COLLATERAL DAMAGE

By Marie and Martin B.

COLLATERAL Damage:

When Summit Creek Church leaders defied public health precautions we voiced our concerns for the vulnerable and were told “the health of the church is more important than following the restrictions”

  • Authors:
    • Marie B. | Part-time Kid’s assistant at Blue Sky Church, plant team member at Summit Creek Church
    • Martin B. | Small group leader at Blue Sky Church, plant team member at Summit Creek Church
  • Network Churches attended:
    • Blue Sky Church, Seattle (Bellevue), WA | 2006-2015
    • Summit Creek Church, Eugene, OR | 2015-2021
  • This story was published September, 2022

INTRO

We’ve thought long and hard about sharing our story of why we left Summit Creek Church. We’ve been settled for over a year at a new church, and with all the other accounts emerging about people’s experiences at churches across the Network and more details about leadership failings, we felt it was time to share our story.

The abuses we suffered do not seem quite as drastic as some of the other stories shared, but it feels clear to us that there are pervasive issues with the leadership, decision-making, and governances of all Network churches, regardless of their size and age.

We saw many things happen at Blue Sky and Summit Creek involving our friends and those new to the church that we dismissed at the time as being Jesus’ plan. It is not our place to tell those stories here. We will just stick to our story.

MARTIN'S ACCOUNT

I want to be clear that I did not keep detailed accounts during the past couple of years, so a lot of the commentary will be paraphrased and based on how it made me feel (and less about the exact words). I also did not want to name specific individuals, other than David Chery, the lead pastor of Summit Creek. Those other folks will know who they are, and I do not want to name and shame them as some of them are just following what they have been led to do, whether through misplaced trust, blind ignorance, or the hope that they are doing the right thing.

My wife and I have different personalities and different ways of engaging socially, so we figured it was best to express both our points of view.

NINE YEARS AT BLUE SKY CHURCH CHURCH

After relocating from the UK to Seattle in 2006, we quickly discovered Blue Sky Church and felt very at home. We made some strong friendships while in Seattle, and I served on the worship team and for a while as a small group leader. We have two kids who grew up in the Network and were firmly taught that this was how church was done.

After nine years in Seattle and at Blue Sky Church it would be a large sacrifice and very disruptive to our family to move to Eugene Oregon as part of the church plant team. However, we felt that we were called to go.

We were happy at Blue Sky and (mostly) well-behaved followers. When the church plant to Eugene, Oregon, was announced we learned that several of our good friends were already selected for the plant team. My wife and I prayed hard over whether we should go. By that time, our kids were in middle school and high school, and I had a fairly successful career at a multinational corporation. It would be a large sacrifice and very disruptive to our family to move. However, we felt that we were called to go. This seemed to be verified by my receiving a very quick offer of employment from a local company in Eugene when I started scouting out job opportunities.

JOINING SUMMIT CREEK CHURCH PLANT

After nine years in Seattle and at Blue Sky, we packed up and headed south to Eugene with the plant team of about forty of our closest friends.
The first few years of the plant in Eugene were a lot of hard work. Being a mobile church and so focused on the mission to grow the church was a big burden. However, we felt this was God’s calling for us, so we poured ourselves, our time, and our money into Summit Creek.

I am not sure when things started to change. I certainly became very aware of it during the pandemic, but looking back now, there was a change in the style of leadership at Summit Creek that was so slow it was hard to realize at the time. You’ve heard the metaphor of boiling a frog, right? (If not, Google it.)

I can see now that the church morphed from being a “family” of close friends all on the same mission for Jesus, to an autocratic, dictatorship where the lead pastor (David Chery) was pretty much unapproachable, and everything funneled through his minions (the staff pastor and the small group leaders).

Looking back now, I can see that the church morphed from being a “family” of close friends all on the same mission for Jesus, to an autocratic, dictatorship where the lead pastor (David Chery) was pretty much unapproachable, and everything funneled through his minions (the staff pastor and the small group leaders). Over the years David went from being a trusted friend to an inaccessible figurehead who did not seem to understand us at all.

So, how did it all start to unravel for us? Well, I can thank the pandemic for that.

