A post about the opening talk at the EFCA Eastern District Conference that was done by Joe Henseler of Faith Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania. This is a response to what Joe says about leadership and asks some questions about gossip, slander, and points out some different views.
“The leader is one who, out of the clutter, brings simplicity… Out of discord, harmony… And out of difficult, opportunity.”
“The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”
The Lord said to Moses, “Walk out in front of the people. Take your staff, the one you used when you struck the water of the Nile, and call some of the elders of Israel to join you. 6 I will stand before you on the rock at Mount Sinai.[b] Strike the rock, and water will come gushing out. Then the people will be able to drink.” So Moses struck the rock as he was told, and water gushed out as the elders looked on.
Exodus 17:5-6 NLT
Joe Henesler, the Senior Pastor of Faith Church.
Since Faith Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania hosted the Eastern District conference for 2017, I decided to write an analysis about what Joe Henseler said. There is much to say. I listened to Joe’s talk twice as I fought Washington, D.C. traffic. Below I do a summary of the Book of Exodus and then I write a response to what Joe Henseler stated. So let’s get into it, but before we do lets look at Joe Henseler and an incident at Faith Church as well.
Who is Joe Henseler?
Joe is from north New Jersey. He graduated from high school and attended Rutgers University in New Jersey. Joe worked landscaping upon graduation and also worked with a number of teenagers having been influenced by Bruce Ebersole. Shortly afterward he married his wife Karine in 2000. Joe came to Faith Church in Allentown in 2005 where he served as the Youth Pastor, and in 2009 became the Senior Pastor. Joe likes sports, and outdoor activities from what I found in researching him. He also publishes a blog called “From Jersey for Jesus.” In reading his blog it looks like he is very much influenced by John Piper. Plus he also thinks highly of Matt Chandler and Mark Driscoll. So having said that hopefully his views on domestic abuse are much different than what John Piper taught. And hopefully his description of Mark Driscoll is old and that his blog needs updating. This is how Joe Henseler described Mark Driscoll. “A thought provoking writer/communicator who is culturally savvy, Christ-centered and who’ll make you think. If you listen to Mark, you’re sure to stay awake AND have your understanding of the Gospel, Culture, and the world challenged.” Hopefully Joe Henseler also learned that Mark Driscoll taught that women are penis homes, which made quite a splash in the secular media. And who can forget that Mark Driscoll also taught that a repentant women gets down on her knees and performs a “Gospel-Centered” blow job. Is that what penal substitution is all about?
When Faith Church Ran Afoul of Pennsylvania Law
When I researched Faith Church I found a troubling incident that happened on September 16, 2015. It involves the pre-school for Faith Church and it looks like it ran afoul of Pennsylvania law. At Faith Church’s pre-school a two year old wondered off from the school grounds. A good Samaritan intervened when they saw the two year old alongside a busy street and near a stormwater detention pond. They called police who called Jason Troutman and told him that his daughter was fine. Jason was puzzled after all his daughter was in the care of the pre-school? What has happened is that Jason’s daughter had wandered off and no one at the pre-school knew that she was missing. The commonwealth of Pennsylvania allegedly opened up an investigation into whether or not Faith Church was operating an illegal child care center because they did not have a license issued by the commonwealth. In November of 2015 Pennsylvania issues a cease and desist order to Faith Church when it came to their child care center. After Pennsylvania removed children younger than 2 years old Faith Church’s child care center had 140 children enrolled. Joe Henseler claimed that the pre-school was open for 22 years and that it was not day care. This issue was investigated by Paul Muschick of the Morning Call. The name of the article is called, “Lower Macungie church preschool investigated after 2-year-old wanders off.” The Morning Call reporter got a statement from both Joe Henseler and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In response to the issue state officials said that religious organizations are not exempt from licensing and regulation. Jason Troutman contacted the Morning Call and said that he wanted people at Faith Church to be held accountable. Jason and his wife at the time are concerned that this was being swept under the carpet. Even though disciplinary action was allegedly taken the Troutman’s at the time were kept in the dark. As to where this issue is now in 2017 I do not know. As The Wondering Eagle writes about the EFCA if the Troutman’s ever want to tell their story on this blog, I will give them the space to do so.
