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Christian Fellowship founder answers to no one

Cape Cod Times/December 10, 1995, by Sean Poley

The Christian Fellowship movement was started by Wayman Mitchell, who began his preaching career as a pastor for the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

Mitchell’s background is no secret. IN an official church biography, “The Open Door” by Ron Simpkins, Mitchell is described as a former “two-bit hoodlum.”

“He was a thief, burglar and embezzler. If things got rally tough, he wasn’t above rolling a drunk for some quick cash,” Simkins writes.

During a 1990 Bible conference in Tucson, Ariz., Mitchell also admitted having a checkered past, telling the congregation that he did things “I don’t even want to know about.”

According to the book, his life changed in 1955 when at age 25, he responded to an alter call at his local Pentecostal church in California. After another man place a hand on Mitchell’s back to pray with him, Mitchell instantly “was filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking in other tongues.”

Inspired by the experience, Mitchell became filled with a desire to preach the word of God. He eventually enrolled in L.I.F.E. Bible College in Los Angeles.

After preaching at a few Foursquare churches in the Southwest, Mitchell wound up in Prescott, Ariz. From there, he began sending out pastors to establish Foursquare churches across the country during the 1970’s and early 1980’s, causing friction between himself and the Foursquare leadership.

According to Mitchell’s biography, Mitchell decided to split from Foursquare because of its requirement that pastors receive Bible college training – a requirement that Mitchell himself fulfilled during the 1960’s.

During his time as a Foursquare pastor, Mitchell was establishing churches using pastors whose primary training came through “discipleship” process – learning from the pastor rather than participating in any formal Bible education program.

Foursquare leaders were concerned that Mitchell was starting unlicensed churches using Foursquare money and under that church’s legal responsibility, despite not meeting Foursquare standards.

“When he was called into balance on that, his point of view was that Foursquare was hindering revival,” said Ken Haining, a pastor who worked under Mitchell for 15 years in the Foursquare and Christian Fellowship organizations.

Haining and other former pastors believe the 1982 split, which led to the creation of the Christian Fellowship ministries, was engineered by Mitchell to give him the autonomy and power he craved.

“By 1976, I had already caught the drift of having to deal with a denomination that didn’t want to deal with our brand of revival,” said Haining, a former pastor in New Mexico.

The eventual result was that Mitchell derived his power not only from being founder and president of the Christian Fellowship churches, but also from the church system’s structure, from which the other leaders also derive their power.

At the bottom of the pyramid sit churches like Potter’s House Christian Fellowship Church in Buzzards Bay and others throughout Massachusetts. The pastors there were trained and sent out by Paul Campo, pastor of Victory Chapel Christian Fellowship Church in South Dennis.

Campo, in addition to establish several churches throughout the Northeast, is an “area leader,” overseeing most of the Christian Fellowship churches on the East Coast.

He, in turn, is overseen by his original pastor, Harold Warner, who is pastor of The Door Christian Fellowship Church in Tucson, Ariz. Warner answers to Mitchell whose church in Prescott, Ariz., sits at the top of the pyramid.

Essentially, Mitchell has no peers.

“Who is his peer?” Haining asked. “Who can put a check on him? We were all so stupid, and we just believed (Mitchell) and followed him out (of Foursquare). We never stopped to think, ‘Hey, this guy has no check now.'”

The leadership structure also dictates the flow of money throughout the church system. When a single parishioner donates, or tithes, 10 percent of his or her salary to the church, a percentage of that money also finds its way to Mitchell’s Prescott, Ariz., church, Stubbs says.

For example, if Campo’s South Dennis church collects tithes and offerings from its parishioners, it sends a percentage of that to its mother church in Tucson, Ariz. In turn, the Tucson church takes all the money it collects from its parishioners, and sends its underling churches and sends a percentage to Prescott, Stubbs said.

Part II : 'You need to stay on fire for God. You need to be involved'

One of the hallmarks of the Christian Fellowship Church is the process of “discipling,” a means of preparing members for the ministry. Men interested in becoming pastors in the church do not go to Bible college or theology classes, but instead become “discipled” by their pastor.

Bible school is looked upon as a waste of time, though church founder and leader Wayman Mitchell himself went to Bible college when he was a young man. In his official, church-published biography, Mitchell’s school experience is portrayed as a negative one.

“More was taught about what not to do than what to do, and many of the ill-directed concepts took him years to forget,” wrote biographer Ron Simkins.

Consequently, Mitchell devised the discipleship process, which each man who enters the ministry must go through. When the process is complete, the man is sent out to establish a new church of take over an existing one.

