Re: The Living Word Fellowship, The Walk, John Robert Stevens
Date: May 12, 2019 03:36AM
A friend from Brazil sent me the report from their transition team. I don't know (yet) who was on the team but this report is encouraging. I wish we would get to see reports from the other churches because hopefully those reports as well as their MOUs would probably be encouraging too.
Transition Group Public Letter, May 2019
Translated from the original Portuguese
We, the members of the transition group for Mount Zion wish to share our conclusions and suggestions related to the next steps for The Church of the Living Word, Niteroi. We would also like to share our suggestion of a basic timeline for the first year of functioning after the transition period.
Our first conclusion is that we recognize that the spiritual structure of apostolic authority over the Church of the Living Word, Niteroi ended in October 2018 with a letter of resignation from the apostolic fathering ministry, Gary Hargrave, in which he declared the process of ending the centralized structure of the Churches of the Living Word (The Living Word Fellowship). The accusations of abuse of authority and/or molestation practiced by leaders of these churches involved scores of members during the recent decades. The absence of appropriate measures taken against those who practiced abuse led these churches to the collapse of their organizational structure and a grave crisis of confidence. It definitively ended the authority structure of these churches by the end of 2018. In March 2019, the ordinations of all the pastors established by the Living Word in the United States and in Brazil were terminated, ending any type of system of spiritual authority.
Gary Hargrave recognized the existence of a culture that permitted such inappropriate behavior by the leaders and the need for detoxifying ourselves from an organized religious system and hierarchy when he stated “there are deep underlying flaws that have existed within the fellowship which permitted an environment where such things could occur without correction and discipline”, making it necessary to “lay the axe to the root”. He also stated, “Everything within this organization that is related to the structures and errors of the past must be washed away and cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.” This culture of abuse and totally hierarchical authority created the control of the members. Likewise in a veiled manner, it sought to create uniformity of thought and blind agreement with the “spiritual” leadership of these churches.
We see this type of abuse of authority, unhappily and somewhat systematically in various religious organizations that move the religious world today. This distances people from the simplicity of Christ and transforms churches into businesses, using mechanisms of control and power over people’s lives. In time this model of hierarchical government produces leaders with twisted personalities who put the focus on themselves instead of bringing people to a relationship with Christ, the Great and only Shepherd. This controlling culture creates an environment of immaturity within the brethren, and has been pointed out as a great concern by many Christian researchers. The transition group demonstrated their repentance related to the promotion of this structure and this way of carrying out the shepherding of The Church of the Living Word, Niteroi in an open letter to the congregation dated 8/12/2018, and recommended the necessity of detoxifying [cleansing] from this culture and the ways of thinking related to it. In light of this, the end of any type of personal shepherding or direction in The Church of the Living Word, Niteroi was declared at that moment. Also, the total dissatisfaction with this type of shepherding was recently noted in the majority of the congregants. For this reason, it is important that we counsel and direct against permitting any type of centralized restructuring of spiritual authority over people of this congregation’s lives in the coming years. The practice of creating relationships known as “Spiritual Father-Son Relationship”, “Elijah/Elisha”, “Designated Relationships” or any other names which were used to describe this type of relationship during the last decades in these churches has been ended. Our relationship of submission one to another should be based in our relationship as brothers in Christ, and by submitting voluntarily to His Lordship in one another. In this environment, each individual will choose their level of submission and dedication based on their individual walk with God, freely and without judgment.
We would also like to share some principles that we consider to be healthy for the next steps in the Mount Zion community as an organization:
1. We believe in the Biblical principle of confirmation in the public assembly of all members as was carried out by the Early Church in Acts 15. This is the essential foundation of any community or Christian Church looking for the leading of the Holy Spirit. We recommend that the next directors continue to apply this principle, being in submission to the many prophets in Mount Zion, and submitting their important decisions in the assembly.
We know that this model isn’t a completely democratic process of voting on decisions. We should still seek out more confirmation for implementing this. However, this system operates according to the Biblical principle of “in the multitude of counselors there is wisdom”. (Proverbs 11:14) By this, with the involvement of the whole congregation in prayer, we believe that we will together find the voice and guidance of the Holy Spirit for the important organizational decisions that we will make. We also suggest that the directors practice submission to one another and be in submission to established advisors, so as to prevent independent action that is not confirmed from being carried out in everyday decision-making.
