SÁNDOR PAULL OF CHRISTLAND CHURCH RESPONDS TO ALLEGATIONS
Sándor Paull, Vice President of the Network Leadership Team and lead pastor of Christland Church in College Station, Texas, defends Steve Morgan and responds to allegations of spiritual abuse
christland church “family meeting”
Sándor Paull, Vice President of the Network Leadership Team and lead pastor of Christland Church in College Station, Texas, gave this address to members of Christland Church on July 17th, 2022, one week after he distributed the Network Leadership Letter to the congregation of Joshua Church in Austin, Texas.
Sándor affirms that Steve Morgan is “called, gifted, and qualified” (33:55) to use his “apostolic” gifting to lead The Network (1:1:45). He asserts that there has been “no attempt to conceal” (37:45) Steve Morgan’s arrest for aggravated criminal sodomy against a 15-year-old boy, and claims that discussing it is “an abomination” because “biblically, it's forgotten by God“ (8:35). Sándor also reveals that he was on two of the four Network governance boards which previously “decided, biblically and otherwise, this is not a problem” (34:45).
Paull asks his followers not to read online accounts about The Network because the things written will “wound” them and “cause a number of effects that they may not understand”(14:13, 1:12:22). He anticipates further allegations will be made public, including statements from Steve Morgan’s victim and family. He states that these would be released by the enemies of The Network to “keep the outrage going” (41:00).
References: In the below text we have added links to documentation which Sándor references or which contradicts Sándor's statements
Note: In the transcript we have redacted last names of leaders who are not pastors, staff, or named by Sándor Paull as members of the Christland board. We have not redacted the full names of pastors, staff, board members, and members of the Network Leadership Team.
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SÁNDOR PAULL | JULY 17th, 2022 | CHRISTLAND CHURCH IN COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS
…someone to catch the front doors. That would be fantastic. Guys, thanks for being here.
I know it's short notice. So glad that you're able to make it and give up some of your evening to be here.
Some of you guys still don't know why we're here, do you? Well, we'll jump into it in just a minute. But hey, thanks, worship team for jumping in, we're going to, I'm going to chat with you for probably an hour or so. We'll spend two songs in worship. I'll… after that, we'll get up and pray a little bit. We've asked a few of our folks, couple guys, to help pray over us as a church family. And then we'll do prayer ministry for anybody who wants to get prayer down front.
Some of you guys still don't know why we're here, do you?
I also would expect and or hope that there may be some of you that need to process or talk or ask more questions. Tonight, I don't think is a good night for raise your hand and ask, “Hey, what about?” kind of questions. We did talk to our group leaders last Monday about these things, and that's a better context. We had a much smaller group and could try to answer specific things. So in a crowd this size, there are lots of things that I cannot address in detail.
But if there's things that you want to process, or ask or wonder about or need to help with, our pastors are available. Your group leaders can help some as well. My schedule is available just depends on its openness, its… I don't have a great availability for the next couple of weeks. But of course, we are very willing and wanting to try to help with what this might be like for you guys.
The churches that we're a part of are in a pretty significant season, that I think has a lot of different implications for us. And so I want to pray. I want to talk to you about what is the thing, and then we'll begin our Bibles in a couple of different places. And so we do have at least an hour for me to try to make some sense of things with you a little bit.
We do have at least an hour for me to try to make some sense of things with you a little bit.
There are 30 hours worth of things to say. Easily 30 hours worth of things to say. And so note that you're going to be getting a very condensed version. And note that I'm only able to say a 100th of what maybe I should or could about at any particular point. And so this is just the very, kind of, the sort of Cliff Note version of a bunch of different things.
And so I want to pray over us. Without God's presence… I love where Moses says, after the people rebelled, and he said, “Well, you can go, but I'm not going with” and Moses says, “We're not going to leave if your presence isn't with us. We're sunk, we don't have a chance.”
And so I have felt that wonderfully, in a terrifyingly real way of, if God's not with us, then we don't have a chance. And if we think otherwise, then we're running a business, not the church. And it's our strength, not his, so we need his strength. Let's pray.
Father, I am so thankful for every single one who's here. I am so thankful for everyone that you brought, that you're bringing. We're so thankful for your promise, that you established your church. You love us, you call us your bride. And we know that you're not indifferent to the seasons and the things we go through. You’re you're not indifferent. You love us.
Father, I know I have a great capacity to lead imperfectly, to leave out things that are needed, and to say what's needed in ways that are not fruitful. So I pray for grace that, as I do the best I know how with the grace you give, that the outcomes in these people would happen. I care little of what it means about me directly. But I do pray as a spiritual father here that you would wonderfully strengthen, and build up, and encourage, and protect.
And you would prepare for many years in our future of disciples being made and lives changed and people coming to faith. That the trail of wet carpet after our baptisms would be long, because there are many people who come and believe and are saved.
I pray that you keep us humble. I pray that You would help us to be careful in our own hearts and our lives. We of course pray father and things that we need to be forgiven for that you would do that.
And so we trust you, Lord. You are sovereign and all things are in your hands. We know that Christland church is not ours. It's yours. So have your way in this place in us. Have your way tonight. That as best we know how to hear, respond, talk through, grieve, believe. Whatever the things are that we have to exert ourselves in, help us to do that well now. In Jesus name we pray, amen.
Okay, so I suppose, to do some backstory, and I won't go all the way back to March of 1973 when I was born… I won't go that far back. But this group of churches has been around for… oh, you think I'd remember that more clarity… 27 or 28 years, something like that. And it began in my friend's living room. Steve Morgan, who still leads this group of churches, invited me to be a part of it. I was… we were friends from the weight room on SIU Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus. And he said, “I believe that Jesus has asked me to plant a church.”
He was originally planted, not out of the Zeigler Vineyard, that's a small town in southern Illinois. But instead, it was a different, hybrid kind of a church plant where he went directly to Steve Nicholson, who at the time was the Vineyard director for that area, and lead pastor of the Evanston vineyard. He's now since retired. He's still a friend, I'll text him a couple times a year and catch up. And he's still an amazing guy.
I've known about Steve's 30 year old past for 27 years... I have known about those events for a very long time.
We were a vineyard church plant, approved by Nicholson, and in that region, particularly. And early, early on, we had some members from the original Zeigler Vineyard, Larry and Carol Anderson, who, Larry was on the original board, a guy named Jamie Moore, Jamie was on the original board, myself and a few others. We started with a 15 or so in that living room and outgrew, and ended up in hotel spaces and building and building eventually.
And in those early days, I had known Steve for not super long, and he began to share with me his past and his past before he was a Christian, before he was saved, before he was a pastor. And I've known about Steve's 30 year old past for 27 years. It's beyond that. I think the dates in the court documents that have been posted recently are like, I don't know, eighty-six or seven or something. And so I have known about those events for a very long time. And I've believed, as I'm still quite convinced of, that pre-salvation, not-a-pastor-on-staff, genuine, horrific sin is forgivable.
We're going to talk today about and look in the Bible about, is there a lifetime disqualification for pastors because of sin committed before they're saved? Is that a thing or not? There certainly is a thing, that while being released as a pastor, elder, overseer, shepherd in the church, certain sins are disqualifying. I absolutely believe that.
We had a pastor in one of our churches, that was that was let go released because, while he was married, he had an emotional affair and had kissed a woman in his group that's not his wife after some months of deception and getting his family out of town so that he could have time with the young woman. When that came to light, he said there was no sexual intimacy. But certainly that the character involved in the act itself of great betrayal, we felt like that is disqualifying for a pastor to do that. And he was removed.
I am still fundamentally quite opposed to having to speak to a person's forgiven sin. The reason being is that I believe biblically, it's forgotten by God. And I believe biblically that it's a great abomination to have to bring up.
So we are, I think, very careful when it comes to sin and biblical standards. And yet, I still do land in the place where, and I'll tell you what he did in a minute, although please note that I am still fundamentally quite opposed to having to speak to a person's forgiven sin. The reason being is that I believe biblically, it's forgotten by God. And I believe biblically that it's a great abomination to have to bring up, discuss, I've used the word “weaponized” because that indeed is what's happened.
There's a group of folks that really do believe that this group of churches is suspect and evil because we're founded by an evil, suspect man who has a past, and everything should be destroyed because of that. That actually is what's happening. And I'll give some evidences, though, please note, that I'm not at liberty to say lots of things that I also know for this particular context. And so, just know that, a good leader doesn't say everything they possibly would know to say, because of the appropriateness for different contexts and settings.