SUMMIT CREEK CHURCH DURING 2020 COVID-19 PANDEMIC

In March 2020, everything in Oregon was shut down and Summit Creek went remote. Before the shutdown, the church was not the best at communication, whether through social media or team-wide emails. All major information sharing happened at the monthly team meetings, Team Summit Creek.

After the shutdown, David held one team meeting on Zoom (May 3, 2020) but one of my closest friends at the time (who is an elder at Summit Creek I’ll refer to as “J”) told me that David hated the online meeting and was very reluctant to repeat it. Between May 2020 and January 2021 (when we finally left), there was no other team meeting (online or in-person). Effectively, information sharing dried up totally, unless you were within the inner circle of small group leaders. Social media posts stopped (apart from ads targeted solely at students) and the team-wide emails came to a halt.

It felt like there was no effort to embrace being remote and make the most of what technology could provide us. It was clear that David had the desire to get back to in-person as soon as possible.

Being “remote” meant that a short, pre-recorded teaching (with no worship, no announcements, no prayer, just the teaching) was shared via Google Drive, secured by a password. It felt like there was no effort to embrace being remote and make the most of what technology could provide us. It was clear that David had the desire to get back to in-person as soon as possible.

For a brief period, around June/July 2020, in-person services resumed, and the church was able to gather again. Covid cases were still climbing steadily in Oregon, and my wife and I felt that gathering in person was putting our community at risk. We also felt that we should not take that risk as a presumed community of caring and compassionate Christians. I discussed this on several occasions with both my small group leader and “J.” My wife and I decided that the responsible thing to do was to maintain social distancing and listen to the teaching at home rather than keep attending the live gathering..

Covid cases were still climbing steadily in June and July of 2020 in Oregon, and my wife and I felt that gathering in person was putting our community at risk. We also felt that we should not take that risk as a presumed community of caring and compassionate Christians.

My group leader and “J” frowned upon this. They told me that I was being fearful and should trust God more. It was clear to me that the church was determined to go against the guidance of the CDC and state government. Their solution to my expressed concerns about Summit Creek's lackluster online accommodations was telling me we should come back to the in-person service. My group leader even uttered the words to me (paraphrasing), “The state government cannot infringe on my constitutional rights by requiring me to wear a mask.”

INCREASING PRESSURE ON MEMBERS TO DEFY HEALTH PRECAUTIONS

Going so long with only short audio sermon files, combined with practically no other communications from the church, all added up to me feeling like they were pushing us out of the church. The church made only the meagerest attempt to keep faithful members like my family and me engaged in a way that felt responsible to those of us who were trying to mitigate the spread of Covid. We knew several older or immunocompromised people trying their best to listen online too and feeling just as disconnected from the lack of communication and care shown to them.

When I raised this with my leaders, I was again met with the response (paraphrasing again), “If you don’t like it, come back in person.”

It was clear to me that the church was determined to go against the guidance of the CDC and state government.

Our teenage daughter continued to attend youth group once a week. One week, the group leader announced they were having a pizza party. This was at a time in the pandemic that churches were under a state restriction that consuming food and drink at a church should be done “only when integral to a worship service” (obviously intended to allow for communion and no other purpose). When I asked the youth group leader about the church’s position on this, he checked with the staff pastor at Summit Creek and came back with the response that youth group was a worship service and that pizza at the party was “integral” to it. That rang big alarm bells for me and gave more credence to the church being solely focused on itself, not on the community around it.

As the summer of 2020 progressed, the number of communications from Summit Creek diminished further. There were two team-wide emails in July, one in August, one in September (all brief, minor “news” items), and then no more. From September until at least January 2021 there was no team-wide communication. No team meetings. No announcements in the teaching recordings. Nothing other than what was parroted by the small group leaders to their groups as they received direction from David.

I got the distinct impression that church leadership considered me a rebel for not attending church services in person and that my family was walking away from Jesus and the church. I raised my concerns with both that the church was ignoring the government requirements and not showing care for our community.

Over the summer I talked several times with both my small group leader and “J.” I got the distinct impression that they considered me a rebel and that my family was walking away from Jesus and the church. I raised my concerns with both that the church was ignoring the government requirements and not showing care for our community. All I got in response was the same line as before—if I was unhappy with doing things online, we should return to in-person gatherings. I even got the response from “J” that following the federal and state requirements was an individual’s choice, not the church’s responsibility. The strong inference was that the church was okay with individuals breaking the law (i.e., the legally enforceable restrictions) if the individual was happy doing it.

