"The DNA of all A29 churches should be a deep and driving desire to see gospel saturated, biblically faithful, missionally engaged churches planted everywhere possible in all types of locations."
Do you know the history of The Village Church (TVC) which, after the collapse of Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill Church, has become the mothership of the Acts 29 Network? The Acts 29 website provides the following background information about Matt Chandler and his church:
Matt serves as Lead Pastor of Teaching at The Village Church in the Dallas Fort Worth area. He has served in that role since December 2002 and describes his tenure at The Village as a re-planting effort where he was involved in changing the theological and philosophical culture of the congregation. The church has witnessed a tremendous response growing from 160 people to over 11,000 with campuses in Flower Mound, Dallas and Denton.
It's amazing how these Acts 29 churches like to boast about their numbers. When we first started blogging (2009), we assumed all was well at Mars Hill Church, which was the original mothership for the Acts 29 network. Unbeknownst to some, Mark Driscoll was not the sole founder of this church planting network. David Nicholas, a seasoned pastor from Florida, played a vital role in the founding of Acts 29 in 1998. As Mark Driscoll gained notoriety, it seemed inconceivable that the Mars Hill dynasty could collapse. But in the sovereignty of God, that is exactly what happened late last year.
Getting back to the Acts 29 church planting network, I, along with my family, was involved in a church re-plant seven years ago. Looking back at all that has happened, it seems like ages ago. At the time I didn't know much, if anything, about Acts 29 or Mark Driscoll, but I trusted our church leadership. So did most of the others in our rather small Southern Baptist congregation. When the church was officially dissolved in order to make way for the 'new and improved' fellowship, a number of older members left. It was sad to see them go, but we were thrilled about the prospect of revamping the church so that we could impact our community for Christ.
Once the deacons relinquished their responsibilities (after the church officially dissolved), the pastoral leaders began consulting with some key individuals most of whom had previously served as deacons. They came up with a new church name as well as a mission statement. One of the goals – to become a church-planting church – struck me as odd. I had never heard this phrase before. Our small congregation barely had the financial resources to support ourselves. How in the world would we go about planting another church? I justified in my mind that it must have been a long-term goal.
In the months that followed, I continued to be excited about our revamped fellowship. A record crowd attended the Easter service. During our Wednesday evening Bible studies, our pastors occasionally mentioned Acts 29 and Mark Driscoll. Mark who? Back in 2008 not that many in the conservative corner of Christendom knew anything about Mark Driscoll, including me.
Then in the fall of 2008 something happened which prompted Dee and me to begin doing some digging on the internet. We became alarmed about what we were discovering with regard to Neo-Calvinism, complementarianism, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), Sovereign Grace Ministries, the pushing of young marriages, among other topics. We also stumbled upon Wade Burleson's blog and learned some disturbing things about the Southern Baptist Convention.
By January 2009 Dee and I were alarmed by what was going on in the Neo-Calvinist corner of Christendom. My husband and I, along with others, gradually became concerned about the direction our church re-plant was taking. To address our concerns, the pastors held a question and answer session prior to launching the new church. One of the former deacons asked a question along these lines: "What will happen should a church member decide not to join a community group?" One of the pastoral leaders responded: "Then that member will be put under church discipline." That was the last straw for my husband and me! It is important to stress that we had been extremely active in our church prior to this Q&A session. The gracelessness in that response was astounding! A number of us pulled out at that juncture, and the church was finally replanted the following month. While I don't believe this was an "official" Acts 29 replant, it was obviously inspired by Mark Driscoll and his church planting network.
Dee and I launched The Wartburg Watch a few weeks later and have never looked back. For over six years we have diligently explored trends in Christendom — one of which is this church planting/replanting phenomenon.
Some time ago we were contacted by a sister in Christ who shared an Acts 29 church replant horror story. We published her testimony almost two years ago, and given what has recently taken place at The Village Church, we believe her story definitely bears repeating. What follows are lengthy excerpts from the first two posts in the series.
Replanting Countryside Christian Church Acts 29 Style (link)
Allow me to introduce you to Becky, who hails from Indiana. She attended Countryside Christian Church from the late 1990s until 2002 when her children wanted to participate in programs at another church. Becky and her family returned to Countryside in 2006 and joined the church several years later. A couple years after that Becky, her husband, and their children were 'perp walked' out of the church (more on that later).
Let's start at the beginning…
Countryside Christian Church was established in Michigan City, Indiana over three decades ago by Rick Jones, who pastored the church until his retirement. The church was built in two stages with the sanctuary and classrooms being constructed later. For a number of years the congregation met on Sundays in the gym and demonstrated much prudence in managing its resources. Everything was done with transparency and accountability. Eventually, the church borrowed money to complete the construction. The final result was a 1,400 seat sanctuary, multiple classrooms, a kitchen, gym, and outbuildings for the food pantry. It was a beautiful facility and a haven for the community.
Countryside Christian Church grew to be a rather large congregation. When the church was at its largest size, it held two services, and according to Becky weekly attendance ranged from 1,500 to 2,000.