And so I knew in the early days, the Vineyard leaders knew in the early days. The board was asked by Steve to consider “is this disqualifying? Should something else happen?” And something else should happen if the legal system was not followed through, and there was a miscarriage or aborted justice. Then something should happen, that would be different. Or if it was underneath or after being released by God in a role of spiritual authority. Those are different things.
And so, the board at the time I was a part of, we said, “No, we believe, thank you for revealing these things and talking to us about it. We believe that we trust and love each other. And it's right to confess our sins to one another and pray for each other, that we'd be healed. We do believe that.”
The board at the time I was a part of, we said, “No, we believe, thank you for revealing these things and talking to us about it. We believe that we trust and love each other."
And then the issue came up again, some years later, when he had gone to Seattle to plant a church. He brought it up again to that church board and said, “Please know, if you haven't,” —and lots of the rest of us kind of knew over the years, so much so that we were saying, “Please stop confessing this over and over again.” Not “what if it gets out,” but it's forgiven, forgotten sin, and there's no need to confess the same thing over and over and over for a lifetime. That says something about the actual power of being forgiven.
If God doesn't know about something, then why are we informing? Why are we continuing to do that? If there's a need for that, and others determine, well, of course, that's different. But we had decided back in Southern Illinois that that wasn't needed, the original Vineyard leadership that approved his church planting knew of that and believed it wasn't needed, the board, then, at the church in Seattle, agreed in the same thing.
If God doesn't know about something, then why are we informing?
And then, 10 years later, eight years later, one of the board members believed, after seven or eight years of knowing that and still being in community and friendship and doing family events and still being a healthy part of that church and loving the community and loving him, that indeed, that wasn't something that was allowed, and that, indeed, he was disqualified. And so something changed seven, eight years later.
Three years ago, I flew to California and spent some time talking with that individual that was on our church plant there. And trying to describe, “Well, some of what you've remember being told about, that's not actually true. He was not a pastor on staff, he was not a Christian. He was working at a Mormon summer camp in some capacity. I don't know what his actual contract said at the time. And I have not wanted to be a forensic investigator and try to find records and hire investigators,” —though that is being done by some for particular purposes.
“I don't think it's disqualifying. And here's why: There's been no cover up. Because that's how you knew, you were a part of one of the governing boards that's decided about such things. So there has been no concealment,” though, I haven't shared that with all of you.
“I don't think it's disqualifying. And here's why: There's been no cover up."
And I'm not going to share all of Cody's sin with all of you, or all of Jackson's sin—he's sick, by the way—with all of you. My wife sinned once in her life, I won't even tell you what that one time was and what that meant. I just don't think it's morally acceptable to do that. I just don't think it is. I don't think it's supposed to be that way.
And so Steve was 22. And at that Mormon summer camp, there was a young man who was 15. And the events of whatever the day was, went into the legal system, the judge followed it through, I don't remember what the actual attorney word for it is. Charges were dropped or settled or satisfied, or some attorney-ish thing. And the outcome was “community service and counseling.”
There was not malicious acts of violence that were involved.
And so I understand that to mean that there was not malicious acts of violence that were involved, because that's… otherwise there'd be lifetime registries and incarceration, and there should be. Like, there absolutely should be.
And so mixed in to this is a right, sober contrition for sin, because sins ugly, and we hate it. Some of what's been going on online for the last two years, especially, is just a complete fabrication. Some things have a little bit of truth. And some things (i.e. the court documents found by their private investigator) are of course true. Those are true things, we've known that there's nothing that is distorted about that. That is exactly as those documents are posted. Those are the exact things.
I do suggest that if you [read what people are saying about us] it will cause a number of effects that you may not understand... You will incur a wound of one kind or another.
I would encourage you by the way… Please note what I'm saying what I'm not saying. I am not saying, “I forbid you from going online and reading what people are saying about us.” I'm not saying that. But I do suggest that if you do it will cause a number of effects that you may not understand. And there's a lot of things, it's hard to parse out the difference of what's happening. And you will incur a wound of one kind or another. I'll help you with that wound, and I'm not saying “you can't” or “I forbid it.” That's silly. If you want to do that you can, but at the same time if somebody was saying about your biological family that they're evil and should be destroyed and there's… you probably wouldn't particularly find reason to read about the newest thing. There's probably wouldn't be a wise thing to do in my mind. And so you can. But I suggest that you don't for those reasons.
I have failed in that regard myself, because lots of things about me are there, including a transcript of my teaching where I shared the story of my confession of running from the police, 20 years ago, on a motorcycle. All the teachings that have ever been found online are now being analyzed forensicly and posted, and psychologists analyzed my word salad from that teaching, and said that I'm either just not a good communicator, or I'm a master manipulator. And I read that and think, “I don't even know what I said. Like, that's word salad. I don't even know what those words mean. I'm just filling airtime with words.”
And so there is a very systemic approach to find, not just “this event is a problem,” but there's 100 things that have been brought up. And so we want to discuss this issue as it stands. Because there's a reason to do that. That's a valid thing to say it happened. It was sin, it was awful. And we understand that. And here's why I've not revealed that throughout the years, because I still, to this moment, do not believe that I've sinned in any way.
I've shared this in greater detail that I can in this context with our elder, overseer, pastors, and a lesser degree in detail with our small group leaders, I am very thankful that, out of all of those folks, we are in absolute complete unity at Christland in terms of what we believe.
By the way, as I've shared this in greater detail that I can in this context with our elder, overseer, pastors, and a lesser degree in detail with our small group leaders, I am very thankful that, out of all of those folks, we are in absolute complete unity at Christland in terms of what we believe.
One, that Steve Morgan is not disqualified for life from pastoral ministry from events from 30 plus years ago, before he was saved.
I also asked our board to consider, genuinely to consider, if I've done wrongdoing by not revealing all of these things all along, because I'm still morally opposed to it, believing that it would be wrong for me to do that, please know that I'll accept any censure, discipline, removal as a result of that. And if I need to, to remove myself from that discussion for our board, of course. But I told our board, “Please note that I'm presently not repentant for that, because I'm presently not convinced that I've done wrong yet. And so, if there is discipline, note that I'm in an unrepentant position, because I'm still not aware that I've done anything wrong in the midst of it.”
And so that means that I'm either a psychopath, or I'm oblivious. Both are problems as your lead pastor. You don't need a guy that's oblivious in some massive sin he’s done, and he can't figure out how he's done it. Or that I'm actually just really a bad character guy. Well, either way, you're in trouble. And you should have a different lead pastor.
I also asked our board to consider, genuinely to consider, if I've done wrongdoing by not revealing all of these things all along, because I'm still morally opposed to it.
I've been asking Jesus if I am what some believe, then either reform me, help me, or remove me. Like, help me to not be broken or deceived or deluded or oblivious, or help me to step aside for the sake of your church so that it can be led by a man of greater character and ability so that you guys have what you need: a spiritual father that you can believe that would be imperfectly leading you, but yet better than myself.
So our board said, I suppose thankfully, for me, like, I didn't. You know, I want those men to share with me everything they think, and said, “You guys, I'd need you to tell me exactly what you believe. If there's things that I'm not seeing, or that you believe, I have to know that I want to know that. Tell me. There's no manipulation, there's no pressure, there's no expectation. I want to find out if we are like minded, and if we're not, we'll figure out what that means and what to do. And we'll love each other through all of that.”
And so, our board members, our group leaders, have processed these things.
Now, for some of you, what you're processing is seven minutes old. Like you have no anything except for what I said seven minutes ago, and your mind is still reeling with “Wait, what, to the what?” And I think that you should not have any pressure to be okay, right away. Like, I've known this stuff for 25 plus years. Like it's… it's not realistic, even to yourself, to say: “I see it for what it is, and how come everybody can't get on board and be okay and support your leader.” And I don't think we should have that rhetoric with anybody. I just don't think that.
I don't think we should just say, “The other guys are the bad guys. We're the good guys. So shut your mouth and leave us alone and let's go get them and,”—to use the Jackson phrase— “mess them up.” Like I don't, I don't want to mess anybody up.
I want to be sure that we are rightly humble and trying to see are there things in this that we could do or do better. I want to be loving and kind, because, at the end of the day, these are not entirely deceptive things. They are situated in a particular way for a particular end. That's quite true. But there are some true things in this, and so that's why it's worth talking about.
Our… the Leadership Team, then, as a result of the recent things of the last three years, we considered it again. The Network Leadership Team is comprised of myself—unfortunately. I would just love to be a lead pastor and lead Christland. And so maybe someday I'll get a chance to not be in that role, where 26 churches’ worth of opinions and people filter through just one guy. I would love for that to be true someday, somehow, if possible.