Richard Montes was “reborn” at age 17 in the Christian Fellowship’s El Paso, Texas, church when Paul Campo was its pastor. When it became evident that Montes had “ministry potential,” Campo, now pastor of the fellowship’s Victory Chapel in South Dennis, took Montes under his wing and began to disciple him.

“Bible college was just something that was a waste of time,” Montes said. “You need to do the Lord’s work now. And they’ll say stuff like, ‘Jesus was a carpenter, and Peter was a fisherman. They didn’t go to school… The Pharisees, they went to school, and so that’s the wrong way to go.'”

While Campo at times would teach Montes various lessons based on Scriptures, Monte said it seemed there was a lot of emphasis by Campo on going over the Bible together.

“He never opened the Bible much with me,” Montes said. “…You spend a lot of time and you learn from him. And you’d have, like, on-the-job training. You know, ‘OK, Richard, go follow up on this person.’ Or, ‘Richard, I want you to teach a Bible study, and this is what your topic is going to be.’

“And then he’d evaluate that,” he said. “OK, well, this is where you’re having problems, and maybe you did wrong here. You put too much emphasis on the fear of God. You need to lean to this area.’

“Before you know it, he felt I was ready. He said, ‘Richard, you’re ready to pastor.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m not sure.’ He said, ‘No, you’re ready to pastor. You go out and trust God.’ So we did. My wife was 17, just turning 18. I was 19, just turning 20, when we actually started our first church.”

So without much formal Bible training, there was Montes, much like Campo and others before him, preaching the Gospel.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know how a lot of us ever did it,” Montes said. “I don’t know how Paul is still doing it to this day.”

Montes said the problem with the process, in addition to sending out inexperienced pastors, is that it is a major step in mind-control process. By shying potential pastors away from Bible school, they become indoctrinated in the ways of the Christian Fellowship rather than having any real Bible-based background.

“You know what it is?” Montes said. “You might actually find out what actually the Bible is all about.”

Other former pastors interviewed for this series said the discipleship process turns fellowship pastors into the same types of people doing similar things.

“I remember one time I went back East to preach for a guy,” said former pastor Haining. “He had just been sent out. And I knew his pastor. His pastor was the leader. And this guy, his mannerisms, his speech, it was, it was disturbing to watch him. He was using phrases, his hand movements. It was like the cloning of a man.

“I can predict what most of them wills say in certain situation,” Haining added. “Whenever they are confronted, the first word out of their mouth will be ‘Well.’ They are programmed to say certain things and respond to certain things a certain way.”

Haining and others predicted that Campo and Mitchell would not agree to be interviewed for this series. Haining said he knew because of how he had been taught to deal with similar situations.

“We’d be brash,” he explained. “We’d cut you off. We wouldn’t let you speak.”

Former pastor Lee Stubbs agreed. “I’ve used those phrases…because you just repeat what you hear,” he said. “So you end up using many of the phrases that you heard for years and years before you yourself became a preacher, such as, ‘Every time the doors are open, you need to be here. You need to stay on fire for God. You need to be involved. You need to be committed. You need to be loyal.'”

Stubbs said being discipled has more to do with demonstrating loyalty to pastors. Demonstrating loyalty to the pastors is equated with demonstrating loyalty to God.

It all contributes to what Haining termed “an extremely destructive religious system.”

Church Responds : Sean Polay

HYANNIS – Members of Victory Chapel Christian Fellowship Church in South Dennis distributed fliers in front of the Cape Cod Times office in Hyannis yesterday.

The fliers address what church leaders perceive as anti-Christian bias in the news media, particularly the Cape Cod Times.

While preparing the series, the Times called Paul Campo, pastor of the South Dennis church, and other church leaders. All declined to be interviewed.

The fliers headlined “Cape Cod Times: The Local Church Bashing Network” addressed the reasons for declining interviews.

“When I received a phone call from a Cape Cod Times reporter I knew Victory Chapel bashing was in vogue again,” the flier reads. “Over the last 10 years, the Cape Cod Times has had a definite agenda, and that agenda is to promote the gay community and environmentalism, to stop business growth on the Cape, and of course to attempt to destroy Christian fundamentalism.

“To do that, they are willing to stoop as low as necessary,” the flier reads. “They will exploit anyone they have to in order to build their hot air journalism. Every time they want to stir up the community, they ‘investigate’ Victory Chapel.

“Although we have a stack of articles against our church over the last 10 years, it has always been our policy not to respond to these,” the flier later notes. “Regurgitated lies by disgruntled people who were once great Christians but are now great backsliders make a poor foundation for intelligent discussion. Neither is it appropriate to use an unrighteous medium like the Cape Cod Times to address issues that will only be censored and warped by reporters.”

Campo did not return a call from the Times yesterday.