THE GOOD FOLLOWER
THE GOOD FOLLOWER:
HOW YEARS OF SPIRITUALLY ABUSIVE LEADERSHIP CHANGED MY LIFE
- Author: Anonymous | Small Group Leader, Church Plant Team, Sunday Services Coordinator
- Network Churches attended:
- Network Church, Midwest | 2008-2015
- Network Church Plant, Midwest | 2015-2020
- This story was published January, 2022
HOW I FOUND THE NETWORK
My story begins in 2008 when I first attended a Network church in the Midwest. From the moment I stepped inside, this particular church struck me as different from any other church that I had attended previously. I had been baptized during high school in a mainline denominational church, and had some hesitation in attending any non-denominational church, like those of the Network. However, the simplicity of the service, the genuineness of the worship, and friendliness of people kept me coming back each week. A few months later, I joined a small group and began helping on Sunday mornings. Over time, I was appointed as a leader in charge of serving teams, and then eventually was appointed as a small group leader, where I served for four and a half years.
Overall, those years were good. I grew a lot spiritually in that time and built many lifelong friendships that remain to this day. Although there were areas of frustration related to the church structure, I chalked it up to being a normal, imperfect church and kept moving forward. I had no idea that eventually I would resign from my dream job, sell my house, and relocate to a new college town as a founding member of a new Network church plant.
A TIME OF CONFUSION
MY TIME ON A CHURCH PLANT IN THE MIDWESTERN UNITED STATES
That period of church planting in a new town would prove to be the darkest years of my life. They were also the years when I was closest to God. During that challenging season, I would regularly wonder if I was losing my mind. Not only was I mentally broken, I was spiritually broken. Over time, I began asking myself, Am I going crazy? What is wrong with me? Is this a mid-life crisis? Am I old enough to have a mid-life crisis? Who am I? What is my role here?
That period of church planting in a new town would prove to be the darkest years of my life – I would regularly wonder if I was losing my mind.
During those early days of the church plant, I did not make as many friends as I imagined I would. I had always found it easy to make friends, but it was a challenge to start from nothing in a new town. I was living an extremely lonely life, and not by choice. Due to age and life-stage differences, I found it challenging to build meaningful relationships with the other people on the church plant team, even though I tried. What had been so easy and natural back in my previous community now became something of disappointment. One of the few friends that I did have happened to be the pastor of our church plant. My friendship with him would prove to be a major error in judgment that would have a ripple effect on my life.
Over those first three years, I would suffer a lot of emotional and spiritual hurt from this pastor. Many of the wounds resulted from attacks on my character and my personality. Other wounds resulted from his words spoken over me in prayer or in conversation. Still others resulted from his actions. As I look back, my time on the church plant was one of the most confusing and painful times of my life.
My pastor directed me to divulge private, intimate details of my past with my small group leader and another guy in our small group.
Early in the church plant I divulged something from my past that I had never talked to anyone about. Afterward, the pastor directed me to share it with my small group leader and another guy in our small group (a guy who happened to be close friends with the pastor). I was uncomfortable with this, but I wanted to follow my leader well and take his advice, so I did what he said. It is one of the worst decisions I have ever made. There I was, revealing intimate details of my life with two men who really had no business knowing, details that not even my closest friends knew. And so I felt obligated to tell them too. In my mind, if these three other guys knew about it, how could I leave my best friends in the dark? Not only was this a painful, drawn out, somewhat embarrassing process, it seemed to serve no purpose in helping or healing me, but only to demonstrate to my pastor that I could be led by the young man that he had appointed as my leader. I passed this particular test, but lost something of myself in the process. I’m convinced that the pastor’s opinion of me changed that day, and there was nothing I could do to change that.
One Sunday morning about a year and a half into the plant, as we finished putting things away after the service, the pastor pulled me into a side room for a private conversation. He calmly told me that I needed to stop doing nice things for him and his family because he thought my love was “misplaced.” He cited one specific example but said there were several. On the cited occasion, I had called him to verify that he would be home within the hour so that I could drop food off to be put in his refrigerator. It was a gesture that I thought would be encouraging and one that I would do for any close friend to show love and support. I indicated that I would not stay or interrupt what he was doing but rather drop the food off and leave. Over the phone, when I offered to simply drop the food off, he instead invited me to stay and join him and others in some yard games that he was hosting for people from the church. Everything seemed normal that day.
