Analysis of The Western District of the Evangelical Free Church of America

This is an overview of the Western District of the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) as led by Neal Brower. The Western District consists of Northern California and Nevada. This looks at the issues in the district and is the second of two posts regarding this (EFCA) district. 

“We multiply” 

EFCA Western District motto

“Whatever starts in California unfortunately has an inclination to spread.”  

Jimmy Carter

“California is where you can’t run any farther without getting wet.”

Neil Morgan 

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

2 Timothy 1:13-14 NIV 

SOMA Church Community Video 

Grace Church in Kelseyville 

Living Hope Church in Dixon, California 

 

In December 2015 I wrote the following post that put out a call for stories of corruption and polity problems in the Evangelical Free Church of America. There have been a number of people who have responded to that post. However, in that post I also explore the breakdown of all the districts and the history of the denomination.  I decided to take this issue on because no blog out there has undertaken issues related to the Evangelical Free denomination and there are a number of problems that exist. I used to be involved in the Evangelical Free, I actually was baptized in one in 2000. I wrote about Fresno Evangelical Free (The Bridge Fresno) in this post here. Today due to a host of issues I would deeply avoid it, nor would I explore faith in an Evangelical Free church. Just living in the D.C. area and observing the Evangelical Free denomination from a distance has been heartbreaking.  There are a lot of issues from abuse of authority, to legalism, to the penetration of Reformed theology/Neo-Calvinism that befall the denomination and this blog is going to write and illustrate them in an effort to bring about change. Change will come with time, but it will come with each painful story that is published. The stories will reveal the problems in the polity. As SGM Survivors was a thorn in the Sovereign Grace denomination, it is my goal to make The Wondering Eagle a blog that allows for discussions about issues in the Evangelical Free Church of America. The goal is not to be difficult for the sake of being difficult but in the course of time to help bring change to the denomination. I have 17 districts to work through over the next year. Today I am looking at the Western District. This is the tenth district that I have analyzed.

 

Three Aspects Driving this Post and Blog: D.A. Carson’s Corruption, Andrew White and Redeemer Arlington in the D.C. Area and Atheism

This blog – The Wondering Eagle –  is going to hold the Evangelical Free denomination accountable. It is going to write, report and reveal problems and issues with their polity. The Evangelical Free has some serious problems, that said there are also pockets that are good. There are three key things I want to communicate to the Evangelical Free Church so they can understand what drives this project and this blog.

1.  In February of 2013 at the blog SGM Survivors which has documented and written about corruption and problems in the Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) denomination the following occurred. A person called “Anonymous” wrote about how she was sexually assaulted when she was 13 at a prominent SGM member’s house. She also wrote about how she hoped the denomination would be held accountable.  Shortly thereafter the largest lawsuit in evangelical Christian history against SGM was dismissed on a technicality and statute of limitations reasons. On May 24, 2013 D.A. Carson who is a prominent professor at the Evangelical Free Church’s flagship seminary Trinity Evangelical Divinity School issued a statement in support of the ethically challenged C.J. Mahaney (along with Justin Taylor and Kevin DeYoung). In that bastardized statement D.A. Carson went after and verbally attacked that rape victim from SGM Survivors. I consider this to be one of the lowest points in modern evangelical Christianity. When this behavior occurred from a prominent professor in the Evangelical Free Church’s flagship seminary the response by the denomination was also telling.  No one challenged Don Carson, no one publicly rebuked him. No one said, “Now wait a minute Don you are out of line…”

No…

No one did a damn thing. The Evangelical Free Church’s silence on this issue screams volumes about its health. I wonder if the denomination is familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. You see the lesson of that story is that you help the broken, the wounded, the person hurt alongside the road. In contrast the Evangelical Free  has been committed to growth, church planting all while one of its prominent professor’s at its main seminary attacks a rape victim.  In the process I would propose that many parts of the Evangelical Free denomination are acting like the high priest consumed with going to the temple who ignore the wounded person along the side of the road in the process.

