Recently The Well Community Church in Fresno, California did a sermon that explained how they want to reset. The purpose of this post is to teach The Well lessons that I have learned in writing about the EFCA, Neo-Calvinism and scandal across the United States. If The Well incorporates some of these ideas they will become healthier and better in the long course of time.
“Awareness is a key ingredient in success. If you have it, teach it, if you lack it, seek it.”
“It is forgivable to say nothing out of ignorance; it’s inexcusable to remain silent once awareness dawns.”
6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Colossians 2:6-7 ESV
Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
John Piper on how a woman submits to her domestic abuser.
This is the second time I have written about The Well Community Church in Fresno, California. You can read the first post that was composed in, “Mike Slayden From The Well Community Church Fresno Preaches on Reconciliation. A Look at this Sermon.” In that previous post you can see the history and a look at Brad Bell who leads The Well. On January 13, 2018 Brad Bell gave a talk about how the church wanted to press reset. The talk of the sermon is called “Community by God’s Design.” Brad spoke about community and what he wants The Well to become. From Biblical generosity and shepherding, to knowing the needs of the people around you, to having more people come to church and be present – and come on time. When I was there the talk ended early so that people can have the opportunity to get into small groups.
The point of this post is to do something different. I won’t do a summary of the sermon I am just going to impart some lessons in writing about issues in evangelicalism across the United States. This blog writes heavily on the EFCA, Acts 29, and issues in modern evangelicalism. I have sat through quite a few services and had many conversations and discussions with people. In the process I also wade into the secular humanist and atheist community and listened and talk with people from those contexts.
If The Well really wants to do a reset, this is some advice that I have for this church. After listing this I will go into more detail down below.
- Listen to Atheists and Former Christians.
- Avoid Celebrity Pastors.
- Make Pastoral Staff Salary Information Available to Congregation.
- Turn over “Biblical Counseling” to Medical Professionals.
- Avoid Membership Covenants.
- Engage Nearby Churches that have Corruption Issues – Be a Peacemaker.
- Realize that Secular Gay Marriage is Not a Threat to The Well.
- When Child Sex/Domestic Abuse Occurs Go Straight to Fresno/Clovis Police.
- Let Your Congregation Know if a Sex Offender is Attending.
- You can be Conservative on Doctrine and Still Help the Poor.
- Be Honest on Your Doctrine if You Pursue Neo-Calvinism.
Listen to Atheists and Former Christians
I would step away from the pulpit and away from the church for a while and hang out with atheists. Listen to people who walk away from Christianity. You will hear stories and experiences that will shock you. Many evangelicals live and operate inside a bubble. They talk about being relevant and reaching others, but in the end many do not. When I consider how some evangelicals act, and then consider how atheists act, honestly I think God is going to be deeply sympathetic on many athesits. Many atheists as I learned can be more caring, compassionate, loving than many Christians. It’s enough to make you stop, scratch your head and honestly wonder how some things can be so backwards at times. And if you are not doing that and asking those kinds of questions of yourself then one must wonder.
People de-convert over a wide range of issues. It ranges from spiritual abuse to some realizing that what they were taught is not true. The concept of a God was overinflated and not necessary. It’s challenging, but if you really want to look at faith in a different context I would recommend this action. It’s a lot better than talking about reaching the community and continuing like you always have.
Avoid Celebrity Pastors
Celebrity pastors are toxic. Do you want to set up someone for failure and theological problems? Get them to listen to John Piper, Matt Chandler, David Platt, Kevin DeYoung, Mark Dever, etc…. Celebrity pastors are deeply toxic and some of the biggest problems inside modern evangelicalism. Why? These people teach people what to think and not how to think. They stunt and warp people for life. People need to wrestle with issues themselves. Instead they adopt and grab someone else’s ideas when they are in their 20’s or 30’s. They hold those ideas until life happens. When they lose a job, watch a loved become ill and die, a family member comes out as gay, then they discover that some of these beliefs don’t work. That’s one of the ways you create a person who pushes back from things. Issues like creationism, the problem of evil, the concept of people going to hell, how the church has treated gays, and more have created faith crisis and challenged what people have taught. Mine was over the problem of evil of which I spent five years banging my head against the wall. Listening to celebrity pastors will not help people to understand and grow. It will set people up for failure. In many ways people need to wrestle with the most difficult topics themselves. Its terrifying but it is essential.
