The 2,600 congregations in the Christian Fellowship Ministries worldwide are based entirely on the vision and ordinances of one man, American Pastor Wayman O. Mitchell (1929-2020). He made sure that the pastors in his church were given an untouchable position.
Pastor Greg Mitchell, 55, son of the Church leader, made an important announcement on Sunday, June 7, in Prescott, the CFM’s “headquarters” in Arizona. He said that his father has been struggling with health problems for six months and that recent operations have not yielded the desired result. Wayman Mitchell was suffering from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. “This means of course that his preaching days are finished.” (This, of course, means that his days as a pastor are coming to an end.)
This article was translated and published with permission of the author, read the original article here.
Behind closed doors
The pastor passed away early last week at the age of 90. Until the beginning of this year he made his mark worldwide. The spiritual father of the CFM traveled the world, spoke at conferences and led healing campaigns, such as a healing service in Rotterdam in the summer of 2019. He was also a frequently seen guest at De Deur in Zwolle. Wherever he spoke, people cheered him on and pastors raised tricky issues before him.
However, the picture that emerges from conversations with ex-members and legal documents is twofold. Wayman Mitchell is described as a headstrong dictator who considered the Christian Fellowship Ministries his personal property, lusting after power, status and money. He demanded absolute obedience and submission to his leadership from all those involved in the CFM, especially the pastors.
The first requirement for pioneering pastors to plant a church was that they pledge allegiance to Mitchell and his dictates. “You become an ineffective Christian, because you do not follow Jesus, but Mitchell,” says Dennis Crosby, who sympathized with the community in Zwolle for decades.
Eddie van Diermen, who founded De Deur in Zwolle with his brother Rudy van Diermen, got to know Wayman Mitchell in the late 1970s. According to him, Mitchell has had authoritarian traits from the start. “We have all been guilty of this because we followed Mitchell’s example. Me too, in my time as the leader of De Deur in Amsterdam. ”
Nevertheless, Mitchell’s vision inspired him and many others. Mitchell has got off to a great start. His idea to train and send people out to the local church was a huge multiplier. A worldwide revival. I look back on that positively. ”
Mitchell’s “Vision” is a household term in the CFM. It involves church members in the local branch receiving discipleship training, being sent to plant a church, and in turn training and sending people out so that the churches multiply rapidly.
Mitchell reached out to people on the street, mostly hippies in the beginning. The growth of the congregations in the CFM boomed. However, things went wrong in the early 1990s. The leader could not accept that a single pastor who had been financially supported by “him” gave up and left the fellowship with his congregation.
“It went wrong there,” says Van Diermen. Mitchell began to change his strategy. The fellowship turned into an organization, the joint leadership into a structure in which one pastor is in charge. ” The leader did not tolerate contradiction. Anyone who dared to question him was a rebel who stood up against God.
Contracts came into circulation stating that a newly planted church will always remain part of the CFM, making it virtually impossible for pastors to withdraw from the church with the congregation they had built themselves. Mitchell’s course of action began to run more and more at odds with the principles he taught himself. The courage to send people out and give them the freedom to go their own way turned into a frenetic attempt to keep them under control. He came to see the sister churches as a threat.
The first large group of American pastors left in the early 1990s. Van Diermen: „Mitchell has lost almost all people who had been with him from the very beginning. The closer you got to leadership, the more dangerous he got. If you did exactly what Mitchell said, he was your friend. But if you started asking him questions, you got into the danger zone. ”
When a pastor Mitchell did not like the course of action, he took his position unceremoniously. Sometimes that led to a lot of commotion. In late 2008, Mitchell, without explanation or cause, removed Australian pastor David Vicary from his position as senior pastor of the Mother Church in Perth, Australia. Mitchell himself took his place. The event ended in a split, the congregation halved.
Another major exodus occurred in 2002: 160 congregations left the CFM. Mitchell – whose movement is already known as controlling, intimidating and manipulative – was accused, among other things, of using routine coarse language and making derogatory remarks in his sermons. A composite audio clip circulating on the Internet confirms this. (as bad as the Army – DRC).
In the comments below the post, someone states that coarse and vulgar language in the CFM could count on the most approval (cheers). “Somehow that enhanced your masculinity.”
A steady stream of people left the church over the years, for reasons almost all traced back to Mitchell’s supremacy. New Zealand left the CFM entirely. In 2015, nearly 50 percent of British leaders (52 people) said goodbye to The Potter’s House in England.