A month later, during that private meeting after church, he admonished me for bringing him that food and for doing other nice things for him and his family. Something that I had actually done to encourage him was used as an example to belittle my character and personality. He indicated that he had wanted to talk to me for several weeks about that and other things but had not done so. When I asked him why he had waited a month to address something with me that had been bothering him, he did not have an answer. Oddly enough, a year and a half later at a retreat he would pray over me about how encouraging and hospitable that act of dropping food off had been for him—the very same act that he had chastised a year and a half earlier as being an over-the-top display of “misplaced” love.
My pastor explained that he had “to protect the church” from me and that God’s plan for my life was that I would never be a small group leader again.
This was also one of the occasions where he specifically said that he had “to protect the church” from me (as if I were not part of the church) and then explained that God’s plan for my life was that I would never be a small group leader in the church again. Although I asked about the fruit that had come from my four and a half years of small group leading at our previous church, he simply said that those were different times and that now God had other plans for my life. I left that meeting so depressed and confused. Not only had my character and personality been attacked, but also my ability to effectively lead and care for others had been questioned. This particular event was emblematic of the dichotomy of our interactions: praise versus judgment, receptivity versus distance, and friendship versus leadership. The bipolar nature of these exchanges was a constant source of uncertainty in my life, which added to the general challenges of church planting.
On several different occasions, I found out that he had secretly talked about me with other people. I realized this when people had information that they should not have about me or asked leading questions that were rooted in knowledge that they should not have. There were also several times when a private conversation with the pastor ended up in some form or fashion in the sermon that following Sunday as part of calling out wrong behavior to the church. Although he neither used my name nor provided specific context, I knew that it was a personal admonishment for me from the pulpit. At first, I thought it was a coincidence or that God might be convicting me of something I did wrong. When I later found out that the very same thing had also happened to several other people, I realized that it was not my fault. The pastor had taken our private conversation and used them for teaching material without my knowledge or consent. I was so angry that my leader had betrayed me that way, but I didn’t say anything because I wanted to be a good follower.
The pastor had taken our private conversation and used it for teaching material without my knowledge or consent.
Over time, I realized that he would use time spent with him as a manipulative tool. If I did something he disliked, he gave me a cold shoulder. If I did something that he liked, he gave me encouraging words or would talk to me for more than a few seconds. It was an unstable reality for me at a time when the uncertainties of the church plant were all around me. Since leaving the Network, I have learned that the Network trains pastors to withhold time and energy from those who are not seen as being of leadership potential or worthy for the overall mission of the church. I lived that reality for several years.
This practice of withholding time causes church members to equate time spent with the pastor as a reward for their good behavior or leadership potential. It is a manipulative system that I experienced first-hand. In that system, I needed to follow and serve the pastor well so I could gain his attention and approval. This reward/punishment dynamic took its toll. Looking back, I am extremely saddened that I allowed myself to be groomed into this system. It did not happen overnight. What started out as a friendship between equals prior to the church plant, morphed into a leader/follower relationship that demanded my full compliance.
What started out as a friendship between equals prior to the church plant, morphed into a leader/follower relationship that demanded my full compliance.
Now I see that the terms and conditions of the relationship were always under his purview. Over time, it broke me down spiritually and emotionally. Eventually I realized that my leader looked down on me and that there was really nothing I could do to change his opinion of me. I have since learned that this is a common power dynamic in abusive relationships. In my pastor’s eyes, I was a pariah, and others needed protection from me. This was a crushing and confusing realization for me.
For two and a half years, I put a lot of time and energy into making Sunday morning service run smoothly as the Sunday service coordinator, which included scheduling, serving emails, setup and teardown, training, inventory, and many other duties. With everything involved in the position, it really was a part-time job, but I did it voluntarily. Near the end of that two and a half year period, the pastor hired a pastoral assistant. Little did I know that this young man was hired to take over my duties. That pastor did not talk with me about any sort of transition before the new hire was announced. I was hurt because throughout that time, many people encouraged me for a job well done, including the pastor.
