Todd Nathan became the Senior Pastor of the Evangelical Free Church of Blairstown in 2014. Situated in Northwest New Jersey this is a good size Evangelical Free church that served the Blairstown Township for decades. Problems began to develop in the course of time and Todd could not deal with people challenging or asking questions. Many members slowly came to see the new leader of Blairstown as autocratic. A church that was once loving and kind was starting to deal with deep issues. In November of 2017 a credentialed EFCA pastor used a loophole in the church by-laws to allegedly target at least 22 members and throw them out of the congregation.
“Disclosure and transparency are the currency of the Internet, and they are at odds with authoritarianism.”
“Authoritarian systems evolve. Authoritarianism in the Internet Age is not your old Cold War authoritarianism.”
shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,[a]not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;[b] not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
1 Peter 5:2-3 ESV
Evangelical Free Church of Blairstown
In researching and writing about the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) there is a troubling situation that emerged in the Eastern District. Its the story of a church that was once loving, kind and very much a family in the Blairstown, New Jersey area. Within a matter of months to a year a caring church under the leadership of a new pastor was seen as autocratic by many members of the church. Today many former members are asking questions as to what happened at Blairstown? How did the church become controlling? Why did so many people who lived their life in Blairstown lose their spiritual home? And how did a congregational church go from elder led to elder rule? There is a large community that is growing in Blairstown of loving former members. I have met with them and have been taken back by their gentleness, hospitality, love and grace. They are a tight knit community who cares for each other. As a community I find them looking for answers and wanting to find closure over what happened. They long for their home which was tragically lost. And they are mourning the loss of a church as a result of authoritarianism. But they long for peace and deeply desire reconciliation.
Blairstown is in Northwest New Nersey. Its near the Delaware Water Gap which is popular for summer recreation and water sports. It is a few miles from the Pennsylvania border and near East Stroudsburg University. Blairstown is in Warren County and has a population of nearly 6,000 people as reported in the 2010 census. According to what I was told its a community that some people retire to, and others commute from as they work in New York City. Nearby is also Blair Academy which is one of the best known prep schools in the United States. It is against this setting that an Evangelical Free church thrived, loved and served the community for several decades.
The History of Evangelical Free Church of Blairstown
In the 1970’s there was a need for a church in Warren County, New Jersey. Two families came together and a church was born in a living room. The new church was called the Evangelical Free Church of Blairstown. This Evangelical Free Church was also supported by Salem Church in Staten Island in the 1970’s which helped in the launch. The first full time pastor at Blairstown came on board in 1976. The church continued to grow under the leadership of a new pastor in 1987. This Blairstown pastor dedicated himself to the community and served there for 25 years. In about 1988 the church had raised enough funding to build their physical building. Before proceeding a congregation full of love and faith prayed and asked the Lord to bless the community that it was serving. In time Blairstown Free Church also built a gymnasium and Sunday school spaces. Many of the original families served the church and Warren County faithfully and were deeply involved.
Over the years the church was filled with harmony and was considered by many to be a family. Every December the church put on a musical program that became popular within the area. It was a church wide production with members helping with the music, lighting, costumes, stage props and much more. It endeared Blairstown Evangelical Free to the community and the church was known for its musical stage productions. It was appreciated by many people of all ages. Holiday parties and festivities also were a regular feature.
In the church Blairstown had a monthly outreach with youth group gym nights. The youth used the gym and invited members from the community to participate in sports programs. Acteens, a program for young teenage girls between the age of 12 – 17, thrived. Young girls in this program found new ways to explore their faith with Jesus. The Boys Brigade which is known for teaching young men respect and discipline also was active at Blairstown. And its opposite, the Pioneer Girls, which is to help girls build healthy relationships with caring Christian women, peers, and most importantly, Christ had a strong presence. The Boys Brigade and Pioneer Girls are international Christian organizations that are well known. Vacation Bible School (VBS) for young children also was held each summer, and the theme for VBS varied. Some of the other ministries that existed included a college and career and monthly youth events. The men’s program was active and had regular retreats. The women’s ministry also had many people involved, and likewise they had many retreats as well. Mission trips were also done with missions taking place both in the domestic United States and abroad. Once a year Blairstown held missions week and featured missionaries who the church supported. Some of the missionaries came and spoke and reported to the congregation on the work they were performing. The church community came together at potluck and progressive dinners. They also had men’s and women’s breakfasts which occurred frequently. There was also an active Stephen’s Ministry that helped people who experienced profound loss. It assisted those who went through a divorce, loss of a child, illness, job or crisis in life. Other ministries included an adult choir and a children’s choir. The Navigators was financially supported and encouraged for those in college. And there also was a regular Bible quiz program. Blairstown was an active and growing church that added to its ranks over the years. These ministries are but a sampling of what took place in this EFCA church. It should also be noted that during this period Blairstown practiced congregational led church government.