Make Pastoral Staff Salary Information Available to Congregation
In writing about many different churches around the United States I am struck by one aspect. Many of the ones I study and research often are not transparent about their finances. Money is raised for one intention and it can’t be proven that is has been used for that purpose. That happened in Mars Hill in Seattle and also Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago. But there is one thing that I believe all churches should do. Its to make their salary information available to the public.
After all when you consider it you can go to websites and find out what people in the Marine Corps, Army, Navy and Air Force make. In other situations you can find out what teachers can make in different unified school districts. Another thing to consider is that many state and federal employees have their salary information available to the public. So if the secular world can function like that why do evangelicals withhold such information? If The Well Community Church wants to show that they are serious about transparency what would happen if Brad Bell, Mike Cirricione, Mark Snee, Josh Hawley and others made their salary information available to members and attenders. That would improve The Well Community Church and send a strong message about ethics.
Turn Over “Biblical Counseling” to Medical Professionals
Yesterday I wrote a post to a Biblical Counselor in the Chicago area You can read the post that I composed for Tim Allchin in, “Not All Churches are That Bad. The Cognitive Dissonance of Tim Allchin and a Response to a Blog Post at the Website of Biblical Counseling Center.“ I would strongly encourage The Well Community Church to turn over counseling to qualified medical professionals. People who are professionally trained in psychology and psychiatry. They can respond and help in ways that so many evangelical churches cannot. When I write about fundamentalism I am struck by how many churches use counseling programs or small groups to collect sensitive information on people. Then they can use that information against those people when necessary. As these programs hide behind religion they are not professionally certified. So when confidentiality is broken you can’t turn to the state of California or Texas and have them yank their license to practice.
In the Sovereign Grace Ministry scandal one of the issues that emerged at a blog called SGM Survivors is how Sovereign Grace counseled its members to not seek professional medical attention for issues like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other medical illnesses. There were stories of how in denying and steering people away from medical treatment people committed suicide. That is not something Brad Bell or Mike Snee wants to do. Do you want to preside over the funeral of someone who committed suicide at 25, because they had depression that could have been treated? A lot of “Biblical Counseling” programs are a racket and out to make money. This blog spent a lot of time in Pennsylvania covering an exceptionally dark story in a rogue EFCA church. What happened is that the senior pastor’s son allegedly raped and pointed a loaded gun at his wife. When she filed for divorce the church practiced church discipline and excommunicated her. To make a long story short the pastor who lead this action on his former daughter-in-law sits on the Board of Directors on Christian Counseling & Education Foundation as lead by David Powlison. How sick is that? If you want to read more you can do so in, “Does Christian Counseling & Education Foundation Take Domestic Abuse Seriously? Why is Steve Estes Still on the Board of Directors?”
Avoid Membership Covenants
According to The Well Community Church you promote the use of a membership covenant. It is not as legalistic like others that I have witnessed. For example you can see the membership covenants that former members of Matt Chandler’s The Village Church and Acts 29 Remnant in Richmond, Virginia require its members to sign. You can see both of those in, “Preserving Matt Chandler’s The Village Church’s Bylaws and Membership Covenants from 2009 and 2014 Respectively” and “Remnant Church in Richmond, Virginia’s Membership Covenant and Packet.”
In many cases I am struck by how churches use covenants to control people and yet the pastors or leadership are often rogue. Churches can say, “But we’re elder led” and then the senior pastor can pull strings behind the scenes to guide people into the elder board. So what can happen is that the pastor can create a board that has a lot of “yes men.” In many churches covenants have been used to spiritually abuse and control people. In Sovereign Grace Ministries membership covenants were used to control people and silence them. In Acts 29 Fellowship Memphis one of the leader pastors tried to use a membership covenant to invoke church discipline on someone who wanted to go to police to report a situation where the worship pastor engaged in voyeurism and the manufacturing of child pornography. You can read the story of Fellowship Memphis on this blog. But I would avoid membership covenants in the same way you would avoid cancer. It’s that simple, really it is.