When the young man was hired, the pastor gave neither of us any direction on what our individual duties were supposed to be, since much of his paid job would be doing what I was doing voluntarily. When I asked the pastor about what we were supposed to do, he effectively dismissed me by saying that we would figure it out. In the end, having both of us trying to figure out the positions caused inefficiency, and several weeks later I decided to step down for the good of the church. That hurt me deeply. I sent an email to the serving teams in order to turn over my duties to the newly hired person. When I saw the pastor soon after that, he encouraged me and told me I had done a great job. To this day, I think he believes that I had just grown tired of doing the job, whereas I actually felt that his actions left me no choice but to resign.
I began feeling self-conscious of my interactions with other people, thinking that I would “mess them up” or “make them uncomfortable,” to use the words of the pastor.
For much of those first three years, these events and others caused me to live in a dejected and confused state, questioning everything in my life from my relationship with God to my relationship with other people. Everything God had taught me about myself, my natural gifting, and my personality was now turned upside down. I began feeling self-conscious of my interactions with other people, thinking that I would “mess them up” or “make them uncomfortable,” to use the words of the pastor.
It was an extremely lonely time of life. Many times I would sit at home alone and cry until I could cry no more. Although I did not seriously consider suicide, I wanted so badly for God to take me to heaven to escape the pain. During that time, Psalm 23 would come alive and take on new meaning for my life. It truly felt like I was walking in the valley of the shadow of death, but God was by my side to wipe my tears. I prayed harder than I have ever prayed before. I clung to God stronger than I have ever clung before.
Because of those trials, I learned what it means to have a true longing for heaven. For most of my life, heaven to me had been just a reward for Christians when they die. After that difficult season, heaven became a desire of my heart. I wanted to be there. I learned to use those challenges to stir my heart to long for heaven, to be with Jesus where everything would be as it was supposed to be.
Everything shifted around year three of the church plant at a fall retreat that would prove to be the turning point for my time in the Network. At this particular retreat, one of the messages had been about loneliness, depression and isolation and how there were people around us in the church that loved us. I was encouraged because I knew people were hurting, just like I had been. I had been doing better as of late, and felt God providing me with the genuine friendships that I had been lacking for three years. I was on a spiritual high.
After that particular evening session, I wanted to encourage my pastor about his sermon and how I felt many people would feel uplifted and hopeful because of it. I approached him after the session at the back of the room, and expressed that encouragement. I had told him that I had felt isolated and alone many times on the church plant, but that God had got me through it. I expressed that because of my experience, I knew people at the session would feel loved and encouraged to keep going.
What I thought would be a “short,” encouraging conversation about my pastor's sermon that night instead turned into a one-sided rebuke of my personality that lasted several hours as he aired what he’d been holding onto about my “faults.”
What I thought would be a “short,” encouraging conversation about his sermon that night instead turned into a one-sided rebuke of my personality that lasted several hours as he aired what he’d been holding onto about my “faults.” I will not rehash the details, but suffice it to say the things he spoke over me absolutely crushed my spirit. It was on this occasion when he stated for a second time that others needed protection from me, and that he was worried that I would “mess up” my two close friends who were in church leadership because I had recently spent time with them. In the end, I left that meeting absolutely crushed. The spiritual high was gone. I walked to my car and completely melted down on the way home. I cannot remember another time where I felt so hurt and saddened from someone’s comments about me. I couldn’t sleep at all that night.
The next day, against my better judgment, I returned to the retreat center and sat in my car waiting for the first session of the day. He approached my car and asked to get in. He then apologized for his harshness the night before, but it rang hollow. While I appreciated his desire for my forgiveness, his apology meant little to me after all the hurt that had happened under his leadership during the previous three years. I accepted his apology and forgave him, and we moved on as if nothing had happened. But from that moment, everything changed. I had finally let go of his manipulative control over my life. I knew that I would no longer allow him to treat me that way. For two years after that, I did remain in the church, but kept my distance from him. My life immediately changed for the better from that event. God had intervened.
