THE BULLY PULPIT
By Dean & Sarah Fletcher
THE BULLY PULPIT:
HOW THE DELIBERATE, REPEATED, AND UNREPENTANT ABUSE INFLICTED ON US BY THE PASTORS OF FOUNDATION CHURCH DISQUALIFIES THEM FROM LEADERSHIP
- Author: Dean & Sarah Fletcher | Members
- Network Church attended:
- Foundation Church (ClearView Church), Bloomington-Normal, IL | 2017-2021
- This story was published December, 2021
COMING TO CLEARVIEW
My name is Dean F. and this is the story of my family’s experience at the Network church ClearView (Foundation) in Bloomington/Normal Illinois. Although my wife Sarah and I have been deeply hurt by the spiritual and emotional abuse inflicted upon us by the Lead Pastor Justin Major, our experience there didn’t start out that way. In fact, we attended that church faithfully for 3.5 years from August 2017 to January 2021 before things took a terrible turn.
Having recently moved to Bloomington, a family friend suggested we attend Foundation and from the moment we walked into the church we felt very welcomed. There was such a warm, friendly manner to each person we met, and many people greeted us that first Sunday, even to the point of feeling rather fawned upon. And when we looked around, we felt we could really see that the people here loved Jesus and loved this church. It seemed like nearly every person was involved and serving in some capacity or even in several capacities. Then, just months after first attending, a church plant was announced and we witnessed people so committed to the mission of this church that they left friends, jobs, and houses to be a part of a new church hoping to replicate this same feeling and community in Dekalb.
From the pulpit we were told that your small group is a place to get messy, vulnerable, and share all your “junk.”
A huge part of that community at Foundation are small groups. From the pulpit we were told that your small group is a place to get messy, vulnerable, and share all your “junk.” Your small group should become like a family. And with this level of importance, it wasn’t long before we were recruited by a particular Small Group Leader (SGL) who told us when he first met us that first Sunday, he felt that the Holy Spirit had made it clear to him that we were supposed to not only be at the church, but in his small group specifically, and that God was going to bring about major gospel transformation in us. It wasn’t long before we were letting our SGL and his wife in to nearly all the deepest parts of life – our marriage, our childhoods, our struggles. Our SGL and I quickly became very good friends; I might even say he was my best friend at the time. He particularly discipled and mentored Sarah and I in deep and meaningful ways and we felt like this level of community is what we always wanted in a church, and that we had never experienced a church that did this as fully and completely as Foundation did.
Over the next 3 years we would commit ourselves to this church by serving, faithfully giving, and becoming involved in the lives of the members of this church. Even during Covid times, we were faithful to attend all church events, virtual or in person, and were excited as things opened back up in late summer 2020 for in person Sunday services. But all of this suddenly came to a critical juncture in winter 2021.
A SHOCKING TURN OF EVENTS
In mid-January, our SGL texted us cancelling group for that night but assured us we would still meet the following week. Then a few hours later our SGL called us, and in a very brief discussion, explained that he and his wife were being asked to step down from leading our small group and they were told not to disclose the details as to why other than it was a sin issue. Our small group was being disbanded, and a staff pastor would call us later that week to get us connected to a new group.
The call ended, with us shocked at what had just transpired. All of this was very confusing, creating many more unanswered questions, and leaving us feeling left out to dry. It was repeatedly preached by church leaders that small group is where you do life with each other, tackle messy issues, and pray for and support group members in good and bad times. So we wondered why was there a lack of reciprocal honesty and transparency with our SGL in this sudden event? If they were being asked to step down, why was the SGL communicating this info and not formal church leadership who made this decision? Church leaders created a leadership vacuum when they dissolved the small group, so why wasn’t it leadership stepping up to fill the void when they made the choice to dissolve our group that the church family created? In times of crisis, leaders are supposed to fill the gap, not try to paper it over in secrecy and confusion. Why wasn’t the Associate Pastor in charge of overseeing our discipleship community or even the Lead Pastor sharing the news with us? After all, if someone was “fired”, they wouldn’t be the one to share that information to their employees. Why did leadership choose to further burden an already struggling SGL by making him have numerous conversations to communicate his own dismissal? Why add to his trauma and pain? We already planned to have small group that evening, so why was this info not communicated in person, to our whole group, at the same time, instead of multiple isolated phone calls? There was no opportunity for closure with our group members and no opportunity to come around our SGL to pray and cry together over this pain. It seemed like church leadership was just trying to cover it up and expected everyone to return to acting like normal, join a new small group, and move on quickly.
In times of crisis, leaders are supposed to fill the gap, not try to paper it over in secrecy and confusion.