2. We suggest seeking absolute transparency in the actions of the next directors and/or advisors of this organization. The beginning of transparency should be placed above the preservation and defense of the leader’s or institution’s image. It is imperative to avoid the creation of hidden agendas, behind the scenes conversations and/or the manipulation of information. In addition, we believe that transparency and inclusiveness as well as implementing the practice of accepting suggestions will lead to clarity of the information that any director or advisor gives to the community members regarding decisions of the board.
3. The main focus of this organization should be its members (the community) and not the pastor, or a group of pastors or leaders. If there are administrators or organizers within this institution, they should be only faithful stewards (deacons according to the Biblical pattern) to manage and care that which the Lord would give us and to lead in specific areas. (Matthew 20:26) This should be done without obligation and with respect of the free will of families and individuals. “Position” should not exist, but instead, action. The authority for operating in certain areas should be recognized and not imposed.
4. We suggest the creation of mechanisms for controlling the abuse of natural or spiritual power or authority. This could take the form of an independent system for receiving accusations and confirming actions. Processes for assessments could also be implemented as well as the application of good principles of governance. It is also important that we seek an atmosphere of honest relationships with the absence of human control over one another, so that the people will be whole.
5. Because of the strong hierarchical structure in which this community has lived, we suggest that the organization operate without an official structure of ministries for the foreseeable future. Because of the process of decontamination we are experiencing, we suggest that even the structure of collegial authority (which is preferred by researchers) not be established during these beginning stages until the Lord shows us the next steps more clearly. That being said, it also remains clear (according to researchers) that we should not have paid pastors or directors or even a principle pastor in the church which will definitely simplify our administrative and organizational processes. This will avoid the abuse of authority or looking for a position, since recognition sows division and strife among the brethren which is contrary to the teachings of Christ.
6. We also suggest that we seek an atmosphere of free will in our collective functioning. The voluntary services and actions carried out by members of the community should be considered as an act of worship to the Lord. The central focus of this community is the fact that each one have a personal relationship with God through their faith in Christ and not though the imposition of a framework of religious organization. In the same way, this organization will not be obliged to assume the burden of promoting or supervising any programs (for children, young people, parties, etc.) in a centralized format, but will seek to support the collective activities of the community.
7. Another factor that seems to be of general consensus is the central focus of the relationships amongst the brethren; taking care that they should be more important than the carrying out of a given institution’s projects. There are basic and biblical morals for relationships; however these should not be based on the customs of the current religious world. Since the family is essential to providing the next generation's relationship with God, we suggest that the families should be empowered and encouraged in the raising of their own children.
8. With regard to natural and legal items, we know that we should continue to do everything according to the law, with the goal of protecting our birthright; the land that we own. This will insure that they will be utilized for the good of this community to which we contributed for decades for the purpose of creating a framework for fellowship and relationship in the will of God. This organization’s financial support is used to look after the common property, and in turn gives each one freedom in their personal finances to express their faith and dedication to God. This freedom includes contributing their tithes and offerings, as well as developing other sources of income through the ingenuity and collaboration of the brethren. As administrators, we should commit ourselves to be faithful stewards to invest the money given at the altar of the Lord on behalf of the common good of the members of Mount Zion. Also in regard to legal aspects, we suggest that even the term “church” be discussed and revisited by the congregation during the next year so that the mission and bylaws of this community can be adjusted. It appears that the legal definition of a “Christian association” could be studied as one of the possibilities for better legal compliance to the concept of a Christian community with a common goal.
From now through the next year, we suggest that church activities be simplified to a basic format agreed upon by the brethren. From the suggestions which have been received, we will post the suggestions that seem to have the most agreement below:
• On Sundays we could continue having simple services with worship and communion, and possibly eventually add plain and simple Biblical teachings.
• We understand that this next year will still be a time of healing for each individual and family.
