Does the EFCA struggle with nepotism? Two churches from the North Central District stand out for issues of nepotism. Those churches are Trinity Evangelical Free in Plainview and New Life Evangelical Free in Hastings, Minnesota. In addition I also spend some time looking at the nepotism issue at Community Evangelical Free in Elverson, Pennsylvania which was in the Eastern District of the EFCA. Its my hope that the EFCA will start to examine how the denomination can better deal with nepotism for the health of the EFCA.
“Nepotism is the lowest and least imaginative form of corruption.”
“Despotism favors the despot, nepotism favors the despot’s genes.”
“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.
Matthew 5:14 NLT
Merle and Diane Stoltzfus of Elverson, Pennsylvania
Harvard Business on the dangers of nepotism
Nepotism is a major issue in evangelical Christianity and to a certain degree in the United States. But before we look at three EFCA churches let’s look at the issue o quickly as an overview.
What is Nepotism?
Nepotism is having a policy that is based on favor granted to relatives in placing them in places of employment or influence. You can find nepotism in small business. politics, entertainment, sports, and religion. The term nepotism came from the assignment of nephews to important positions by Catholic Popes and Bishops in the Middle Ages. Parliamentary positions were given out to family and friends. Nepotism comes from the Italian word nepotismo which is based on the Latin word nepos meaning ‘nephew.’ When Catholic Popes had families they placed nephews and others into the cardinalate. You can read more about nepotism in the Catholic church here.
Nepotism is not an issue in the regular government due to the civil service. In political pointed positions for example in the White House or executive branch then yes from time to time its an issue. The law about nepotism changed after John F Kennedy appointed his brother Robert F. Kennedy to attorney general in 1960. You can read the statute which was passed in 1967. You will find nepotism in the small business world. I encountered nepotism in a small family owned business in California. In this case I saw someone being rehired for a position where he was previously fired for shoplifting. Nepotism is a serious issue inside evangelicalism, after all several churches I have been involved in dealt with this topic. But let’s look at three issues of nepotism in the EFCA and consider how they can be an issue.
The Nepotism Issue at Trinity Evangelical Free in Plainview, Minnesota
This blog has been writing about the issues going on at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Plainview, Minnesota. Pauline Spenst came along with Ty Spenst when he became the pastor in 2002. In the course of time this is an EFCA church that was theologically flipped. You can read about that in, “A Neo-Calvinist Hijacking at an EFCA Church in Minnesota That Took Place in the Shadow of John Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist.” In time Pauline Spenst became the office administrator for Trinity Evangelical Free. She had a lot of sway and influence in her position. Her influence, combined with Ty created more of a cabal. It also opened the door to problems. Let me ask you this question. If you were a member of the Trinity Evangelical Free church and you had an issue with Pauline, whose side do you think Ty will come down on? Even if its a business decision? The nepotism also casts a cloud over the church administration as its a major conflict of interest. And even if the church elder board supported this decision (I have no idea…) what does that do for Trinity? Let’s take another look at this which would really show the problem of nepotism. What if there were criminal allegations that came forward against Pauline. Would Ty be able to be a neutral individual? This is another reason why Trinity Evangelical Free is toxic and has issues. This is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Nepotism clouds judgement in the end.
A Double Dose of Nepotism at New Life Church at Hastings, Minnesota
New Life Evangelical Free is in Hastings, Minnesota. It serves the southeast Twin Cities area. While I couldn’t find much about the history of New Life, there is one thing I did learn about this church. And that is the level of turmoil it has gone through because of a senior pastor who has left. This happens often in EFCA churches and its why many are unstable. In the local newspaper in 2008 they welcomed Randy Strode who would in time, also leave. But in 2018 as I study this EFCA church look at the issue of nepotism in the church leadership alone. First let’s look at the current webpage examining the church leadership. Scott McCall is the executive pastor at New Life Scott and has been at New Life since 2000. In his role as executive pastor he also is responsible for working with the elder board. and he is responsible for some preaching at the church. He is a father of several sons, one of which is also employed at New Life Evangelical Free. Matt McCall is the youth director of New Life. He has been involved in the church since 2001 and grew up in New Life. So the McCalls are one example of nepotism in this EFCA church. But the situation actually gets worse. Stop and also consider the Olsons. Glen Olson is the pastor of discipleship making and outreach. He has been at New Life since 1987. His full time job is working as the Director of Student Ministries for the EFCA’s North Central District. Glen’s wife also is involved in leadership at New Life, where she directs children’s ministry. But it appears as if New Life has struggled with nepotism for a long time as it keeps occurring. Just look at the archived webpage in November of 2002. You can see nepotism in Kim Ooms who was the Children’s Ministry Director and also her daughter Jennifer Ooms.