In 2013 the church began to look for a new senior pastor and commenced a search. Eventually they settled on Todd Nathan.
What Blairstown looked for in a Senior Pastor.
A New Senior Pastor Search and Problems Begin in Time
With the retirement of the senior pastor in 2013 Blairstown began looking for a new shepherd who would guide the congregation. The pastoral search committee looked at a couple of candidates when one person heard good things about Todd Nathan over in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They interviewed Todd and without knowing his background moved forward and eventually decided that he should be the senior pastor. One catch is that Todd lived in Lancaster and the job required Todd to move to the Blairstown area. Todd stated that his child was finishing up school and that he wanted to stay in Lancaster until the end of the school year. The elder board agreed and thought this to be reasonable. The understanding was that after his child graduated from school his family would move to the Blairstown area.
At first everything started off well. Todd was well liked and respected. He had a way of engaging with you in that when he spoke with you, one felt like you were the only one in the room talking. Todd’s authoritarianism slowly crept on many people in the congregation. From what I was told, it appeared as if he could not let go of grudges. But one of the first individuals who started to experience difficulty was the maintenance man. Within two weeks of leading the church. Todd wanted him to change the permanent set up in the sanctuary. The church’s maintenance worker was taken back by what Todd wanted to do to the permanent setup. He raised concerns and Todd allegedly told him that if the changes were made by him the problems would be fixed. Todd again pushed the issues related to the sanctuary. He wanted to push the sanctuary into the gym which many in the congregation wanted to use for sports activities. The youth pastor after all had a successful sports league that was open to the community. One long term couple met with Todd in his office to discuss the gym. Todd was asked if he was pushing the revamp and he stated, “If I were it would be a done deal by now.” This couple was stunned.
In 2016 Todd began eliminating Committee chairs even though the church by-laws required them. A qualified person was brought forward for the position of Christian Education chairman and Todd called the person into his office and said the position was unnecessary and when the candidate questioned him he said, “I am feeling push back from you,” This person was crushed. Members of Blairstown began asking questions. Individuals started to inquire what was happening? Were they imagining these problems? After all they didn’t run into these authoritarian issues before? Why were they encountering them now?
Is Todd Nathan Insecure? Narcissist?
During the year of 2016 a growing number people who were involved in Blairstown began to notice Todd’s behavior. Some people dismissed it as pastoral adjustment after all Todd was a credentialed pastor certified by the EFCA. The EFCA wouldn’t put their stamp of approval to a person who allegedly was a narcissist or who had pastoral issues. It took a couple of years for some people to slowly realize they were dealing with an autocratic individual. Others in different positions of the church from the missionary committee to the worship team slowly began to have difficulties with Todd. The way it was described to me is that Todd allegedly seemed to pre-judge people. Those who asked questions or offered different ideas appeared to threaten Todd. And the questions from the members kept coming. Why did Todd hold grudges against people? Why couldn’t he express love for other people? Why was he insecure? But there was another issue that also was being talked about in 2016. Todd Nathan was the senior pastor of Blairstown and he was still living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His drive was over two hours away. He worked at Blairstown during the week and is lodged by one of the members of the elder team. That raises many other questions as well. Why did Blairstown Evangelical Free not have a pastor living in the community he was hired to serve? Why was the elder board accepting this abnormal arrangement? Why didn’t this bother the leader of the Elder Board of Blairstown? Why did the elder board ignore what the job description said about the pastor being involved in the area? This situation with Todd Nathan has lasted for five years. AND HE IS STILL LIVING IN LANCASTER, PENNSYLVANIA AND NOT BLAIRSTOWN. The fact of the matter is that Todd is not fulfilling the responsibilities of which he was interviewed and hired. In the Blairstown Township those outside the church began to hear of this strange situation of a good sized Evangelical Free church that lacked a full time pastor who was not living in the community.
