In 2006, I moved here to Roanoke and within days was asked by this district why I had concerns with Rick Warren and the Purpose-Driven teachings. Hope Community was also promoting Willow Creek materials and teachings and I kind of took a stand that wasn't received well. Here is a sample of an early email I sent out to the Blue Ridge district:
Dear Pastors of the Blue Ridge FGBC District, June 14, 2006
Greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus. This is Pastor Steve Mitchell of the Garden City Grace Brethren Church. I want to first express great gratitude to all of you who have welcomed me into this group upon my arrival in Virginia about four months ago. I have truly had some awesome fellowship and fun with many of you and have enjoyed, for the most part, the three ministeriums that I have been able to be a part of.
What I am about to say, however, concerns what appears to be a pervasive part that bars me from being able to have any future involvement with this district unless a big change would take place. I want to lay out several concerns I have as a result of witnessing some things on last month’s visit to Hope Community in NC and I need to preface these concerns by assuring you all that there is no personal problem with anyone but these issues are grave enough to necessitate the writing of this letter.
I have taken many stands in the last few years concerning the ever-growing acceptance of the Purpose-Driven paradigms and philosophies of the Church Growth Movement as found in the materials and practices of Willow Creek, Saddleback, and Neil Cole’s ministry to name a few. The FGBC has truly been open to the influx of ministry philosophies and so-called “church growth experts” that are bringing a patently different set of views to the table concerning how we should be shepherding in the flocks we minister to. Key leaders in Winona Lake, from CE National and GBIM, as well as the conference planners and FGBC newsletter contributors have given glowing endorsements of Rick Warren, Hybels, and recently emergent church teachers, Erwin McManus…We’ve even got a FGBC affiliated merger church with his Mosaic International group as well as a recent partnership between a GBC and Saddleback. This is also not to mention a growing number of Grace Brethren churches who have joined and are being urged to join Willow Creek Association.
Brothers, I have been studying these ministries and teachings for at least 5- 6 years and work with the Apologetic Coordination Team which is a coalition of discernment ministries who have taken great stands against the unbiblical pitfalls of these paradigms and their looking to the world for guidance in how to transform today’s church into the pragmatic ministry machine that in some cases and far too often waters down and dilutes the Word and the Gospel message, trading a biblical polemic And bold proclamation of the Good news with a seeker-sensitive, market savvy spiel that produces, in far too many instances, shallow converts who hear consumer-driven sermonettes and engage in endless activities to satiate their appetites for entertainment.
My father and I have spoken with the top leaders in our fellowship and have written letters outlining some specific concerns and yet have been downplayed and averted by many who used to be good friends. My father has been a FGBC pastor for almost 30 years and has also taken considerable flack for speaking out against some of the unbiblical aspects of these ministries the FGBC seems to be increasingly looking towards for guidance in ministry.
Case in point, sadly, was what I witnessed at Hope Community this past ministerium. Walking into the foyer and seeing the Willow Creek Association’s Leadership Summit banner was disheartening to say the least. Hearing a pastoral plug for the purpose driven worship seminar he had just attended and then watching the intro video for the summit was equally distressing. There was Bill Hybels, and an Indian business and consultant, and Wayne Cordeiro of New Hope church from my island home of Oahu, Hawaii. Trust me gentleman, you don’t need to attend anything that guy teaches in that he is the epitome of seeker sensitive sermonette ministry on our island. His church has been involved with a dangerous therapy program called Cleansing Stream, he routinely speaks with Hawaii’s worst false teachers, and puts out a program that encourages people to go to all manner off false churches including some with women pastors! Then the crown jewel speaker that almost caused me to stand up and say “What’s going on here?” BONO from U2!!
This guy doesn’t claim to be a Christian, indeed denies that belief and with colorful language. Hey brothers all I’m saying is that it should speak loud and clear to us when the attending associate pastor at Hope made the disclaimer at the end of the video clip. He said something to the effect that of course Bono will have an edited segment due to his propensity for profanity! Should that not tell us something? Does this guy qualify to be a biblical leader who pastors need to listen to? Yet this was chuckled at when mentioned.