Gentlemen…D.A. Carson’s behavior is a disgrace to the denomination and it needs to be challenged. But there is another question that needs to be asked…why would Don Carson behave that way? Over at the blog The Wartburg Watch it was revealed that C.J. Mahaney gave at least $200,000 to Al Mohler at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I put a link to that post in the previous sentence. All together now can we say a “Gospel Centered Bribe.” It has also came out over at the blog SGM Survivors that C.J. Mahaney allegedly gave a lot of cash to Wayne Grudem to help finish the ESV translation. You can read about that in this comment below:

That money given to Wayne Grudem was actually certified by Grudem’s own writing which you can read about in this post here. Plus it was revealed the C.J. Mahaney gave money to Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church.  So having said all that if we follow the money it is well within reason to ask the following question. Did C.J. Mahaney give money to D.A. Carson and is that why Carson felt obligated to attack a rape victim? To read more about the Sovereign Grace scandal the Washingtonian and Time magazine has written about it. Plus there is my analysis of the Washingtonian article as well.

2. There is another aspect I want the Evangelical Free denomination to know. Shortly before D.A Carson attacked a rape victim I was thrust into the darkest season of my life, and it happened when I was coming out of a prolonged faith crisis that consumed half my thirties. An Air Force Captain I knew who was a Care Group Leader at Eric Simmons and Jordan Kauflin’s Redeemer Arlington (a former SGM Church plant in the Washington, D.C. area) gave birth to a false accusation that took aim at my name, reputation, employment and future employment. An attorney who looked over the situation believed I was sitting on a defamation of character lawsuit against Andrew. When I saw how a military officer can abuse his power the situation taught me as to why rape and sexual assault is a very serious issue in the United States military. This situation was the darkest season of my life. The situation was so painful to where you had a 38 year old man crying in his bed in the middle of the night in emotional pain. After I was unsuccessfully recruited into Redeemer Arlington and as I slowly picked up the pieces of my life and tried to find a way forward Andrew White focused on recruiting another person. The situation remained unresolved and dragged on for three years. When my Mom was ill and dealing with the illness that would take her life this issue popped up in a hospital room. I still have to write about that in the near future.  It leaves me to ask a question…do evangelicals believe that a loved one can die in peace? To this day Andrew has not repented, or expressed sorrow for the pain he caused. It actually goes  to another issue in modern evangelicalism today. Christians don’t say they are sorry…they don’t repent when they hurt other people.  They are often indifferent and apathetic to those who they wound. Its what makes many parts of the Christian faith laughable and a joke. It makes Christianity in the United States downright ugly. All I longed for is a deep, sincere apology with Andrew understanding what he did. If he would have taken the initiative and approached me and sought forgiveness I would have released him.   So that situation with an Air Force Captain and the pain I endured drives me and often keeps me up to 2:00 a.m. to make sure that not another soul is harmed by fundamentalism, that no one endures the hell I walked through. There is something deeply wrong when the fruit of your faith is hubris, psychological trauma, false accusations, and pain.

3. Finally this blog also writes about atheism as well. To date I have written 114 articles about atheism, and there are a lot more to write. The reason why I write about atheism in the context of evangelicalism is for the following reason. Corruption in evangelicalism is one of the factors that fuels atheism. I think many evangelicals would be surprised to learn as to how many people have rejected Christianity due to the corruption hemorrhaging out of the Christian faith today. Don Carson’s corruption along with The Gospel Coalition is a prime example. When I was in my faith crisis walking into an Evangelical Free Church in Manassas, Virginia and learning that it was helping to launch an Acts 29 church (in this case Redemption Hill in DC) – even with all the garbage pouring out of Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill – after all the corruption and issues was stunning for me at the time. Its not every day that one stands in a church lobby and explains when asked “Who is Mark Driscoll?” “He’s that Pastor in Seattle that speaks about the Biblical basis for blow jobs!” You can read about that interaction in the lobby of Crossway Fellowship of Manassas, Virginia right hereIt is my contention that the single greatest threat to the Christian faith today is not gay marriage or the secularization of society. Instead its internal corruption which is corrosive and destroying the church. Like I said the Evangelical Free Church denomination has a lot of issues and this blog will write about, monitor and be a deep thorn in the side of the Evangelical Free Church of America. It will do that for the people caught up in this troubled denomination. This blog will be the voice for those in the pews.

