The Association of Related Churches, or ARC, is arguably the biggest church planting organization in North America. It’s also one of the most embattled . . . with scandals involving ARC pastors hitting the news with shocking regularity.
In this episode of The Roys Report podcast, former ARC pastor Jeff Thompson explains why.
In 2012, Jeff says he was enamored with ARC’s model of “launching large”—of starting a church with a big capital investment, top-notch worship team, and professional marketing. But when that effort flopped, Jeff began to question the biblical basis of ARC’s methods.
He says the movement glorifies success as measured in attendance and budgets—but it minimizes sin, especially among its pastors.
ARC also embraces a “Moses” model of ministry, which, as Jeff explains, is extremely problematic. In this model, the pastor is revered as a prophet who receives the church’s vision directly from God. This essentially allows the pastor to operate without accountability, Jeff says.
Plus, most overseers in ARC churches are not local church members. Instead, they’re ARC pastors from out of town—who only see what a pastor wants them to see, he adds.
There’s much more in this extremely important and timely podcast.
EDITORIAL NOTE: *This podcast has been modified to remove a source we have discovered is not credible.
JULIE ROYS, JEFF THOMPSON
JULIE ROYS 00:00
It’s arguably the biggest church planting organization in North America and is responsible for some of the largest and fastest growing churches in the United States. But as my guest today will argue, the Association of Related Churches is not operating on biblical principles. And it’s no wonder so many of its churches and pastors are embroiled in scandal. Welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And joining me today is Jeff Thompson, co-pastor of Gospel City Church in Vancouver, Canada. He’s also a former pastor with the Association of Related Churches, also known as ARC. In 2012, Jeff says he was enamored with ARC’s model of launching large, of starting a church with a big capital investment, top notch worship team and professional marketing. But when that effort flopped, Jeff began to question ARC’s methods. He also began questioning the ARC culture that seemed to glorify success but dismiss pastors’ moral failures. Today, Jeff believes ARC is an unbiblical church movement. And in this podcast, he’ll give you an inside look to this incredibly influential and powerful organization. But first, I’d like to thank the sponsors of this podcast, Judson University and Marquardt of Barrington Judson University is a top ranked Christian University providing a caring community and an excellent college experience. Plus, the school offers more than 60 majors great leadership opportunities and strong financial aid. Judson University is shaping lives that shaped the world. For more information, just go to Judsonu.edu. Also, if you’re looking for a quality new or used car, I highly recommend my friends at Marquardt of Barrington. Marquardt is a Buick GMC dealership where you can expect honesty, integrity, and transparency. That’s because the owners there Dan and Kurt Marquardt are men of character. To check them out, just go to buyacar123.com. Well, again, joining me is Jeff Thompson, the co-pastor of Gospel City Church in Vancouver, Canada. He’s also a former pastor of Calvary Chapel in South Florida. And before that, he was a worship pastor of a tiny church in Temple, Texas. So, Jeff, welcome, and I’m so glad you could join us.
JEFF THOMPSON 02:21
Thank you for having me, Julie. It’s, it’s an honor to be here.
JULIE ROYS 02:28
And you’re speaking very publicly about ARC and the criticism. What made you want to come forward and speak publicly about this now?
JEFF THOMPSON 03:10
I was on Reddit and somewhere in that wormhole, I came upon a sub-Reddit, that’s called All About COTH and COTH is an abbreviation for Church of the Highlands. Chris Hodges’ church in Alabama, I believe it is. There was a lot of disillusionment going on about somethings happening at Church of the Highlands right now that as respectfully as I can say it are very valid concerns. And what I noticed as I read through was just a lot of hurt among people who had been attending Church of the Highlands, which is a massive church. And they were all gathered together in in this one place online, on Reddit. And I just had such a heart for these people who had spent years and years and years in the church, and they were now questioning big things like, Do I even go to a church? Can I trust anybody ever again? Are all pastors liars? And as a pastor who has no personal connection to that situation, or church, I just began commenting and just trying to encourage people who were feeling some of that pain, like people who’ve, who’ve given and served for years at a church, just wanted to encourage them that that none of that is wasted. You know if they did that, for the Lord, he saw all of it. And it’s not a waste just because the person at the top or some key leaders have made some decisions that are very questionable. And so through that, I started answering some questions that people had.
JULIE ROYS 04:05
Yeah, well, and I appreciate that. And I should mention, you brought up Chris Hodges and Church of the Highlands. That’s kind of the mothership isn’t it of ARC churches? That church has been a major player and Chris Hodges as well, a major player. So, you’ll be hearing quite a bit about that in this podcast. But let’s back up a little bit to 2012 when you went to plant a church in Vancouver, Canada, and you decided to go with the Association of Related Churches or ARC. What was it about ARC that attracted you, and you said, hey, this is an organization I want to go with?
