More than 100 congregations leave 'controlling' movement
Charisma/December 4, 2001
A second major exodus has taken place from a controversial network of churches criticized for authoritarian leadership. Up to 160 of the Potter’s House movement’s 800-odd congregations are said to have left the group recently.
Officially called Christian Fellowship Ministries (CFM), the Potter’s House network was started in 1983 by Wayman Mitchell. A Prescott, Ariz., pastor, Mitchell broke away from the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel to launch his own movement, placing a strong emphasis on evangelism. Most of the group’s churches are to be found in the Southwest, where they also go under the names The Door and Victory Chapel.
Some of the pastors who broke ranks recently are apparently upset by the direction CFM appears to be headed. There are also claims that Mitchell – whose movement has long been dogged by criticism that it is controlling, intimidating and manipulative – routinely uses foul language and derogatory remarks in the pulpit.
Mitchell declined to comment to “Charisma” magazine, but Harold Warner, a longtime CFM associate who pastors a church in Tucson, Ariz., said that Mitchell was not the sort of man many of his critics have portrayed him to be. “He is a good, strong leader,” he said. “We are given great freedom to pursue our ministry, and it isn’t this horribly oppressive atmosphere.”
The Potter’s House was hit by large-scale defections 10 years ago. When Colorado pastor Ron Jones, who had worked with Mitchell since the early 1970s, severed his ties in 1990, around 100 pastors followed him.
Larry Neville, a pastor who worked with Mitchell for 13 years until 1991, said that because CFM leaders were encouraged to aggressively plant churches, the departure of a few pastors who disagree with Mitchell could lead to a large number of churches leaving the movement.
The exodus was more an issue of churches’ loyalty to their founding pastor than one of disagreement with Mitchell, he said. It was about “a personal relationship with someone they love.” Mitchell said that around 100 of the 160 churches reported to have left CFM recently did so because of their loyalty to one pastor.
Bryan Hupperts, who was part of Potter’s House for several years and was at one stage being groomed to become a CFM pastor, said that many pastors who left the movement did so because of unhealthy control and were later reluctant to talk about their experiences.
“Some of them have family in the Potter’s House,” he said. “They’ll end up getting targeted. They can be pretty vicious.” One former leader said there were families divided by departures from the movement who had not spoken for years, and “churches that have been deliberately split, children who don’t talk to their parents.”
Neville said there had been a move of God in CFM in the past, but over time the group moved into isolationism. “They’re not sinning, but they’re not moving on.” Warner said that those pastors who left CFM recently were “people who have gone in a different direction.”