 

Making the Western District of the Evangelical Free Church Aware

Having explained all that I want the Evangelical Free church denomination to be aware of what I will report and write on.

  • This blog will write about church members who are caught up in membership covenant issues where they can’t resign or walk away. I should also note that I have deep reservations and concerns about membership covenants. My views are summed up in this post right here called.  “Neo-Calvinist Membership Covenants: the New Berlin Wall Amidst a Theological Cold War.In that post I draw similarities between membership covenants being a modern version of the Berlin Wall, a symbol of oppression throughout the Cold War until it fell in November 1989.
  • In-appropriate church discipline will be hammered here at The Wondering Eagle.   If an Evangelical Free church in The Western District practices in-appropriate church discipline (Side-note I am not talking about adultery)  they will be written up about. For example if a church disciplines a rape victim, or someone who ends their marriage because they were domestically abused. This blog will intervene in those situations for the people in question, and this blog will hammer that church. If you want to see an example of this look at Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania headed up by Steve Estes. Steve and his Elder board disciplined and excommunicated an alleged rape victim. The Senior Pastor’s son allegedly raped his wife while intoxicated and allegedly pointed a loaded gun at her. In this story the woman knows she could be dead. At the time the Evangelical Free church ignored the pleas of members and former members to get involved. I am continuing to write about it as the situation develops.
  • Abusive and questionable church authority issues will be written about extensively as well. Church discipline and membership issues are but one factor. You can have pastors who usurp their authority and force their will. They are often surrounded by yes men who lack any objectivity from outside parties. Nepotism is a major problem in evangelicalism and this issue reveals itself in these situations.
  • Theological church hijackings will also be written about. If a Neo-Calvinist pastor comes in under the radar and hijacks an Evangelical Free church and turns it into a hardcore 9 Marks, or The Gospel Coalition church they will be written about. Its in situations like these where members face discipline for things that never were issues previously. Its divisive and forces people away from their congregations. I will have no sympathy for a pastor who hijacks a church and takes it in a direction that was not its prior theology. Hijackings split congregations and drive people from their theological homes for years. I plan to tell the stories of a few church hijackings at this blog.
  • Child sex abuse along with domestic abuse cover up will be written about as well.
  • Following the laws in regards to sex offenders will be researched and emphasized. What I will do is randomly take an Evangelical Free Church and run its staff through the sex offender database in the appropriate state to see if its being compliant, open and transparent with the congregation. If not expect to see a post similar to this one written about Fairfax Community Church (which is actually in the Church of God Anderson, Indiana denomination)  in the Washington, D.C. area.
  • Financial issues are another aspect that will be written about and covered. Lack of financial transparency, building campaigns that are questionable will be covered in great detail. Church growth is an idol that is worshiped in the modern evangelical Christian church.

Now if the denomination does not like that and District Superintendent Neal Brower or individual pastors are displeased that a blog has popped up that will write about denominational issues there are two things you can do. One is you can express your personal displeasure to D.A Carson and thank him for attacking a rape victim. Some of you guys just saw him at EFCA One.  Second, in honor of D.A Carson The Wondering Eagle celebrates “Festivus” on Don’s birthday on December 21. As part of the annual “airing of grievances” you can read this post I wrote and participate in your own “airing of grievances” at your computer.  Or wait until the next Festivus and complain, and grieve about Don Carson or even the existence of this blog. After all according to the calendar Festivus is now only 108 days away! I have no problem with pushback and allow differing points of view. I am not a dictator. I also want to go on record to state that this post has been emailed to the Western District leadership of the Evangelical Free Church of America as well as all the churches and as many Senior Pastors and pastoral teams in the denomination in northern California and Nevada. So they are now noted and have been made aware that there is a blog that will write about this denomination and their potential church. This blog will have a bite to it, and that bite exists for a reason. It’s to protect and go to bat for the person standing in the pew. There are too many wolves and far too much corruption that exists in modern evangelicalism, but especially the Evangelical Free denomination. Too many people are getting hurt today in church, some of the emails I have received are heartbreaking.

