That has not happened. I did not sign any contract with anyone in Community, and I didn’t sign a legal agreement to which I am bound. I wanted to use this email to illustrate the tactics that can be used in these situations.
Going forward I am going to continue to monitor this situation in Elverson. Its my goal that this will be settled. I am determined to keep writing about this until it is resolved either by Steve Estes admitting their mistake or the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) acting against this church. In the end of October if all goes well I will unveil the results for another EFCA District, that of EFCA Midwest which includes the states of Kansas and Nebraska, as well as Kansas City. I have to say this to help put this situation in Elverson in perspective. The more I write the more I interact with people in the EFCA in other districts. People are contacting me about differing issues or problems. That said the horror of what happened in Elverson, Pennsylvania grows darker when you realize how big an issue this is in the EFCA denomination. Many people in the denomination are watching Elverson. I have been contacted by someone as far away as Seattle, Washington who once looked favorably on the EFCA denomination…until they learned of Steve Estes and CEFC, and how the national denomination reacted. Now they are having second thoughts about the denomination. That’s why so much is riding on this situation with this church in Elverson. If the national denomination is going to be okay with Steve Estes practicing church discipline on an alleged rape victim and they let that stand, then I would push back from the denomination. Why? It shows that your Evangelical Free Church in Florida, Texas, New Mexico, California, or Pennsylvania is not safe. If nothing happens in Elverson in the next two months, then I will write an open letter to the EFCA President Kevin Kompelien and explain why the EFCA needs to resolve this issue. Take care guys and know that I love you!
On October 9, 2016 I was asked to take down the letter by the person who wrote it. My apologies for any pain that might have taken place.
Thank you for your kind note, and thank you for taking the time to write this note. I want to say that it is courageous for you to write me and I have a deep amount of respect for you doing so. You are very busy, and have a lot going on in your life. So thank you for your time. I want you to know that I am open to dialog and discussion. I can do it with you by email, or phone. I will be back up there in the distant future and I would be privileged to meet with you. This blog has been a labor of love and its diverse in so many ways. I get emails from kind individuals like you, and then I get emails from people all over the spectrum, faith or no faith. To engage them all is a real joy. I love people and I care for them deeply. You can’t do something like this and not care. Also I am sorry for your own abuse in your family. I wish there was a way to prevent that from happening.
I would like you to know that this has not been an easy thing to write about. When I first heard the story of what happened I was deeply troubled and disturbed. It was my private hope that Steve Estes and the CEFC Elders would do that right thing. That is what I counseled to several people and what I believe. The risk of writing about something publically that should be handled privately prematurely weighed on me. I actually have another story of conflict that that I am going to encourage be resolved privately. That was my hope with the leadership of CEFC. That was what I prayed for and encouraged to happen. There were a large number of people who tried to do that and they were dismissed by CEFC leadership. I do know of many people who have been hurt. People who left CEFC are being shunned, cut off, and more. This situation is affecting marriages, businesses, friendships and family. I have had a lot of people that have confided in me what has happened and the stress it has brought upon their life. Its disturbing and its troubling. Each post that has been written has not been done with joy. Its hard because I am writing about a person, and people.
The one thing that has weighed on me is Verna Estes. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to read this and have this all over the internet. I can’t imagine the tears that have been shed, and the sobbing in a pillow. I just can’t imagine what that would feel like. As fate would have it when I attended CEFC in January I sat next to Verna. She shook my hand and asked me questions She was warm, kind and generous. I’ve met a lot of people and Verna stands out as someone with one of the biggest hearts. I think about her often and grieve that this has happened. I know she is in an extremely difficult position.
By the way when you talk about small towns being run by a family or families that happens I know. In really small towns its an issue. Its not entirely found in Elverson. You can find that in Nevada or Montana or elsewhere. But if there are issues does that make it right?
I also want you to know that I don’t wish malice on anyone at CEFC. I view them as brothers and sisters in the Lord. I do believe they have made serious mistakes but I don’t wish them harm. While I am sorry for their pain, migraines and the inability of some to sleep I would also like to point out the following. The root of this problem is a church discipline situation that is based in injustice. What happened to Hurit is wrong, and never should have occurred. Hurit knows she could be dead because of what Brock allegedly did with a gun. I have to honestly tell you when I heard about the alleged gun incident I had a really difficult time comprehending it. It weighed on me and is hard to let go. But while I believe there are lots of people hurt in this situation I don’t think we can forget that Hurit was hurt the most. She lost everything and her life was allegedly threatened as well. She knows this, and is in a lot of pain. This raises another question….what is she to repent of? That Brock didn’t love her? How is she supposed to repent? Brock is not involved in CEFC and is in another relationship. So how can Hurit repent? I am sorry for the pain of people there in Elverson but I think we have to remember that pain goes back to both Brock’s actions, and how Steve and the leadership acted. In scripture Jesus talked about reaping what you sow, and the church is reaping the pain of an unjust excommunication.
I want to communicate to you that I would be happy to meet and discuss with Steve or any of the Elders. I want to give CEFC an out. I want to give them a way out of this mess. This is what I believe needs to happen:
- Steve Estes and CEFC needs to repent for that unjust excommunication.
- Steve Estes and CEFC leadership need to repent to Hurit and her parents.
- Brock Estes should repent for the alleged gun incident and his alleged alcohol issues. He should get treatment for what happened.
- There needs to be an open service that allows for repentance to be open.
- CEFC should repent to the EFCA and Eddie Cole for what happened.
- People should repent to those who are shunned and on the outside now.
I want you to know that a lot of the information is coming from people who know the situation. Its not one or two…its a wide assortment of individuals who are concerned and upset. I have also contacted CEFC asking for a statement and they never provided one. I am more than happy to correct any errors that I made. I welcome correction and problems being identified. I am not afraid to admit that I am wrong. But please point out the mistakes that I made and I will fix them and work with you to correct them.
Can I ask you…why do you believe that these are unfounded allegations? Can you address that for me? Please help me see things from your point.
Lastly in closing this note let me say that I am committed to talking with you and engaging with you. I am a people person and I care about this deeply. I have come to know and love a lot of people from Elverson. There is a good possibility that we probably know many of the same people. But I am open to listening and hearing you. I would love to talk and discuss. Please don’t fear me either. The next time I make it up there I would love to buy you a coffee, or a lunch. No cost to you, it would be my treat. I am not afraid of CEFC, I wanted to speak with Steve when I attended. But let me know what you would like to see. I do know many formerly involved want to see CEFC repent over what they did. They want to see the leadership admit they made a mistake. If CEFC repented and held a special service I would drive up from DC and sit through it. I want to see this resolved. I will leave you with a couple of posts that I wrote that I think you may find helpful. The story of Eric Smallridge and Renee Napier is beautiful. Can you imagine if this was the norm and not the exception? I hope that it gives you strength in this season.
I look forward to your reply and I would be happy to dialog with you.