Over the many years of knowing both of those men, I think they understood that I was a rule follower and kept my finger on the pulse of current events. When I saw the church behaving in ways that I believe were not “above reproach,” I always made a point of discretely letting them know. However, during that summer it became clear to me that they did not want to hear me anymore. All they were interested in was blindly following David Chery.

OFFICIAL CHURCH COMMUNICATION BECAME LIMITED TO IN-PERSON ATTENDERS ONLY

Between the July and December of 2020, several things happened at Summit Creek that were not announced or were announced on a Sunday morning but not shared with those listening to the recording remotely. These include handing out “merch” (free branded face masks, free Hydro Flask water bottles, the ability to purchase Nike branded merch, free sweatshirts for kids), changing back to two services, the change of bookkeeper, and two new Network church plants.

We only heard church news through the grapevine (rather than through any official communications) and it distressed us that our close “family” and friends of the past 15 years were now treating us as outsiders.

Prior to the pandemic—and I guess prior to the evolution of the church’s leadership approach—these would have been celebrated and shouted from the rooftops! Now it felt like they were internal things, for internal people, and if you weren’t “in with the in-crowd,” you were an outsider.
We heard through the grapevine about many of these things and it distressed us that our close “family” and friends of the past 15 years were now treating us as outsiders. The comradery of the plant team had well and truly died. It was just David Chery, his posse (staff pastor, elders and small group leaders) and the subservient followers. Anyone else was an outsider and shunned.

Going back years, it felt like “J” valued our conversations and the fact that I kept up with current events, but during the pandemic that all changed. At first, he said he would share the facts I brought to him and my feelings with David, but it pivoted over the months to being clear that he wasn’t interested in two-way communication. I asked him often what David’s point of view was on certain things and what David’s reasoning was for decisions, but it seemed like “J” did not know. He was just blindly following. Either that or he just did not want to tell me.

The comradery of the plant team had well and truly died. It was just David Chery, his posse (staff pastor, elders and small group leaders) and the subservient followers. Anyone else was an outsider and shunned.

SMALL GROUP LEADER REFUSED TO INSTITUTE GUIDELINES FOR SOCIAL DISTANCING AND CAPACITY

During the summer of 2020, my wife and I hosted small group in our backyard. When it became clear that nights were drawing in and getting cooler, we had a conversation with our Small Group Leader about what to do. Oregon was still under restrictions around the number of people that could gather in homes and the number of households that could be represented. Initially this requirement was vaguely worded around “social gatherings,” so Summit Creek declared that small groups fell under the domain of “religious organizations” and were therefore exempt. The state evolved the wording over time and eventually called out that “book clubs and Bible studies” were considered “social gatherings” and therefore included in the restrictions. When I shared this with my group leader and “J” they really did not want to know.

Since we were hosting our small group my wife and I spent time rearranging our furniture to make sure we could meet the distancing and capacity requirements that we would need to abide by. After seeing the photos our small group leader decided that he would move small group to his house and continue meeting inside without bothering about the requirements.

We looked at options for moving our small group inside. My wife and I spent time rearranging our furniture to make sure we could meet the distancing and capacity requirements that we would need to abide by. We took photos and shared them with our group leader, then he came over and saw what we were proposing. He decided that they would move small group to their house and continue meeting inside without bothering about the requirements. They would have a Zoom option for those that did not want to gather in-person.

My wife and I attended a few small group meetings via Zoom, but they were a painful experience for two main reasons. First, trying to engage in a small group when almost everyone else was in one room is difficult. It left us feeling ignored and neglected. Second, seeing our good friends gathered with no social distancing and no regard for the pandemic requirements left us feeling distressed.

We pleaded with our small group leader to think about the community and be respectful of the requirements.

We ended up having a phone conversation with our small group leader about how wrong we felt this was and how we could not condone our small group meeting in such a way. We pleaded with him to think about the community and be respectful of the requirements. It ended with us saying that if the small group was going to continue in its current form we would not be attending, even remotely.