Joe’s Talk at the Eastern District Conference from Exodus 17-18 and an Overview of Exodus
Joe Henseler opened up the Eastern District conference afternoon session by giving a talk called “Leaders Need Leaders.” In the talk the Faith Church Pastor used text from Exodus 17 and 18. For those of you who do not know Exodus is the story of the Israelite leaving slavery in Egypt. It references Moses who killed an Egyptian and fled to become a shepherd. Moses showed faith by following God’s command and returning to Egypt. The Lord was moved for all the suffering by those in slavery. After a series of plagues Pharaoh releases the slaves and then changes his mind. He sends the Egyptian army after Moses who orchestrates a miracle and parts the Red Sea. The Israelite pass through and then the water comes down on the Egyptians. As the Israelites travel the Lord provides manana and quail and they are fed. The Lord also gives Moses the power to destroy the Amalekites. Three months after fleeing Egypt Moses and the Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai where the Lord gives Moses the Ten Commandments. If the Israelites abide by and follow their covenant with God the Lord will keep his covenant with them as they move onto the promised land and retrieve it from the Canaanites. Moses goes back up the mountain where the Lord gives Moses instructions as to how to build a portable temple called the ark. While Moses is on the mountain the Israelites rebel and build a golden calf which they are worshiping. Moses destroys the stone tablets and wants to destroy the people and Moses intervenes on their behalf. The Israelites erect a new tabernacle to show their commitment to the Lord.
“They are Going to Kill Me” Taking on the Idea of People who Betray Pastors
Joe draws parallels on how some of the Israelities challenged and wanted to stone Moses, and how some people in the congregation can take similar action. He quotes Exodus 17:4 in which Moses is threatened to be killed. Joe talks about how people will oppose pastors, how sometimes they will love you and then they will turn on you. Beware of those who praise you quickly as they will be the first to turn on you. I listened to what Joe said and I want to do a response to the idea that the congregation easily betrays the pastor.
Before I start let me explain a little bit about me. This blog was started out of a period of intense psychological pain. I was in a full fledged faith crisis and gravitated from William Lobdell to Christopher Hitchens at the time. I had an Air Force Captain who tried to get me involved in Redeemer Arlington a former Sovereign Grace Ministries church here in the Washington, D.C. area. The individual I knew was fully sold on Mark Dever’s 9 Marks. He was into John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler and more. He had “sound doctrine” and said that this Sovereign Grace church was the “healthiest” church he ever knew. There was another thing that this Air Force Captain taught me, he taught me why rape and sexual assault are a problem in the United States military when he gave birth to a false accusation in uniform that threatened my name, ability to earn income and my future. You can read that in “How I Managed a False Accusation Given Birth to by a USAF Captain and Care Group Leader from Redeemer Arlington for 408 Days.” When Joe talks about how a pastor is betrayed, let me state that I know what a betrayal feels like. After all…
- I know what it feels like to be at the gym and hear the word stalk which is related to the false accusation, and physically shake, cry and wonder “what is happening with me?”
- I know how it feels to cry in your bed in the middle of the night and want peace and have that be denied because the other person rejects reconciliation and working out the problem.
- I know how it feels to be psychologically stuck and try and find a way to move forward but can’t.
- When I see blogs like SGM Survivors and hear about stories of how churches destroy families, tear apart siblings, and rip apart friendships, I can now identify with those experiences.
- I know what it feels like to have that false accusation pop up in a hospital room when you are trying to help your mother who is deeply ill, and instead you are answering Mom’s questions because your mother is still concerned. My question to evangelicals are the following…is it “sound doctrine” to have spiritual abuse pop up in a hospital room? Do evangelicals believe that a loved one can die in peace? Or does that have to be stolen also?
I know how it feels to be betrayed. I wrote a post two years ago called “Theology of Betrayal” that might give Joe Henseler something to reflect upon. I write all this and bares my soul to say that I understand how painful a betrayal can be. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. Not an EFCA pastor, not my worst enemy. Had it not been for that false accusation and the fact that it is unresolved then I would not be writing this blog. I think that Joe’s concerns are a little exaggerated because to be honest I think to become a Judas Iscariot is quite evil. Most people are not going to do something that threatens another person’s career. To be in such a situation is something that I would not wish upon anyone. But I think that Joe overstated the issue as the the average church attender will not act in that fashion, and become an EFCA’s pastor Judas Iscariot. It leaves to another question that I have for Joe Henseler.
Joe, how do you Define Gossip and Slander?
I have a question for Joe Henseler that I believe needs to be asked. Joe how do you define slander and gossip? I ask this after listening to your video. Dictionary.com defines gossip as “idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others.” Dictionary.com defines slander as “defamation, calumny.” I know both well and I would also state that both gossip and slander are misused and handled badly in American evangelicalism. My situation deals with slander according to an attorney I consulted, so I fully get slander. I wrote two posts about this very issue that I would recommend. “What is Gossip? What is Slander? Addressing the Issue of Bitterness; Finally the Word Bitter will be Banned at The Wondering Eagle” and “Guest Post: Confession, Gossip, and Ashley Madison; How Pastors Gossip.” It is not slander to disagree with a building campaign. You are not honoring God when you are just a yes man for your pastor. You are not helping your church by just agreeing 100% of the time with your pastor. What evangelical Christians need to do is learn how to engage, and agree to disagree. The reality of the matter is that pastors can also gossip. I learned that in the D.C. area through evangelical circles. But is it gossip to state what happened? Am I gossiping when I share my false accusation at this blog? Am I gossiping when I write about an evangelical church in the D.C. area (Fairfax Community Church) that has a violent sex offender on the staff? Nope I am just calling it as I see it. Some parts of evangelicalism can’t deal withe the truth and they then misuse the word gossip. I know this may be difficult for you to process but I write this because I want to make you a better pastor Joe.