WHY I LEFT THE NETWORK
Now, here I am several years down the road, and I am just now coming to terms with the fact that my leader spiritually abused me during that three-year period. In truth, I had never even heard of the term “spiritual abuse” until recently. The word “spiritual abuse” resonated as soon as I read the word. I immediately knew that I had been a victim of spiritual abuse. Finally, things that I had experienced now made sense. I had words to describe what I had gone through.
The word “spiritual abuse” resonated as soon as I read the word. I immediately knew that I had been a victim of spiritual abuse.
Sadly, I was still partly blaming myself for what happened because I was attributing all of those experiences to relational hurt. I simply did not want to believe that I had been spiritually abused. I did not want to believe that I had allowed myself to be spiritually abused. For me, it felt like a sign of weakness. How could I let that happen? Why was I so stupid? When I began processing more stories of people who had been spiritually abused by their leaders while in Network churches, I knew that I was not alone. It is validating to know that I am not alone. I personally know of others in the same church who have also experienced emotional manipulation or spiritual abuse. It makes me angry.
I did not want to believe that I had allowed myself to be spiritually abused... How could I let that happen? Why was I so stupid?
One might think that after such a spiritually-bruising experience, I would have left the church immediately. It is a valid point, but anyone who has spent time in the Network knows it is not that simple. My life had revolved around the church that I had helped plant. Although I did not leave the Network until two years after my falling out with the pastor, I was now able to see things in a different light. I began wondering if I was supposed to leave or not. In an effort to determine if I could effectively stay at the church after all that had happened, I began digging deeper into my concerns about the common Network practices that had always nagged at me. After all of those years in the Network, my various roles had allowed me to have a behind-the-scenes perspective on the church. Issues that I had cast aside in order to be a good follower had now moved to the forefront of my mind.
PARTIALITY AND PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT
In my previous role as a small group leader, I learned first-hand about how the Network chooses leaders. A new leader should be a young, attractive male (probably athletic) who had a winsome personality and was someone to whom people were naturally drawn. Sometimes, this practice of leadership selection was expressed overtly. Other times it was implicit in leadership’s gravitation toward certain people and leadership’s blatant disregard for other types of people. These were mainly people that were older or people that did not look attractive enough or worthy of leadership’s time. Many times this disregard for others would manifest itself as a cold shoulder or a disregard for their presence.
People who did not “fit the mold” would typically receive minimal attention from leaders. Such people are kept outside of any prominent roles in the church.
Small group leaders were taught to always be on the lookout for the next small group leader for the sake of the mission, which pressured leaders to set aside the primary role of caring for the people they were leading in order to focus their attention on one person. People who did not “fit the mold” would typically receive minimal attention from leaders. Such people are kept outside of any prominent roles in the church. People of certain socio-economic backgrounds or those with potential emotional or mental health issues are treated in such a way that encourages them to not stick around. These are clear examples of partiality or favoritism, which is condemned in numerous passages in the Bible. Yet, it is common practice in the Network. I became fed up with seeing person after person overlooked because they did not fit the mold that current leaders were looking for in future leaders.
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
As I considered whether or not to leave the Network, another aspect of the Network that remained at the forefront of my mind was the process of choosing pastors. The power structure in the Network keeps its members out of the pastoral selection process. Church leaders are not appointed by the congregation but rather handpicked by other leaders. This leaves little input from the congregation about who will be leading them. On many occasions, I heard pastors say things like, “We are appointing this man to be a leader. He has been tested and is trusted by leadership. Follow him well.” Members were simply supposed to follow someone who had often not earned their respect and trust. Instead of respect and trust being earned, respect and trust were commanded.
Instead of respect and trust being earned, respect and trust were commanded.
