Re: The Living Word Fellowship, The Walk, John Robert Stevens
Date: May 15, 2019 08:31AM
Below is the Brazil Church's English translation of the Transition Team Report. This varies slightly from the version I posted earlier. I wanted to make clear that my permission to post the earlier report came from a friend in Brazil and not the church or the transition team.
Some people who have read this report interpret it to mean the people in Brazil consider Gary somewhat of a hero in his public remarks about the systemic abuse in the fellowship. I am not an attorney anymore, but my legal education leads me to conclude that Gary's public remarks were an admission of guilt as the singular head of the entire organization. I respect that many leaders continue in repentance, but until the effects of their sin is washed away their repentance is not complete. That is, if you believe the LW as spoken by GH
Public Letter regarding Transition Team’s Position May, 2019
We, the members of the Mount Zion Community Transition team, would like to publicly express our conclusions and suggestions for the next steps of A Palavra Viva - Niterói church, as well as our suggestions for a basic schedule of
activities for the first year of operation following the transition period.
Our first conclusion is that we recognize that the spiritual apostolic authority structure of A Palavra Viva church in Niterói ended in October 2018 with the letter of resignation from the apostolic ministry, Gary Hargrave, in which he
declared the initiation of the process of ending the legal structure of A Palavra Viva (The Living Word Fellowship).
Allegations of authority abuse and misconduct by leaders of the churches in The Living Word Fellowship, involving hundreds of church members over the last decades, as well as the lack of appropriate action against these leaders,
brought these churches to a collapse of its leadership structure and a serious crisis of trust, which permanently ended the spiritual authority structure over these churches in 2018.
In March 2019, the ordinations of all the pastors established by The Living Word Fellowship in the United States and Brazil expired, ending the system of centralized spiritual authority.
The existence of a culture that permitted said actions of leaders and the need for detoxification from the hierarchal organized religious system was recognized by Gary Hargrave, who said “there are deep underlying flaws that have existed in the fellowship which have permitted an environment where such actions could occur without correction and discipline…the axe must be laid to the root of the tree.” He also said, “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 hierarchical culture of abuse of authority created a demand for certain behavior of its members, which in a veiled way sought to create uniformity of thought and blind, unrestricted agreement to the direction given by the
“spiritual” leadership of these churches.
We see that this type of abuse unfortunately is systemic in various religious structures in today’s religious world. It drives people away from the simplicity of Christ and turns churches into businesses, using mechanisms of control and power over people’s lives. This hierarchical model of government produces leaders who over time manifest totally distorted personalities, who draw the focus to themselves, rather than leading people into a relationship with Christ, the one and only Shepherd.
This controlling culture that creates an atmosphere of immaturity among the
brethren has been a concern among researchers of Christianity. The transition group demonstrated their repentance for promoting this control structure and method of shepherding the members of A Palavra Viva - Niterói church in an
open letter read to the congregation on 12/8/2018, recommending the need for a detoxification from this culture and its related ways of thinking.
By virtue of this, it was also declared that there is no longer any system of shepherding or directing the lives of the members of A Palavra Viva - Niterói church. Also, a recent survey suggests that the vast majority of the congregation
is totally dissatisfied with this shepherding structure. Therefore, it is important to recommend that the next Board of Directors and Advisors not allow a rebuilding of a centralized spiritual authority structure for shepherding the lives of the congregation, be it called “spiritual father-son,” “Elijah-Elisha,” “designated relationship,” or any other term that has been used to describe this type of relationship in recent decades in these churches. Our relationship of submission to one another should be based on the fact that we are brothers in Christ, and we submit to His Lordship and one another on a voluntary basis. In this atmosphere, each individual will be free to make their own choices regarding submission and commitment, based on their individual walk with God, not on demands nor judgments.
We would like to declare a few principles that we believe to be healthy for the next steps of the Monte Sião community as an organization:
1) We consider the biblical principle of confirmation in public assembly of members, as practiced by the Early Church
in Acts 15, to be an essential foundation for a Christian community or church that seeks to be led by the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, we suggest that the next Boards of Directors continue to apply this principle, being in submission to the
many prophets of Monte Sião, submitting their important decisions in assembly meetings.