• For this reason, we recommend avoiding exhortations and theological preaching with doctrinal biases in our services.
• Preparation for times of worship or teaching (biblical studies) will be implemented in submission one to another, carried out with the formation of groups or specific commissions to supervise these activities.
• On Saturdays we propose a more flexible, free schedule, to support the groups working on projects and to devote ourselves to relating to one another.
• For more important decisions, we suggest that the first board maintain public meetings scheduled every 30 to 60 days, where we may share and include the whole congregation in the important decisions and accountability.
We would also like to give everyone the latest clarifications regarding Silas and Shuma Esteves’ ministry as pastors of The Church of the Living Word, Niteroi. We would like to make clear that their contract for pastoral services in the church has completely ended. The remaining promised payments to Silas for his sabbatical period have been made, a period during which it was agreed that they would be completely removed from the ministerial activities of the church.
One of the two reasons for this removal was the necessity of caring for his [Silas’] health. He has now completely recovered from his illness. However, the sabbatical period also coincided with the events surrounding the closing down of the churches of the Living Word, (The Living Word Fellowship, TLWF). Due to the complaints raised in the suggestion box and the evaluations carried out in The Church of the Living Word, Niteroi, they [Silas and Shuma] would no longer be in authority or acting as ministries in this church, or exercising influence over this transition period. The objective of this sabbatical period was to open the door that other brethren in the local body would carry out a change in direction toward a different form of governance, breaking the strong hierarchical leadership framework in Mount Zion.
For all these reasons and for the clarity which this transition period brought us regarding the next steps, we, the transition group (including the current board) would like to announce the final disconnection of Silas and Shuma Esteves in regards to ministry and/or a position of leadership in the Church of the Living Word, Niteroi. There is no expectation of return or ministerial functioning or leadership after the close of the sabbatical period. They have acted as apostolic ministries of TLWF and principle leaders of the Church of the Living Word, Niteroi in recent decades, and as leaders and promoters of this hierarchical system of governance which has been terminated. For these reasons, our suggestion is that during the next few years, they not be involved or attempt to influence the next steps and decisions of Mount Zion. This will avoid the creation of division and contention among the brethren because of their influence as ex-leaders along with members of this community.
We would like to close with this statement about the level of waste [wearing out] which took place during this period which was not healthy for our relationships. This final disconnecting of Silas and Shuma from any position or leadership is necessary so that everyone may have the liberty to seek the Lord and make their choices freely, not based on emotional bonds or the wounds of the past. This will also help us to preserve our relationship with them as brothers in Christ. Just as all other members of the Mount Zion community, they are welcome to participate in the collective relationships and activities as members of this community. We are not suggesting the substitution of certain ministries for others. The suggestion is that the natural and spiritual covering of our communal activities should be simplified and only happen through our collective counsel, until we have clarity for the next steps in which the Lord will lead us.
In closing, we realize from the last months of conversations, meetings and research that the majority of congregants of Mount Zion wish to return to the simplicity of a walk with God, to relate to one another, to live by Biblical principles and have worship as the center of our lives. This seems to be the confirmed leading by the Holy Spirit in our midst.
We feel that with the ending of this transition period, and owing to the agenda which we are proposing, we should also end discussions about past leaders, past practices and formats which have been used in the services, and theological discussions which are no longer helpful. We feel that this is the time to put aside our differences and arguments, with the goal of moving forward together, however basic and simple this time may be. We believe that Jesus Christ will show us the next steps in His time.
Finally, we suggest that the next board members remain in a state of reflection. This will enable them to continue to leave behind old paradigms which were associated with the hierarchical religious system in which we have lived. Let us return to the simplicity of the Biblical teachings and all that it means to be a community of Christians. Let this time period that we start today begin something new that is born out of God’s heart. Let it not be a process of reconstruction of another man-made religious framework. We pray that the simplicity of this timeline during the next year will lead us into a new covenant, when “all shall know Him” (Jeremiah 31:31-34) without obligation, without human pressure, without religious structure. Let us have an atmosphere of peace and joy in which we live together with those who want to worship God and grow in His knowledge.
Mount Zion Transition Group