Son of Former MBI President Joe Stowell Speaks of “Toxic,” “Unholy,” and “Dangerous” Culture at Harvest

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Jim's picture

I think that most of us felt that Harvest was the biggest thing, humanly speaking, that we would all ever be a part of – traveling to cool places; being invited to speak at conferences full of people who actually wanted to really listen to you; hobnobbing with famous people; making six figures as a 32-year-old worship leader… these are all things that are understandably hard to want to give up. They’re the kinds of things that condition you to not rock the boat. Who would be crazy enough to purposely flush an incredibly prosperous career or dare to try and go against the powerful, unspoken Christian cultural ethic of never “speaking poorly” about your church or pastor?

Me: I would much prefer to have a secular job and make an honest living

Jay's picture

I read this earlier today and then saw this filing, so I figured I'd link the two stories together, since they're related.  Here's some quotes from the first article:

It takes a pastor, some elders and leaders around the pastor, and some systems and structures and policies that emerge into a Power Culture: marked by centralization of power into the pastor’s office, the knowledge on the part of elders and deacons and leaders of stuff going on, the requirement of silence, the punishment of opponents and critics, the labeling of critics, the narrating of an alternative (fake) story of what is going on, the assignment of impure motives by those designated as opponents and the assumption of pure motives by the pastor and elders and leaders… I could go on, you know the story.

Third, what happens when ugly and unbiblical and unethical and even immoral realities become known? Power Cultures can only be redeemed when the sin of the Power Culture and pastor is revealed.

Sometimes the sins can be known, and it is a sad reality — next point is coming into play here — that the elders and leaders don’t do due diligence here but often need outsiders to unmask the sin and reveal the persona for the person he is. Sometimes it is a disgruntled employee but these days it seems to be journalists and social media and bloggers. They are driven to this by what happens when the sin becomes known.

Fourth, this is a sad reality about churches: most of these churches stuck in a Power Culture tend to protect the church, its reputation, its ministries, and the finances needed to keep the boat floating. They believe the heroized persona because they don’t know the person, they trust the persona because the Power Culture has colluded to protect the persona and the church with its Power Culture.

Fifth, it happens that the truth becomes known inside and the church begins to want to tell the truth. What happens next? Sadly, churches tend to leak only small bits of information about the realities: some truth, some spin, more hidden than known. The small bits of sin are spun into a story that still protects and fails to confront the Power Culture and the persona.

What is needed is repentance, admission; what is not needed is the most common ploy: blame the leader, blame the system, and then move on as if it was someone else’s fault. The reality is that the Power Culture is not just the pastor but everyone participates in differing ways. (More about that some other day.)

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Ron Bean's picture

This phrase brought back memories: 

They’re the kinds of things that condition you to not rock the boat. Who would be crazy enough to purposely flush an incredibly prosperous career or dare to try and go against the powerful, unspoken Christian cultural ethic of never “speaking poorly” about your church or pastor?

It is possible to find oneself in a bad ministry with bad leadership and not be willing or able to walk away without having incentives to stay like money or recognition. Sometimes the "prosperous career" is your belief that you're serving the Lord and that the ministry can't get along without you. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

mmartin's picture

What is rarely mentioned in situations like this is that Joe & Susie Pew-Sitter deserve some of the blame as well.  To what degree can be negotiated, but no one is without at least some of the blame.

As another person (not me) on S.I. recently commented on another post about Harvest or our recent comments on "Big Man" ministries, you either have to be willfully blind or dumb as a box of rocks to allow yourself to be brainwashed or allowed to be manipulated into staying in a situation like this.

True, reality may be more nuanced than that, but the point has substance.

Ron Bean's picture

I hope you're not saying that all "victims" of abuse, whether sexual, physical, marital, or ministerial, bear some responsibility for what occurred.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

mmartin's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

I hope you're not saying that all "victims" of abuse, whether sexual, physical, marital, or ministerial, bear some responsibility for what occurred.

I am most definitely not saying that.

I'm talking about people who could & should know better, yet won't speak-up either with their mouth or with their feet.  I'm talking about people who, again should know better, but still allow themselves to be bamboozled into following the Big Man.  Its about the men & women who allow their identity to be tied to the Man, the ministry, the high income, etc.  I am NOT talking here about the Pastor asking a teenage girl to come to his office for one-on-one "counseling" or similar situations.  I AM talking generally about people who, for example, are educated, who are in their 30's+, who should be able to think for themselves and make their own decisions and yet remain.

It is one thing for a person to be well aware of the hostile and toxic environment, but just can't leave for a valid reason.  It is a whole other matter when someone won't make a change because they are afraid of change, have allowed themselves to be too tied to The Man, etc.

A few years ago my family and I left a ministry dominated by a Big Man, which involved moving to another state.  Working for that man was involved the most stress and drama I've ever experienced in my work career and it negatively impacted my family's health  I have never regretted the change even though financially it still hurts us to this day.

I do understand the reality that often the situation is more nuanced than straight-up black & white.  But again, I think the personal responsibility question is reasonable, as Mr. Stowell said himself - about himself.

Jay's picture

As another person (not me) on S.I. recently commented on another post about Harvest or our recent comments on "Big Man" ministries, you either have to be willfully blind or dumb as a box of rocks to allow yourself to be brainwashed or allowed to be manipulated into staying in a situation like this.

No you don't.

You can to love your pastor or minister enough to overlook questions and problems, for starters. 

You can trust the leaders when they tell you that everyone else that's raising questions is mistaken, confused, or in sin. 

There's a thousand ways to be led astray, brainwashed, or manipulated, and being willfully blind or dumb generally isn't part ot it.  A person can be manipulated without even being aware that they are being manipulated, or without the manipulator consciously knowing that they are manipulating you...or worse, they tell you 'the truth' for 'your own good' in a way that slants a story to protect themselves, the church, or whatever.

The best manipulators are the ones that do it 'to protect God's people' or the church.  And after all, who's going to question the pastor/elder/leader?

Not many.   

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Joeb's picture

Jay it depends what your talking about in what is happening in the church.  Some things are just plain wrong and obvious.  Others are not clear so your position supports  people not being just plain dumb or willfully blind.  

Case in point.  Jack Hyles giving a soul winning award to Hyles Anderson Grad Pastor who is in jail for sodomizing 6 13/14 year old boys on a church camping trip.  You can see it You Tube. No question it occurred.  What part of being dumb as a box of rocks or willfully blind does not apply in that situation.  

You know like a German SS armed guard driving Jews into a gas chamber. In those obviously wrong situations brainwashed dumb as a box of rocks and willfully blind clearly apply.  

mmartin's picture

Jay wrote:

Not many.   

Jay, exactly! 

You, me, all of us have to be smarter, wiser, & more courageous than that.

There is no excuse for us to put-up with that garbage anymore.