We know that this model is not a fully democratic method of making decisions based on votes, for which we need to
seek greater confirmation regarding implementation. However, this model is consistent with the biblical principle
that “in the multitude of counselors there is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:14). With the entire congregation involved in
prayer, we believe that together we can find the voice and direction of the Holy Spirit in major decisions regarding
the organization. We also suggest that the directors practice inter-submission to one another, and submission to the Advisors, thus preventing the occurrence of independent and unconfirmed actions in routine daily decisions.
2) We suggest a search for absolute transparency in the actions of the next directors and advisors of this organization. The principle of transparency must be greater than preserving or defending the image of leaders or the institution. It is imperative that there be no hidden agendas, behind-the-scenes conversations, or manipulation of information. In addition, we believe that transparency and inclusion will be a result of the clarity of information that every director and advisor must provide to the community regarding the decisions of the directors, as well as from the practice of receiving suggestions.
3) The main focus of this organization should be its members (the community), not a pastor or group of pastors or leaders. If there are administrators or organizers within the institution, they must be mere stewards (deacons according to biblical standards) to manage and care for what the Lord gives and directs us in specific areas (Matthew 20:26). This must be done without obligation and respecting the free choice of families and people. There can be no “position,” only functioning. The authority to function in specific areas should be recognized and not imposed.
4) We suggest the creation of control mechanisms to prevent the abuse of natural and spiritual power and authority, such as, an independent committee to receive complaints, a system of confirmation, audit processes, and the application of good governance principles. It is also important that we seek an atmosphere of honest relationships without human control over one another, so that people can be healed.
5) Given the strong hierarchical structure that this community has lived under, we suggest that this organization function without an official structure of ministries for the foreseeable future. In view of the process of detoxification that we are going through, we suggest that a collegial authority structure (preferred in the surveys) not be established immediately, until the Lord shows us the next steps more clearly. In addition, it was also clear in the surveys that we do not want to have paid pastors or directors, nor a senior pastor of the church, which will simplify our administrative and organizational processes as much as possible. This will circumvent abuse of authority and seeking position, which admittedly creates division and strife and is contrary to the teaching of Christ.
6) We also suggest that we strive for an atmosphere of freedom to choose to function collectively. Services and voluntary actions of the members in the community should be considered an act of worship unto the Lord. The central focus of our fellowship is the fact that each person will have a personal relationship with God through faith in Christ, not through the imposition of an organized religious structure. Likewise, this organization will no longer be required to carry a burden to supervise or promote centralized programs (for children, young adults, feasts, etc.), rather to provide support for the collective activities of the community.
7) Another factor of common consensus is that our main focus should be our relationships, in which relationships are more important than the execution of projects or the institution itself. There must be basic biblical moral standards for relationship, although not based on current religious world customs. We suggest maximizing the empowerment of families to raise their children, because the family is the main nucleus in which the relationship of new generations with God should be promoted.
8) As for the natural and legal aspects of the community, we understand that we must continue to do all that is within the law to protect the property and land that we own, so that they may be used for the common good of this community which contributed for decades to the creation of the fellowship and to relationships with a purpose in God. The financial support of this organization to cover the common assets will come from each one's freedom to express their faith and commitment to the Lord in their personal finances when contributing their tithes or offerings, as well as other sources of income that we can create through the creativity and collaboration of each one. As administrators, we must commit to be faithful stewards to invest the money offered on the altar of the Lord for the common good of the members of the Monte Sião community. Regarding the legal aspects, we suggest that the very concept of “church” be discussed and revisited by the congregation during the next year, so that the mission and bylaws can be adapted accordingly. Apparently, the legal term "Christian Association" can be studied as a possibility for a better legal adaptation of the concept of a Christian society or community with a common purpose.