JEFF THOMPSON 06:24
Sure. So, when you’re church planting, the way you measure success rate is really after two to three years, is the church still viable? Does it still exist financially? Or has it had to shut down? And so, you look at an ARC success rate was through the roof compared to any other church planting model. I think it was, it was something like 88% when I got involved of their churches, were financially self-sustaining within two years. And so yeah, ARC looked very, very appealing, their success rate in terms of viability was through the roof, they offered a system, and when your church planting that’s, that’s very appealing, and I felt a little bit out of place from the beginning, because we always felt called to be an expositional Bible teaching church. To teach through the Bible verse by verse and chapter by chapter. And that’s, that’s not really the ARC methodology. And so, we felt a little bit out of place, sort of from the beginning, but I thought, but we can take all their help in all these other systems that we don’t know anything about. And so that that’s why I got involved initially.
JULIE ROYS 07:30
Hmm. And you also had there I’ve heard you use this term Launch Large. What does Launch Large mean when we’re talking about our churches? You know, isn’t there an idea that with ARC, if you come up with like, 50k, we’re going to give you 50k, we’ll match you and there’ll be some funding. And so, you’re going to be able to hire a whole programming team, and you’re going to be able to do like a really great service from day one, as opposed to we’re meeting in our living room till we get to 25. I mean, right? I mean, is this kind of the idea?
JEFF THOMPSON 08:04
Launch Large actually has its roots in the seeker sensitive movement. So, the seeker sensitive movement began to essentially say, you know, we’re in competition with everything else that takes up the world’s weekends, we’re in competition with Disneyland. We’re in competition with pro sports, which is just not true. Jesus doesn’t compete with anybody. He stands alone. And so, everything had to be excellent. And so, you’re going for that wow factor. And the branding and the signage is amazing. And you’re very first service, you’ve got an incredible high quality worship team leading worship with lighting and outstanding sound. And you have you have all your programs ready to go pretty much from day one, you’ve got a youth group, you’ve got a growth track and growth track is modeled off of Rick Warren’s base system is very similar to what it is. And the idea and the pitch that ARC actually gives, you they use the phrase, “You can launch hard, or you can launch with the ARC”, you know, and that’s, that’s the pitch is going to be easier and better if you launch with this model. The idea is that by launching large you can skip over this classic church growth, church planning barriers of 25, 50, 75, 100. You can just launch to 150 plus and be functioning as a relatively large church from day one. That’s the goal and that’s the pitch with the ARC.
JULIE ROYS 09:31
And it’s worked. I mean, it’s been wildly successful. And they’ve had the ARC has had some of the fastest growing churches in America. They launched really big, they grew really big and now they’re some of these churches embroiled in scandal and this is one of my main questions. I started hearing about ARC churches from other pastors who were in the area telling me about what the heck is going on at these ARC churches. Like I’m seeing what this pastor is doing and you know, I’m all for churches growing but the man that stuff that’s happening behind the scenes? And then I found out here in Chicago after I reported on James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel and not just James MacDonald, but every executive pastor which I love that title, but we won’t get into that. But every executive pastor at Harvest ends up resigning, including James MacDonald’s two sons, Landon, and Luke MacDonald. Well, Luke goes off to California, and does a stint at a church in LA. And then he comes back now he’s planting a church with ARC. So, he’s an unlike Luke MacDonald, I published stories. So, if that’s a new name to you, just go to my website and, and put in the search Luke MacDonald, and you’ll see that he’s, you know, every bit the bully that James MacDonald was. He was a part of the system, he, he enabled this system. I mean, I just have a really horrible stories from numerous people. It’s not just one person, its numerous people coming forward. And I’m like, what on earth is ARC doing, platforming this guy to start a new church? He should never be in ministry again. So here he is planting a church. And this is my question, did they do vetting with you? Because I’m seeing all of these scandals at our churches. And I’m wondering, it sounds like it’s a business model, and they’re trying to attract you to their business model. I’m not hearing a church model where we’re jealous for the integrity of the church, and that every pastor, like when you go on the mission field, man, you got to go through, I’ve had people that have had to go through the vetting for missions, and it’s rigorous. And a lot of people don’t make it, you know, and depending on your mission’s organization, but how are these pastors getting through? What kind of vetting did you go through to become an ARC pastor?
JEFF THOMPSON 11:44
You go to an initial, essentially vision pitch event. If you’ve watched any of the Lululemon documentaries that are out there, they’re really fascinating, but they talk about how they have these really high energy, hyper positive events all the time. And if and if anyone raises concerns, it’s, it’s sort of pushed to the side and they said, well, we’re going to have positive energy here. We want to make sure that we have, you know, affirming thoughts going on here. And what can happen within the ARC is the terminology they use is life giving. Everything is about a life-giving culture, but it’s the same sort of idea. Everything we do is going to be positive, every speech we have is going to be positive. And there’s nothing wrong with being happy. You know, positivity is contagious, it’s great to be with a bunch of happy fun, successful looking people. And there’s certainly something within you as a as a human that goes, oh, I, you know, I want I want that, you know? We’re all human beings. And so you go to this event, and, and so after that, you fill out your application, which is pretty, pretty extensive online. And when I did it, there were some I believe, online interviews, and they, they look into a couple of key things. They, they look into the health of your marriage, they look into the health of your personal finances. And they look into your basic abilities through conversations. And then after you’ve gone through that, and you’ve been approved, you get access to their whole online training program that has multiple mini courses on every aspect of ministry you can think spreadsheets, on what to buy, what products, everything like that. And then you have sort of a checklist that you need to work through. Like you have to have a launch team of 30 people. You mentioned the one thing you raise up to a certain amount of funds, and you have to have a launch team as well, when I did it, and then they will match. When I did it was up to $30,000. It’s not a gift, it’s given as an interest free loan. And so, you commit to pay that back with a percentage of your church’s income. And then after you’ve paid back, you continue to give a percentage of your church’s income to the ARC.