The Network Leadership team is comprised of myself... James Chidester, who is a PhD psychologist that is in Austin... Luke Williams the lead pastor of the church in California, Vista Church... and Tony Ranvestel in Vida Springs church in Gainesville, Florida.
But also James Chidester, who is a PhD psychologist that is in Austin. He is paid for by some of the network fees. 5% of all the giving here goes into helping some of our Network expenses. Also on the board is Luke Williams, the lead pastor of the church in California, Vista Church, and Tony Ranvestel, that's in Vida Springs church in Gainesville, Florida.
We considered this with outside counsel from a retired national director of a large group of churches. And I loved it, because, to get a 78, almost 80 year old guy in there, I told him very specifically, “Man, I love that you're here because, if we're not seeing something that we need to see, you would tell us.” Like, you would say, at that age, and that vintage—that's one of the things… I can't wait… when I'm 70 something, I'll just let it rip. Like I might just wear flip flops with black socks to my knees and not care. Like, I would love to be that age and to be fearless. People can think what they think.
And he's a wonderful man. Dearly trusted. Used by Jesus dramatically. And he said, “Oh, no, I see this very, very plainly. And here's what I believe you guys need to do. You've brought me in for counsel. And here's how I see it. Here's what I think's happening. And here's what I think you do. And here's how I think you go about it.” His insight was so, so very valuable to us.
So, as a result of that, and I'm giving you the iceberg of many, many 1000s of hours of thought and prayer and conversation, the Network Leadership Team believed that this day would come, though it took almost three years for it to come. Where the final thing was released online a week ago, Friday. But I've known all along. And I've known all along that this day would come.
And a lot of other things were brought up in terms of leadership culture, or whatever. There are hundreds and hundreds of things that have been raised to discredit. And we knew this day would come.
So the leadership team created a letter to say, “this is what we believe.” Because people need some leadership. They need some help navigating what it means.
The leadership team created a letter to say, “this is what we believe.” ... Tony Ranvestel and I primarily worked on drafting that letter.
And so I'm not going to read the letter in its entirety. But I have asked Cody to have copies prepared and there'll be on the back. And you guys on your way out can certainly grab a copy of that, and can read it if you'd like, you can ask me questions if you want. Tony Ranvestel and I primarily worked on drafting that letter and a couple different versions of it. And so I'm not going to read it.
But just a few things: There are seven main points to the letter.
One is, specifically, we're not going to try to defend against every accusation, because new ones come in every day, by the way. Like, it... that's not a possible thing to do. Anytime the pharisaical sort of assessment of every teaching or audio or these meetings done in the churches—they're guys coming in, recording audio, posting it to the group, they're assessing it for their discussion.
So it's gotten… it's gotten very intense. One of our members here was threatened with his job. So, “You leave the church, and you disavow and say ‘they're evil,’ or we'll call your boss and get you fired.” Like, there's a bunch of really awful things happening. One of the pastor's daughters was getting nasty mail, “your dad's a this or that,” and, like, just really awful stuff.
I've blocked some numbers. I've blocked some email addresses. I'm getting cussed out and threatened. It's gotten… the level of vitriol is very intense right now. And I understand where it's coming from. It's coming from folks that… some still love Jesus, I believe. Some have publicly said they don't any longer. Some were on staff with me back in Southern Illinois. Some were in some of our other churches.
And throughout, if anybody would say, “You know, I just in my conscience don't agree doctrinally with a church supporting a leader who has a past prior to being saved. I don't doctrinally believe that I can support that.” Then, know that, you guys, whoever that is, either here or in any of the churches, will have our blessing to follow their conscience, find a church that they really want to be a part of, and follow Jesus. And I genuinely… I don't… I'm not saying it snippy. So… this is recorded right now, and the audio’s there. I'll use words not inflection, in case it's posted, to say, “I genuinely,”—wait I said it with inflection. It's hard to do that when you're being analyzed. “I fully believe and will truly bless any person that wants to follow Jesus in another place. That's okay. That is really okay.”
A person should act where their conscience is leading them in those areas... That all makes sense to me. I don't understand it, but I support it... If a person is convinced, it doesn't mean that I agree with those convictions.
And indeed, if a person's conscience is convicted of that, well, that's the integrity way to go about such things. A person should act where their conscience is leading them in those areas. Like that, to me, it makes sense to me. So that a person can continue to flourish in their faith and believe in the leadership of their church and grow spiritually. That all makes sense to me. I don't, just, understand it, but I support it. If a person is convinced, it doesn't mean that I agree with those convictions. But I agree with the decision is the right way to go for a person's family or their faith or their future. I understand that fully.
But also, let me say that if a person chooses to do that, and they love the family, this is their church home, and a week later, they say, “You guys are evil, I'm going to destroy you,” I think that means a bad character. I think if you leave and say, “I don't agree, I feel like I'm called here. There's some things that were hard and hurtful in those places...”
So some of you in this room came to Christland, but were in local churches in College Station prior to coming here. But by by doing that, and I've heard a little bit of what it was like at X church across town. But I've been really grateful that those of you that have come from those churches have not said, though you were all hurt in those places, they're not evil, and I'm going to destroy them. And I need to protect people by making sure nobody ever goes to XYZ church across town.
I would never want you to do that. And to come against a church for any reason, believing that it was your sovereign duty to protect the general public by warning against those evil folks.
I would never want you to do that... to come against a church for any reason, believing that it was your sovereign duty to protect the general public by warning against those evil folks.
So those of you that have shared painful experiences from other churches, the reality is any of you that have ever been in another church have been hurt there one way or another. And the reality is, if you stick around here for very long, there are some ways that I'm not going to lead you perfectly, and you'll be hurt here. It's the nature of imperfect families and churches. You cannot find that on Earth, where you're going to be a part of a place, unless it's “show up, go home, and there are seminary lectures that are designed that…”
Maybe that's possible to not be hurt in that context.
But my understanding of churches: we're a family, we love each other, we do life together, we give ourselves one to another. And that means that hurt feelings are going to happen. And that means we get practice to forgive and to love one another and to repent and to resolve. Those are great things.
I don't want us—I get why some churches are run like corporations. Because it's safer, perhaps. And there's not the kind of suffering and emotional spiritual hemorrhaging that happens from a season like this. I understand that. But, yeah, I don't think that's what we're called to do.
And “spiritual abuse” is thrown around. Sometimes that, I would suppose, it legitimately happens. Sometimes it's used in the phrase of, “I got my feelings hurt. I didn't like what you did.”
So the letter from leadership team; I'm not going to read it to you. But the paragraph one basically says “we’ll not reply to the issues specific.” Now you can personally ask me, “Hey, I read this, what about that?” And I'm not going to say, “Hey, you lunatic, how dare you read that?” I'm not going to say, “Oh, man, that's hard. Well, as I understand it, here's what's true or not true or partially true about that thing. So what do we do about that?” That's okay, you can do that. I have a certain limited amount of, just, simply time availability for such things, but I don't mind that. You can.
The second paragraph just says, “We want to be humble and loving leaders that Shepherd folks.” And one of the attacks is about spiritual abuse. And “spiritual abuse” is thrown around. Sometimes that, I would suppose, it legitimately happens. Sometimes it's used in the phrase of, “I got my feelings hurt. I didn't like what you did.”
But I have been very intentional with our leaders to say… recently at our third Friday, training our small group leaders… what's dating culture supposed to look like here? Do you have to get permission from your group leader or from me to ask someone out for coffee? Is there a form, you know, 10B dash A that gets notarized? That she would then have initialed… and then he would…? Is that what kind of culture we are? Are you in trouble if you don't…?
Like, what's… what kind of leadership culture… how much involvement, investment? And because the leader would always say, “I'm responsible, and I want to be… I want people to do well...” I've realized that when we came out of Southern Illinois, that particular area of our culture got weird. I didn't know it. And I didn't mean it to get that way. But it got weird.
And I said, “Wait, wait, wait, wait. How come somebody is asking me”—this is not here, this is in southern Illinois—a pastor's asking me, because the group leader asked them, because they were asked by someone in their group... “I asked her to coffee.” She said, ‘Yes.’ We had a latte. It was good. How long do I have to wait before I ask her to something else?” Like, wait, What? What? Why are you asking me? I will not answer. I'm offended at the question. That's so crazy. It's so crazy, like some of what's being said, like, let's make sure we're not that! And if we are, we can fix it. Because, what the church is, is us, and it... Man, if that's something that's happening on my watch, man, I'm sorry, let's fix it. Like that's not at all what I want.