Over the years, I learned that the litmus test to become a pastor in the system of “homegrown leadership” was being a young man around 23-25 years old, ready to graduate or fresh out of college within the first year or two of his professional career. I learned that the true test of one’s ability to be a pastor is whether these young men would make the “right” decision to give up their professional future, stay in town, and join the church staff. I saw this pattern throughout my time in the Network and witnessed the appointment of young pastor after young pastor in that specific stage of life. I grew increasingly frustrated with this process and its effects on the young men themselves as well as the members of the church. The process of appointing pastors would become one of the primary reasons why I left the Network.
The process of appointing pastors would become one of the primary reasons why I left the Network.
The Network bases this practice of appointing young men as overseers upon 1 Timothy 4:12, which states, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and purity.” This verse was instilled into us at leader meetings and on Sunday mornings. Oddly enough, the Network disregards the fact that Timothy was in his thirties when Paul wrote him this letter. At the time, a man in his thirties was considered young for an elder leading such a large church. It begs the question, How can the Network use 1 Timothy 4:12 as its primary reason to justify the appointment of young men in their twenties to pastoral positions when the verse does not apply to men of that age?
Furthermore, the Network often cites Titus 1:6 when explaining the necessary qualities that leaders must exhibit. Interestingly they ignore a key part of the verse: “…if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.” In other words, the man must be old enough to have children that 1) are old enough to have made a conscious decision to follow Christ, and 2) old enough to be charged with debauchery or insubordination. Simple math would indicate the lowest probable threshold for a pastoral role is around age thirty. Most of the overseers in the early church would have been much older than forty, which is why Paul is writing to Timothy about his age.
Sadly, I saw first-hand the detrimental effects that appointing such young men can have. First, there is an overall lack of compassion and empathy for difficulties experienced by those they are charged with leading. There is also a general lack of Biblical knowledge and tested faith that comes with living many years on the rollercoaster of life.
The lack of natural teaching ability and theological knowledge creates an environment of pastors providing “milk” rather than “meat”.
The churchgoers “follow” a new pastor as he learns how to preach. When he has practiced enough during Sunday morning sermons and has a better idea of how to preach, the next pastor is appointed, and the churchgoers get to “follow” their newest pastor as he learns how to preach. This cycle continues indefinitely as the church grows to add more staff members and ultimately is a breeding ground for superficial Biblical teaching. The lack of natural teaching ability and theological knowledge creates an environment of pastors providing “milk” rather than “meat”. This is a constant life cycle in the Network. The Network leader, Steve Morgan, always used to say, “The meat is in the streets.” The irony of this quote is that the Network has little or no outreach in the communities in which they are located.
In the end, the church members get no meat in the church and no meat in the streets. The Network’s argument is that it is equipping Christians to go out into the communities, yet it provides zero resources or community contacts to help people find these opportunities. Besides that, the controlling nature of the Network and its practice of partiality for a certain type of person keeps its members focused on what is happening inside the church doors instead of what is happening on the outside of those doors.
“MADE FROM RECYCLED PRODUCTS”
The Network’s superficial teaching is justified by its desire to keep things simple in order to reach people who are seeking God. In effort to do this, the Network simply recycles sermon topics every year. This inevitably overflows into a small group system that is the bread and butter of each local church. Over my time in the Network, I experienced small group from the perspective of a leader and from the perspective of a member of the group. I witnessed the progression from what used to be a more relaxed approach to small group topics and discussion in the earlier days of the Network, to a more formulaic, structured small group discussion with recycled topics. Over time, the veteran Christian begins hearing the same sermons about the same topics and experiences the same repetition in small group discussions.
Not only does the Network control the topics and format of discussion but also it controls the people who are allowed to have a Bible study.
Not only does the Network control the topics and format of discussion but also it controls the people who are allowed to have a Bible study. Non-small group leaders are discouraged from having personal Bible studies outside of small group in an effort to control the information being discussed. As a result, members who have been Christians for a long time and need deeper spiritual stimulation are relegated to basic, superficial teachings in small group discussions. This is not to say that each individual group cannot go deeper as part of that discussion but is rather to say that the very nature of studying scripture and understanding the Bible is always through the lens of the small group system and its individual leaders.
The very nature of studying scripture and understanding the Bible within The Network is always through the lens of the small group system and its individual leaders.