 

Western District Superintendent Neal Brower

The Western District Under Neal Brower

The District Superintendent of the Western District is Neal Brower, before I look at the district lets look at who Neal isNeal Brower appears to have grown up in Orange County, California where he went to Sonora High School in La Habra, California. He attended from 1971 until 1975 and then upon graduation went to the University of Nebraska at Kearney from 1975 until 1980. While at Kearney he played college basketball and majored in education. He then went on and attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School from 1980 until 1984 and obtained a Masters of Divinity in the process. His first church that he became a senior pastor is Lake Murray Evangelical Free in La Mesa, California. Here is how Neal described the experience: 

Straight from seminary I joined a declining and discouraged people with distrust for pastors. Their heart for Jesus, His word, and the community resulted in 25 growing to 250 with 3.5 staff, strong eldership, AWANA, student and worship ministry. We sent 100 church members to start a new church in a neighboring city, and partnered to plant a bi-lingual Hispanic church in North San Diego County.

Neal led Lake Murray from January of 1984 until January of 1991. He then went on to Emmanual Evangelical Free in Burbank, California and led that church from  January 1991 until January of 2002. Here is how Neal described his time in Emmanual: 

Provided shepherding leadership to a vibrant congregation of 800. Through a season of identity formation, initially losing 3 staff and 350 people, the ensuing years enjoyed growth back to 1,100. We helped to form a healthy eldership, 10 faithful pastoral staffers, managed 32 employees, and developed highly creative ministry program, expansive world missions efforts, debt free facilities, and a $1.5 million annual budget. We started a Hispanic “church within the church” and sent out staff and people to plant a church that, unfortunately, closed after three years.

It appears as if after that experience that Neal returned to Nebraska and became the Pastor of Discipleship and Families at Trinity Evangelical Free in Holdrege, Nebraska. Neal served in that position from January 2002 until January 2005. Here is how Neal described his time at Trinity: 

Sensing God’s invitation to an adventure of writing and ministry partnership with Judy, we returned to “The Good Life.” The two of us filled one position, developed concept and materials for authentic and reproductive disciplemaking, trained leaders and formed small groups. We learned submission in a team role, provided extensive counseling, and executed a marriage retreat.

After Trinity Neal was involved in planting Riverview Community Church which appears to be outside Omaha. Neal was the church planting pastor from August 2005 until November 2011. When Riverview was being planted Neal then helped launch Finding Life Omaha, which doesn’t appear to be affiliated with the EFCA. According to LinkedIn here is how Neal described his time at Riverview. 

We planted a new church centered on the principles we’d developed over the years and refined in Holdrege. This simple, life-giving focus allowed us to raise up laborers from, build a staff team and release the growing body into genuine reproductivity in a rural setting (pop. 2,300). In six years God drew 300+ new believers, 100+ of whom are kingdom laborers. We planted Finding Life Church (Omaha) in 2008. I discipled, and the church confirmed my successor, Kyle Ballard on 12/1/11. We completed an $850,000 fund raising campaign for the construction of a $1.65 million “community center,” for worship and community life. Judy remains on staff in youth ministry.

It appears that Neal’s son Jake is on staff at Finding Life Omaha along with his daughter-in-law. Neal then became the Church Plating Director for the Midwest District of the EFCA. He filled this position from August 2009 until April 2013. The Wondering Eagle has already examined this district and calculated the growth and rates of Neo-Calvinism/Neo-Puritanism in Noah Palmer’s district. I have written a number of stories about the Midwest District you can read a couple below. But I have quite a bit more to write about, especially in regards to Josh Black’s First Free Wichita. 

  1. Do Evangelicals Make Studying the Bible Idolatry? Some Thoughts from the Senior Pastor of First Free Lincoln.
  2. Is Curt Romig and First Free Wichita Exporting Another 9 Marks Church to the United Arab Emirates?
  3. First Free Wichita on “Gospel Centered Accountability”: My Question Who is C.J. Mahaney, Mark Driscoll or even Josh Black and Jordan Krahn Accountable to?
  4. “Why Do Neo-Calvinists have a Problem with Phillip Yancey? Plus Mike Hellum of Westmark Evangelical Free in Loomis, Nebraska Promotes “Disappointment with God.”