Furthermore, as much as Sarah and I wanted to give our SGL space and privacy, we loved them and were extremely concerned for them. We wanted to know how we could help like they helped us so many countless times over past few years. We felt we had no other choice but to reach out to our SGL to clarify, have more phone calls with them, and meet in person. We also spoke with our fellow small group members, but talking to them about what they did or didn’t know felt like gossip; what did the SGL share or not share with them? What could we safely share or not share with other group members? This all made us feel guilty for simply trying to connect and understand what our close friends knew. Overall, the way church leaders decided to communicate this information (or in this case NOT communicate it) made the conversations and questions be dragged out over a multi-day period. And we believed it could have been honestly addressed up front, in person, with everyone in our small group at the same time on the night we were supposed to meet. Though an Associate Pastor did contact me to discuss joining a new group, that was the extent of “checking in” – there was no other follow up from the few people who knew at that point to see how we also were doing with such a large and drastic change. Overall, Sarah and I felt pushed to the margins, and that our small group slipped through the cracks, left without a shepherd to help guide and comfort us during this very turbulent and confusing time.
We already knew Justin Major had a temper from the way he treated other friends who asked honest and sincere questions and ultimately left the church because of the abuse.
After two weeks of talking about our feelings and hurt with some close friends and family, we still found ourselves with more questions than answers. Should we air our hurt to church leaders? Ask why they did things the way they did? Were our feelings considered? I particularly was concerned how church leaders would respond if we did speak up. We already knew Justin Major had a temper from the way he treated other friends who asked honest and sincere questions and ultimately left the church because of the abuse, so we were worried about what version of Justin we would get if we provided feedback. Through much prayer and deliberation, we decided to write out a factual narrative of what occurred, and how the decisions of church leadership impacted us and ultimately hurt us. We hoped that by being brave, by trusting that our church leaders would have a sympathetic ear to our pain, and the general terrible circumstances of how our SG was dissolved, that we would get some form of closure, get an explanation as to why things were communicated the way they were, and a promise to learn from mistakes and avoid accidentally hurting someone else in the future. With our letter prepared, we asked Justin and Associate Pastor Jesse Yoder to our home. What followed was one of the worst conversations my wife and I have ever had.
(Since many of Justin’s comments were specifically directed at Sarah, we felt it would be more impactful to hear from her perspective)
After getting everyone settled down to a seat, I (Sarah) began reading the letter we wrote (we unfortunately deleted the electronic copy of this letter). We thanked Jesse and Justin for meeting with us, assured them we trusted leadership’s decisions to have our SGL step down and to not share the specific details of why, and explained that our conversation today centered around the way in which the communication of that information had affected us. I then began recounting the factual details of what had happened when just 30 seconds in, Justin interrupted me, asked in a forceful voice if I was planning on criticizing him and making accusations the entire time because if I was, he was not going to stick around to hear it. Then he got up and walked towards our front door, picking up his shoes on the way. I froze. What was he talking about? I had made no accusations. I had not even talked yet about my feelings, only actual text messages and a literal timeline of what had happened. What was going on? Dean stepped in, practically begging Justin to sit back down and just hear us out, even assuring him that he could just leave immediately after I read my letter. He explained that it was important to me to share how I had been impacted by Justin’s decisions. So, Justin sat back down and “listened” while making darting eyes at Dean as if to say, “why aren’t you reading this letter? Why is your wife leading here?” But I continued, explaining my hurt and confusion along with some of the distrust that had built up towards church leadership. In the end, I asked for nothing more than to feel heard and to find reconciliation - a way to move forward with our church leaders.
Justin interrupted me, asked in a forceful voice if I was planning on criticizing him and making accusations the entire time because if I was, he was not going to stick around to hear it.
Instead of reconciliation or even an acknowledgement of our pain, Justin repeatedly stated that everything I had just read was lies, our opinions, and that we shouldn’t have felt the way we did; we should have just given him “the benefit of the doubt”, “suck it up”, “stuff down your feelings”, “and move on.” Jesse sat mostly silent, except for the occasional agreement with Justin and the seconding of the fact that “we should have just trusted” or that everything we said was “a lie.” We were told that they care more about our SGL than we do, and that they did what was best. Furthermore, Justin told us that he doesn’t have to defend any of his decisions to us – though he did reveal that our SGL hadn’t slept in 48 hours when he made the phone calls to our group members. This seemed odd that someone would make a struggling man repeatedly have emotional conversations on no sleep. I explained that I didn’t think they had malicious intentions, but that even good intentions can have negative consequences, and to that end that I had felt forgotten and unvalued in the midst of their decisions. Not that they didn’t care about us at all, but that it had all felt unloving. I explained that I had met with others in our small group and some of them felt hurt as well. Justin insisted he knew otherwise stating that my friends had only agreed with me in order to appease and placate me, not because they actually felt the way I felt.
