Why would so many staff leave Gospel for Asia in 2015?
With almost 50 staff departing in 2015, no matter how long they served, each staff member had to make serious choices. The reasons for the exodus are many.
We left our church homes, our jobs, careers and our extended families to come on staff. Choosing to make these sacrifices to come serve at a place we believed in. We all tried to raise our support team as best we could. There would no longer be the involvement in churches like we took part in at home, involvement with local churches was not looked upon well up until about 2015. The concern was that it could “take you away” from the ministry. Small group bible studies never were sanctioned or encouraged at GFA for as long as we can remember. This was something that was missed by many staff.
Financial security was left at the door, unless you were retired or you had savings or investments. While serving at GFA it was very difficult to save money, so departing the ministry was a rather challenging prospect, especially for a younger family. The reasons to leave had to be strong ones, as strong as all the efforts we went through to get to GFA.
As for School of Discipleship students leaving in 2015, their circumstances are different, the program has a time commitment of one to two years. Some students chose to leave early from the program as they were able to see patterns of behavior at the ministry they viewed as less than forthright. Some of the students were concerned about the unique situation they were put in having to individually carry $4500 in cash to India in their group when they went on their two week tour of India as part of the program. See published article for context of School of Discipleship students carrying cash to India.
Not Your Normal Attrition
The 2015 staff exodus was not your normal attrition. It is true, people come and go from ministries and churches all the time, but this was different. If you look at how long so many of these staff had served and how much they personally invested in the work, in terms of time and commitment, these weren’t the type of people to leave over a little misunderstanding. This isn’t a case of personal conflict. Those kinds of things can be worked out in the body of Christ and personal conflicts were encouraged to be worked out quickly, as they should be in any ministry.
What people do leave over is repeat offenses that are born out of abusive patterns, they leave over a lack of trust. And if there is no true change in abusive patterns, let alone other forms of financial mismanagement, then you come to realize things will never change.
Patterns of Control
It wasn’t like these staff just made a decision to leave overnight. It can take time to see abusive patterns, especially if they are mixed with messages of obedience, obedience, obedience and suffering. On one hand at the office you were inundated with good reports from the fields of Asia of what God was doing, as we were told; on the other hand, you had spiritual authority taken to an extreme at the U.S. office.
When true spiritual authority is wielded with a warped version of God-given spiritual authority, it can be destructive on many levels, to an individual, a church or a movement.
The authoritarian atmosphere was prevelant from the early years of the ministry through 2015. Yet into 2016, with the advent of more public exposure of issues around GFA over the last year and a half, (see GFA Diaspora) less obvious control on staff and their personal lives may have emerged. Also, the physical absence of the President of Gospel for Asia from the U.S. office has now been the longest absence stretch known by any former or current staff.
The Authority Structure
*The fourth group coodinator who remained is the son of a founding staff member who grew up in GFA.
A challenging matter to unwrap is that of spiritual abuse. It’s hard to define it well, yet here is an definition from Relevant. Read full article.
Abuse of authority, controlling practices, spiritual abuse comes in different flavors. It can be repetative ungodly patterns from a leader shrouded in false humilty. It’s partial truths spoken to large and small groups from a leader in the church or movement. It is an elusive demon that can dart and sting when no one is spiritually looking for it. Spiritual abuse can happen in closed door meetings with only two or three people. It can occur in settings of small groups with top leaders, in little moments that can be personally destructive. It is subtle.
Often members of a church or movement will want the approval of a leader. The desire for approval can leave you wanting, especially if aspects of approval are withheld by the leader. Yet every once in while you get a dose of approval, which keeps you going to the next dose. Unhealthy all around.
Testimonies from former Gospel for Asia staff:
One example is from a former staff couple Troy and Pam — read their testimony. Treated and spoken to in a very non-christian manner. Their daughter was also part of the School of Discipleship program and later staff.
Another example is the testimony of Lenny and Tiffany. The way they were let go from the ministry is very interesting. “the following day (after being let go) my wife was going in for her second major back surgery” -Lenny
Beware of the Leaven
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warns his disciples to be wary of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Matthew 16: 6-12 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Here is a general illustration of staff attrition in 2015. It does not include names. Just take a look at the context as to who some of them were, the positions some of them held and who they spent much of their time interacting with. Click the image to see a larger, easy to read view.
So Who Remains?
Many of the staff that remain (not all) are those who were born into or linked to core staff families through marriage or some other connection. Try to put that into context and understand that paradigm. If you were born and raised into GFA, not knowing anything else, you might be prone to stay. Imagine some of the staff kids who, from their youth, have known nothing but GFA.
There is never any question about these folks on a personal level, the staff are wonderful. The difference really comes down to a core leadership team that has been mentored closely by the president. Whether you are aware of being mentored or not, the patterns created when you are in a state of unquestioning submission to that leader can dramatically change your view, and that same pattern can be carried to those around you.
The reasons so many staff left are many, yet one only has to read through some of the materials published to draw some conclusions as to the climate of the office leading up to the many public reports. Sadly some current staff have chosen not to read anything that has been published.
- The way the ministry handled the group of former staff called GFA Diaspora could have played a major role in so many staff leaving. Actions speak louder than words.
- The findings of former GFA board member Gayle Erwin, who investigated GFA to see if there were spiritual abuses of authority are alarming. – Read the report.
- The fact that Gayle Erwin writes an apology letter to J.D. because his original report was written to appease the GFA board and president. We are all very thankful to Gayle Erwin for his humilty and honesty.
- Think of the impact of longtime staff finding out for the first time about the stockpiles of cash in India.
- Think about longtime staff finding out in a staff meeting about School of Discipleship students being given $4500 in cash to take over to India.
- Think about staff finding out in a staff meeting that a gift of $19 million that was originally reported as an anonymous gift, yet it turned out it was a transfer of funds from India, not an anonymous gift.
Can You Feel the Love?
We were once called family.
With over 100 former staff a part of the GFA Diaspora, add to that a new crop of former staff emerging out of the ranks in 2015, you have a considerable group of people that are questioning both financial issues and matters of integrity. These questions are no longer based on conjecture, but much has been published and documented to validate concerns. Sadly, most who choose to leave GFA are lumped together in the minds of staff and leadership as all the Diaspora.
Can you feel the love? It’s hard to feel the love when *certain former staff and certain School of Discipleship students are not allowed on campus, and the gates are closed to them and their families. Fellowship isn’t encouraged with former staff, though the body of Christ is one.
Also, many find the practice of “non-biblical shunning” ironic and irresponsible. In this case, the weights and measures are significantly out of balance as to how scripture is applied. We served on staff, we were called a family and now we are cast away.
There are also former employees that date back to the pre-2000 era at the ministry, some have shared about their experiences that follow similar patterns as noted by the GFA Diaspora.
*Certain former staff and certain former School of Discipleship students are allowed on campus and allowed to fellowship with current staff.