Countryside supported 12 to 15 missionaries for a long time and ministered to the community through its preschool program, a Celebrate Recovery program, and a food pantry.
When the congregation needed to fill its worship leader position, it hired a younger man named Kevin Galloway. Kevin had a liberal arts degree but no seminary training, and he worked as a police officer prior to accepting the position as worship leader. Kevin’s appearance and demeanor were much cooler than his predecessors – he was a jean clad, guitar playing, soul patch kinda guy. Kevin and Becky had an amicable relationship, and he appreciated her ministry of knitting hats and scarves for cancer patients.
In early 2008 Pastor Rick Jones retired after a long career. His successor was Kevin Galloway. Becky and her husband began attending a small group once Kevin became the senior lead pastor, and they decided to join the church.
Not long after the leadership change, the congregation began to hear Pastor Galloway using terms like ‘relevance’. He would tell the parishioners: “We want to be relevant.” Six to eight months after that, the congregation started hearing about an organization called Acts 29. Initially, the older church members were tolerant of some of the changes; however, over time they began to feel marginalized. The modus operandi of the church changed significantly.
Then in fairly short order, the cool dude pastor ‘canned’ the food pantry by shifting this ministry to other churches in the area. Pastor Galloway encouraged all staff members to read books on Mark Driscoll’s booklist, some of which were secular books. The two female staff members refused to read the secular books and in less than six months they were ushered out as quietly as possible. The lady who operated the preschool that folded was one of the women who would not read the secular material. Finally, Pastor Galloway forced out the individuals who were leading the Celebrate Recovery program. At that point, lots of people left the church.
As these established ministries were being axed, Pastor Galloway (and the church leaders) made strides to plant a church in Valparaiso, Indiana, which was 20 minutes from Countryside. Interestingly, Valparaiso is an affluent area of the state and also a college town. The Acts 29 Network requires all its member churches to plant churches.
During the church planting phase, money was flowing out of the church coffers at an alarmingly rate. Countryside, which at one time had thousands of dollars in savings, was scraping to get by. Church members were told they had to tithe. Where were all those contributions going? They were being spent on:
– Large pastor salaries
– Health and disability insurance for pastors
– Large cell phone bills
– Whole Life insurance for two pastors at $840/month each
– Expenditures and gas money to plant the new church
The leaders did not say anything about the mounting expenses. As money got tight, a deacon’s wife said something to Becky about the pastor possibly using church funds inappropriately. Becky made a request for financial information, and the church secretary handed her a large packet including copies of credit card statements. One item that caught Becky’s eye was a $250 charge to Nordstrom. Apparently, the pastor was on a trip to meet Mark Driscoll and had to make a clothing purchase because there was some problem with his luggage (or whatever!) Becky does not know whether the church was ever reimbursed for that personal expense. There were other unusual charges on the credit card statement like $288.69 for a pastors' outing to Binny’s Beverage Depot (a liquor store).
In just a few years, Pastor Galloway ran the church into the ground. The bottom line was that the church had racked up charges on its credit card well over $10,000 (at a 17 percent interest), and the church was only able to pay the minimum balance each month. Countryside was in dire straits under Pastor’s Galloway’s leadership.
Becky began discussing the church's financial debacle with other congregants and made some negative statements on Facebook about the state of the church like “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid". Someone in the church spied on church members' Facebook accounts. If a parishioner said something the leaders didn’t like, s(he) was called in for a meeting and berated.
After three disciplinary meetings, Becky and her husband were informed that they were not allowed to come back to the church. The following Wednesday, Becky's husband took their children to the evening activities and was rebuked. "What are you doing here?" was one of the questions he was asked. The following Sunday, March 27, 2011, Becky and her family decided to attend church anyway and were sitting in the balcony when they were spotted.
After 20 minutes, church leaders approached Becky and her husband and told them that if they did not leave the cops would be called. They remained seated. On the left side of the balcony sat an off duty police officer who came over and said if they did not leave immediately he would call the police on duty. Then he escorted them out of the church and told them to never return. Becky and her husband have a handicapped child who was 15 or 16 years old at the time; however, his mental capacity is that of an 8 or 9 year old. He is not retarded but has a special handicap and can only understand things at a 9 year old level. He was sitting with his family when they were thrown out of the church, and it was extremely upsetting to him. He was crying and very distressed because of what happened.
It is certainly worth noting that at no time did Pastor Kevin Galloway meet with Becky so that she could share her concerns.
Is This Church Discipline Acts 29 Style??? (link)
So what are the rules according to Acts 29 churches, and just who gets to determine them? Becky, who provided this testimony, had no idea that raising legitimate questions and concerns would result in church discipline.
As a follow-up to Becky's story, we want to share with our readers the correspondence she and her husband Brian received from the elders of Countryside Church. Do all Acts 29 churches carry out church discipline in this manner?