I don't want to control your life. I don't want to know that stuff. I want to train you and righteousness and help you to stand on your own as a disciple. I'm not here to censor your music collection or to, I don't know, measure your hemlines, or to, I mean, that's not… I don't… I don't want that. I don't need that.
There has been some accusations of abuse. And I just don't believe that it's inherently true.
So there has been some accusations of abuse. And I just don't believe that it's inherently true. Although certainly there are events that our leaders could have done a better job with. There certainly are. Like, I can't come out of any interaction without realizing, “Oh, I could have done that a little bit better, done that differently. That sort of thing.
The third paragraph is about accusations; we've had outside counsel.
Fourth paragraph is “we’ll bless folks that want to leave and find places where they plug in.” And that's true. We've never tried to build our empire. We're not trying to conquer the world. We're trying to be a part of a healthy local church that makes disciples and, God willing, allows us to plant churches.
I had somebody asked me, “Is this meeting about a church plant announcement?” Like, oh, I would so love that to be true. Oh, man. Do you think Jesus would be kind enough that we could call another family meeting one time in the future, and I'm not having to talk about something of great pain and hardship, but it's a great blessing that causes great hardship? Oh, man, I don't know if Jesus will ever let us. But I have hopes for that day. Man! I want to have another family meeting someday where we're not saying, “Hey, there's a bunch of stuff being said about us. And here's what to make of that.”
We're thankful for Steve Morgan's, strong yet humble leadership, depth of love, Christ-honoring character, he's called, gifted, qualified to continue to lead. I really believe that guys, I just really do.
Would you join, somehow, in your heart, praying that God allows that to be true? That we can continue with what we're called to do; keep building the wall? I think we're called to do this. And I know we're not doing it perfect, but I don't… I just don't think we're evil.
I don't think the other guys are the bad guys either. I don't mean that, although some of what's happening is straight evil. They're not… everybody's not evil that thinks otherwise. So please never do that. Somebody believes some of that stuff or wants to go somewhere else, they're not our enemies. They're not… we have enemies but it's not people. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. There is a massive spiritual battle behind all this. Please know that.
But the people, even that disagree, or that somehow believe they're doing the public good, are sweet people trying to do what they feel convinced of. They are. There are people that I've had in my homes and in my heart, and I've done life with and loved and, and been friends with for 20 years, some of them. They're not evil people, please know that. There are people trying to do what they think they're supposed to. And that's where we're at.
There's been a due process of this issue being considered over and over again by leadership boards, governing bodies, and those men have decided—I've been on two of those four governing boards—decided, biblically and otherwise, this is not a problem.
Okay, the fifth paragraph is the Leadership Team saying we're thankful for Steve Morgan's, strong yet humble leadership, depth of love, Christ-honoring character, he's called, gifted, qualified to continue to lead. I really believe that guys, I just really do. He's not a perfect guy. He has really high gifting and he has some flaws. He does. And I know those flaws more than almost anybody else. Just like, you can talk to Cody and Jackson, and they can tell you my flaws. Or my wife could tell you my flaws more than the rest of you know them. That's true. But I do not believe he is disqualified from pastoral ministry. We'll get into our Bibles. And a little bit if I can get down to it. Eventually, we'll be in First Timothy three, answering the question, “a good reputation with outsiders”. So how's that still true? We’ll answer that question. And we'll talk about Gospel before we spend some time in worship.
The sixth part of the letter is “we've known about this for a very, very long time.” And there's been a due process of this issue being considered over and over again by the governing bodies of, four different times, leadership boards governing bodies, and those men have decided—I've been on two of those four governing boards—decided, biblically and otherwise, this is not a problem. And this is not something that the Bible prohibits. Nor has there been any track record since then that shows a lack of character that would be disqualifying. That's just simply not true.
And then the seventh point is, “Christians and churches around the world are under spiritual attack.” And that's no joke, guys, that is so true. If you look at, kind of, what's happening in Christendom, there is a group of churches, that they measure spiritual attack by the number of pastors martyred per year, in the funerals they do for pastors, particularly in India.
Christians and churches around the world are under spiritual attack.
So there really is, and it doesn't take much to say… there's a Hillsong scandal. And in some ways you think, well, if they're sketchy stuff happening, the people being sketchy should be found out and removed… or I mean… so there's a part of me that, justice, I'd say, “Yeah, if, if it's imperfect people trying their best…” Like, I've wondered, can we still do Hillsong stuff because we know their background? Can we still do Bethel stuff, we know their background? Can we do elevation stuff, we know their background? Can we do Vineyard stuff, we know their back…? Like at some point you can’t do anybody’s stuff.
But… but… we've been in, by some, connected to, say, Southern Baptists, where ordained pastors committed awful sins and the church hid it. That, to me, is not at all what we have. At all. We have sexual sin from prior to being a Christian and being a pastor. And you have great transparency with local boards that knew that, and you had justice completely followed from the legal system perspective. This is not the same thing as that, in my opinion.
But you have things, in terms of almost any major church, Mars Hill, Hillsong, all those guys… Matt Chandler's had a bunch of stuff. You can go through any major group—Southern Baptists—and lots and lots of churches go through stuff, especially in today's era, where there is a lot of vitriol against essentially everybody. Conservatives against liberals, and you can just, kind of, look, and there's a massive spirit of division in our country, against all kinds of “us/them, we're the good guys/they're the bad guys. Don't we hate them? Don't they stink? Let's go, you know,”—Jackson phrase— “Let's go mess ‘em up.” And I just think that's happening in the church culture as well. And we're experiencing some of that.
There's a massive spirit of division in our country.
And so, the issue by itself, I… please do not understand me to say it's no big deal. I don't think it's no big deal. I think it's awful. And you haven't had the benefit of me seeing Steve, on his knees, sobbing his eyes out in great humility and in great agony over what he had the… what he did all those years ago. I've seen him in that posture a dozen times over and over and over again. He's so tender hearted and so broken. And so by me… I don't want you to feel like we're circling the wagons, we're defending our own. It's us against them.
I don't want to feel like, somehow, when it comes to victims, or sin or sexual sin, that somehow we are not understanding the weight and the impact that that has. Because some of you have experienced such things and been through such things. And those are, those are life changing events. I'm not trying to minimize that at all.
What I'm trying to say is, as I understand it, doctrinally, there's been no miscarriage of justice. It's not a a betrayal of pastoral trust, responsibility. There's been no attempt to conceal that action. The action wasn't one of violence or malice.
Those of you in our kids program, and… when you sign up, you sign a permission slip for background checks. We've never in 20, I don't know however many years, had someone with that background in our kids program. We've never had an accusation of anything improper. We've never had an investigation nor needed it. In all these churches, in all those years, in our kids program, we've just never experienced that because we take it really seriously. We've had kids program policies from the very beginning, that no one's alone with kids, bathroom policies and protocols. We’re very, very, very strict on those things. More than many I would believe.
We've never had an investigation nor needed it.
So the issue by itself, I don't want to dance around it and say it's no big deal. That's not what I'm trying to say. What I'm trying to say is, as I understand it, doctrinally, there's been no miscarriage of justice. It's not a a betrayal of pastoral trust, responsibility. There's been no attempt to conceal that action. The action wasn't one of violence or malice. As evidenced even, by the way, based on the actual court decision of penalty. I think you can make an easy case for that, though, again, I'm not a lawyer. And, you could say, 30 plus years of godly character and holiness since then.
Girls, if you're gonna somehow marry a guy, and he's reformed and he's met Jesus, and all of his crazy ways are over—I was gonna do the “Brother, Where Art Thou” quotes: “Your days are over, aren't they, Soggy Bottom Boys?” “Yes, yes, sir. No more of that.”—Okay, you're pardoned. You know, don't buy it. I want to see two years minimum of track record, we've got 30 plus years of track record. 30 plus years.
I also expect we'll have some victim statements from the sister of the guy and the family’s account of those days and what that's done. I suspect, we'll have a victim statement as well, to try to keep outrage going for the thing.
There are continued attacks. And the next thing will be, by the way, distortion of an event from 10 plus years ago, with a confession of masturbation. And I'd like to find a guy that's gone 20 years not done that, by the way. If you're that guy, talk to me after and I’ll buy you a taco. Like, I just don't think you'll find that. But, by the way, also know that in the weaponization of that event, it will be distorted and the events will not be what they are purported to be. So please know that. Yeah, the event happened. But it's not what it's going to be posted to say.
I also expect we'll have some victim statements from the sister of the guy and the family’s account of those days and what that's done. I suspect, we'll have a victim statement as well, to try to keep outrage going for the thing.
And the next thing will be, by the way, distortion of an event from 10 plus years ago, with a confession of masturbation.