People were seeing that Todd wanted to control everything and that he was very much into micromanaging everyone. Why was that the case? What happened to the Fruit of the Spirit? Did Todd Nathan lack it? One sore issue in the congregation were the wooden mailboxes that were popular and helped manage the flow of mail into the church. Todd had the wooden mailboxes removed one weekend which upset many people. This happened without consulting the congregation. A coffee bar went into its place. The mail boxes could have easily gone on another wall but Todd wanted them gone. It was almost as if Todd wanted to control all the information coming into Blairstown and keeping those in the ministries in the dark. They had a primetimers meeting shortly after that and one of leaders wanted to discuss the mailbox issue. The youth pastor heard about this and yelled at one of the original members. People were stunned to watch a pastor yell at another person. Todd contacted the original member who was the leader and they were not treated in a pleasant manner. When Todd allegedly began to target people and throw them out the church this leader was one of the people targeted. Even though this person left after experiencing enough. People were trying to understand what was Todd’s issue? Again why was he so controlling?
Letter throwing out one of the members from Blairstown
Todd Nathan Allegedly Targets At Least 22 Individuals and Throws Them Out the Church
In order to understand what happened in late 2017 we need to examine the by-laws of Blairstown Evangelical Free. The church had a loop hole that allowed it to remove members. For example if someone who was a member of Blairstown moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the church could remove their name from the membership roll. What would happen is that people would be moved from the active membership with voting privileges to an associate membership where they lacked voting privileges. By moving people off the membership roles the church could still reach a quorum and conduct business. But in order to comprehend how people were targeted by Todd Nathan the following information needs to be conveyed. The letters that a number of people would receive claimed that Blairstown was updating their membership list. As such they had to remove some people from the church membership. Here is the problem with what took place by Blairstown. There are a number of people who have not attended for years who still remain on the membership list of Blairstown. Two people who would receive a letter were not even a member of Blairstown. What they received in the mail drove them away from the church. There were people who attended, tithed, and involved in ministry who received a letter that told them that they were no longer members.
Todd was allegedly feeling threatened by those who asked questions. He also felt threatened by several people who were over the age of 45. Todd could not express his love for others and could not reconcile with people from the congregation despite attempts by a couple of individuals. Todd’s threats were self imagined in the view of this blog. Todd had pre-judged them and shortly after Thanksgiving in November of 2017, the senior pastor of Blairstown allegedly acted on his impulses and against those who questioned his authority. On November 30, 2017 according to what this blog learned at least 13 letters were sent out that targeted 22 Blairstown members and had them thrown out of the church. The letters were stamped with the generic stamp of the elder board of Blairstown. The letters just said “The Elders.” But many former members believe that Todd Nathan allegedly had them thrown out.
“It Felt Like Death….”
The letters were received by many people just a few days after their worship service or church activity. The letters horrified and shocked people. For many people the Evangelical Free Church of Blairstown was the only church they had known. They had dedicated children there, had family members get married and one day down the road would have their funeral at Blairstown. For many of these individuals that suddenly changed. In one correspondence that I have read it was explained that Todd Nathan acted impulsively without thinking of the consequences. One of the individuals who objected most to the ejection of all these families was the person who had once crafted the by-laws. He was very much opposed and pointed out that it was designed to move inactive members who had moved away off the membership list. It was not designed to go after members who called the church their home. Among many former members they started to ask more questions. Why was their church targeting them? Why was Todd Nathan autocratic? Where was the Blairstown Elder Board in all this?
According to what this blog heard one person who was targeted used to lead worship at Blairstown as a vocalist. They were out ill when they received a letter telling them that they were no longer a member of the church. Others who received these letters felt sick. One person cried for three days when she learned that she was thrown out of their church home. Others developed a PTSD effect while some developed depression, and physical illness from the effects of Todd Nathan’s alleged behavior. When I started to work this issue there is one aspect to this story that bothered me. From a phone conversation with one former member, to reading an email and then finally having a discussion with a group of people in the Blairstown area – they all mostly said the same thing independently of each other. Several of these people felt like they had experienced a death in the family. One person re-lived the death of their husband in how her former Evangelical Free Church treated her. In this situation a group of people who once were deeply involved in Blairstown now started to become a community outside the church. They were bonded in pain and for love of each other. They cared for each other and mourned losing the church that had been their home for decades. But the alleged spiritual abuse by Todd Nathan was accelerating. In 2018 the community of members would turn to the Eastern District Superintendent of the EFCA Eddie Cole for help. And they would also run into difficulties there as well.