Justin then started bringing up stuff from the past – he brought up a random email I apparently sent 3 years before (one I can’t find by the way) stating I was disappointed about the lack of community outreach during the holiday season. And a meeting I had with him a year after first attending the church, where I had confessed some of the difficulties I had been feeling about the church and Justin, the sinful judgment towards Justin I felt I had been sitting in, and wanting to build a better, healthier relationship with Justin. Justin used these past moments to build a sternly delivered argument about how I am a chronic “complainer.” I nitpick. “You gripe.” In fact, he said no decision they made would have made me happy. He said I would have found a way to complain about it, and he knows it “for a fact” because he knows “the type of person I am.” I sat stunned and silent for moment thinking - a pastor just said what to me? A pastor I don’t really even have a relationship with. Tearfully I responded, “what a cruel thing to say to someone.”
The reprimanding, scolding and condemning went on for an hour and half before we tried to end the meeting due to other obligations we had that day.
The reprimanding, scolding and condemning went on for an hour and half before we tried to end the meeting due to other obligations we had that day. I apologized for whatever part I played in allowing myself to become defensive and for the meeting to become confrontational. It had not been our intention – we just wanted to move forward in a positive way. Justin made it clear that though he is not perfect, this was all due to our trust issues – specifically my trust issues. He forcefully stressed his concerns about my trust issues. Right before he opened the door to walk out, he turned around and remarked, “it’s probably good this happened now because it was bound to happen sometime.”
MEETING OF THE MEN
(The remainder of the conversations happened only with Dean present and will be told from his point of view)
The day after the meeting with Justin and Jesse, I (Dean) got a text message from Jesse requesting that I come alone to church that same day to meet with both him and Justin, stressing that Sarah was not invited. Sarah and I both felt that the follow up meeting was too rushed, and we wanted counsel on how I should handle the meeting when it occurred so I asked if we could first have some time to process what had just transpired. I was told that “to drag stuff like this out is really unhelpful,” which seemed very dismissive of my confession that I was struggling after our last interaction with Justin and needed a little time and space. Jesse relented and we arranged to meet the following week. Given the fact that we no longer had a SGL, and that we obviously couldn’t talk to any of the Foundation pastors about what occurred, we sought outside advice from the lead pastor of a church we formerly attended. After recounting the encounter with Justin, the pastor strongly condemned the actions and words of Justin as abusive, unbiblical, unloving, and unbecoming of a pastor. He recommended I accept the solo meeting, but make it clear I was not there to argue or fight. Instead my motivations should be to humbly listen to what they had to say, to not agree to anything in the meeting, and simply state that I would consider everything discussed, pray for guidance and patience in making the right decision as to whether we would submit to Justin or leave the church. He advised we take things slow, and let God lead us in our next decision.
The following week, on February 9th, I went in by myself to Foundation Church. When Justin, Jesse, and I all sat down, Justin immediately picked up where he left off the previous meeting: he displayed an antagonistic demeanor, speaking strongly with an aggressive tone, spewing condemnation, and hurling more accusations that Sarah and I had untrusting and bad motivations.
It became readily apparent why Sarah was not invited to attend, as Justin quickly turned to gaslighting. He asked if I agreed that Sarah was at fault here, that she acted inappropriately, and that the letter she wrote and the way she read it was sinful and untrusting? I stayed calm and replied that I wasn’t here to take sides with Justin or against Sarah but was only here to listen and ponder what we discussed. This prompted Justin to reply, “It sounds to me that you had grown so tired of Sarah’s rage over the past weeks, that you wanted to take the easy way out and decided to re-direct her anger from you onto me.” I admitted that while I prefer to keep the peace, Sarah’s anger was never directed at me, she had always been upset and hurt by Justin’s actions and by the way Justin decided to communicate and handle his decision to dissolve our small group. I also explained that even though Sarah was the one to read our letter, it was something both her and I had worked on and written over the course of multiple days with many careful edits. It was not a spur of the moment fit of anger but was a measured and drawn out process. Justin again tried to make it seem like I was the one to blame, my failure to assert my headship over my family allowed Sarah to seize the reigns, and that is why we met with Justin, because Sarah demanded it. I firmly reiterated that the decision to meet with Justin was a mutual one. And even though I had at first resisted the idea, after multiple heartfelt conversations I came to realize Sarah’s hurt, and I was also able to better understand my own feelings. I also realized it would actually be dishonest and untrusting to NOT meet with Justin and explain how his actions affected us, that it took an act of bravery and honesty to reach out to Justin, taking the trusting risk that he could react to our message with love or with anger. Justin retorted, “Well I hope you didn’t come here expecting an apology, because I didn’t do anything wrong.” I told him that we weren’t expecting him to do anything, emphasizing again that I wasn’t there for an apology. I then asked how we could move on from here, come together around our SGL to support and love him and his wife? Justin replied that it wasn’t our place to worry about the SGL, Justin was “taking care of them.” In fact, Justin said that if we didn’t come around to trusting him, then we would not be of any help to our SGL.