JULIE ROYS 13:50
So that’s in the contract?
JEFF THOMPSON 13:52
Yes, it is.
JULIE ROYS 13:53
Okay, because I talked to Greg Suratt, and he said, no, it’s all giving back to the ARC is voluntary.
JEFF THOMPSON 14:01
When I did it, it was a requirement. And I believe the amount was 2% of the church’s income was it was a minimum of that amount. And I was under the impression that was required till I withdrew from the ARC about two years ago. So it was that way for a significant period of time, and I can’t verify or deny what it might be today.
JULIE ROYS 14:21
Well, I will just say that what you just told me 2% was what I was told by another ARC church, so it jives with what I was told but again, Greg Suratt, who is one of the leaders of the ARC, told me it’s all voluntary, which does not seem to jive with what I was told but very interesting. So, for you, it does sound like there was some vetting there. At least you know, ostensibly, there was. You had to go through this this application process.
JEFF THOMPSON 14:51
I can tell you, when Elevation joined the ARC, they did not sit Steven Furtick down and evaluate his personal finances that is very, you know that there is a certain level of church and of celebrity where you are where you’re a fast tracked through, there’s just no way that these guys are going through the process that regular church planters are going through. You know, like, in the time that I was there, I saw large people come in, join the ARC, and go straight onto the ARC lead team, and things like this. So, there is a lot of a lot of networking, especially at the at the higher levels. And there is a Have you said, what are the core characteristics of the ARC? They’re extremely big on second chances and all these sorts of things. And as I’m sure you can speak to Julie, are you know, the concern is not grace. I think every believer believes in in grace and in forgiveness and in reconciliation. I think the concern is that restoration, biblical restoration can’t happen without biblical repentance. And that’s, that’s the real concern is there, there’s multiple, multiple, it’s the reason you know, our church left the ARC. It’s just multiple, multiple examples of a real lack of repentance. But then let’s just restore them anyway. And let’s just keep going. And we don’t need a negative confession, we’re going forward in faith.
JULIE ROYS 16:15
That’s not positive thinking. That’s a lot of negative energy, man, I mean, this repentance thing, and it’s become such a huge problem. And we’ll get into that. I do want to dive into that; all the fallen pastors that have been a part of that. And, you know, the question isn’t whether or not these people should be restored to the church and whether or not they should be forgiven. But the question is, you can be restored to the church, are you restored to a position of leadership, when the Bible says very clearly that you should be above reproach and have a good reputation. And that, that takes an awful lot of time, once it’s lost, if it can be recovered at all. And so that, that is a major, major issue. But let’s continue with your story. And then we’ll come back to it because the way that this model works, right? it’s, again, you do this, this launch, it’s really professional, you got everything together. And you’ll get a certain amount of people that first week because you put out a bunch of flyers, right? I mean, like you blanket the place, like how many 1000 flyers did you put out, inviting people?
JEFF THOMPSON 17:14
You do this massive mail out about a week before you do your first launch service. And they had, they tracked all the statistics of churches that had done it. And the figures were incredible. When I did it, on average, if you sent out 60,000 fliers across your city, you would have on average 350 people show up on your launch Sunday.
JULIE ROYS 17:35
Which is huge!
JEFF THOMPSON 17:36
It’s insane for a launch Sunday for a first church. I mean, you can tell why, you know, if you’re in the vision pitch conference, your eyes light up if you’re a church planter, you know, because you’re thinking maybe, well, maybe for my first few years, like, I’ll just be killing myself working four jobs to make this thing work. And then suddenly, you’re like, holy smokes, I could just jump over all of that. And then they tell you your second week that you would expect about 50% of the people to come back, and then you’d be off and running. So, if you had 350, you’d have 175 your second weekend, and you’d probably settle around 140-150 at the end of that first month. But you’re off and running your church of 150 people after a month.
JULIE ROYS 18:16
in the Bible Belt in America in the Bible. Okay. And so, this is where it’s so interesting, because and I think, honestly, it’s probably becoming less and less true as we become more and more post Christian even here in the United States. But Canada, you’ve been there for a long time. So, you’re in Vancouver, which my understanding of Vancouver I’ve been there once incredible, beautiful city. But it’s very post Christian, very, very small number of evangelicalisms. There are very few people who are saying, Oh, great, there’s a new church in town. This sounds great. So, you launch. How does that go for you?