Van Diermen knows from his own experience how great the influence of the American pastor was. “Two years ago I went to Mitchell during a conference and asked him point blank whether the council of elders (seven pastors that Mitchell himself appointed, EHvS) is able to contradict him.
“Oh yes,” he said. “They can and they will.”
I don’t think so, I said. Well, that didn’t go well of course. In the evening Mitchell came back to me and said, “If you continue with this, you will endanger your family, your children and grandchildren, and your own position in the Church.” I experienced that very clearly as intimidation. ”
At the end of 2019, Van Diermen was indeed expelled from church by the Zwolle pastor Nomdo Schuitema, at the instigation of Mitchell. 42 years of involvement come to an end. He is not bitter. “Many people worldwide are enthusiastic and in good faith at work. It’s not right at the top.”
A recurring pattern, he says, is that Mitchell manipulated strong leaders with a thriving congregation into an insignificant place abroad. “That’s how an authoritarian leader seizes power. He removes them from their place and then appoints someone who falls upstairs, someone so grateful for the new position that he is extra dependent on the leadership in Prescott.”
The American church leader preferred to see people in important positions that he could easily manipulate, says Van Diermen. That could explain why Mitchell appointed Evert Valk in 2002 as successor to pastor Rudy van Diermen in Zwolle, even though Mitchell knew about Valk’s problems. (See part 1)
Rudy criticized Mitchell. Mitchell used to say to pastors to whom he had full loyalty: If that person is not right, throw him out of the church. Later he became more circumspect, but he still determined which figures were at the helm in important local churches. Illustrative is the reason he once gave for someone’s removal: “I want that little weasel out of there.”
In the time before his departure, Van Diermen saw that an additional obligation had been added to the church. While mentioning the prayer points, someone held up a picture of Mitchell. “Let’s pray for our leader and his son Greg in Prescott.”
After his departure, Van Diermen wrote a nineteen-page letter to Wayman Mitchell, but there was no answer. A request from the Reformatorisch Dagblad to Greg Mitchell to respond to the criticism on behalf of his father was also not granted.
“If you continue with this, you will endanger your family and your position in the Church”
Lawsuits cost a fortune
One thing that many ex-members do not like is how the CFM has handled the money donated by members. Newly planted churches donate 10 percent of their income to the Mother Church, which in turn tithes to Wayman Mitchell’s Church in Prescott, Arizona. Much of the proceeds, however, went not to the touted cause of world evangelism, but to money-guzzling lawsuits that Mitchell filed.
Illustrative and controversial is the court case that the church leader started in 2001 against pastor Larry Gregory. This pastor and his wife were sent from the church in Guam (Oceanian island, USA) to Fiji (Melanesia archipelago in the Pacific Ocean) in 1996. Gregory received virtually no financial support from his home congregation and he suspected the pastor in Guam of fraud.
In the meantime, the young congregation in Fiji had to cough up a lot of money, including for the purchase of a church building, a church car and an expensive healing campaign by Wayman Mitchell. The wealthy couple Gregory paid many thousands of dollars out of their own pocket. “Prescott did not give a single dollar,” Larry writes in a 2018 email exchange in possession of the RD. When he raised this problem, it cost him dear. Mitchell demanded in 2001 that the Gregories return to the US. The pastor stated that he had done nothing wrong and remained in his place. Mitchell then filed a lawsuit with the intention of taking possession of the church building.
Larry writes: “His main goal was to hurt me personally and try to destroy our Church because we dared to stand up to him. He knew it would hurt our church if he could get our building. ” According to the pastor, Mitchell “spent at least $ 442,000 on this lawsuit. Probably more. ” In a legal document from 2004, he already claimed 273,000 euros, the costs incurred up to that point. Mitchell hired a top Australian attorney (at $ 310 per hour), had the lawyer fly to Fiji and booked first-class hotels for him. He later bribed a court clerk to pay the man money in exchange for a false arrest warrant to have Larry arrested. However, the case came to light.
This article is largely based on an interview with Eddie van Diermen. In addition, letters and legal documents related to the actions of the American church leader Wayman Mitchell have been used. The RD also has examples of contracts in circulation in the CFM. Other sources are croydongate.wordpress.com, an audio clip on the Facebook page Escaping The Potter’s House and a playlist on YouTube with (old) television broadcasts and stories about The Door in the United States.