Justin again tried to make it seem like I was the one to blame and that I had failed to assert my headship over my wife.
There was a lull in the conversation as we all sat quietly for a few moments wondering what to say next. I spoke first, asking Justin for his advice - what would he do if he was in my situation? This seemed to disarm Justin and he grew visibly more relaxed, as he finally started to provide some actual pastoral advice in a non-hostile way. Since I was taking handwritten notes during this conversation, I will continue to directly quote Justin. He said, “Just will yourself to decide to become a more trusting person.” For the first time in our two meetings, Justin finally mentioned God, stating that only God can help you become a more trusting person. He also said, “If someone really does something wrong to violate the trust you give them, that is ultimately on the person who violated your trust, not on you.” This was odd coming from someone whom we did trust, and who had hurt us when we tried to act in a trusting way towards him. At this point the conversation seemed to have run its course so I paused to see what Justin would do. Frankly, I was surprised Justin hadn’t prayed before or after the first meeting with Sarah at our house and it was also a little concerning he chose to not open this meeting with prayer either. Finally, when it became clear Justin was not going to pray to close out this meeting, I felt compelled to awkwardly ask Justin to pray over us which he did, and then we left.
Thankfully this meeting ended much better than Justin started it, but I still had mixed feelings about it. Sarah and I discussed what was said and we decided we would continue to attend our new small group and church for the time being while we thought and prayed about what we would do long term at Foundation. So much of what we held dear, our church and community life, had just been rocked over the previous three weeks, we didn’t want to make a rash decision and decide to commit or to leave without giving time to ponder all of these things in our hearts and seek more guidance and counseling from trusted friends and family
THE TRUSTING LEADERS SERMON
Two weeks passed with no incident. We continued to attend church services and our new small group, trying to invest ourselves deeper in the relationships there. Then on Sunday February 21st, Justin gave a sermon on submitting to and trusting church leadership, preaching topically on Hebrews 13:17, which reads: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”
I will summarize and directly paraphrase the sermon from the notes I took in the margins of my bible:
- Always obey your church leaders, unless they tell you to do something “immoral.”
- Submitting is a yielding response to the “initiation” of a church leader.
- Leaders are not supposed to “technically be ordering people around”, but instead should be “willfully leading to help elicit a response towards honest and moral goals.”
- You should trust your church leaders because God has given them watch over you. Notably absent was a discussion on how God holds church leaders accountable for the way they treated and lead their congregation.
Then the sermon turned into what can best be described as a “Bro-Shout-Out”, where Justin would name various members of the pastoral staff, whom he hired and is good friends with, and talk up how loyal and trusting they are, and how this is the primary qualification they met to be pastors at the church. Reasons he gave as to why he selected these men to be pastors primarily revolved around the fact that when they were faced with the choice to leave Foundation (or had previously attended and left), they ultimately chose to remain and/or return to Foundation, feeling called by the Holy Spirit to do so. As Justin explained, this level of sacrifice for the church, which included turning down dream jobs or moving away from their own family, was evidence to Justin of their trustworthiness to be leaders of the church, and he selected them to be pastors because of this proof of trustworthiness, and the broader church should emulate their lives. At one point, Justin literally said “I wish this church was made up of 100 Brandons.” (Brandon Betts, Associate Pastor). From this sermon, it would appear the most important and primary qualification to be a pastor is loyalty, despite this character trait being completely absent from any known biblical definitions. It is also notable that Justin neglected to discuss any of the actual biblical qualifications to be an Overseer/Elder, such as they should not be “domineering” (1 Pet. 5:3), “arrogant” (Titus 1:7), “quarrelsome” (1 Tim. 3:3), or “quick tempered” (Titus 1:7).
The sermon turned into what can best be described as a “Bro-Shout-Out”, where Justin would name various members of the pastoral staff, whom he hired and is good friends with, and talk up how loyal and trusting they are, and how this is the primary qualification they met to be pastors at the church.