JEFF THOMPSON 18:58
We had 68 people for our first Sunday. 68 people. And I remember driving home because it was a low point in ministry for me because I ran the numbers on the cost of printing and mailing in Canada and I realized I would have had twice as many people if I just walked around and told people I’ll give you $100 to come to my church on Sunday. I would have twice as many people. So, we did it. We launched large we had the whole production, worship team, lights, everything. Everything looked great. 68 first week, and the 50% thing happens. 34 the second week and then just trickles down, down down to I remember the low point was 12 people and when you have more people on the stage than you do in the congregation that this is not working. When I look back, I wished that we would have started in our living room and then moved to our garage and just done that organically because it would have taken so much pressure off. It would have you know, lowered the cost so much.
JULIE ROYS 20:02
So, your church, I mean, it didn’t happen according to the ARC plan, you basically had to start over again. But it wasn’t just that. I mean, obviously that would cause you to rethink what about this this whole system? But then you started culturally seeing some things and we’ve already hinted at this, you know, there’s a lot of fallen pastors who, who have just been incorporated into the ARC or they launched from the ARC and after they fall, man, they’re just they’re just brought right back in. But I mean, some of the big ones, John Gray, for example, Relentless Church. I mean, this guy, I mean, how many times does he have to admit that he’s had affairs before and again affairs when it’s somebody that’s in the church? That’s not really an affair, that’s clergy sexual abuse. Because of the, you know, that the kind of power differential that’s there. He’s on the lead team at ARC. We’ve got Dino Rizzo. Yeah, still, I mean, I can’t believe I went on actually, I went on the website before we even recorded and I’m like, I’m gonna go check. He’s still there. We’ve got Dino, Dino Rizzo, who’s the executive director of ARC. This is a man who admitted to an inappropriate relationship, which again, that’s kind of minimalistic, never really told about what the details were of this relationship he had when he was a megachurch pastor, he gets replatformed there at Church of the Highlands. With Chris Hodges. Next thing you know, now he’s the executive director of a church planting organization. And then, you know, more recently, we’ve just had, I mean, there’s an ARC has been named in a lawsuit either ARC or ARC executives with a church down Joshua Mauney church down in Florida, where Joshua Mauney was an ARC pastor. And then it was found that there’s a woman who’s accusing him of sexually assaulting her. We’ve got Jason Delgado in Vibrant Church in Mississippi, who, again, sexual harassment, and then they’re saying, ARC covered it up. When we brought it to them, they didn’t do anything. We’ve got Micahn Carter, who went from a big ARC church in Yakima, Washington, comes kind of quietly to Church of the Highlands. Then the woman that says that he raped her goes public with it. And then, you know, Church of the Highlands says, oh, we didn’t know, and they pull him from their staff. He kind of quietly it’s quietly as they could leave. Now we’ve got Tavner Smith, who just at Venue Church again, one of the fastest growing churches in America. But you know, we got the churches there, you know, as the saying says, a mile wide and an inch deep. He’s now admitted that he’s had again, I would call it sexual misconduct. It’s not an affair, when you have it with somebody who’s on staff at your church, you’re her boss. So, it’s just thing after thing after thing. And this philosophy of restoring these fallen pastors. Church of the Highlands now is building a $4.5 million lodge to restore pastors like we don’t have enough wolves out there. We need to get more back in there. I mean, it is unbelievable what’s going on. And you began seeing this. So, tell me about your process, when you started seeing this, you know, when did you kind of start to think, hmm, there’s this is just not passing the smell test?
JEFF THOMPSON 23:10
Yeah, I, you know, when it when it happened a few times, and I would hear about it would immediately try to assume the best. You know, there’s a few bad apples is gonna be the case, no matter what denomination or what network you’re a part of. But then it just, it just got to the point where I, you know, I’ve been to recently to an art conference, down in California. Art Conference West Coast. And I just remember, as I would hear these reports, like, it would get to the point where the percentage of speakers that I had seen at that art conference that had had some type of moral failure, like just became absurd. It was like, a quarter of the speakers at the conference. And I’d seen a lot of a lot of speakers and they, they’d all been given time on time on stage. And, and it just got to the point where I said, you know, this is, like, this is cultural. There’s something I didn’t know how to describe it more specifically than that, but just this is, this is cultural. And I had begun to be very concerned with the way it was being handled, which is that ARC overseers would come in and tell the church, something’s happened. He’s a good man, you know, God’s still got a plan for this church, and you just need to trust us to take care of it behind the scenes, you don’t need to know the details. And I just thought this is this is really problematic. And then, you know, like, one of the things I appreciate about you, Julie, is just that you don’t name names unless, you know the facts. And so that that’s what I want to do too. And so, if I’m if I’m naming names, it’s because the facts have come out. This is not gossip. This is not hearsay. And I just want people to know that. One of the big issues was when the BLM riots were happening and everything like that, and when the George Floyd incident happened, and I apologize if this sounds crass to anyone but among every church that wanted to be culturally relevant, there was a scramble to say we’ve got to get, we’ve got to get somebody who’s black to be on the podium this Sunday to talk about this. I don’t have another word for it, it was an absolute scramble. And, and I remember Furtick got John Gray, had him at his church, and I, and I just remember that and that was at the time, by the way, where all these allegations had come out that he had he and it come out because he publicly went in front of his church, essentially admitted to an affair to his church, actually made a joke about sleeping on the sofa. And then basically said, and we’re just going to keep going on and that was it. Like, that was it we’re just gonna go on like, like nothing happened. And that that was public knowledge at the time. And I remember thinking what, like, what are we doing, you know, presenting someone? And then also what, what makes you a specialist on biblical race relations that at this point? and, and I was disillusioned culturally, by the fact that, you know, when, when all that’s going on what a church needs is it needs its pastor to faithfully point people to the Scriptures. We don’t need a societal or sociological commentary on anything. With everything, we need to go back to the Scriptures. And I was so disillusioned with John Gray’s presence at Elevation that it just felt to me like this is this is, you know, emblematic of the entire massive problem.