In May of 2013 Neal Brower became the District Superintendent of the Western District and had remained in that position since then.  He guides and influences this district and works with pastors across the board.  Neal also is involved in promoting a program called Simple Living. He is married to his wife Judy who he sealed the knot on August 13, 1977.  He writes a blog called Broken Bridges. Neal it appears is also a fan of the San Francisco 49ers. 

The Western District of the EFCA has its corporate headquarter’s in San Francisco, California. While Neal is the district superintendent, Andrew Hoffman is the church multiplication catalyst. I will get more into Andrew in the next section.  Patrick Allen from the Sacramento area does credentialing. I am quite sure that there has to be some urban programs in the San Francisco Bay Area but the website is not up to date and it is lacking in information. That should be one of the goals of the Western District is to develop  a new website. 

 

Is the Western District the Neo-Calvinist District of the EFCA on Facebook?

I looked at the Facebook page of the Western District and was horrified  by the Neo-Calvinist agenda. I did the numbers and 19% of the Western District is Neo-Calvinist yet in looking at their Facebook articles a majority of them come from The Gospel Coalition, 9 Marks or other like minded ministries. I am going to take an educated guess and state that I believe that most of the articles probably came from Andrew Hoffman who is active in the Gospel Coalition in the Bay Area. Andrew at the district level is the multiplication analyst.  It leads me to ask the question if Andrew is in the process of trying to further hijack the Western District by steering money or projects in a Neo-Calvinist direction. I ran into a similar situation in the EFCA’s Forest Lakes District in Wisconsin recently. You can read about that in “A Closer Look at Scott Sterner from Acts 29’s The Vine Church in Madison, Wisconsin; Is Scott Tilting the Forest Lakes District Toward Neo-Calvinism as the Forest Lakes Director of Church Multiplication?

These are some of the articles that I am found on the Western District’s EFCA page.

  1. 9 Marks “The Privilege and Power of a Praying Pastor’s Wife.” 
  2. Thom Rainer’s “SEVEN DISTINGUISHING HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PASTORS.” 
  3. Matt Smethurst’s “‘We Are All Messy’: Rosaria Butterfield on Loving Our Gay and Lesbian Friends.” 
  4. Thom Rainer’s “15 WAYS TO TAKE CARE OF GUEST SPEAKERS.” 
  5. Don Olsen’s “The Time Is Ripe for Radical Generosity.”
  6. Thom Rainer’s “FIVE WAYS TO USE THE OFFERTORY TO ENHANCE FINANCIAL STEWARDSHIP.” 

In addition there was an abundance of Charles Spurgeon and Tim Keller quotes. Plus there was this gem from Sinclair Ferguson who taught Systematic Theology at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas Texas. That became Reformed Theological Seminery after some quick research.  Let’s look at this quote for a little bit. 

“Suffering is not an obstacle to God’s purpose but a means to achieving it.”

Sinclair Ferguson

That quote illustrates why Neo-Calvinism is problematic to its core. All suffering is a means to being used by God. Let me ask Andrew Hoffman this following question. When a child will be sexually abused in an EFCA Church did the Lord ordain the sexual assault of a 5 year old as a means for his sanctification? That quote right there illustrates why Neo-Calvinism makes the problem of evil worse. Its why John Piper always has to comment on nearly every damn tornado that pops up and why he is the Neo-Calvinist Pat Robertson. My jaw dropped when I looked at the Facebook page of the Western District. I have examined other District webpages and Twitter feeds but they didn’t have this much Neo-Calvinist material on it. That is a deeply troubling issue that really needs to be addressed. Its part of the reason why The Wondering Eagle exists. 

