This is probably the strangest post on this thread, by far. But when common sense and cooler heads prevail, amazing things happen.
Last week marked the 2 year mark since I was "church disciplined" from the very NewFrontiers USA church which had helped us in our Statesboro, GA church... the one to which the poster Carl Kolchak referred in previous posts on this thread. His real name is Dr. Michael Wiggins. He was a former church member (and PT pain in the ass) at our little church plant in Statesboro, GA... one which my wife referred to as the closest to heaven on earth during our first two years.
My own insecurities as a man and a pastor had led me to a place of desiring to "be somebody" and to see our church grow and have a solid impact on society. As if the affirmation and confirmation of the people I led wasn't enough, I reached out and invited NewFrontiers USA pastor, Carl Herrington, into the work. That was in 2009. In 2011 we were officially adopted. In 2012 we closed up shop and disbanded.
I then moved my family to Jubilee Church of Atlanta, pastored by the same person who'd helped us in Statesboro. By the fall of 2013 I was on staff with both the church and the consignment store business run by the church. In October 2014 I was terminated from my staff position at the church for failure to meet existing leadership standards regarding a 10% minimum financial giving level to the church. My issue was having a "spirit of independence" and not promoting the value of team. I had failed to seek the leadership's input on reducing my giving levels, which my wife and I decided to do in order to pay a $9,000 hospital bill, which we'd only been paying interest on up to that point.
My spirit of independence had also been reflected in my visit to an outside counselor, due to the psychological trouble that had culminated in my efforts to work with Carl Herrington and his other lead elder, Jonathan Eftychiou. My visit to an outside counselor was problematic since the help I received did not stem directly from the teaching or methods which the church held (a view espoused by Dave Devenish in his book, Demolishing Strongholds). I retained my role at the church's consignment store, however.
My termination included a required cessation from my teaching activities, small group leadership (I was overseeing all the small groups at the time), mentoring, etc. This was noticeable to some who questioned the sudden change. Out of frustration, I admittedly gossipped to two individuals. I was justifiably chided and I stopped. There were others however, who sought me out, asked me questions, and my answers subsequently resulted in my wife, myself and our children being removed from the membership of the church.
This act was preceded by a secret meeting of church leaders and ministry team leaders who were gathered for two hours to hear from two people (one of whom I personally discipled for 2 years), conduct a smear campaign which one attendee publicly called gossip to everyone else in attendance. I was not notified of the meeting. At least two couples who were present later reported to me the events and subsequently left the church. Multiple stories were shared, all without my permission, in an effort to discredit me, yet disguised as pastoral care and concern.
All of this happened at the behest of the pastor, Carl Herrington, while he was away on a three month paid sabbatical leave. He has not talked to me about all of this personally to this very day. The first week of January 2015 he communicated my excommunication via text message. I have since reached out to him twice via email, and have sent a video to those I left behind sharing my side of the story.
The important bit is this: in 2015 I had the privilege of returning to our group in Statesboro, GA to confess my own insecurities and resulting injuries that I had caused to so many people. This resulted in a reuniting with my friend Mike Wiggins (Carl Kolchak on this thread), and his family. Even more rewarding was the deep honor I had in performing the wedding of his daughter and another young man (referenced in earlier threads) whom I had deeply hurt in my spiritual manipulation and abuse disguised as pastoral leadership.
I now pray for those who are left behind at Jubilee Church of Atlanta. So many deep friendship were forged there, almost all of whom find deep trouble in resuming friendships with me. Two in particular whom I reached out to in order to have coffee and catch up informed me that I should be restored to the church and then they can resume fellowship. Such a move, in addition to other reflections I experienced, revealed that the church meets many of the criteria of a cult. In the very least, they are cultic. And my friends who are still there carry an unfortunate mindset I myself had while I was there... one which brainwashes you into believing that the way things are done are the way God wants them done.
Except... Jesus never acted that way... toward anyone. This is a church led mostly by a handful or fewer, that has been deceived into believing that manipulation and authoritarian control look like discipleship and accountability... that has overstepped its boundaries in understanding the limits of spiritual authority and the freedom of the conscience... that disconnects its people from those who disagree with it... To say you follow Jesus and then do what Jesus never would is anti-Jesus.
The most important tool we have in this world is unity and reconciliation. If you've been an abuser, seek reconciliation with those you've abused, even if you didn't know you were doing it at the time...even if you strongly believed at the time you were doing it for Jesus. If you've been abused, seek out your abuser (if it's safe) and see if that person may have come to their senses and want to pour out their heart in confession, seeking forgiveness.
The most important tool each of us possesses as individuals is common sense. If it starts to field weird, don't let church leaders rationalize it by teaching bullshit that sounds biblical but is actually antithetical to the life and teachings of Jesus. You can trust your own brain. I should have. Take it from me.
Thanks to Rick Ross for providing a place where this story had an opening and a now has a closing.
P.S. not all NewFrontiers USA or NewFrontiers International churches are exactly the same. There's no textbook or template. There's just the strong, opinionated, and authoritarian leaning of John Lanferman, the leader of the USA family of churches. I've met several men who are the exact opposite, and I wish I still had a close friendship with them today. I miss them dearly. Proceed with caution.
P.S.S.: for those interested, here's a recording of my testimony with our church reunion which was the highlight of blessing in this whole ordeal. [www.dropbox.com
]. Every single friendship has been restored!!!