And I don't… I don't… I'm not saying you shouldn't be outraged by sin, horrified by its effects. I'm not saying that. I'm not saying that at all. But also know that it's not particularly the kind of thing that some have sort of created about it.
So the other thing is issue by itself.
The other part is the context of three years and a hundred or so attacks. The goal isn't, “we love you guys, and your leader is evil. And by the way, keep going, you guys are doing great.” That's not the thing. The thing is “every lead pastor needs to be removed.” And that is really what's going on. And so lots of threatening stuff, every lead pastor, they're gonna hire investigators and find out about our past. Maybe I ran over a possum in ‘93. I don't I don't remember. But I mean, it's that kind of a thing.
I'm not saying you shouldn't be outraged by sin, horrified by its effects. I'm not saying that. I'm not saying that at all. But also know that it's not particularly the kind of thing that some have sort of created about it.
And so, I am not a sinless guy. And in my opinion, by the way, my story of running from the police, while—I remember because our daughter was like three months old, and I come in limping. That was 20 years ago—but I was a pastor and I was on staff. And I didn't go to my leader, I went to another guy on staff to tell him instead, because I didn't want Steve to say, “You either don't go over a hundred miles an hour,” —I'm like, “I can do that in second gear. Like I do that every day. How dare you—.” No, but I concealed it from him because I didn't want the effects.
In my opinion, if there's any accusation of bad character, I have bad character from that event, as more evidence, from than what he did 30 years ago prior to being saved. Like that makes more sense to me. If there was a disciplinary action against a pastor, in my opinion, that particular sin is worse in that regard in terms of its reflection upon me and my character. I think it's way worse.
If there was a disciplinary action against a pastor, in my opinion, [my] particular sin is worse in that regard in terms of its reflection upon me and my character [than Steve Morgan's]. I think it's way worse.
And so we are—I don't know about you guys. But the rest of we, us, we've done some stuff in our past. And, if you recall, when Jesus with the woman and adultery, he started saying, “If you're without sin, start throwing rocks.” He left that, he left the mob first. The older folks left the mob, dropped their rocks, walked away. Realizing that, “Yeah, we've been forgiven from a bunch ourselves.”
So for some of you younger folks, I might encourage you to ask some of our older folks. I told you, part of the blessing of a multi-generational local church, is that you can go to some people that have been through some stuff. And so that would be a very, very wise thing to do. Any of you could talk to Villard and Diane <last name redacted> and say, “Villard and Diane, what do you think? You've been… you've led a couple different churches, you've seen a lot of things come and go, what's your perspective? How do you frame all of this?
Essentially, our overseers, and that is our governing board, has decided we do not believe that Steve Morgan is disqualified from pastoral ministry for life because of those events.
You could do the same to Kirk and Beth <last name redacted>. You guys have been in a bunch of different local churches, you've seen some stuff. You've walked through different seasons.
You could ask even Kathy <last name redacted> the same question. You might benefit from that. Some of you younger folks of... “I want your wisdom and your experience and the benefit of what you've seen and you've been through. Hopefully, you haven't suffered for nothing. God's done some stuff in you, and walk me through what that means.” You, of course, can do that if you'd rather talk to them or in addition to any of us as leaders.
Essentially, our overseers, and that is our governing board, has decided we do not believe that Steve Morgan is disqualified from pastoral ministry for life because of those events.
I suppose, thankfully for me—which in days where it's less pleasant to do what I'm doing, I'm not sure it was a gift to me—that they said I get to keep my role as lead pastor. There are days that selling cars would seem pretty nice, or selling water filtration systems, or something else, would be pretty nice. Or selling traffic signaling equipment to municipalities, it'd be pretty nice. But so far I feel called to what I'm doing. And until or unless I'm disqualified and removed by Jesus or a board, I'll continue. Because I don't know how to do but try to be faithful to what I'm convinced of.
The third question is, “Do we leave the group of churches?” And so all of our overseers at the time said, “No, we believe on those three things, exactly the same thing.”
And so that was wonderful that we are in that spot. Let me also say, by the way, that if there is pre-saved disqualification of sin, then Saul/Paul would be your your best case study. That he's murdering Christians. And then something like three years later, he's preaching Jesus with power and local churches. So quick, in fact, that local Christians didn't believe him. They didn't think, until Barnabas vouched for him, and they said, “Okay, maybe he's not just trying to infiltrate and destroy us.”
So I think that, essentially, I think I had a group leader ask that, or one of the other churches that I've been trying to help in all of this, “Is there a sin prior to being saved, that is disqualifying?” Well, I do think that there are sins that give evidence of faulty character that would make it not safe. I do think that's true. And we'll get to that in the Timothy text.
“Is there a sin prior to being saved, that is disqualifying?” Well, I do think that there are sins that give evidence of faulty character that would make it not safe. I do think that's true.
So pastoral disqualification: if they're a Christian, they're a pastor. It's a serious sin of some kind. I've had lots of different pastors over the years, 20 plus different pastors. And those men have confessed, “I looked at pornography last night, I got mad and said something I shouldn't have said, I, they've confessed different things to me over the years. And I've had group leaders confess things to me over the years. And there have been a few times, not with pastors, but with group leaders, that their particular sin was disqualifying from that particular role.
Young guy back in the day, was having one of the women in his college students small group stay the night and stuff was happening, and he was lying about it. And that worked until she got pregnant. It's pretty hard to lie about it, then. Well, that guy was obviously removed from leading a group. He was still in the church, we loved him. And I thought the discipline, I hope, will help his character. Quite gifted, but his character is not what it needs to be. Maybe someday, in ten years, wherever church he’s at, Jesus can use those great gifts for something of value. I'll never see that day. But I think he's gifted for something in the kingdom of God. But regardless, unless there's character, and we do that through right discipline, with a purpose of love and development in that man, he'll never be in a role like that, or shouldn't be.
Okay, so 1 Timothy 3. I'm going to do that, then we’ll be in another text. And then I want to try to answer what happens from here, like, what do we do next? What does this mean? Where do we go? I want to try to do that. We have two songs of worship. We're going to do some prayer together. Cody, Villard, Tim Pappoe, and I are going to pray a little bit over us.
And I would ask: Would you guys be in prayer for us? For our group of churches? Be in prayer for us that Jesus has his way. He wants to do some things in us that we need. We need some things that this kind of season can produce. And we, of course, need protection and all those other things.
Would you guys be in prayer for us? For our group of churches... He wants to do some things in us that we need. We need some things that this kind of season can produce.
Okay. 1 Timothy, you guys there? Three?
One through seven is about overseers, so that's specific to our purpose. Verses eight through 13 are about Deacon leaders, so that would be our small group leaders.
We're just going to focus on the first seven verses, verse seven particularly.
“The saying is trustworthy, if anyone aspires to the Office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore, an overseer must be...” So this is Paul writing to Timothy. They're planting churches quickly, and Timothy is having to go back into those towns, into those churches, and identify leaders, and release leaders and structure. So we do it the opposite way. We already have a leadership structure in place when we plant a church. Well, they're just going and preaching on the streets, or going to the synagogues. People are being saved. Crazy stuff’s happening. Philippian jailer’s family, Lydia's household’s being baptized, churches are just formed.
The other thing, by the way, in prayer: if we're going to experience some of the suffering of Scripture, wouldn't be amazing if we experience some of the Holy Spirit power, and healings, and the supernatural, that also happens? Like, if we're gonna have some of the sufferings, let it be the sufferings of Christ. Not because we're [inaudible] or because we lack character. I mean, if we're sketchy, and we suffer, we can't blame Jesus for that. “It’s the sufferings of Christ!” No, it's the sufferings because we're wrong. But if they are the reproach of Christ, suffering of Christ, may it also be that someday we experience some of the power that's supposed to accompany that.
Okay, so this is the list. Paul is saying to Tim, “When you're looking for a guy that's going to be a pastor, elder, overseer, here's what you look.” You look for: must be above reproach, husband of one wife. We interpret that not “prior married,”—some groups of churches say that if you're prior married and divorced, you cannot be a leader in the church. You're just qualified because of these verses. We would say this refers to polygamy. Not that a guy couldn't have been prior married, divorced, now he's married to somebody else. That's not how we interpret it.
Sober minded, self controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach. You should think through all your overseers. We've got staff overseers, and we have non teaching overseers, which is Winston on our board, Mike Berardi on our board. But the rest of our pastoral staff: Xavion, myself, Cody Jackson, you should think, “Are those men qualified or not?” Is this largely true, with grace needed sometimes, but not massively untrue, or they're disqualified.