Justin closed the sermon by diving deeper into how the congregation could better submit and trust leaders, specifically leaders at Foundation. He said if you have issues trusting church leaders, do not leave and think you will just work on your trust issues at another church. Those issues will follow you there. He stressed remaining at Foundation and deciding to work on becoming a more trusting person in this church. For Sarah and I, this was an especially impactful personal message. Given the light of what had occurred over the past few weeks with Justin, we honestly felt he was likely talking about us and partially to us and others who were undergoing a similar struggle with Justin and the pastors. Sarah and I both confessed to each other that it was challenging sermon. Upon deeper reflection we felt even more resolved to stay and to forgive Justin for the abusive way he spoke to and treated us. Little did we know what was in store for us a mere two days later.
THE BREAKUP CALL
On Tuesday February 23rd, I unexpectedly received a phone call from Jesse Yoder. He opened the conversation by asking how Sarah was progressing with her trust issues.
I mentioned how Justin’s sermon two days ago about working on trust issues at Foundation instead of leaving was especially convicting for Sarah and me. I told Jesse that we wanted to remain at Foundation and work on being more trusting and healing our relationship with Justin.
Jesse asked me how long he thought it would take for Sarah to “fully trust Justin."
Jesse asked me how long he thought it would take for Sarah to “fully trust Justin." I replied I didn’t know, it could take a few weeks, a few months, or maybe even a few years because the incidents with Justin over the past month were especially traumatic and had damaged the trust and limited relationship we already had. Instead of offering advice, solace, or an empathetic ear, Jesse coldly replied; “Well she doesn’t have three years to get around to trusting Justin. If it hasn’t happened already then it will never happen.” I was taken aback, sharing that you can’t rush or force trust, especially after trust was violated. I told him we were committed to working on being more trusting. But Jesse wasn’t having it; he said point blank that “Sarah is incapable of trusting Justin, so it would just be best for everyone if you stopped attending Foundation.”
This floored me. Unlike Justin, I actually had a decent relationship with Jesse. We would meet every few months for lunch and coffee to talk about life, my relationship with Christ, my path towards becoming a more mature disciple, father, and man. We had had broken bread with his family and our kids were friends. Jesse and I had spent half a year exercising together at 5 am. He had been a crucial mentor challenging me to rise early to pray and read the bible, to be more open to the Holy Spirit, and to break out of my comfort zone when it came to hands on prayer and lifting hands in worship. He had visited me after two different surgeries and brought us meals after the birth of two of our children. To say this was a shocking turn of events is an understatement. Why would he do this?
It was obvious to us that the true reason for our dismissal was that any feedback, questions, or perceived conflict with Justin Major was not allowed.
After gathering my thoughts, I asked what did he mean it would be best for us to no longer attend Foundation? I said that Justin literally just gave a sermon on trusting leaders and working on it here instead of leaving and having your trust issues follow you to another church. I asked for an explanation and justification for kicking us out. Jesse replied, “So Sarah doesn’t burn another small group leader, and so she can’t cause more conflict with Justin.” I replied that I had no idea what he was talking about. Burning “another” small group leader would imply that Sarah had previously burned a small group leader. Since we had only belonged to one small group at Foundation (except for past 4 weeks), he could only be referring to our former SGL and his wife. I asked what evidence he had to claim that Sarah burned our SGL? Sarah and I had both spoken with them multiple times over the past few weeks which included two very heartfelt, long, and emotional conversations. Neither the SGL or his wife gave us any inclination they felt personally sinned against or “burned” by either Sarah or me. I later asked my SGL if he thought Sarah had ever done anything to him or his wife that would meet the qualification of “burning” them. He said no such thing occurred. Jesse was unable to present a single example of Sarah burning our SGL, and then said that he just didn’t want to put any other leaders in the path of Sarah, and to that end we were no longer welcome at Foundation.
At this point I knew it was not worth arguing about. The decision had been made, the position of church leaders, Justin’s in particular, was clear. It was obvious to us that the true reason for our dismissal was the latter part of Jesse’s justification: any feedback, questions, or perceived conflict with Justin was not allowed. We quickly wrapped up the call. My immediate thoughts were that the “just checking in on how we were doing” was a false pretense to initiate the conversation to kick us out. I still to this day do not believe Jesse spontaneously came up with the idea on that phone call to kick us out. This was a premeditated strike and knowing how the leadership structure at Foundation works, and Justin’s own high praise of delegation, Jesse was simply relaying the orders from Justin. Two days after giving a sermon on working to better submit to church leadership and staying to repair trust issues, Justin excommunicated us from Foundation Church.
