The pastor who had women and girls in the Zwolle Pentecostal church De Deur slaughter live fish on his desk, made them swear to keep silent. How is it possible that a pastor can go about his business for thirty years without anyone catching him?
The fact that Valk was able to express his strange preferences has everything to do with the iron top-down structure in the worldwide Christian Fellowship Ministries (CFM) and with a set of rules that every church member learns. Rules by which American church leader Wayman Mitchell, who passed away last week, strengthened his grip on the organization. These precepts have little to do with theology. What the CFM believes – about the inerrancy of the Bible, repentance, faith, and grace, to name but a few crucial doctrines – is no different from the average Pentecostal church. The rules created in headquarters cannot be found on a website or in a policy document. In the meantime, they rule the lives of the Christians in this church. They have an important place in almost every sermon or Bible study. It is these unwritten rules that can give a malicious leader carte blanche.
This article was translated and published with permission of the author, read the original article here.
Behind closed doors
1. Authority and obedience
The 2600 congregations in the Christian Mission Fellowship, including De Deur in Zwolle, assign their pastor absolute authority. His words are equal to the words of God, his decisions to the guidance of God. Church members must obey him. Criticism is unheard of and can even lead to expulsion from the congregation.
“You should never, ever hold the pastor to account or ask him about the Biblical basis for a particular position of the church,” writes a former assistant pastor who was close to Church leader Wayman Mitchell. Those who do not follow the leader, it is said, can literally lose their heart and soul. To question the pastor’s authority is to rebel against God, as Korah resisted God through his disobedience to Moses.
Any attempt at a high-level discussion with the pastor is labeled a rebellion, according to ex-pastor Ken Haining. “Remember, they will say you are guilty of witchcraft if you do not share their point of view. They will think you are demon possessed. You are totally wrong, even if you have the entire Bible on your side… The pastor is always authoritative and you are always the rebel. You are a threat to Mitchell’s kingdom. ”
It is therefore not surprising that a pastor thinks he is untouchable. And that church members show disbelief and denial when someone dares to state that their pastor has committed abuse.
A pastor does not have to be accountable to his council or any other higher authority in the church. He is, however, in close contact with the pastor who “discipled” (trained and sent) him. Up until the recent retirement of Wayman Mitchell, senior pastors in the Church were under the authority of this American Church leader and his council of elders, a group of seven pastors he himself appointed. Son Greg Mitchell is expected to take over from his father.
The congregation in Zwolle, with 350 to 400 members, has two church council members. Together with the pastor and assistant pastor, they form the church leadership, but rarely decide on their own authority. In De Deur congregations, the pastor has almost unlimited power.
2. Openness and dependence
It is mandatory to discuss sins, concerns, and important private matters with the pastor, including very personal ones, including those involving relationships with those you’re close to. Without permission you do not start anything inside the church, nor outside the church. This requirement makes church members dependent on their pastor. An ex-member emailed the RD about how the current pastor of De Deur in Zwolle, Nomdo Schuitema, strongly advised against his intended marriage. The advice almost cost him his relationship. Others indicate on Facebook that they are forced to marry someone from the church at a young age. Women gave up their study plans because the leader pointed out their calling to have a family.
Evert Valk, the Zwolle pastor who lost his position in 2018 due to “moral failure”, knew all about his church members. He carefully kept what members of the congregation entrusted to him, say several ex-members. He always had a notepad at hand and later a notebook. That gave him the power to manipulate. Niene Prins had to write down and sign a confession of guilt for him. Owing to these, Valk was more inclined to give in to his excessive demands.
Testimonials from former members further indicate that fellowship pastors use confidential information to publicly rebuke congregants or to pass on a message from God when they come forward during the church service. “I believed it,” writes one of the ex-members about what he heard there. “I was convinced that the pastor had such a strong relationship with God that everything he said came straight from God’s lips.”
3. Bloom where you're planted
In De Deur Nederland, shepherds often tell their sheep that the door will swing in both directions. In other words: whoever comes in, can also get out. In an interview with EO Vision, Evert Valk once emphasized that church members are free to leave.
