"And men will rise up from your own number with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears."
Repost by Rita Lady
I was a member of a church in Illinois and left after about five years. After reading reviews, and seeing how unbalanced they all were (either cheerleaders or people who visited once)... I wanted to write an honest, all-encompassing review of my experience and not shy away from the spiritual abuse we experienced there. I have heard from others that they delete google reviews, so I figured I'd post it here.
As a visitor, you'll be greeted by a friendly church of mostly young adults and younger families. The welcome team will greet you with big smilies and the volunteers will likely have snacks/coffee out while pointing you toward the lounge area or child care.
They run a loose schedule for services, which means, though they typically last about 2.5 hours, they could go much longer (don’t make plans right after). The worship is contemporary with dancing, flags, tongues and prophecy (usually) encouraged. You’ll likely hear a mix of newer songs by bands like House Fires, Leland or Bethel. They also play many original songs (which you can purchase later), with the lyrics projected so people can follow along. The sermon will be heavy with content (take notes). Expect to hear typical Charismatic doctrine heavily influenced by Hebrew Roots Movement theology (though they for some reason deny this), Talmudic Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Mainstream Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Assembly of God influences. They have colorful sermon illustrations with a tech team tprojecting a powerpoint to supplement the message. There are TVs in the hallways and a nursing mothers room if you need to step out. Alter calls are not every week and don’t follow a pattern, but they are usually for either salvation, prayer, baptisms, or communion depending on the message. If you stick around you can usually find groups to go to lunch with.
If you decide to become a member, you’ll find classes, fellowship, and ministry opportunities complimenting their current agendas (sometimes multiple times a day) throughout the week. In addition to this, they offer communal living communities with the pastors’ 3 connected homes or “discipleship” houses which resemble low income dorm-style living (focusing on the college age). These living arrangements normally are for those accepted to their programs and require anywhere from a few month to life-long commitments. There isn’t much organized outreach, but they do have exclusive mission trips upon leadership approval.
Overall the church is a typical Charismatic church. As a visitor you can go for a great worship experience, spend time with God, meet friends and hear a thought-provoking sermon. The people are friendly and there is tons to keep you busy as a member.
If it's so great then why post about Spiritual Abuse?
As we all know, unless there were good parts, no one would ever join... after you are in for a while the red flags just don't stop waving. It was hard to admit I was spiritual abused, but without even looking for it, I kept stumbling upon cult/Spiritual abuse resources and 8-9/10 of the warning signs consistently matched the arising church and other churches in the one association. They keep loving on you, but it was always with an agenda, I can't remember how many times the leader would remind me "I know you love me" and similar phrases which tugged at my heart and used emotions to reel me back. When we left it was like a bad breakup and they feel like an exgirlfriend. I saw a counselor after it was over (the one the recommended I stop speaking to while I was there) and they said it's likely many people who leave struggle with PTSD. Subtle manipulation and corruption is often worse psychologically than straight up blatant attacks.
The line is blurred between what the Bible actually says and their interpretation or "God given" authority/position to a dangerous level. It's dangerous because in some cases they will tell you submit, in others, they simply plant seeds over long periods of time and create a culture of peer pressure where you need to submit to be accepted, or saying no to them is like saying no to God. They constantly compare people who "rebel" against them as if they are rebelling against Jesus. Several times, form the pulpit, they've said not to speak against the doctrine. The often silence or slowly push out those who disagree. People who disagree have been called "of their father the Devil" "cowards" "not serious" "charlatan" and many other things. Remember, this is regarding their doctrine, but they can't distinguish between their doctrine and the Bible so they just assume every church or person who opposes them is apostate.
You always have to verify what is taught on your own because the Hebrew Roots influences are so heavy. The biggest problem with this, isn't the Hebrew Roots movement, but that they constantly deny they display an excessive amount of similarities. They also cherry-pick parts of the Talmud, often misinterpreted and twisted to whatever their agenda is. I've literally asked actual Jewish scholars and presented it to the leadership and they just brush it off saying they have a "more astute" understanding when they're not even Jewish.
Pastors have a tendency to bully in private, but also from the pulpit. They know your sins or struggles and use them against you to discredit you, often in front of others. Prophecy can be unnecessarily supressed and it's common for them to push out prophets.
They don't destroy marriages, but they definitely cause issues. I remember several times thinking I should stay home and spend time with my wife and child, because God is the first ministry, not family, whenever I did, the pastor would always express disaproval and encourage me to "press in." If I chose to minister to my family instead of going to the church function, I was somehow not trusting God or hiding behind them as an excuse. Keep in mind, this church has functions going on almost daily if not multiple times a day. Never ONCE did anyone from the church ever recommenced visiting another church to see if that might help the family. Many people from outside the church would recommend this and I'd get upset with them, often thinking they were demonically possessed. "The church couldn't be the problem, it had to be my wife" was always how I looked at it because they created a perception of the church's value so high it became a idol to them and us.
I also recommend completely steering clear of the “discipleship” “Talmidim” programs taking place. In these programs, various members are given their own “disciples” who follow and are dependent on them. If you are inducted as a “disciple,” don’t make ANY major decisions you can’t reverse quickly when you leave the program (like sell a home, quit school, or remove family/other Christians from your life). Use prayer and your OWN resources (not the ones they give you) to fact check... and get a solid end date IN-WRITING with plans to leave as soon as it’s done. If you’re valuable to their agenda, they will attempt to make it life-long (though they are not upfront about this). They claim this is "the only way" to gain the way the Bible teaches and it's for all Christians. They have a book on it where, this program is the only "authentic" and "genuine" salvation.
I also wanted to address allegations that it’s a cult. While, yes, they joke in Sunday morning sermons about being a cult and, sadly, the head “rabbi” considers it a “badge of honor” to be called a cult leader— I don’t believe they are a cult. However, as mentioned before, there is plenty of spiritual abuse. Many members brought these or other issues up to leadership and had a similar experience to mine. They discredited us, made us feel guilty, pointed out sin in us to deflect, or straight up denied (often with laughter). They have blind-spots regarding agendas, interpretation and control issues which have, unfortunately, magnified by the aforementioned discipleship and Hebrew Roots similarities over the years. Have grace, BUT if it does go downhill, don’t feel ashamed to move on— you can find God and the same positive things they do at other churches without the Spiritual Abuse.
TL/DR: My old church deleted my Google Review so I wanted to share my experience of Spiritual Abuse here where it won't be deleted. Lots of what they do is good, and they (probably) aren't a cult, but there is a lot of spiritual abuse that needs to be reconciled.