TOLD NOT TO DISAGREE WITH A LEAD PASTOR

From that point it seemed like we were just cast adrift from the church. Friends who used to regularly engage with us on social media went silent or even unfriended us. People we had been close to for over a decade just ignored us. We even had occasions where people deliberately avoided us: actively walking away when they saw us approaching or looking very intently at their watch as we passed on the sidewalk.

I put together an email sharing the facts and pleading with the church to be respectful of the community and the requirements, and sent it to my group leader, “J,” David, the staff pastor, and the youth group leader. I quickly got a call from “J” and he told me “You can’t do that.”

In December 2020, there was another update to the state requirements for the pandemic that should have changed the way Summit Creek was approaching certain things, and I put together an email sharing the facts and pleading with the church to be respectful of the community and the requirements. I sent it to my group leader, “J,” David, the staff pastor, and the youth group leader. Very quickly I got a phone call from “J.” I got the distinct feeling that David had received my email and tasked “J” with giving me a talking to. When describing the email I sent, he said, “You can’t do that.” (That one is not a paraphrase; that is a direct quote.) I hung up on him. I’m not proud of that, but he made me so livid that I could not bear to be on the phone with him anymore. It was clear to me that the days of being a “family” with those I had known for decades and in whom I invested so much time and energy were well and truly over.

I don’t begrudge giving Jesus all that I have given to the Network. I just really hope that I gave financially, physically, and spiritually to advance His kingdom and bring glory to God, not just to shore up the organization that has become the Network.

DAVID CHERY PREACHES ON HAVING THE BRAVERY TO DEFY THE AUTHORITIES

The final straw for us came on January 17, 2021. Eleven days after the Capitol Building was stormed, David stood on the stage of Summit Creek and taught about being a brave Christian, using Daniel chapter 3 as the basis. After the nation had been stirred up on both sides of the political spectrum, David taught (my paraphrase) “good Christians have the bravery to defy the authorities.” He taught that the pandemic restrictions were a direct persecution of the church (my personal opinion is that churches were given far more freedoms under the pandemic restrictions than many businesses) and that good Christians should ignore the restrictions and continue to meet just as before the pandemic.

Eleven days after the Capitol Building was stormed, David Chery stood on the stage of Summit Creek and taught (my paraphrase) “good Christians have the bravery to defy the authorities.”

I know this is a bit political, but I think standing up on a stage and delivering this kind of message, just days after such appalling scenes in our nation’s capital, was woefully irresponsible. David also shared some of the story from Vista and how they were responding to the restrictions. As other people have pointed out in other stories, there were some lies, some gross misunderstandings of the requirements, some willful defiance, and other behaviors unbecoming of a church representing Jesus.

DAVID CHERY TEACHES THAT THE PANDEMIC RESTRICTIONS WERE DIRECT PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCH:

Editor's note: The following "Fiery Furnace" sermon was preached by David Chery, lead pastor of Summit Creek Church in Eugene Oregon on January 17, 2021. David used the Old Testament story from the book of Daniel in which Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace of King Nebuchadnezzar II and applied the following logic:

  • Various verses in the Bible command God's people to sing to God
  • Certain government restrictions prohibited public singing in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19
  • Because singing is a command from God, people who are not singing at church are disobeying God
  • Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, people of faith are to disobey laws which are unjust and against the commands of God
  • Those at Summit Creek Church must sing at church in order to obey God despite COVID-19 public health prohibitions
  • The government will increasingly introduce laws which mandate that God's people disobey God as the current age becomes more and more evil, and members of Summit Creek must be prepared to defy the laws of men in order to obey God.

LEAVING SUMMIT CREEK

Following that, my wife and I decided that we could not call Summit Creek our church home and that there was little hope that relationships and trust could be restored. So, we set out to find a new church to call home. We’ve now been settled at a church for around eighteen months and are feeling like we are in a much healthier spot. We have been unlearning a lot of the extra-Biblical legalism that the Network requires and finding new freedom in exploring our faith in deeper and more meaningful ways. It has been a real joy!

I know people are shunning outside news sources to only listen to what is being told within the church and that makes me incredibly sad.