 

NorthCreek in Walnut Creek, California is the Most Toxic Evangelical Free that I Have Come Across in this Project

When I was studying and analyzing all 54 churches of the Western District I was shocked when I looked at Jon McNeff’s NorthCreek in Walnut Creek. In writing about the EFCA and working district by district I have looked at and studied close to 700 church websites and NorthCreek is the most toxic Evangelical Free that I have come across. I noticed when I was studying their library online that this church still continues to promote C.J. Mahaney and is still pushing his material. Not just one or two mind you, NorthCreek’s library still is pushing almost every single book C.J. Mahaney published. This despite the fact that Mahaney practiced blackmail against Larry Tomczak. By the way you can read the transcript of that blackmail in the following post. “Has God Foreordained an Alleged Child Sex Abuse Cover up in Sovereign Grace Ministries/Churches? Is that why CJ Mahaney is so Sacred?” This despite the fact that he led an organization that allegedly covered up child sex abuse in a number of churches and in the process destroyed families. This despite the fact that Mahaney boasted of demanding sex from his wife Carolyn when she was dealing with morning sickness and vomiting in a toilet. Is that what a man does? Then in an organization that was over the top in church discipline when Maheney’s alleged criminal activity came to light the bastard fled Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He then ran and hid behind Mark Dever’s ass at Capitol Hill Baptist. In giving C.J. Mahaney shelter at Captiol Hill Baptist Mark Dever violated 5 of the 9 Marks which you can read in the following post,  “9 Marks: What is it? How Mark Dever Undermined it and Made it Worthless.” NorthCreek is an Evangelical Free that needs to be closed. Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) was nothing but a cult, and for this church to still hold C.J. Mahaney in high esteem despite his allegations of criminal activity is profoundly troubling. The Wondering Eagle has deep concerns regarding Dr. Jon McNeff and is openly questioning whether he is fit for ministry and if he has the ability to practice critical thinking skills and discernment. If his church is still promoting Mahaney then McNeff lacks the ability to practice discernment.  This is an Evangelical Free that needs to be closed. The Wondering Eagle in the course of time will write a number of articles which will tag the website and it will keep people away. That said there will always be Kool-Aid drinkers. But this is a church that is not healthy, stable and needs to be shuttered.  

 

Other Issues in the Western District

I noticed that Orville Evangelical Free is looking for a new senior pastor. It will be interesting to watch what develops and what takes place. Will Orville Evangelical Free be theologically hijacked and made Neo-Calvinist? Hopefully that will not happen but time will tell. I wrote a post about an Evangelical Free in Oklahoma that was looking for a new senior pastor while specifically stating that they did not want to be theologically hijacked. Orville might want to read that post which is called, “What Fellowship Bible Church of Fort Gibson, Oklahoma can Learn from The Bridge of Newbury Park, California. I noticed that at Solano Community Church the President of the EFCA Kevin Kompelien’s son serves there as the interim assistant pastor. Brent Kompelien has been active in launching a program to get the Gospel in the San Francisco neighborhoods. You can read more about it on his biography at Solano Community Church. 

These are things that I saw that I deeply liked. I noticed that New Life Community Church in Ukiah, California lists their members who serve in the military and ask people to pray for them. Also of note is the sports program that Chico Evangelical Free has which it opens up to its community. Also kudos to Motherload Evangelical Free in Lotus, California which has an active wood ministry and helps get wood to people. That in itself is quite neat. The oldest churches that I found in the Western District appear to be Trinity Evangelical Free which has roots back to 1906 and Glen Ellen Community Church to 1894. 

And finally as I close this post out The Wondering Eagle wants to say welcome to one of the newest senior pastors in the district. Karl Anderson started at Sierra Bible Church in Reno, Nevada on April 2, 2017. He came to Reno from the Chicago area. The Wondering Eagle wants to extend a warm welcome to Karl and wishes him well. I also want to give him some advice. Remember you are a servant and don’t feel entitled and Lord over people as you do your job. Jesus served in the trenches and washed people’s feet, you should do likewise. Be transparent about your polity and don’t try and get “yes” men on the elder board to back you up. If you work hard people will know and acknowledge that and you will win people’s heart’s over. Teach clearly and well so that people at Sierra Community Church will know the difference between grace and the doctrines of grace. Those are two very different topics. Also if criminal activity is discovered from money possibly being embezzled to a child who was sexually abused go straight to the Reno Police and don’t try and cover it up. If you are focused on protecting your image in time you will lose it, if you do the right thing all will be well. If you or any pastor from this district ever finds themself in the Washington, D.C. area feel free to look me up. I would be happy to meet you. With these posts The Wondering Eagle is going to start to write about Neal Brower’s district in the days, weeks and months to come. That’s it guys please know that I love you.