JULIE ROYS 26:30
You bring up Furtick. And I’m just realizing, as you’re speaking, it’s not just sex, its money, sex, and power, right? I mean, you’ve got the power, you’ve got that charisma, you’ve got now this huge church, in many cases, looking up to you giving you platform and worshiping you. And then you know, Furtick, built that huge, you know, multimillion dollar home and just the amount of money. And this has become an issue at a bunch of these ARC churches, where they’re taking so much money for themselves. There’s no oversight. So, when you get to Ecclesiastical problems and governance problems, there’s a couple of things. There’s one, the Moses model, which I want to talk about that with you. There’s also there’s no local elders. You have these pastors and other mega churches within ARC. Supposedly, they’re out of town, so they don’t know what the heck’s going on. They’re from out of town. They’re supposedly providing oversight, and it’s a little bit like the fox watching the henhouse. So many of these pastors have proven themselves to be that. So, let’s just start though with the Moses model. Tell me about that, and why that’s just such a horrible unbiblical model that seems to be ignoring the new covenant that we’re in.
JEFF THOMPSON 27:47
The Moses model basically says, God raises up specific leaders for a specific task for a specific time. This is what we see him do with Moses, that’s where the term comes from. This is what we see him do with Joshua with Gideon with the judges with multiple Old Testament saints. And so, Calvary Chapel would say that’s what a church leadership structure should look like. It’s one especially anointed person, and then the church and the people need to rally around him and just support him as he fulfills and works out the vision that God has called him to. And so, what you would find generally in Calvary Chapel churches is they have a board, because you’re legally required to have a board if you’re a registered charity. But the board is, is not there to hold a pastor accountable or anything like that. The view is we’re here to empower you to do whatever you want to do. Even in most Calvary Chapels, and most Southern Baptist churches, the board is not made up of pastors, they’re not ministry people. Often, they’re the most influential people in the church, or they’re the most savvy business people. Sometimes they’re the biggest givers. And obviously, this is not always the case, but they’re not, they’re not pastors. And I would argue that when you look in the Bible, the term elder is a synonym for Pastor. These are the people doing the leading the ministries of the church. And so, the one thing that I would say is you cannot claim that you have a board that keeps you accountable, if it consists of people who are not in the trenches doing ministry with you every day. And the reason I say that is because they don’t, they don’t know you. They don’t see you at your worst when you’re under pressure and under stress. They don’t see how you treat the staff; they don’t see how you interact with congregants all the time. And in the ARC that effect is amplified because as you said, they call it the Board of Overseers, but everyone’s Board of Overseers generally consists of other ARC pastors, and so they’re getting together twice a year to hang out and have a good time because they enjoy hanging out. But they are whoever they present themselves to be during those two meetings. And so, if someone is not actually doing life with you, they can’t hold you accountable because they don’t see you or know you for who you are on a regular basis. And the entire thesis that undergirds the Moses model, is the idea that the lead pastor has a greater anointing than the ordinary person does. And that is not in line with New Testament teaching at all. The New Testament teaching is that we all have the same Holy Spirit, we all have equal access to God and Jesus, we don’t need a mediator because we have Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and man. And the only difference is that our roles are different, and our callings are different. It’s equal value that church mirrors, you know, how what the Bible describes the marriage relationship to be, which is equal value, different roles. And so, when I realized this, it hit me like a ton of bricks, because it made me say, and this is my personal belief now that this is not an issue of different strokes for different folks, but we all get along. This is an issue of there is one model in the New Testament, just one, just one. And the Moses model ignores what happened on Pentecost. And so, to push that as a model is under the new covenant unbiblical; its theologically unsound.