When you're looking for a guy that's going to be a pastor, elder, overseer, here's what you look for: ... Sober minded... self controlled... respectable... not violent, but gentle... not a lover of money... moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders...
Not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well with all dignity, keeping his children submissive. Someone who does not know how to manage his own household, how will they care for God's church. He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit, fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace into a snare of the devil.
So the right question that's been raised by—when I was at Joshua church last weekend. I think I've aged six months in a week. I think it was last Sunday night. One of the right questions that they raised, “So is Steve still well thought of by outsiders? And if he's not, then what do we do with these verses?” And I love the question, I told him that. It's a good question, because it's not a question based on the optics of a situation or a damage control model, or a psychological thing of, “wouldn't it make sense that a guy with that past never does the blah, blah, blah?” Those are humanistic arguments that have some limited merit on their own, but aren't particularly as helpful to a doctrinal discussion.
The doctrinal discussion, that's the deal, right? Not, “What makes sense to you? Well, I think it makes more sense for this.” The better thing is, “What does scripture say?” And so I love a question based on scripture, because that's what we should be thinking about. Not just, “Well, I'm gonna invite my friends. What if my grandma finds out that I go to this thing?” Like, “What if I'm now embarrassed of my church family? And I'm… what,” —those are real things, true things. But those are not as important as a biblical question. Do you follow where I'm at?
"What if my grandma finds out that I go to this thing? What if I'm now embarrassed of my church family?”—those are real things, true things. But those are not as important as a biblical question.
Asking the question biblically is the right way to go about it. I appreciate the question. Like, that's what we should be thinking about.
“Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so he may not fall into disgrace into a snare of the devil.” And so the actual word by the way—so first, I would say this, it's not… above… “well thought of by outsiders,” it’s not optics, it’s character. And so, in the community that are not Christian, that are not in the church, if people look at our overseers and their interactions with Cody, Xavion, myself, Jackson, Berardi, Winston is, “That guy’s… he's… oh, he's… he's on the board? That guy? That guy that kind of was a little bit sneaky, shady, a little bit, like, not respectable? That… that… that guy?” It's not about optics, it's about character.
And within the community, a person's going to be known. And they're not going to be putting on a Christian veneer of, “Oh, praise God, everything's great.” The people that see them in their daily life, see them interact with their kids, see them when they're tired, and they've argued with their wife on the way to HEB. They're going to see the real dude. And that's important that he has good character.
“Well thought of by outsiders,” — It's not about optics, it's about character.
Because, if it's just the optics of, well, you're disqualified if enough people decide they don't like you. Well, Paul was in Lystra. And when he and Apollos were preaching —Apollos or Barnabas? Barnabas, I think. No, Apollos? No… one of those guys. It's in… it's in… and I have got it written down here because I'd mess it up. Brain power lagging. I forget.
Anyway, one of those two guys. It's Barnabas. They thought these guys are Gods. Let’s sacrifice to them. And because they were speaking out in a language that was not a language that Paul and Barnabas knew, it took them a while to figure out what was happening. “Why are they bringing in livestock? Oh, no! They think we're gods. They're trying to sacrifice!” So they rush into the crowd, tear their garments. “Don't do this. That's not right. We're not gods. We're men like yourself. That's an abomination. No, no, no, no.”
And they said even with all their efforts, they had a difficult time preventing them from sacrificing to them as gods. But then some of the Jews that hated Paul from Antioch showed up. And they persuaded the crowds. And the crowd, the whole crowd, turned against them. And they said, “These guys are evil, let's destroy them!” They drag him out of the city and stone Paul.
Acts 14: “Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice… the Jews from Antioch and Iconium, having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city supposing that he was dead.”
I wonder if he actually was. You get stoned until they're done throwing rocks, people suppose he's dead. Dr. Luke's being kind. I wonder if he actually was. We don't know.
“When the disciples gathered about him,”—I suspect they were praying, and not just, you know, blotting his bloody forehead with a damp cloth—“He rose and entered the city. And on the next day, he went on with Barnabas to derby. And they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples. They returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch…”
That's an interesting thing. “Let's loop back through those same places? Really, Paul? The guys that were throwing rocks? That you got drug out of there?
“…Encouraging them to continue in the faith, saying that through many tribulations, we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed.”
Shocking! So, Paul was not disqualified though a whole town turned against him, and stoned him till he was a bloody pulp, drug him out of the city, left him for dead. He goes on, continues to obey Jesus. And then he loops back around and goes to the same city. And he helps them find elders in that city for those churches. So, my point being, if this is about optics of “you're only qualified until enough people think you're disqualified, and then you are disqualified,” well, then that didn't make sense that Paul could continue in that function with great effectiveness.
He would have been disqualified based on that interpretation of the verse, right? You cause enough uproar, you malign someone and say they’re sketch, enough people believe they’re sketch… Well, then they have to be removed as pastors because they’re sketch.
[You can't disqualify a pastor by] causing enough uproar, maligning someone, and saying they’re sketch until enough people believe they’re sketch… [They don't have to be] removed as pastors because [enough people think] they're sketch.
I was gonna do a Bill Clinton quote, “But hear me on this… I did not have…” No. “But hear me on this...” Sorry, wait, is it too soon for a Bill Clinton quote?
If a pastor is sketch, then the boards need to remove or discipline that pastor. They should. Which is why I asked our board, “If I'm sketch, I don't know it, or I'm such a vile man that I've fooled myself and everybody else. But if I am, do your job, and replace me with a better man, a different man. Do that. That's, what you should do.”
So hear me on that. If there is a sketch pastor, don't guard the guy. Like, do you know how many people have told me over the years, “The church we were part of, the pastor was stepping out on his wife, or so and so was stealing money, I brought it up, and they kicked me out.” You know how many times I've heard that? I've heard this so many times, it's heartbreaking.
And if you're convinced that your leader is sketch, then you have my blessing, not my agreement, because I don't think our leaders here are sketch, but you have my blessing to find a place where you can love and be loved and be a part.
If you bring legitimate—the Bible says you have to have a couple of witnesses. And if you have that, and a leader is genuinely guilty of that sin, I'm not going to kick you out of the church and defend my guy at all cost. That's not what we do. I'm going to be sure that it's true and work that out. And then I'm going to make sure that the church is protected and it's safe, even if it means it has to be safe from me. I want you guys to be safe. I want this to be a place where you can drop your kids off, and you're not worried, and you can sleep at night believing, “My leaders aren't perfect, but they're sure trying, and they're doing the best they can.”
And if you're convinced that your leader is sketch, then you have my blessing, not my agreement, because I don't think our leaders here are sketch, but you have my blessing to find a place where you can love and be loved and be a part.
There are a bunch of amazing churches in this town. There are. A bunch of them, and I can help you pick one or find a few like. That's okay.
Another guy in one of the churches was writing this about lifetime disqualification, in case it's useful. His thinking is interesting. In it he says,
“If it's this attitude that would cause Steve to no longer be well thought of by outsiders, that I can't possibly link it to 1 Timothy 3:7. If all that it took to disqualify leaders to expose their sin before they was a Christian, then the church would have no leaders. Either that or we would all be forced to hide our sin for fear that if it ever came out, it would do too much harm to the church neither seems biblical to me. There's always a strange paradoxical line to walk for the Christian. The Bible calls us to be well thought of by outsiders, yet it simultaneously says we will be hated by the world. How do we reconcile this?
When I think about Steve's life, I think about someone who has demonstrated his character again and again.
It is telling me that 1 Timothy 3:7 comes at the very end. Paul begins by charging overseers to be above reproach. He then gives a bunch of specific examples for what that looks like. When he concludes that an overseer must have a good public reputation, it's extremely difficult for me to imagine someone meeting the qualifications in verses 2 through 6, and yet be unable to meet verse 7. When I think about Steve's life, I think about someone who has demonstrated his character again and again. Take away sinful slander against him and attempts at character assassination, and you are left with a man who has faithfully discharged the duties Jesus has called him to for decades.”
And I believe that. I absolutely believe that that's true. Those aren’t my words. That's words from another leader in our group of churches, but I absolutely believe that.
[Steve Morgan] is not disqualified. He is amazingly gifted in an apostolic way. He suffers greatly for what he's called to, and he is obedient to death to what he's convinced God's asked him to do.
See, most of you don't know who Steve Morgan is. And I've had that as one of my greatest gifts of grace and blessing in my life. I'm not going to save my own suffering by saying otherwise. I can't be convinced of that. He's wounded me in his imperfect leadership, of course, just as every wife has been wounded by her husband's imperfect leadership at one time or another. — Or you've just been married last week, and there is not time yet. But it's, it's, it's coming —He's not a perfect man. But he's not an evil man. I would know by now. 30—you would know by now.