I know people are people and we are all flawed. I think there are people at Summit Creek that are following because that is what they have been trained to do. I am deeply disappointed that friends and people I called family would turn their backs on us so readily because of our differing stances on how we should reflect Jesus in our community. I suspect that there are people following the leadership in the Network because they were trained to trust them without questioning. I know people are shunning outside news sources to only listen to what is being told within the church and that makes me incredibly sad.

EPILOGUE

So, being on the worship team years ago back at Blue Sky, I was friends with Chris Miller. In December 2021 (almost a year since we parted with the Network), Chris reached out to me via Facebook Messenger. He said, “Was just at a pastors meeting with Harrison and David, and they told me that you and your family no longer attend Summit Creek. Always really loved you and your family a lot. I hope things ended well for you guys in our network.” I got the distinct feeling that with the stories coming out of the Network, there may have been some fishing going on. I answered honestly that the way the church and its leadership responded to the pandemic left us feeling extremely uncomfortable and that we could no longer call Summit Creek home. In July 2022, after I shared on Facebook the post from Leaving The Network about Steve Morgan’s arrest, Chris promptly unfriended me.

I had been friends with Chris Miller going back to when I was on the worship team and he was the worship leader at Blue Sky Church. In July 2022, after I shared on Facebook the post from Leaving The Network about Steve Morgan’s arrest, Chris promptly unfriended me.

Another thing that happened recently is that in a conversation with another former Summit Creek attendee, I heard that the staff pastor at Summit Creek had said that we had left the church because we were unhappy that he and David would not wear masks when teaching. That was never one of our objections and missed the whole point of all the conversations we had had with leaders in the church. It is unclear to me if this was a misunderstanding, an incorrect memory, or a deliberate falsehood.

I want to be clear that our departure from Summit Creek was not about the outcomes of the decisions the leadership at Summit Creek made regarding the pandemic requirements, but the failings of the leadership structure, the lack of care and compassion, the way we were treated, the communication (or lack there-of), and our realization that too many things about the Network did not feel right or Biblical to us.

In comparing our experiences with other stories from former Network attendees and leaders, there is a common theme about poor leadership decisions, a lack of accountability, and virtually no transparency. When we first left Summit Creek, we went through periods of wondering if we were the problem and if we were an anomaly. We concluded that many people in many of the Network churches have experienced similar things to us. So, I would say to those still in the Network, if you think things don’t feel quite right, you are not alone.

I would also like to add that Leaving The Network did not exist when we left Summit Creek. We chose to leave purely on our own experiences at the church. We found out about the website and Reddit about six months after leaving, through a few conversations with other former Network folks. We were astonished that there were so many people that had been abused and derided by the Network.

We tried to engage in meaningful conversation at every level, but we were met with scorn and derision.

Finally, I’d just like to say that I have thought long and hard about Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Timothy 5:17-21. Firstly, we tried to bring our concerns to the attention of our leaders. Initially, through our small group leader and “J,” then through the staff pastor and youth leader, then to David, the lead pastor himself. We tried to engage in meaningful conversation at every level, but we were met with scorn and derision. Second, while several points in my story revolve around my private conversations with an elder (hence the challenge of bringing “two or three witnesses”) we were clear in our conversations with all leaders about our concerns with the church, so they should be able to bear witness to one another about our concerns. There are also so many accounts of challenging conversations with leaders at other Network churches that I feel the collective group of us provide witness for each other.

ADDITIONAL DETAILS FROM MARIE

SUMMIT CREEK CHURCH DURING 2020 COVID-19 PANDEMIC

After the initial shutdown due to the pandemic, Summit Creek went back to two in-person services with lots of distancing and cleaning between services, and masks were required. In July 2020 church leadership decided to combine the two services which would likely bring attendance of that service close to the 100-person limit set by the authorities. At that point we decided to stop attending in person as Covid case numbers were too high for us to feel that we were being responsible and considerate to our community by attending in person. No live stream or video recording was available to us, just the audio recording that you had access to if you were serving. As a family, we worshiped together and listened to the recording of the teaching every Sunday afternoon since we had to wait for the recording to be posted. There were no announcements with it, just the bare-bones teaching.

I am a very social person and am often described by others as compassionate, so you can see how this loss of caring communication would deeply affect me and cause me to question whether we were doing the right thing.