JULIE ROYS 31:24
Amen. Let’s talk just a minute about that we do not have a congregation that’s Biblically literate. And so, when a pastor manipulates the Scripture, the people in the pews, not pews, in the theater seats, the people don’t get it. They don’t know the Scripture well enough. And, you know, I’ve heard this, and I guess I’m really curious. And this is one of the reasons I love having somebody who’s been, you know, on the inside of ARC, but the sermons I know, I talked to one person who said, you know, it was weird when I was at an ARC church. It was very one there was a cycle. Like when I was there for like, more than a year, I started to see we’re recycling sermons. And then I’m seeing the social media on other ARC churches, and it sounds like they’re doing the same thing we’re doing. And she was like, and it’s really shallow stuff, too. Like, it’s not like we’re learning the Bible. We’re learning these, you know, very feel-good kind of sermons. So would you speak to that, the sermons and in what’s going on as far as teaching people at these ARC churches.
JEFF THOMPSON 32:31
Another layer of protection is developing a biblically literate congregation. There’s so much in our church that I could never get away with as a pastor because our church knows the Bible. And not only do they know the Bible, but they know to go to the Bible when something seems off. You know, Paul mentions, again, this, this is Paul, the greatest pastor who’s ever lived. When he goes to Berea, and he goes into the synagogue, and he preaches. Luke records, that the Bereans were more noble than the people in Thessalonica, because they listened to Paul with open hearts and open ears, but then they went on their own for days, and searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul was telling them was true. And so, what I love about that, though, is the Bible doesn’t say, and Paul was offended, because how dare you assume that the word of the anointed is not good enough. It actually says they were noble. That’s their legacy and scripture. Paul himself is not offended. He says, Praise God, that they’re going to the Scriptures. And so, I tell my church regularly this, I say, don’t believe anything you hear because you hear me say it. Go and research it for yourself, come to your own conclusions. You don’t even have to agree with me, but don’t take my word for anything. I want you to become Biblically literate for yourself and a critical thinker about the Scriptures. And so, there’s some very interesting practical factors that go into the teaching culture in ARC churches. So, one is because they tend to blow up and become large, they have to have more and more services. And so, when you have to fit three or four services into a Sunday morning, what do you have to do, you have to shrink the length of the services. The successful ARC churches have services, typically under an hour in length, for the whole service. That’s 55 minutes is very, very common, because you got to think you got to have a service, then you got to turn all the people over, people got to get out the parking lot the other people got to get in. And so, as the service time shrinks, the length of the message shrinks. And so, it’s very hard to teach expositionally when you’ve got 25 minutes, that’s just the honest truth. You’ve got 25 minutes, but the seeker sensitive church planting culture actually says listen that this is not a problem, because we live in an ADD culture, and so people get bored so you should only be teaching 25 minutes anyway or you’re going to lose people’s attention. And so again, the goal is appeasing the consumer. The goal is not well, how much time do you need to actually explain the scriptures to somebody? That’s not the issue, we’ve got a very tight time cap, we’re working with 55 minutes, we want to have 25 minutes of worship, we got to have announcements, at least 25 minutes for the message. And what do you want on the checklist? You want people to have a positive experience in your church. And so, in that life giving culture immediately, it means there’s a whole bunch of stuff in the Bible you are not going to want to touch. It’s going to be on something positive, or a very, very felt need, what I would say. It’s about having an emotional connection. And I should share here, my, my pastor in Florida, when I was there, made one of the most astute observations I had ever heard about the role of emotion in church. And he said, and this is so true, he said, Jeff, most people, most Christians can’t tell the difference between their emotions in the Holy Spirit. And so, if they have an emotional experience in church, they assume that they’ve had a Holy Spirit experience in church. This is why Mark Driscoll could stand up at Mars Hill, and call people trash and scum for an hour. And they would go, oh, my gosh, I’ve just I’ve just encountered the Spirit of God. And it’s like, no, no, you didn’t your pastor just made you feel like trash. That’s all. That’s all that happened. You know, but people assume that and so that that’s going to be the goal of a message. And I know again, many good pastors in their mind, they’re saying, well, I am teaching the Scripture, but it’s going to be often very selective because you have such a short amount of time to work it in, and you’re going to teach something that’s hopefully going to make somebody want to come back. And obviously I am generalizing, we can’t say that that’s what all ARC churches are like. But if you go to any of the larger name ARC churches, that’s generally what you’re going to find. And so, there’s whole chunks of the Bible that never get touched because they’re, they’re difficult. You know, it’s, it’s tough to share the parts of the Bible where Jesus says, you know, if you’re not willing to leave father and mother for me, you’re not worthy of me. If you’re not willing to walk away from everything, you’re not, you’re not worthy of Me, and everybody wants to hear that God has an amazing plan for your life.
JULIE ROYS 37:28
So, the pastors though, are they receiving from ARC, any direction on what they should preach on? Is that just a coincidence that people are noticing that there’s kind of a cycle of different of different things that are preached? and you know, giving is emphasized at certain times of the year and volunteerism is, you know, emphasized at certain times. I mean, how does that work?