At this time, and for the next year, our suggestion is that church activities be simplified to a basic schedule to be agreed upon among the family. Among the suggestions we received, we present some proposals that seems to have
• On Sundays, we can continue to have simple worship and communion services, with the possibility of eventual simple and basic Bible teaching. We understand that this coming year will still be a time of healing for every individual and family. Therefore, we recommend avoiding exhortations and theological preaching with doctrinal bias in our services. Preparation for these times of worship and teaching (Bible studies) will be worked on in submission to one another with the formation specific groups or commissions for the basic supervision of these activities.
• On Saturdays, we propose a flexible and free schedule. This will allow project work groups and time for relationships with one another. For decisions of greater impact, we suggest that the first board hold a public assembly every 30 or 60 days to share and include the entire congregation in major decisions and to give an account.
We take this opportunity to give a final clarification regarding the ministry of Silas and Shuma Esteves as pastors of A Palavra Viva - Niterói church. We would like to make it clear that the full closure of their contract for pastoral service for the church has been finalized. The remainder of the payments promised to Silas for the sabbatical period have been made. This was a period in which it had been agreed that Silas would fully step down from the church’s ministry activities.
One reason for Silas’ stepping down was his need to take care of his health issues, from which he has already fully recovered. However, the sabbatical leave was also agreed upon so that, in light of events that caused the closure of A Palavra Viva churches (The Living Word Fellowship), and the complaints received in the suggestion box and evaluations performed at A Palavra Viva - Niterói church, the Esteves would no longer to be in authority, or acting as ministries, or exercising any influence during the transitional period. The purpose of the sabbatical leave was to open the door so that other ministers of the local body could create a transition to a different form of government and end the strong hierarchical leadership structure that existed in Monte Sião.
In light of the facts and clarity that this transition period has given us about the next steps, we, the transition team (including the current Board of Directors) would like to announce that the removal of Silas and Shuma from the ministry and/or position of leadership in A Palavra Viva - Niterói church is permanent, and there is no prospect of their return to function as ministers or leaders at the end of the sabbatical leave. Because they operated as apostolic ministries of TLWF and the main leaders of A Palavra Viva - Niterói church in recent decades, leading and promoting this hierarchical system of government that has been ended, our suggestion is that for the next few years they do not get involved or try to influence the next steps and decisions in Monte Sião, to avoid creating division and strife because of their influence as ex-leaders on the members of the community.
With this statement, we want to end a level of wear and tear that has occurred during this period that was unhealthy to our relationships. The permanent removal of Silas and Shuma from all position or leadership is necessary to give everyone the freedom to seek the Lord and make choices in an unbiased manner, not based on emotional ties or wounds of the past. This will also help preserve our relationship with them as brothers in Christ.
Like all members of the Monte Sião community, they are welcome to be a part of the relationships and collective activities as members of this community. We are not suggesting that these ministries be substituted for others. The suggestion is that the natural and spiritual covering of our collective activities be simplified and happen only through advisory teams, until we have clarity regarding the next steps that the Lord will lead us in.
In conclusion, we have felt and seen during these months in various conversations, assemblies and surveys, that most of the Monte Sião congregants desire to return to the simplicity of a walk with God, to be together relating to one another, to live in biblical principles, and to have worship as the central point of our lives. This seems to be a direction confirmed by the Holy Spirit in our midst.
We feel that as we conclude this transition period, we also end our discussions regarding the previous leaders, practices or service formats that we have used, and even theological discussions, that will no longer be appropriate because of the simplicity of the schedule that we propose. We believe that it is time to set aside our differences and discussions and to move forward to what unites us, as basic and simple as it may be at this time. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, in His time, will show us the next steps.
Finally, we suggest that the first Board of Directors constantly reflect to abandon old paradigms associated with the organized, hierarchical religious system that we lived under, and that we return to the simplicity of biblical teachings and what it means to be a Christian community. May the phase that begins today be totally new and born in the heart of God. May it not be a continuation or reconstruction of another religious structure created by men. We pray that the simplicity of this schedule for the next year lead us to the promise of the new covenant, when all will know Him (Jeremiah 31:31-34), without obligations, without human pressure, without religious structure, having an atmosphere of peace and joy so we can live together with those who want to worship God and grow in the knowledge of Him.
Monte Sião Transition Team