During this time, we were hosting small group out in our backyard and continued to do so through Sept 2020. Over the summer, we felt a distinct drop in communication and a pulling away from those in the church. It was like the saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” Any communication that happened was instigated by us, and social interactions dropped dramatically, although I could see through social media that other people were getting together. During this time Summit Creek also spent significant resources on free custom t-shirts for the kids, face masks, and Hydro Flask brand water bottles only for those attending in person. I would often check in with people over text and get a brief reply, but no further effort was made by them to continue the conversation. This was super hard because I am a very social person and am often described by others as compassionate, so you can see how this loss of caring communication would deeply affect me and cause me to question whether we were doing the right thing.

TOLD “THE HEALTH OF THE CHURCH IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN FOLLOWING THE RESTRICTIONS”

Summit Creek leadership made many decisions that were contrary to the State restrictions at the time. One example was allowing pizza and snacks at youth group when the only allowance for food and drink in churches was specifically “worship” related and obviously intended to mean the Lord’s Supper. During this time, they continued to host large gatherings at people’s homes when social gatherings were limited to ten people in no more than two households, and masks were required. Another example was a friend’s bridal shower. I was asked to make a cake for this event, and the bride was someone I care deeply about, so I said I would love to make the cake and enquired how many people would be there. The answer that came back was 20+ so I did not feel that I could attend, but I said I would make a cake and drop it off. When I dropped off the cake and set it up, I was the only person wearing a mask.

When we respectfully brought our concerns about this to the leader, we were told that “the health of the church is more important than following the restrictions.”

As Fall approached and small group could no longer meet outside, Martin and I spent a significant amount of time looking at how we could rearrange our furniture to accommodate people meeting inside, but still be respectful and follow the current state Covid-19 restrictions. After sending photos to our small group leader and him seeing what we proposed, our small group leader decided that he would host those who were comfortable in person at their house and those who were not comfortable with the arrangement could join via Zoom. After a few weeks, those meeting in person ceased to follow the masking guidelines and the restricted numbers for indoor social gatherings. When we respectfully brought our concerns about this to the leader, we were told that “the health of the church is more important than following the restrictions.”

When I voiced my concern for those more vulnerable to getting Covid-19, lead pastor David Chery's response to me was that “those who were dying of Covid were just collateral damage.”

In October 2020 I was tired of feeling cut off from everyone and I supposed that people were just not aware of how I was feeling. I messaged David Chery (we had a strong relationship before the pandemic) and asked if I could call him. We chatted and I told him how I was feeling cut off and how I didn’t think this should be how we treat people who are being cautious for the sake of those around them who are vulnerable. He told me that if I was feeling cut off, I should come back to attending in person. When I voiced my concern for those more vulnerable to getting Covid-19, his response to me was that “those who were dying of Covid were just collateral damage.” This is a direct quote.

CAST ADRIFT AND UNFRIENDED

This was such a difficult time for me, and I felt I had no one to talk to since my good friend was our group leader’s wife and took the same stance as him, and it felt like Martin and I were the only ones feeling this way. I contacted a good friend from when I was at Blue Sky and was now in Austin, Texas. She and I had been on staff together at Blue Sky for many years and knew me well. We had a call, and she showed some understanding about how it felt to not be attending in person and feel cut off from everyone as she had a newborn baby and for a while wasn’t attending in person either. She was shocked when I relayed my conversation with David and his comment about Covid victims being collateral damage, but she said her feeling cut off from everyone didn’t change until she went back in person.

In December 2020 we stopped attending small group via zoom because it was too stressful. No one really took time to check in with us about how we were feeling, or even try to understand our point of view. I felt strongly that Jesus would not be responding like this, and we should be doing whatever we could to protect those around us who are vulnerable.

TOLD NOT TO DISAGREE WITH A LEAD PASTOR

At one point Martin and I sent a very carefully worded email to our group leader, one of the elders, David, and the staff pastor almost pleading with them to follow the state restrictions because it was causing us such heartache and stress that those we love were behaving in this way and encouraging others to do so. The response to that email was a phone call to Martin from the elder in which he said, “You can’t do that.” Martin was so taken aback by this he just hung up the phone.