I believe that on further investigation into what the Willow Creek Association, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren and other current fascinations of the FGBC actually teach, it becomes all too clear that our fellowship, our ministerium, our district and the individual congregations and ministries of any who would begin down this road will inevitably end up like the thousands of others who have swallowed these principles and endorsed these men. The Word of God will certainly not be the focal point and our individual flocks might even degenerate to the point that they would think a rock star training them would be a good idea.
I am making this stand on my own at this point. I do however counsel everyone to read Pastor Vic Young’s Oxford paper and heed the timely and profound warning therein. It eloquently lays out concerns that I happen to share with him and I urge everyone to take it to heart. His paper has its finger on the pulse of this issue. Well Done!
Please understand once again that this is no personal attack or grievance based on any bone to pick with anyone. I have just observed the effects of this same phenomenon literally all over the world in my missionary travels and as I stand internationally with a growing coalition of men and women who have stood on the Word of God, weighed these winds of doctrine, and found them severely wanting. I am currently at the point of exhorting any pastor, leader, layperson, Christian to repent from what Willow Creek and others are spreading and asking us to be a part of.
No, I will never send my fellow ministers to the Leadership Summit where the truth and the very fiber of biblical ministry is so compromised. I must also refrain from involvement in this ministerium until and unless there is really a stand taken in the face of this. Following the Church Growth Movement into the Emerging Church is dishonoring to our Lord and the high calling of being a pastor. Until my fellow pastors in this district will stand and say enough, then I bid you adieu with heavy heart. I have made too many stands in this area and have many people waiting to see if I will bend or compromise. For the sake of Christ and the Word, my family and ministry partners, and the saints of Garden City GBC, I cannot just attend these ministeriums and say nothing, nor can I continue to support what’s going on as long as good men are remaining silent on this issue.
So now what? Well, I just had to share this concern with you. I am including an extensive collection of articles from others and myself in the ACT Team I represent. Careful reading of these materials will fortify and explain my concerns and why I believe that the FGBC should have no involvement with these groups whatsoever.
I am also free to talk to any of you as I have a great deal of affection for those of you I’ve met. I want to dialogue on these matters and I am also available to do seminars of any length for you and your congregation. Its important I believe to get familiar with what’s really being taught and to know the biblical teachings concerning ministry and pasturing. If anyone wants to learn from Bono, buy his albums but don’t take his words to heart as to what real leadership is.
I love you all and hope to hear from you,
Pastor Steve Mitchell Garden City GBC 2 Tim. 3:16-17
Contact me at office: 540-427-0103
Online articles for study and consideration:
This letter and following correspondences resulted in me being put “on trial” alongside of Pastor Vic Young at Camp Tuk-A-Way the month after I wrote this. I had several other correspondences with folks at Hope community after this and it was agreed that we disagree. Vic Young departed from this district about two months after this meeting because guys from Hope wanted to play videos from the Willow Creek summit at our ministerium meetings. I stayed in this district to continue to try and share my concerns which were also privately held by most of the pastors that currently sit around the table at our ministerium today.
At this Tuk-A-way meeting I gave each pastor a CD of a two-hour 45-minute spoken sermon about my concerns regarding Rick Warren, Willow Creek, and the new phenomenon (at the time) called the “emerging church” or “emergent” teachings. Here is the transcript of this sermon and I can send you a CD if you want but this is the first and most seminal treatment of my concerns at the time. To date, over 10,000 hits are on this sermon online and this article started the whole rumblings about me in the fellowship. I've also had lots of agreement and favorable response:
this sermon was posted December 2006 and went web-wide. It was available on mp3 but I cant find it now. If you are interested I can give you a copy on CD but above is the transcript and boy did it hit some nerves but I hope you can read this concern.