To: Brian and Becky ______
From: The Eldership of Countryside Church
March 16, 2011
The purpose of this letter is to formally communicate that you are no longer considered members of Countryside Church and that members of Countryside Church will be asked to remove any fellowship with you.
You have been called to repentance by the eldership and in following Christ's instructions in Matthew 18:15-20, you are now considered to be outside of our fellowship because of your refusal to repent.
We pray that God will grant you repentance. Becky, we pray that you would repent of gossip, slander, deception, lying, failing to submit to your husband and failing to submit to your church leaders. Brian we pray that you would repent of failure to submit to God's Word by failing to lead your wife by continuing to ignore her unrepentant sin in your relationship and home.
This warning and call to repentance has been discussed with you at length through the declaration of scripture and the call to obey God's Word. You have denied its power and remained in sin. It grieves us to remove you from our fellowship, but we must obey God's Word and leading.
We would take great joy in welcoming you back to Countryside Church if God should grant you repentance in these matters.
The Elders of Countryside Church
About a week later the following was sent to the Countryside Community.
To: Countryside Christian Community
From: The Eldership of Countryside Church
RE: Church discipline and warning to congregation
March 24, 2011
Dear Countryside Community,
The purpose of this letter is to formally communicate that the eldership has notified Brian and Becky ______ that they are no longer considered members of Countryside Church and that the members of Countryside Church will be asked to remove any fellowship with them.
Brian and Becky have been called to repentance by the eldership and in following Christ's instructions in Matthew 18:15-20, they are now considered to be outside of our fellowship because of their refusal to repent.
We pray that God will grant them repentance. Becky has refused to repent of gossip, slander, deception, lying, failing to submit to her husband and failing to submit to church leadership. Brian has refused to repent of failing to submit to God's Word by failing to lead his wife by continuing to ignore her unrepentant sin in their relationship, home, and in the church.
This warning and call to repentance has been discussed with Brian and Becky at length through the declaration of scripture and the call to obey God's Word. They have denied its power and remain in sin. It grieves us to remove them from our fellowship, but we must obey God's Word and leading.
We would take great joy in welcoming them back to our fellowship at Countryside Church if God should grant them repentance in these matters.
We warn you, the church, to not fellowship with, nor listen to the continued lies, gossip, and slander that come from Brian and/or Becky. This sin has harmed many souls and is contrary to the teaching of God's Word. May our refusal of fellowship honor God through obedience and may God use this obedience in granting and leading this family to repentance.
To the Glory of God,
The Elders of Countryside Church
To the glory of God??? Can you believe this WARNING from the church elders:
We warn you, the church, to not fellowship with, nor listen to the continued lies, gossip, and slander that come from Brian and/or Becky.
Furthermore, can you imagine that elders in Acts 29 churches have this kind of control over parishioners? How frightening! What's worse, this is a divide and conquer strategy. If the elders can prevent those attending the church from having contact with those who have left, they can keep those who remain in the dark and under the pastors' authoritah (link).
I have spoken with Becky on several occasions and have found her to be articulate, sincere, and deeply concerned about what is going on in the Acts 29 Network. After reading the above correspondence from the Countryside elders, I am equally concerned. As she shared in her testimony, Pastor Kevin Galloway never once met with her to listen to her concerns.
Here are links to the entire series on Countryside. We hope you will take the time to read all of these posts because we believe you will see a pattern in how Acts 29 pastors treat members who fail to toe the line.
In the wake of The Village Church debacle, we are beginning to hear other horrendous accounts of how some members are treated. Amy Smith recently published some of them here. These accounts are truly upsetting! The following comment left under this WatchKeep post seems to indicate that Acts 29 churches do have an inherent DNA that originated with Mark Driscoll.
Anonymous Anonymous said…
I just want to strongly affirm Story #5.
I come from an Acts 29 background, and I want to point out that the three main dysfunctional behaviors shared in Story #5 are indicative of Acts 29 in general. They are absolutely NOT limited to TVC. They are, rather, a product of the inherent "DNA" of Acts 29, as designed and created by Mark Driscoll.
Sunday, May 31, 2015
As I remember back to the replanting process that occurred at my former church, the term "DNA" was often mentioned favorably. It certainly seems to be part of the Acts 29 lingo.
Now that some involved in Acts 29 churches have FINALLY broken the barrier of silence, we believe others will be coming forward with their shocking testimonies. We suspect that there will be much commonality in these accounts, which we believe will further demonstrate that Acts 29 churches do indeed share the same DNA as the mothership. Obviously, Matt Chandler, President of Acts 29, leads by example at The Village Church. Does anyone doubt that Acts 29 pastors must follow protocol in order to be part of the network?
Here is Matt Chandler sharing his excitement about Acts 29.
We're just getting started with our examination of the Acts 29 church planting network as it exists today. In our upcoming post we are going to take a closer look at the trend of planting/replanting churches, and we will be discussing a fascinating article that has just been published in the June issue of Christianity Today.
After what happened to Mars Hill Church and Countryside Christian Church, one has to question whether it is indeed wise to consult the Acts 29 church planting gurus…