Two days after giving a sermon on working to better submit to church leadership and staying to repair trust issues, Justin excommunicated us from Foundation Church.
This process of excommunication as applied by Justin flies against the biblical example Jesus and Paul establish, which stresses unrepentant sin as the root problem. In Matthew 18, Jesus instructs his followers to first privately discuss a sin and seek reconciliation and repentance. If the offending person won’t listen, return with two or three witnesses (the OT standard) and establish the facts and evidence. If he still refuses to repent, bring him before the full church body and publicly make the case against him. If there is still no repentance, the church should remove the sinner and not associate with him (“let him be to you as a Gentile and tax collector.”) Paul discusses excommunication in 1st Corinthians, urging the collective Corinthian church to “purge the evil person from among you,” and stresses this brutal punishment is reserved for serious, continuously practiced, and unrepentant sin, such as sexual immorality, drunkenness, avarice, etc. In 2 Corinthians, Paul follows up on the excommunicated, but apparently now repentant sinner; “The Punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead (of excommunication), you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.” Jesus and Paul both remind us that the goal and end desire for excommunication is always reconciliation, forgiveness, and gospel transformation. The only “sin” accusation privately thrown at us by Justin was “not trusting church leadership,” which we were repentant of and working to resolve. Jesse randomly added on the unproven “sin” of “burning” a small group leader with zero evidence or witnesses. Additionally, we were never given a public church “trial” as Jesus requires, and we have never since been contacted by Foundation Leaders to see if we are now repentant, and if so, lovingly welcomed back into the fold. It makes you wonder why they chose to ignore Christ’s example in our case and many others.
THE REST OF THE STORY
Why did we decide to share this information? We toiled back and forth for many months if we wanted to go above Justin’s head and write a letter to Network Leader Steve Morgan, or perhaps to Summit Creek Church Lead Pastor David Chery who spoke at a church retreat and seemed to genuinely be a kind and humble man. I resisted the idea believing that Justin was acting with approval from the Network leaders and that our witness would fall on deaf ears. Additionally, we learned that many other good people had either been kicked out or chased out of Foundation and their stories weaved the pattern of wide spread and accepted abuse by leadership. Then in late July 2021, an ex-member of Foundation shared with us LeavingTheNetwork.org. When we saw a section for submitting your own story, we felt the Holy Spirit’s prompting to share our experience at Foundation and the abuse we suffered under Justin’s leadership.
We had previously shared all the painful details of what Justin did and said with numerous people; our immediate families, our close friends, current members of Foundation, current and former pastors of ours, counselors, etc. Our story has not changed, we have not waivered on the facts of how Justin treated us since we first shared the details with our former SGL a few hours after that initial conversation with Justin. We were repeatedly accused of being distrusting of church leadership, specifically Justin, that this distrust was a deep seeded and pre-existing character flaw that we carried with us into Foundation Church, and that Justin did nothing to “earn” out distrust. We know this accusation is false because after the events with Justin occurred, we had conversations with two pastors from various churches we have previously attended. No other pastor expressed that opinion of us. Upon hearing the factual testimony of our encounters with Justin, each pastor independently concluded that Justin had sinned against us, that he had spiritually abused us, and that he acted in a manner unbecoming of any Christian, let alone a lead pastor charged by God with tenderly caring for God’s local flock. This is the reason we share our story.
I want to add a few more details of the initial explosive conversation Sarah and I had with Justin. On the topic of trust, he talked about how if anyone has a reason to distrust other people, it’s him, because growing up his dad told him “to only trust family, and even then, the implication was that you really ultimately couldn’t even trust family.” It seems Justin’s point was that he has a bad father who isn’t a Christian, and despite this, Justin has learned to completely give over his will and agency to his new father figure, Steve Morgan. Anyone else should be able to blindly trust Justin if they try hard. He also told us that “his best friend stabbed him in the back” a few years ago, and that was an example of a real reason to be distrusting of people, not the fake reasons Sarah and I gave. I instantly knew he was talking about Jeff Miller and City Lights Church leaving the Network in 2018/19. This was another example of someone not bending the knee to Justin’s spiritual father, Steve Morgan. These contexts help demonstrate the fundamentally flawed theories of trust and submitting that the Network preaches. It’s rather a story of seeking out hurt young men, becoming their father figure, and earning their undying allegiance which makes them more susceptible to manipulation and justifying abusive behavior.
Trust and submission within The Network is a story of Steve Morgan seeking out hurt young men, becoming their father figure, and earning their undying allegiance which makes them more susceptible to manipulation and justifying abusive behavior.