Engage Nearby Churches on Corruption Issues and Be a Peacemaker
Corruption is a major issue in evangelical Christianity. It is more widespread than some people want to believe. In my case I have seen authoritarianism, spiritual manipulation, the effects of child sex abuse and sex offenders and so much more became a problem. Here is what is disappointing from my perspective. Something will happen in church A, it will led to a blow up or massive scandal. In writing about it I will approach Church B and raise the issue in Church A. Church B will say that it is none of their business, I am engaging in “gossip” or “slander” and they will leave it at that. Didn’t Jesus say blessed is the peacemakers? I am amazed as to how many churches will drag on in conflict before others try and help. One of the joys I do have in writing this blog is that I have worked in some cases of resolving conflict. But if there is controversy in a church in Fresno or Clovis and the staff learns of it its my hope that The Well Community Church will take the step of looking into it and at least address it. It amazes me as to how many places preach the story of the Good Samaritan, or what it means to be a man, a member of the body of Christ, etc… and then they stay silent on a major problem.
Realize that Secular Gay Marriage is Not a Threat to The Well
Its this blog’s belief that many evangelicals can’t differentiate between spiritual and secular marriage. Their inability to do so results in many evangelicals needlessly engaging in the culture wars. Many then spend time fighting a losing battle and get wrapped around the axel on a non-issue. The reality is that many gays are going to avoid you, and evangelicalism. Why would they walk into a church especially after how they have been treated over the years? Why should a church like The Well Community or another other evangelical get up in arms about two gays who are atheist who get married in Sacramento, Los Angeles or Santa Barbara? This topic doesn’t affect the church and needless opponents are being created. The sooner that people realize this, well the better off the church and people will be. I write this with the understanding that many people in evangelical churches can’t think this through or are too emotional over this topic. For me that is profoundly sad as that doesn’t have to be the case.
When Child Sex/Domestic Abuse Occurs Go Straight to Fresno/Clovis Police
This is the honest truth about an uncomfortable topic. When I visited The Well I noticed the monitors on the wall as I wondered around and explored. The fact of the matter is that in the life of The Well you will deal with child sex abuse or domestic abuse. It will happen, its just a matter of when. You can put the best practices into place and the fact is it will still happen. It doesn’t mean you practice neglect. What it does mean is that when it happens you practice transparency. You go straight to the police as soon as you learn about it. You notify the church what happened and let the people know and then support the legal system in the process. Don’t try and cover it up because you are more concerned about your brand. The brute honesty is that if you do that your church will take a hit far bigger than you will imagine. By being honest and transparent you can increase trust and build respect. Many evangelical churches are awful when it comes to child sex abuse or domestic abuse. Watch that video up above where John Piper tells a woman in a relationship to submit to her abuser. Its my understanding that he later corrected that statement but the fact that he even said that above is troubling.
Let Your Congregation Know if a Sex Offender is Attending
This is another topic that needs to be addressed. If a registered sex offender wants to come to The Well Community Church you need to put boundaries in place. If its someone on Meghan’s list wants to attend the congregation should be made aware. Put his name in the bulletin or let people know. This should be done for two reasons one, is that it will help the sex offender and help the church. You can determine if he is interested in attending by how he responds. If he doesn’t want to do that then well why is he coming? But by notifying the congregation you are also protecting the offender from a false accusation. If people are away and witnesses are around that helps the church and the offender. Parents of children should know and they have a right to understand potential threats to their children. It amazes me how many churches bungle this topic. I was sadly a whistleblower at a church in the Washington, D.C. are that employed a violent sex offender and had him work as the Care Director. He had access to children and family information and the church concealed it from the congregation. I made the information public because I came from one church in Wisconsin that had a major sex abuse scandal that resulted in the youth minister’s suicide. If you want to read more about this read Fairfax Community Church in the directory.
You Can Be Conservative on Doctrine and Still Help the Poor
There are many churches that believe embracing social justice means you have to become theologically liberal. Many evangelicals as I learned can’t think beyond black and white. Their theology doesn’t allow for a complex theology system. I got a sense in this with your comment in your sermon about how helping people is not socialism. The fact of the matter is that church can provide food, housing, and medical help. They can steer people in the right direction. This is something that many parts of evangelicalism need to learn. If they can then perhaps evangelicalism can become healthy. Right now I don’t believe it is, not based on my experiences.
Be Honest on Your Doctrine if You Pursue Neo-Calvinism
One final point to make as I close out this post. Be honest on your doctrine if you are going to shift in your doctrine let the congregation know. Don’t go from Arminian to Calvinist in a way that people are kept in the dark. People have a right to know what is happening in their church. This issue has torn apart congregations. If doctrine is going to shift let them be aware so that those who are not in that strain can leave. For example I reject reformed theology because it makes the problem of evil worse and I would never get involved in a Neo-Calvinist church.