Over time, this produced a stagnant pool of mediocre teaching and spiritual milk on Sunday mornings and in weekly small groups that had devastating effects on the spiritual growth of veteran Christians, including me. The Network’s solution for this stagnation in veteran believers is for them to be “self-feeding” Christians. This idea is partially reasonable and understandable. Mature Christians should not require hand holding to read their Bibles, pray, and practice other spiritual disciplines to continue growing in their faith. On the other hand, the philosophy of self-feeding is communicating that once Christians get to a certain point in their personal faith, the church organism itself cannot offer anything else to them.
The philosophy of "self-feeding" is communicating that once Christians get to a certain point in their personal faith, the church organism itself cannot offer anything else to them.
In a sense, the Network is saying that veteran members should not expect to get spiritual help from the church itself because these members are supposed to be feeding themselves and leading other people. They should be “on mission” and therefore too busy to worry about deeper spiritual things. I personally lived this for many years, and it is an exhausting way to live. I regularly invested time in younger people for much of my twelve years in the Network. Investing in others requires a lot of effort, energy and spiritual fortitude. It is a constant pouring out of oneself with very little refilling. It is not sustainable, but the Network has no remedy for this other than encouraging people to get prayer and to self-feed.
PREYING ON THE WEAK AND VULNERABLE
I served on the Sunday morning prayer team for over a decade. I prayed for many people during those years. Looking back, I can now see how prayer ministry in the Network could be used to emotionally and spiritually manipulate people, whether the act was intentional or not. Listening prayer is one of the staple characteristics of the Network. It involves the receivers of prayer closing their eyes, “opening themselves up physically toward God” and receiving prayer from people who lay their hands on their shoulders. The people who pray are “listening” for what God might be “saying” or “doing,” all while they keep their eyes open to see if certain things spoken in prayer visibly affect the receivers of prayer. This common practice in nearly all church contexts lends itself to hyper-emotionalism, which can lead to emotional and spiritual manipulation through prayer.
Often, prayer ministry would be used to influence behavior or future plans of the person receiving prayer.
To be fair, I believe that many times God worked in amazing ways through prayer ministry in the Network. This goes for many of my experiences as part of Network churches. However, prayer ministry was still an opportunity for influential leaders to “speak truth” into the lives of their followers and “speak things over” them in the right moments for maximum emotional impact. Often, it would be to influence behavior or future plans of the person receiving prayer. While the two Network churches where I was a member did teach not to pray anything discouraging or ominous over others, it did allow for prayers that would challenge people’s behavior. I have countless examples of people praying things over me that turned out to be incorrect, made me frustrated, or simply made me confused. Yes, there were many times where God used prayer ministry time to encourage me or bring conviction, but that is because God is God.
IT’S ALL ABOUT CONTROL
Theologically, I believe the Network falls into mainline Christianity as a whole, regardless of whether I agree completely with how it views the Bible. In practice, however, I believe the Network falls outside mainline Christianity. This is primarily due to the institutionalized controlling, manipulative and abusive nature of leadership across the Network. The consolidation of power under the Network leader, Steve Morgan, has a primary purpose of control and conformity. All local churches are subservient to Steve Morgan’s plan for the Network, leaving no autonomy for local churches. It is a “one size fits all” mentality. It is easier to control members that way.
I believe the Network falls outside mainline Christianity due to the institutionalized controlling, manipulative and abusive nature of leadership across the Network.
The control that the Network holds over members is also connected to finances. There is a control of the flow of financial information, given that members only see general budget numbers each month, rather than a transparent breakdown of where their tithes and offerings are going. I never once saw anything besides the total amount in tithes and the total amount in offerings each month. Congregants should always know where their money is being allocated. In essence, there is effectively no accountability across the Network for decisions that are forced upon the members. This is true for finances, but also true for many other aspects of the local churches.
Another Network practice that demonstrates its desire for control is that communion is not provided on Sunday mornings for all churchgoers but rather is reserved for members on the team meeting night once a month. While non-members are welcome to attend these meetings in some Network churches like the ones I attended, there is pressure for those attendees to begin serving and become members. If not, they will have no access to communion in their church community.