This brings up a larger disturbing pattern of excuses Justin makes up to “Justinify” his poor behavior; He claims he “doesn’t tell anyone what to do.” Instead he “recommends”, “suggests” and “feels like the Holy Spirit is telling him” that people should do exactly what he wants them to do. This is shameful considering he positioned himself as a pastor at the top of a church pyramid with considerable spiritual and personal influence over the very persons he is trying to manipulate. If they do not submit on 100% of all issues, he will accuse them of the “sin” of failing to submit to leaders and threaten their sense of faith, family, and friends by giving them the “get on board or get out” speech that has become the forte of Justin’s spiritual abuse toolkit. For example, Justin insisted that “I’ve never told anyone to leave the church,” but just a few short weeks later he kicked us out, which makes me think he prefers to make church so uncomfortable that people he disagrees with end up leaving on their own so he can blame the leavers. We have also been told directly by Foundation small group leaders that Justin “recommended” church members no longer associate with ex-members “To protect the Unity of Foundation.” This was the justification given as to why some friends would no longer talk with us, which runs contrary to biblical examples of excommunication detailed by Christ and Paul and require unrepentant sin to justify, not a local church leader’s preference. I can empathize with the terrible choice Justin forced upon them, because if Justin were to find out they went against his “suggestion”, they would be committing the “sin” of not submitting to leaders, likely be removed as small group leaders, and possibly asked to leave Foundation Church. What a difficult decision with the threat of dire consequences to your spiritual and relational life.
Additionally, in our first conversation with Justin, he told us that we “shouldn’t have felt the way you did.” Sarah tried to argue that you can’t tell people how they should feel, especially about hurt and pain that you caused someone. In a shocking revelation, Justin snidely responded, “oh you absolutely can and should tell people how they should feel. I do it all the time with my kids.” He bragged that he “persuades” his kids to do what he wants without them knowing he is trying to get them to do what he wants – better known as manipulation. What I’ve come to realize is Justin applies this same “parenting logic” to adults and sees himself as the parent of his church, and he seeks to control his spiritual children through manipulation first, and if ineffective, then through outright power. This is spiritual and emotional abuse especially when coming from a pastor. And this isn’t surprising given the flood of stories being told about the flagrant spiritual, relational, and emotional manipulation across the Network.
Justin seeks to control his spiritual children through manipulation first, and if ineffective, then through outright power. This is spiritual and emotional abuse.
I believe because of this abuse and manipulation, there have been three large exodus events at ClearView/Foundation church under Justin Major. The first was in 2013 when he took over as lead Pastor for Jeff Miller. The second occurred when authoritarian Network leadership left City Lights and Jeff with no choice but to leave the Network. The third was the 2021 purge where Justin either kicked out or so poorly mistreated his congregants that they had no choice but to leave. Each time, more than 30 long standing adult members left the church.
I ask the remaining members of Foundation, how many more mass exoduses will it take for you to realize your professed goal of planting more churches is being hindered and not helped by abusive, out of control church leaders?
I ask the remaining members of Foundation, how many more mass exoduses will it take for you to realize your professed goal of planting more churches is being hindered and not helped by abusive, out of control church leaders? When will you stand up and say enough is enough, demand real reform and gospel transformation of your leaders to act like a pastor and Christian should? If leaders refuse to repent and return to their high calling, when will you demand a change in Network leadership and Foundation leadership? How many friends and family members do you need to see hurt by Network leaders before you realize you could be next? And when that happens, and it will, you will suddenly and unexpectedly find the same abusive practices you tacitly or explicitly consented to for years inflicted upon you and your family. I do not wish that kind of spiritual abuse even upon my worst enemies.
If by this point of the letter, you aren't already convinced by the facts as I tell them, or by Justin's past hostilities, which you have likely heard about, directly witnessed, or maybe even had directed against you, then I'm not really writing to you anymore. I'm writing to the Foundation Church member on the bubble, who has seen and heard how Justin acts and speaks, and it always made you uncomfortable. Maybe you were too afraid to rock the boat, to speak up, or wouldn’t dare come in direct conflict with a forceful personality like Justin. Maybe you are still hurt and confused about Jeff Miller and City Lights. Maybe you have heard whispers of other problems with leaders at other Network churches, including Steve Morgan. Maybe you have even spoken the all-too-common phrases uttered around Foundation; "That's just Justin being Justin," or “Oh you think that’s bad? You should have seen Justin 5 years ago; he’s come so far…” I'm writing to you because you still have a choice. This website is offering you a choice. Sarah and my story and the stories of countless others are offering you a choice. The choice is to realize all is not well at Foundation and at the Network.