He is not disqualified. He is amazingly gifted in an apostolic way, he suffers greatly for what he's called to, and he is obedient to death to what he's convinced God's asked him to do.
See, most of you don't know who Steve Morgan is. And I've had that as one of my greatest gifts of grace and blessing in my life. He's wounded me in his imperfect leadership, of course, just as every wife has been wounded by her husband's imperfect leadership at one time or another.
I'm not going to disavow him. I want to be more like him. I do. I want to be more like him. He is a better man than me, in his character and his gifting and his obedience to Jesus. He is.
And if the reverse was true, then I should be his leader. Agreed?
You should pray for him in the season designed to destroy him. I won't stand on my watch that he would be discredited and sent away in great shame. He's not done wrong. He's not done wrong. He's not perfect, but he's not done wrong.
I'm not going to disavow [Steve Morgan]. I want to be more like him. I do. I want to be more like him. He is a better man than me, in his character and his gifting and his obedience to Jesus. He is.
There'll be more things that will be released, I'm sure. But in terms of, “Is there another big thing, Sándor, you know about? That's not public yet?” No, no, there's not. This is the big thing. But this has been held over him from the very beginning, when we were 10 people in his living room.
What a great gift that Jesus has now allowed this to be removed as a great future threat.
I think our best days are coming when we can say, “Yeah, we have leaders here that have done stuff. And look at how amazing Jesus is that he uses us still.”
I won't stand on my watch that [Steve] would be discredited and sent away in great shame. He's not done wrong. He's not done wrong.
Yeah, we have standards to protect. If a person, their character is faulty, and their motives aren't pure, and they're a danger to people... Of course, we have biblical systems and responsibility to do that. And we do.
Do you know how long it takes for me to release a pastor here into that role? I mean, I knew Cody for years before we decided that's what his life and his gifting and his calling was. He had been in the church for a couple years, he led a small group for a couple years, he was in my garage changing out the transmission of his white Ford Taurus with deer blood in the trunk from when he was a hunter.
I got to see that man before he had any role responsibility. And we wondered and waited and tested and have an apostolic team around us to help discern and determine that.
Do you know how long it takes for me to release a pastor here into that role? ...There's some of you in this room, I've been watching you since you were five, wondering if that's what God's built you to be.
Guys, we are slow. We don't just hire random people, do some interviews, and hope for the best. We don't release pastors until—these are men that I've known for five or 10 years before that.
There's some of you in this room, I've been watching you since you were five, wondering if that's what God's built you to be.
And so we were very, very, very careful with these things.
Let me finish with 1 Corinthians 6 and we’ll worship. Turn to 1 Corinthians 6
What does the gospel actually say about the nature of our forgiveness? Is imputed righteousness true? That we have the righteousness of Christ? Is it true that when we're justified we're not guilty? Like, not guilty. But we did it. No, but we're not guilty. Is that really what we believe?
See, I think that this whole season might be used by Jesus to strengthen us and to enhance our understanding of the beauty, power, mystery, majest… scandal of the cross. That we're so imperfect, and we're so flawed, in so many ways, and God still does some stuff in us. Amazing. How can he do that? We've seen Jesus do some shocking things over these years. I don't think he's done with us.
Guys, can I tell you my opinion? I don't think any group of churches is designed by Jesus to last for perpetuity. I just don't think. I know the Catholics trace back to Peter, and they're the original. I don't think any group of churches… if you look at Christian history, lots of different groups rise and fall. I just want to be faithful in our lifetime to do what God's entrusted. He might intend this group to endure until he returns, and he might not. And he raises up another group, some other time in history, to obey and to do what he's doing.
We've seen Jesus do some shocking things over these years. I don't think he's done with us.
We're not the only thing by the way, please don't think I'm saying that. I just think we do the best we can. And there are some evidences of God doing some amazing things. Some of you in this room—God's done some amazing things in you here, in spite of our weaknesses, and our flaws. And there still are plenty of those to go around.
Let's look at the text and we'll worship, and we'll pray. Verse 9, 1 Corinthians 6:9:
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” So what's that mean? Less reward in heaven, is what that means? It means what you're terrified to wonder if it means: it means “not inherit.” It means “not get there.” It means “not make it.” It means “the other place, not the good place.” It means exactly what you'd hope it can't possibly mean.
“The unrighteous will not inherit. Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor revile or is nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you.”
If I go through the list, “sexually immoral,” sexual contact, that is with the person that you're not married to? Yeah, I can check that box prior to being married. That's true for me. “Idolaters,” worshipping a false god that's not the true God? Oh, I I've done that. My paganism and my background. I prayed to Grandfather. I bled for Grandfather. Like, yeah, I'm an idolater for sure. “Adulterers,” that's not on my list where I've had sexual contact with someone who was married or I've done that since being married to Amanda. That's not on my list.
“Men who practice homosexuality,” that's not on my list, though it is for others. “Nor thieves…” I'm sure that there are times where—I have nightmares by the way where I'm leaving a store and I've somehow taken something I haven't paid for. Like, awful. There was a—when I was a kid and I found a BB gun in a trash barrel. I went to Big Ben, Old Ben, I don't know, some one of those old department stores, and I had a little cylinder of BBs. And I'm so excited that I run out to the van. And my dad sees, “Hey, Sándor, you didn't pay for those.” [Gasp] And so I run back in, and give them the money.
So what do we think that “washed” means? And “sanctified” means? And “justified” means? It means that the things that we once were and gave ourselves to are completely wiped away from the record and memory of God as though it never was.
And so “thieves… the greedy… drunkards.” I’ve been drunk a couple of times. “Revilers… swindlers,” will inherit the kingdom of God.
“Such were some of you.” I think Paul's being nice. I think he's being nice. I think that we would all say, “Yeah, at least one of those things, that's me.” I think. I think. That was “such were for some of you.”
But you were, when you were saved, you were what? Washed. You were sanctified. You were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. So what do we think that “washed” means? And “sanctified” means? And “justified” means? It means that the things that we once were in gave ourselves to are completely wiped away from the record and memory of God as though it never was. That's what I believe that means. That we are declared “not guilty.”
Now, the penalty, justice, did come. There is one who was declared guilty so that we could be declared justified. There is one who suffered wrath so that we could have mercy. There is one who was rejected and condemned that we would be chosen, accepted, loved. There is one who faced what we deserve so that we get what we don't deserve. Talking about Buddha. No. I'm sorry. Muhammad. No. Sorry.
Do you get the gravity of this hope that we have? Do you get the gravity of that? If we go by the law, and a standard of righteousness that even our adversaries can't match and hold up to, nobody stands under that. I'm disqualified from being used by God for any good purpose, if the standard is “scrutiny to every word and deed.” And no mercy, no grace, no forgiveness, throw him out. He's ruined. That's a Cody word—not ruined—it's “ruint.”
But God's still uses men with a past like me. Men with a past like you. Women with a past like some of you ladies. He still uses that. I don't know why.
But God's still uses men with a past like me. Men with a past like you. Women with a past like some of you ladies. He still uses that. I don't know why. I think If I was God, I would just use unfallen angels. They seem like a safer bet to do the stuff in the right way, then do use us. I think that. Like, he didn't ask me though. I'm glad he didn't.
All I know to do is what he set before us, which is “make disciples of all nations, be a part of a healthy local church that tells people about Jesus and lives it as best we can.” Let's forgive people, because we've been forgiven by Jesus. Let's literally love people that, even if they might hate us, that we would love in return, and in response. I've learned how to do that, by the way. In the early days, bitterness was starting to grow and bear it's nasty for you to my heart. True. And it grows up and defiles many.
I can genuinely say now that I love those even that will send me hate mail and nasty things that are just evil, ugly. I still—I do. I choose to love those guys. And it's not just a choice, I feel a great hope for what God might reveal in terms of mercy and help to them as he is doing to us and the things that we need. Guys, we're not perfect.
I would encourage you to not read about all the things... You will incur a wound in that process. And it will eventually have an effect upon your heart and your ability to trust and to believe. It will do that eventually.
I would encourage you to not read about all the things, because it's really hard to separate out what's true, what's not true, what's somewhere in between. It's really hard to do that. You will incur a wound in that process. And it will eventually have an effect upon your heart and your ability to trust and to believe. It will do that eventually.
But if you do, and you have things that you wonder about, you can ask me. And you won't be in trouble, and I won't be mad. I'll do my best to help with what I understand. You might agree or you might not. And that's okay.