In essence, there is effectively no accountability across the Network for decisions that are forced upon the members.
The Network also highly controls what people can experience during a Sunday morning service. I have come to realize that the Network is plainly and simply ethnocentric. The predominant philosophy is that if a person does not conform and agree with every set of beliefs, they can find the door. The Network message is essentially: “We do church this way. We worship this way. We sing these types of songs in this type of way. We study the Bible this way. We do community this way. If you don’t like it, you can leave.”
Network Churches state they desire to be demographically diverse, but they actually cast aside believers who do not conform to their ways.
The Network desires to be demographically diverse, but it actually casts aside believers who do not conform to its ways. It focuses Sunday morning services on worshiping God in a way that is predominant in white, modern evangelical churches in America, yet it seeks a diverse group of people walking through the door each Sunday. To be clear, I am not criticizing how each individual church in America chooses to practice its faith in corporate worship. I am criticizing the hypocrisy involved in the Network’s “branding.” The church that I left is approximately 97% white, with nearly all congregants between the ages of 18 and 45. Yet, the website says the church is a “diverse” group of people from all walks of life. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In practice, the Network is saying, “We want older people to come. We want people of ethnic minorities to come. We want people of different backgrounds to come. As long as they conform to the way that we do church.”
AFTER LEAVING THE NETWORK
I made the decision to leave in 2020. The pandemic provided a time to step back and truly reflect on my experience in the Network. In the end, I decided that I could no longer fulfill the duties of the membership form that I had signed. I could no longer support the appointment of inexperienced young men as overseers and teachers in the church. I could no longer support the recycled, superficial Biblical teaching on Sunday mornings and in weekly small group gatherings. I could no longer support the favoritism that is so rampant in the Network philosophy on “how to do church”.
I could no longer support the appointment of inexperienced young men as overseers and teachers in the church. I could no longer support the recycled, superficial Biblical teaching on Sunday mornings and in weekly small group gatherings. I could no longer support the favoritism that is so rampant in the Network philosophy on “how to do church”.
These issues just scratch the surface of the endemic problems that are part of the Network. I have no plans of ever attending a Sunday morning service in the Network again. I live with the many emotional and spiritual scars that it has left inside of me, and I do not want to show support for that behavior by showing up to a Sunday morning service. As I continue to learn more about what happens across the Network, I realize that some people experienced worse trauma than I did. I was generally insulated from the worst that the Network can do to people. But the point isn’t to compare my scars to those of others. The point is to share my story to help others who have been wounded by the Network and have left or are considering leaving. It’s also to join others to help paint the overall picture of the Network and its detrimental practices.
The spiritual abuse and manipulation that takes place throughout the Network churches make me sad and angry. I am also grateful that, by God’s grace, I was able to leave when I did. As I reflect on my time in the Network, I am left with bittersweet memories. I met most of my closest friends in life while attending a Network church, and they are still a big part of my life. It is difficult to know that they still attend a church that is part of a broader Network that controls, manipulates and spiritually abuses its members, even if some individual pastors and leaders may not engage in those activities. I personally have had many amazing experiences with pastors in the Network, who genuinely love God and love the people that they lead. They simply are stuck in a controlled system that consistently hurts people, without these individual leaders even realizing it.
The spiritual abuse and manipulation that takes place throughout the Network churches make me sad and angry.
It should also be said that the spiritual and emotional abuse that I experienced does not detract from the amazing things that God still did in me and in others during my time in the Network. I learned how to worship more genuinely, love people more deeply, and pray more effectively. I learned what truly stepping out in faith means. I learned that in my darkest hour, God will be with me. I learned that when life brings trials, I can find joy and peace knowing that there is a place in heaven for me, where all of that pain and strife will be no more and broken relationships will be restored. I came to know friends that would become family, for which I am forever grateful.
As for the negative things that happened while in the Network, I cling to Hebrews 13:6, which says: “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’ “
The next chapter of my faith walk has begun. And God is by my side.