So what does all this mean? It actually means a lot for the leadership of New Life. What would happen if there are criminal allegations that would occur with either the Olsons or the McCalls? Please understand I am not asking this to be difficult, and I realize the Olsons and McCalls can be great people. But, I am asking because in its current form I believe that New Life is a church just ripe for a scandal or problem. If there were criminal allegations involving Matt McCall how would the church deal with them? What would his father Scott do? Given the role that exists could Scott make a hard decision against his own flesh and blood? Now turning to the Olsons what about the prospect of any issues there? Could one say that in its current form that any problems run the risk of tainting the leadership of the North Central District? I ask this in all sincerity to draw attention to the issue.
Considering the Issue of Nepotism at the Former Community Evangelical Free in Elverson, Pennsylvania
This blog broke and wrote extensively about the situation at Steve Estes and Community Evangelical Free in Elverson. Today, known as Brick Lane Community Church. This is it in a condensed version. The senior pastors son allegedly raped his wife while intoxicated. He also allegedly pointed a loaded gun at her. Hurit realized that she could be dead at the hand of her husband Brock Estes. She eventually filed for divorce and the church practiced church discipline on her and had her excommunicated. They did all this to protect Brock who worked for the Berks County Jail in Pennsylvania. You can read more about this in, “Steve Estes and Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania: A Painful Story of Domestic Abuse, Inappropriate Church Discipline, and Failed EFCA Polity” and “Hurit’s Public Excommunication While Alleged Criminal Activity by Brock Estes is Withheld from the Congregation: Appeals for Help Fall on Deaf Ears to Steve Musser of the Eastern District and National Evangelical Free Church of America.”
Community Evangelical Free left the EFCA earlier this year. You can read about that in, “Brick Lane Community Church Changes its Name to Community Evangelical Free Church of Elverson; Votes to Rejoin the EFCA for a Month, and Plans to Separate Again from the EFCA.” The issue of nepotism is a major issue in this congregation. It was a concern for the EFCA at the time as well. I never had the time to write a long detailed post about the issues of nepotism but would like to poke at it in this post. If my memory is correct I want to say that one family, that of the Stoltzfus, controls 20% of this church. Many people are intermarried and they rotate on and off the elder board. Its long been an issue and it contributed to poor decision making as well. The chief leaders at the church at former Community Evangelical Free are Merle and Dave Stoltzfus, I have Merle picture’s up top. Then there is Steve Estes. Think of Merle as the chief spider in the web. So to give you an idea of the nepotism in Elverson, this is a partial listing of who is tied to who. I studied the former church directory and took detailed notes as I was working this issue in Pennsylvania. If there are any mistakes I ask for the people from Elverson, Pennsylvania to correct this section. Keep in mind that some of these people may have moved away.
- Andi Colmery who is the sister of Paul Montgomery. They are close to Merle and Diane.
- Keith DeWalt who is Diane Stoltzfus brother who also works for Stoltzfus Enterprises.
- I believe there are around 10 Estes in the Estes family.
- Josh and Kelly Fenton, Kelly is Merle Stoltzfus daughter.
- Marla Frey who is Diane’s confidant. The Frays I believe are related.
- Curt and Carol Hoke, Curt is Merle and Dave’s sister.
- Dennis and Holly Kurtz, Holly is Steve Estes’s daughter.
- Travis and Adrienne Kurtz , Adrienne is Steve’s daughter. Its important to note that as brother and sisters are married.
- Jim and Tracy McGuire, their daughter is married to Merle’s son.
- Jon and Kimberly Mountz, Kim is Merle’s daughter.
- Esther Prosser who is Merle and David’s sister who works for Stoltzfus Enterprises.
- Barb Stoltzfus is the patriarch of the Stoltzfus clan.
- Merle and Diane Stoltzfus
- David and Carol Stoltzfus
The EFCA Needs to Address Nepotism for the Health of the Denomination
The EFCA needs to became aware of this issue and work at passing some guidelines to help make this denomination safer. Yes, I know the EFCA models congregationalism, but efforts at change and reform can be rolled out. Rules encouraging people to not hire pastors and then have families on the elder board, or having families who work in one church need to be tackled. Any rules rolled out can be incorporated into church plants as well. In the near future I plan on doing a comprehensive post re-looking at Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson and what the EFCA can learn. The issue of nepotism is a major one. District Superintendents like Brian Farone from the North Central District need to sit down with Trinity Evangelical Free and New Life and come up with plans to change the situation. Its better to be safe than sorry. When a push, comes to shove the ties that are bound by blood lines will not be crossed. Its my hope that the EFCA takes on this issue for the betterment of the greater denomination. And that is the goal of this blog to make a safer and healthier EFCA. That is it for the day, please know that I love you guys.