JEFF THOMPSON 37:54
Yeah, there’s no it’s not like the Catholic Church where you know, every diocese gets their reading for the week. It’s certainly not like that. But what does happen is, it’s probably most noticeable around like summer, because summer, generally your lower attendance time. So, lots of pastors don’t even want to be in the pulpit in the summer because they don’t want to preach to half a congregation. That’s just that’s just the reality. I’m just telling the truth. And I’m not saying that’s me, I’ve had to just get over that. And, and so what they look for is they look for what can we do, and probably the biggest example of what you’re talking about is the message series every year called At the Movies, that comes from Craig Groeschel church. Lots of ARC churches will do, At the Movies series, and they’ll just get everything from the website is called Open Resources, where lots of ARC churches put their entire sermon transcripts on there, all their artwork and everything like that. And some of that stuff can be good. You know, if you’re, if you’re a small church, and you’re doing a series on the book of Joshua, you know, it’s, it’s great to not have to spend hours coming up with your own artwork, when you can just go and borrow from someone who’s willing to let you use it. And then that sort of thing is fine. But then also, at ARC conferences, they’re going to, they’re going to teach you some systems, and that’s why you’ll see them show up, they’re going to teach you this is, you know, at the end of the year, you want to do a given campaign toward end of your giving for people. And so, all these different areas, they’re going to teach the churches that and so a lot of them will take that advice and run with it. So that that’s generally where that comes from. There’s no top-down orders. But there’s definitely a culture of let’s look at the largest, “successful, most successful” churches in the ARC, and let’s borrow what they’re doing. And let’s do that. Because that’s an aspirational goal in ARC churches, you know? If you’re an ARC church, generally your goal is to become like those churches.
JULIE ROYS 39:54
Bigger is better.
JEFF THOMPSON 39:55
That’s the goal. Bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger. Yeah.
JULIE ROYS 39:58
So, I mean, we could talk for hours and hours, about churches, about ARC, about the philosophy of ministry, and I’ve just so appreciated your heart because I can tell that you’re a Shepherd. You know, that’s where your heart is that you love people, you love God, you love his people. But I’m thinking of somebody that I know who when I first started reporting on ARC, I got a text from her. And she said, oh, my word, my church is an ARC church, I didn’t even know. Like, it’s not a lot of these churches. They’re not like putting up upfront ARC church, you know, you may not even know unless you go to the website, that ARC has, which interestingly, got taken down as I started reporting a lot of these stories. Now, I don’t know what it is.
JEFF THOMPSON 40:45
Church finder features gone.
JULIE ROYS 40:46
Yeah, the church finder is at you know, and I don’t know, by the time that this podcast is published, will it be back up? I don’t know, I just know that as I started reporting, coincidentally, the church finder thing was gone. So, you couldn’t go on the website and find and says, it’s, it’s under construction. So, we’ll see what happens. But she found out she’s in an ARC church. And she’s having real trouble with that right now. As she’s seeing a lot of these patterns at her own church. And she’s like, Can I trust my pastors? And like you said, we this is kind of, I want to end this kind of where we began, you know, you on Reddit, and I’ve seen the threads. I’ve been on Reddit, in fact, Reddit’s fantastic. I mean, in a lot of ways, it gives a forum for people to, to share their heart and to, you know, just be able to talk about things that have been silenced for so long. And to find out, I’m not crazy, like somebody else experienced this. And I think that’s really helpful for people. But just speak to that person right now, who just feels incredibly disillusioned. Do I stay with this church? Do I leave this church? How do I bring accountability? You know, what’s the solution?
JEFF THOMPSON 41:55
Yeah, there are a lot of ARC churches out there who are led by people who genuinely love the Lord, genuinely want to please Jesus. And this is everything they know. You know, it was a like, I think back, you know, five years ago, I didn’t know what I know now about the elder led church being the model in the New Testament, and I’ve been working in churches for two decades. There are lots of ARC churches that have wonderful pastors and lead teams who love Jesus, and they might not have ever been exposed to expositional Bible preaching, they might not have ever been exposed to the New Testament model of elders. And so, I would just ask someone to, to begin with the with that assumption, because it’s more likely that that’s the case, then that your pastor learned all these things and said, no, forget it, I’m gonna do something awful instead, haha. I don’t think that’s the case most of the time. And I would encourage that person, just to open a conversation with their pastor about those things. And then, you know, I think the response of the pastor will reveal some things too. But you know, you can’t expect the pastor in that conversation to be like, thank you for pointing that out. We’re now going to switch to an elder led model, you know. He’s going to have to wrestle with this and think through these things. But actually, ask these questions, you know, just say, how, how come this is the model we see consistently in the New Testament, and yet, the model we have at our church is, is not elders and pastors leading the church together, it’s a group of overseers who don’t actually work at the church throughout the week, they don’t interact with our people, and this is nothing like the New Testament model? But try to graciously and gently open those conversations under the assumption that your pastor might not have ever been exposed to this. And if they love the Lord, they’re going to think on it. And it might take a while. And so, I would encourage people to be to be gracious in that regard. But I would also you know, I You mentioned, we want to speak to the consumer as well and we hate to use that crass word. But, but let’s not pretend that that Scripture doesn’t prophesy that in the last days, men will seek out and acquire for themselves teachers after their own lusts, who will tell them what they want to hear. And so, so it was, it’s prophesied in the Bible, that in the last days, people are going to look for the teachers who will tell them what they want to hear. And so, when we look at these, these giant churches, I would encourage people, I would just say, look for a Bible teaching church, that teaches the scriptures humbly. Look for a church that has probably an excellent small group ministry, where people get together and pray and talk about the Word of God and know each other in fellowship and relationship. So, I would encourage everyone to just really think through does your church have a biblical leadership structure? Is your church taking you through the Bible? the hard parts that difficult parts as well? Our church right now we’re teaching through the book of Revelation verse by verse chapter by chapter.