It's not normal for churches to lose huge percentages of their members every few years because the pastor won't tolerate anyone not perfectly 100% towing his “God ordained” line.
It's not normal for churches to lose huge percentages of their members every few years because the pastor won't tolerate anyone not perfectly 100% towing his “God ordained” line. You don't have look away from the pain inflicted upon your friends and fellow Christians. You have the choice to follow Jesus and no longer follow sinful, prideful, and quarrelsome men. There comes a time in every Christians life to stand up, let their voice be heard, and call out sin. You should ask yourself; do Justin’s behaviors, as I and countless others have testified to, sound like Christ’s example of a gentle shepherd who left behind the ninety-nine sheep to find the one sheep that was lost, alone, and hurting? I don’t think it is a stretch to say Justin’s actions and words would be unacceptable even in a secular workplace setting. I definitively can state his conduct is wholly uncharacteristic of a Christian and completely unbecoming of a pastor the Lord has entrusted to graciously care for his local church.
Because our testimony is true, and because Justin’s abusive tendencies have only accelerated over the past year, we feel compelled to speak out and say enough is enough. Between January and December 2021, we know of at least 40 other adults have either been asked to leave the church outright or were hurt so severely by Justin and Foundation Staff Pastors, they were left with no choice but to leave. We pray that this information being made public on a larger forum, along with all the other stories of abuse committed by Justin Major, Steve Morgan, and the Network, will awaken a spirit of Truth and Justice within the remaining members of Foundation Church and all the members of the other Network churches.
I understand my strong words, direct quotations, and numerous factual examples about this abuse may come off as retributive. But I am a naturally passionate person when it comes to topics of justice, abuse of power, and authoritarianism. I also believe in speaking the truth, that the truth will set us free. The truth of this matter is there must be Godly balance to strike between justice and mercy. I want to quote a beautiful post from the Leaving The Network Reddit Page:
“A quote from Croatian theologian, Miroslav Volf has helped me tremendously.
‘Forgiveness is not a substitute for Justice, forgiving someone does not mean that you demand no change in the perpetrator and no righting of wrong. In fact, forgiveness provides the framework in which properly understood justice can be fruitfully pursued.’
The Gospel isn’t the doormat that we crawl under as people walk over in and out of our lives. It’s what we stand on to confront those who misuse power and authority.
Forgiveness is a struggle; that’s the nature of forgiving, but as you struggle what you find is that repentance, justice, and reform are not only desirable but obtainable.”
- Finding Pieces of the Puzzle, r/leavingthenetwork
Justin Major, you hurt us, unintentionally at first but then very deliberately, repeatedly, and without remorse. You also hurt many of our friends in identical ways. Christ died for us while we were still sinners and through his loving sacrifice, God blots out our guilty record for his glory. In response to this amazing love, Sarah and I forgive you.
Sarah and I have a few parting prayers and hopes to give up to God, make known to you, and to highlight our love for Christ and the Gospel Mission. 1) We pray that Steve Morgan, Justin Major, and the other leaders within the Network will realize the shocking scope and widespread patterns of spiritual abuse they have inflicted upon hundreds, if not thousands of current and former church members. 2) We pray that the Network leaders will repent of their sins, seek reconciliation with those they have harmed and are actively harming today, and become a redemptive example of how even well intentioned leaders can stray from the Gospel mission. They should humbly admit their faults and return in love to the Lord. 3) We pray church leaders, and if not them, the local church members, will reform the Network, its bylaws, and the bylaws of all Network churches to reflect a Godly, transparent, and proper church governance structure with independent oversight permitting democratic oversight by church members over their local Church and Network leadership. 4) We pray that God will reinvent and reinvigorate the Network and member churches to simultaneously focus on both the Great Commission (Preach the Gospel to all Nations) and the Great Commandment (Love God AND LOVE people). 5) Finally, we pray God will help propagate a spirit of revival among the American church which has been torn apart by the sins of church leaders, and that God will raise up a new generation of Christian leaders whose lives and words portray the faith, hope, and most importantly love of Christ.
Finally, I want to express my sincere apologies to those who have been hurt over the years by abusive church leadership. We too are victims. Please forgive me if it took until Sarah and I were abused to really grasp the scope and severity of how much it hurts, how unacceptable it is, and how we should have spoken up sooner to at least try to prevent future abuses. We love you and are praying that you heal and learn to forgive. Please do not be afraid to speak up and share your story. Sharing is an important part of the healing process and it also encourages others who are afraid to come forward as victims.
May God bless all of you, pouring out his Spirit of healing over you, and may the love of Christ preserve and protect you until he comes again to end all suffering and redeem our fallen world.