At one point Martin and I sent a very carefully worded email to our group leader, one of the elders, David, and the staff pastor almost pleading with them to follow the state restrictions because it was causing us such heartache and stress that those we love were behaving in this way and encouraging others to do so.

In January 2021, just after the Capitol Building was stormed, David taught out of Daniel 3 and the overall theme of the teaching was that we should have the courage to disobey the authorities since they were persecuting the church. He also strongly implied that anyone who was not attending in person was not following Jesus and was backsliding.

Our adult son, who was separately involved in the college ministry, including hosting a small group and assisting with numerous tasks around the church, was still in attendance at this time. He had been feeling similarly ignored and felt conflicted whenever we told him how we were feeling.
During that time, our son had asked David if he could meet to express concern for the way he saw we were being treated. Every time he tried to have a conversation or meet up, he got sent to the staff pastor, who tried to distract him with other conversations while avoiding the subject. He frequently reminded him that he was a valuable, independent member of the church and that his relationship with the church had nothing to do with his relationship with us, his family. He even discouraged our son from sharing with us how he was feeling or worrying (“meddling”) about what his parents were experiencing.

A Staff pastor frequently reminded our adult son that he was a valuable, independent member of the church and that his relationship with the church had nothing to do with his relationship with us, his family.

TREATED LIKE DISOBEDIENT CHILDREN BY THE LEAD PASTOR

The Sunday morning of David’s teaching from Daniel 3, our son found David Chery in the lobby after service and asked him if they could plan a conversation at a later time. David refused and insisted that anything our son had to say could and should be said in the church lobby in front of passersby. Our son brought up his concerns about the way we were being treated and the response from David was an analogy about how when children make the wrong decision they should be punished until they correct their actions. David’s meaning was clear. Our son thanked David for his candor and did not return to Summit Creek.

David Chery described how we were being treated using an analogy about how when children make the wrong decision they should be punished until they correct their actions. David’s meaning was clear.

This was the Sunday we decided we could not go back to Summit Creek. We did email our small group leader, David Chery, the staff pastor, and an elder to tell them we would not be returning to Summit Creek, and we did not get a single reply from any of them.

REALIZATIONS AFTER WE STOPPED ATTENDING IN PERSON

Stepping away from attending in person allowed us to see the many ways that people are mistreated, ignored, and abused within the Network in a way that we couldn’t see before. We were so “programmed” to accept some of these behaviors and follow our leaders without question. It made me very aware that I was also guilty of ceasing communication with those that had previously left Blue Sky or Summit Creek without asking questions as to the real reason they left. I am truly thankful that God opened our eyes to see what we needed to see and leave, but it was the hardest thing our family has been through.

I am truly thankful that God opened our eyes to see what we needed to see and leave, but it was the hardest thing our family has been through.

The well-being and growth of core members of the church were constantly neglected in favor of bringing in new people, and this was apparent even within the youth and kids’ program. Our daughter is still working through the trauma she experienced as a result of being part of a church plant youth group where her leaders were ill-equipped to lead and often encouraged her to push her feelings aside and focus on mentoring those younger than her. Having friends who were like family and had been a huge part of her life for 15 of the 17 years of her life choose to cease all contact with us because we were no longer at their church was devastating and caused her to question her faith and her self-worth. She has settled at the same church as us when she is home from college, but recovery from this type of trauma is a long road, and she is really just trying to trust God one step at a time.

Our daughter had friends who were like family and who had been a huge part of her life for 15 of the 17 years of her life choose to cease all contact with us because we were no longer at their church. This was devastating to her and caused her to question her faith and her self-worth.

Over the past year, we have been contacted by many friends who we knew from Summit Creek and Valley Springs. Some of them wondered what happened to us, some have found the LTN and Reddit sites, some quietly remained in contact and are finally seeing that what happened to us was not right and once the news about Steve Morgan came out decided enough was enough. Others wanted advice on how to leave without conflict, and we helped them the best we know how.

I pray that those who seem too deeply rooted in the Network to ever leave would have their eyes opened to the trail of damage and destruction that the Network is leaving behind and that God would restore them.

 

BACK TO STORIES:

STORIES: Read the stories of those who have left and who have consented to share their experiences from their time in Steve Morgan's Network of Churches