JULIE ROYS 45:05
That’s fantastic. I mean, so often I hear people say they’ll never touch Revelation. I’m like, why did God put it there then? I mean, we’re not supposed to teach it. Right?
JEFF THOMPSON 45:14
They gave it a lot of real estate. Yeah.
JULIE ROYS 45:16
Yeah, he certainly did. Putting you on the spot. Do you think somebody can stay in an ARC church? Do you think a pastor, knowing what you’ve revealed here, but also, what’s been coming out more and more can stay as an ARC church?
JEFF THOMPSON 45:35
I think if you’re the pastor of an ARC church, you need to ask yourself the question, why are so many so many pastors falling into moral failure? And then I would just say you really need to evaluate the ARC’s response to these things when it’s happening and wrestle through the question of, how should a pastor be restored, what is a prerequisite? You know, why are there pastors being restored where there there’s no evidence of repentance? If you’re in the ARC, you’re listening to and getting leadership instruction, from people who are leading in some unbiblical ways. And that’s, that’s concerning. And that’s, that’s why I said, I didn’t, I don’t want to go to another conference. Because now I know if I go, 25% of the guys who are speaking into my life, are going to have moral failures in the next five years. And I don’t, I don’t want to be like that. What do I aspire to do? I just aspire to be faithful for Jesus for the long run, that that’s it. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to please Jesus, whatever that looks like. And I’m not our church, we’re not trying to be the biggest church we can. We’re trying to please Jesus. And he gets to decide how big or small the harvest is. But I also want to give room too because my, my parents are, are two of my role models, and they’ve stuck around some churches sometimes where I’ve said, Guys, what are you doing staying there? And they would tell me, they say we see all the problems. But the Lord hasn’t told us to leave. And because there are some churches where you know, there are XXXXXofficers who, who are genuinely seeking the Lord, and that’s going to speak to them.
JULIE ROYS 47:22
I you know what, I hear what you’re saying. But I guess there’s a part of me that says, at what point do we say these are false teachers? At what point do we say, this is mixing Light in darkness? And when it gets to a certain level of evil within the church and evil excused in the church, and not just excused but even rationalized in the church, that I begin to say, I don’t know that I can have fellowship with you. I think I need to break fellowship with you. And I think, from what I’m seeing happening at so many of these ARC churches, and the failure, not only the failure to call them out by the leadership, but the what seems to be a willingness to even excuse it or explain it away, I would have trouble. If I were in an ARC church right now. I would have trouble feeling like I’m partnering with something unholy. Amos 3:3 says Can two walk together unless they are agreed? We should be able to say this is not okay. This is not a different style of church. This is this is not a grace issue, just wrong. We’re rushing to put men back in the pulpit, who have proven themselves to be wolves. And we need to not do that, just to be honest. So, I’d so I, I agree that things need to change. And there do there are some very good people who love Jesus, but they need to be confronted with some unhealthy things that proxy, they are condoning. And we don’t want to be doing that. Well, Jeff, I want to thank you for taking the time for being willing to speak so openly about your experience in the ARC. And God bless you with your church. And I know you recently merged with another church, and I know you’re trying to walk out getting a plurality of elders. And so, I just appreciate you. I hope that I hope that your church in Vancouver is able to really flourish. But maybe not in the world’s way of flourishing of getting huge. You don’t have to get a huge platform. But to see it multiply as far as the gospel reaching a lot of people and you being faithful, so thank you,
JEFF THOMPSON 49:35
Thank you for everything you do. And I know we both want the most pure, most beautiful bride that she can be for Jesus because He deserves nothing less and that’s a that’s a wonderful cause to pursue.
JULIE ROYS 49:47
Amen. And thanks so much for listening to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. If you’d like to connect with me online, just go to Julieroys.com. Also, just a quick reminder to subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify, or YouTube. That way you’ll never miss an episode. And while you’re at it, I’d really appreciate it if you’d help us spread the word about the podcast by leaving a review. And then please share the podcast on social media so more people can hear about this important content. Again, thanks so much for joining me today. Hope you have a great day and God bless.
*This transcript has been modified to remove a source we have discovered is not credible.