However, it is not that simple in reality, in the CFM. Ex-pastor Haining describes how one of the first things to instill in a novice is that he should not be a “floating kidney in the body of Christ.” Philip and Niene Prins assumed God placed them in the Zwolle congregation and nowhere else. “You have to bloom where you are planted,” says Niene. Then you don’t just walk away.
On the critical website waymanmitchell.com, the placement doctrine is defined as the doctrine from which all others arise. “Once a convert is convinced that Potter’s House (like The Door, part of CFM) is the only God-approved church, he is ready for all other doctrines. If you believe that you should not leave this church, you tend to endorse everything the pastor tells you. Ultimately, God put you there, so God must have intended that you obey what the pastor teaches you. ”
The bondage of the congregation is reinforced by the prevailing notion that everything and everyone outside De Deur is no good. Members typically cut off all contact with outside people, even family members. There is no one outside the door to fall back on.
4. Presence and dedication
Members of De Deur live with a packed agenda. Missing a meeting is a sin and disobedience to the command of God. They are also expected to attend all meetings in Zwolle: invariably two church services plus a Bible study on Sunday, a church service on Wednesday evening and the coffee house on Saturday evening. In addition, regular revival services take place during the week. Because Zwolle is the mother church of all Dutch congregations, it organizes a conference twice a year with seventeen services spread over five days. The ex-members Dennis and Inge Crosby from Zwolle had a day job following the services. “That turned out to be hardly sustainable,” says Inge. “After a conference, I was often sick with exhaustion.” Dennis always took two weeks off: one to attend the meetings and one to rest.
Churches affiliated with the Christian Fellowship Ministries ensure the involvement of their members by contract. Number 1 in the Zwolle statement reads: “I will be present at all church services, Sunday Bible studies and revival services. In case of necessary absence I have to check out with the coffee house leader or pastor. I will also register holidays in advance with the coffee house leader or pastor. ”
Maximum loyalty also applies to music, drama, choir, or house gatherings, if members are involved. Testimonials on the Internet speak of “excessive control” over the time of Church members. One woman writes that she was simply too tired to think clearly about what was actually going on in the church, what others call a conscious tactic to create dependence on the pastor.
When your whole life is in the church, it is difficult to avoid a demanding pastor.
5. Whoever leaves is lost
It is not easy to leave The Door. “By leaving Potter’s House, I had turned my back on God. Whatever I did from now on, I could never get to heaven again if I died. Day and night I was haunted by horrible thoughts and dreams about satan and his demons who hunted me to seize my lost soul. ”
It is precisely in this way that pastors in De Deur speak of so-called “backsliders”, people who have “relapsed”.
Many ex-members say they go through a difficult period after their departure. They are shunned and avoided by the people with whom they worked intensively in De Deur. Those who say goodbye to their “spiritual family” have lost their network.
“We have not been invited anywhere since our departure in 2016,” said the Crosby couple from Zwolle. “We have felt really lonely. Even our son, who was still in The Door at the time, was told to turn away from us because his father was a rebel. ”
A woman who was part of Wayman Mitchell’s first branch in Prescott, Arizona, writes on Facebook about the practice of shunning church leavers like the plague. “According to Mitchell, ex-members are rebels who have the demon of witchcraft. If you stay friends with them, you run the risk of getting this demon too. ” Having contact with ex-members is literally out of the question.
The full story of Niene Prins, the woman who appears in this article, can be read in episodes 1 and 2 of this series. She uses a cover name. The quotes in the above story are from the following people and sources: former assistant pastor Bill Tubbs on the website of the Canadian MM Outreach, which collects stories from ex-cult members, ex-church member and Australian Darren Smith on Facebook page ”Escaping The Potter’s House ”, the British ex-pastor Ken Haining in a blog on croydongate.wordpress.com, Robert de Winter (cover name), ex-pastor from Almere, ex-member Steven R. Schoner on the website Life After Potters House, the website Waymanmitchell.com, ex-members Dennis and Inge Crosby, Facebook page ”Potter’s House cult is exposed and YouTube (” Cult Escape – my experience in the Potter’s House Christian Church”).