Joe, Remember it was the Religious Leaders who Killed Jesus
Joe I disagree with your talk in this one manner. Let me ask this question….in the end who killed Jesus? Was it the sinner or the religious leadership of the day? I think it was manipulative to use Exodus 17 as in the end it sends a darker message about the Christian faith. I would think as a Christian that you would be more anchored in the message in the New Testament. When I consider the Gospel narrative the greatest threat that has always opposed it has been the religious leadership. Either the Pharisees or Sadducees. It was the Pharisees who led the opposition to Jesus and tried to trap them. Notice who liked to hang out with Jesus? It was the broken, the prostitutes, and more. If Jesus was in Allentown, Pennsylvania who would be hanging out with him? People who are gay, opiod addicts, homeless, workaholics, the single mother trying to make ends meet, the former white supremacist doubting his hate. This message I felt really need to be pushed back hard. This was probably the hardest part of this post that I hope you can process.
On Pastors Being Human
I agree with you on this and I wish pastors could show their humanity more often. I wish pastors could do the following:
- Be open about their doubts.
- Say “I don’t know..” more often.
- Listen more and appreciate disagreement as it being that people care.
- Share your failures.
- Share your joys in life.
- Share your family.
- Share your pain.
To be human is to be vulnerable as it helps people understand. If pastors show their human side more that will help people who sit in the pews, or those like me on the edge of the faith.
Personalty Cults Still Exist
Joe Henseler also needs to understand that personality cults still exist in the Christian faith. His teaching team idea is good but personality cults still exist. Joe’s blog reveals that as I believe Joe also supports personality cults. Over a year ago I wrote a post about how personality cults exist in Neo-Calvinism. I am academically trained in history having studied it in college and then further in grad school. When I was studying the Cold War, the Soviet Union or Ma;s China I never imagined how some of these movements would help describe Neo-Calvinism today. The personality cult is very strong in evangelicalism. One of the things I sometimes notice is that from time to time I can figure out who influences which pastor. For example when I see pastors imitate John Piper or Matt Chandler I know that the personality cult remains a major issue. To read more you can do so in “The Little Red Book…of John Piper?”
Is the EFCA in a Crisis When it Comes to Passing the Baton?
There is one additional aspect that Joe said that troubled me, and I feel like it needs to be said. I keep hearing this over and over, especially as I have interacted with different parts of the EFCA across the United States. The EFCA and some pastors are always claiming that there is a crisis to come, a transition of older pastors who will need to retire, and will young people be up for it? I have to disagree and state that I think there are other issues that are a threat to the EFCA which need to be addressed.
These are the two that are foremost in my mind as I write this post.
- I am deeply concerned about the issue of child sex abuse inside the EFCA. When I consider how much of an issue this has been inside the Roman Catholic faith and Southern Baptist Convention I am deeply afraid that the EFCA is struggling with this issue as well. I honestly hope I am wrong and that this is not an issue. I hope I don’t have to publish a story dealing with child sex abuse issue in the EFCA denomination. Whether it be in an EFCA church in the continental United States or out in the missionary field in Asia, Africa or South America or elsewhere.
- The other issue that troubles me kind of follows with what you said. The EFCA needs to learn how to manage the Neo-Calvinist issue. The growth of Neo-Calvinist theology inside the EFCA I think can be a threat to its existence. Where do people who are not into Neo-Calvinist theology go? Where do they belong? I have interacted with some people who feel like they are refugees to the denomination. Here in the D.C. area I am a refugee in the sense that I am not into Neo-Calvinism and what does a person do if they are not into that theology, and yet that is how the EFCA is in your backyard? I did a write up that overviews the EFCA in the Washington, D.C. area. You can read that in “Crossway Fellowship in Manassas, Virginia Gets a New Senior Pastor, and a Look at the EFCA in the Washington, D.C. Area.” Here is more about what I believe are the issues in the EFCA.
A Good Pastor will be Appreciated and Loved
I want to close this post on a positive. The best attribute of Protestantism in my mind is a loving, good pastor. A good pastor is as good as gold and man can the faith shine. I have intersected with some EFCA pastors across the United States from time to time or as I travel. This blog takes me up and down the East Coast as I write about these issues. I have met people and later on I am grateful that they are a pastor. Their love, kindness, heart is incredible. I have had some pastors give me the vibe that they would give you the shirt off their back. For all the dark stories I write here I also look for some positive ones, and when I see it I will write about it. But a good pastor will be deeply appreciated and loved by the congregation. And most people will understand and sympathize and worry about the work load of the pastor. Caring and empathy can be an incredible gift and both can feed each other if they do things right. That’s it for the day Faith Church. I hope you have a good day.