I remember Steve saying, “Why would God ask me to do this? Look at my past. Look at what I've done and how that could wound people in the future. Like, why would he still ask me to do this and to start this group of churches and to do this? Why?”
If you have a hill that you die on, then I understand that and I'll respect that. For some people, this is the hill. “No, I believe in disqualification from pastoral ministry. Because of that…” and I doctrinally don't land that way, and—but I know some genuine, God fearing Christians do believe that. That's true. That is true. I personally don't. Our Leadership Team board does not. Our local board does not. Our group leaders do not. But others do. Respectable, God fearing, good people in places do believe that. I get it.
I remember from back in the day—and we'll pray here in a minute—Steve saying, “Why would God ask me to do this? Look at my past. Look at what I've done and how that could wound people in the future. Like, why would he still ask me to do this and to start this group of churches and to do this? Why? Why can't I just do something else with my life? Why does he keep asking me to do this? Like, I don't—I've never asked for it. And there's men much less flawed than me to do it.” I've seen him agonize over that.
But I still am convinced of [Steve Morgan's] calling. I am. Because we wouldn't be here without that.
But I still am convinced of that calling. I am. Because we wouldn't be here without that. Jesus didn't ask me to start a group of churches and I couldn't do it. I don't have the gifting and vision to do it. I don't. But I think we're gonna keep going with whoever wants to.
And any that want to do something else have our absolute love and blessing to do it. That's okay. That's okay. And I will not stay in for us vilifying anybody who leaves under that conviction that's not okay with me. We will not gossip and slander and turn them into the bad guys and remove our friendship and our love. We will not do that. Okay? We will not do that. We will love them. And we will bless their convictions and their decisions. And we will want good things for their future. And we will be a part of this great kingdom together, even if we're in a little bit different places as we do it. That's okay.
Some of you may be called, not in this season, perhaps but another, to do a different church in a different kind of a way. Maybe me too. That's okay. All we know to do is to obey Jesus with what we're convinced of as he leads. And we all do that imperfectly.
Where do we go from here? More attacks, for sure will happen. There's no doubt there's a bunch queued up. There's rounds in the chamber… rounds in the magazine. Sorry, military guys. I mess it up.
There's more stuff that's coming, I have no doubt of that. And so we keep going. That's all I know to do.
Like, there's more stuff that's coming, I have no doubt of that. And so we keep going. That's all I know to do. The Leadership Team of The Network said, “So does the right thing cease to be the right thing if X number of people would leave a church or a church would leave the group? Does that change the right thing to do in certain circumstances? If there's an article written, does that change the right thing to do? And we become into sort of damage control? I don't think it means that. I don't think it changes what we're convinced of is right and wrong based on outcomes.”
And so more attacks will come. Some may choose to not want to visit if you invite them. You know, if you Google, my name, it doesn't take much to see this whole thing. And I'm not—I don't like it particularly—but I'm willing, if that's part of the cost of trying to obey Jesus as best I know how, that I have a lifetime stigma attached to my name, I don't care about my name and reputation. I just don't.
Does the right thing cease to be the right thing if X number of people would leave a church or a church would leave the group? Does that change the right thing to do in certain circumstances? ...I don't think it changes what we're convinced of is right and wrong based on outcomes.
But there may be some that would say, “I don't want to go to that place. I've heard about what you guys are, what they do.” Well, invite them to a different church that doesn't have those things. That's okay. I invite people have different churches.
I’m dear friends with Brian Fisher at Grace. He's praying for us a lot. What an amazing man. Do you guys realize that? He's one of the three apostolically gifted four that I've ever met in my life. He's an amazing man. What a gift.
I'm friends with Allen Duty at New Life. That's an amazing church. He is a really solid guy. Doctrinally, we're very close to those guys. There's some amazing churches in this town. Invite people to those places if they don't want to be a part of what we're doing here. That's okay.
Pray that in this suffering that it somehow glorifies Jesus, and it's used to sanctify us. Like, Jesus gets glory. No matter what happens from here. That's what we want, right? It's not about this thing we're trying to build. Guard at all costs, defend our guy. No, thank you for loving me and, and praying for me. But the point isn't, “I've established a thing, and I'm defending my empire.” If Jesus asked me to go somewhere else, and hand this off to someone, we’ll do it. And I think I've demonstrated that or we wouldn't be here.
I hesitated to call this meeting, because 80% of you didn't know and may never know and shouldn't care. And I've just brought you into a whole thing and put a burden on you that I've tried to carry myself.
So what do we do? We're gonna pray, we're gonna love Jesus, we're gonna have real—I don’t want to say meaningful conversations, because that's sort of code language, in our culture for certain things. But I do mean that if we need to walk stuff out, and things that you have questions about or need help with, great, that's okay. You shouldn't be afraid of asking or wondering or saying anything. There should be none of that.
If we are what we think we are, which is we love one another, and you can ask or say anything, and that's okay… Well, I think it's true. At least I know it's true if you come to me with something. You can. “Hey, help me with this. I'm not sure about that. I still—I actually am convinced otherwise, on that part. So what do I do with that?” That's okay. We'll work out whatever that means.
So, guys, we're in the midst of a time, aren't we? I know. I hesitated to call this meeting, because 80% of you didn't know and may never know and shouldn't care. And I've just brought you into a whole thing and put a burden on you that I've tried to carry myself. But I want your prayers. I want you to know what God's doing in what's happening. I want to protect you if you happen to hear something—that you've heard from me—what I think is real about it all. And what I think we're supposed to do about at all.
I do love Steve that is our leader. I do. I love him. I'm committed, and I believe. Not just because I have a history, but because I'm convinced scripturally and by my experience of a man of great character and calling.
God may see fit to get us through this and to come with a kind of power and working and salvations. No seasons last indefinitely. They just don't. And I do have faith in my better days and moments that there is an “after this.” That we can go back to the work that we're called to. That we're not supposed to stop now. Right now I'm building a wall with a weapon in one hand and a hammer in the other. That is true. And yet there may be a time when I can put the sword down, and I don't need to defend. I hope you don't hear me defending myself tonight. That's not particularly what I'm trying to do.
I do love this church and this group of churches. And I do love Steve that is our leader. I do. I love him. I'm committed, and I believe. Not just because I have a history, but because I'm convinced scripturally and by my experience of a man of great character and calling. I believe that.
And so we'll see what Jesus does. If he allows us to keep going, we're going to keep going. And no matter what we do, whether we're here or not, we're going to love him. Right? Whether we're here or scattered, we're going to love him, aren't we? Because I would hope for nothing less. That whatever it is that you do, and wherever you go, you're going to love Jesus, and you're going to advance his kingdom and you're going to obey the Bible, and you're going to seek God. Whatever, wherever you're at, and however you do it, that's what I hope you're producing. Otherwise, I've failed you.
So with that said, worship team, why don't you come on? Why don't we stay in and pray? And then we'll have a couple songs of worship, then we'll pray together for a little bit. Let's pray.
Let us have the character of Christ, who was accused, him wrongly, of course, and yet he did not open his mouth.
Father, be in our midst. We're humbled that we don't deserve any of the good things that you give. But we're thankful for every and any good thing that you give. Father, would you let us be quick to repent of things repent-able? Give us the humility to be ready and willing, eager, to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Father, if any of us in this room have wronged anyone, whether it be ourselves or others in the community, help us to act right, help us to speak right. Help us to guard our hearts. Help us to not be angry or bitter or defensive or mean. Help us Lord. If we're going to claim Christ, let us have the character of Christ, who was accused, him wrongly, of course, and yet he did not open his mouth. He did not return upon them. He healed the guy’s ear. Can we be that Lord? Can we be the one who heals the guy’s ear? Not the one with the sword.
Increase our faith, that you reign on high. Increase our faith, Lord. For those of us that can be often a little too worried about our reputation or opinion or how people see us—that's so true for me, Lord—help us, Father, to care more about what's right and true and what you're calling us to do than the optics and impression of it all. We do ask, give us character, that those outside the church would think well of us. That better be true. Where we're working, and what we're doing as we interact with people around town, that we act with a kind of honoring to the one to whose name we belong.
I feel like there's some of you that had been under spiritual attack and didn't know what it was until now. Father, where there is some spiritual attack, would you lift it, Lord?
Jesus, those that have— I feel like there's some of you that had been under spiritual attack and didn't, kind of, know what it was, even, until now. Like, this thing you didn't know about, but you've still felt the heaviness, and you've still felt the shadow. Father, where there is some spiritual attack… it's not everything of this season we're in, but it is some of it… Would you lift it, Lord? Would you look upon us? Would you come by your spirit? Would you lead us now in worship?