home articles books academic audio misc top 10

To my Brothers and Sisters,

I bet you all thought you’d never see another one of these from me, right? Truth be told, I haven’t written much of anything lately. For a long time I simply didn’t want to. I still don’t want to, necessarily, but I believe this is a case where I need to do something. The ability to write, to express my thoughts and feelings with words, is a gift God has given me. And it is a gift I cannot ignore right now, despite the fact that what I have to say might mean that I lose friends. Things at my workplace might even be affected by this. I don’t know. I have no idea how anyone is going to take what I have to say. But that’s just it. I have to say it.

Why did I leave Summitview? Several months ago, when I left, I explained my actions as following God’s calling. That was, and remains, the truth. I felt God leading me in a very particular direction, and I had to follow. It was a direction away from Summitview, away from many of my closest friends, and away from several areas in which I was ministering.

This analogy was related to me by a friend who was having a hard time understanding why I left: “Paul, it’s like we were right there, in the same army, fighting right alongside each other. Then, all of a sudden, you just ran off. You ran away from your comrades-in-arms, away from the battle. And, of course, I’m gonna run after you and try to get you back.”

The analogy is a good one, and one I will probably stretch to its breaking-point. But here goes:

Yes, I left. And I apologize with all my heart to anyone who feels as though I abandoned them. That was never my intention. As a leader, I would not have left if I had not had utmost confidence that each and every one of the people I was leading would find other leaders. And, I must say, leaders who are better equipped than myself. My unit was disbanded, so to speak, and my troops were relegated to other units. There is a reason you were in my unit in the first place, though, and I tried to do the best I could with what God gave me. I hope that you were able to learn something in our time together. Even if that something was small, if it brought you even one inch closer to God, then it was time well spent.

There. That’s stating fact. I left. But it is not answering the question that seems to be the problem: “WHY?”

I’m sure there are people who believe they know why I left. Whatever reasons you believe I may have had, I would urge you to remember this: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I’m not trying to preach to anyone, or appear proud or arrogant or as if I have all the answers. I would only ask that everyone be very careful not to assume to have knowledge they do not, or to jump to conclusions even when that conclusion may seem obvious.

I was transferred to another unit, really. I’m still in the army, still fighting. Just not right beside you anymore. This particular unit in God’s army just wasn’t where I belonged.

The thing is, I asked for that transfer.

For months, I had been struggling with certain things I was seeing at Summitview and in GCM as a movement. I will try to outline them as best I can.

There is an attitude of pride within Summitview and GCM. Sometimes it is subtle. Sometimes it is stated outright. I don’t know if the attitude can be blanketly titled as “pride” or “elitism” or even if there is a term for it. It carried over into an attitude of devotion that was at times shocking. People have tailored their lives around this church. They have chosen careers that would allow them to move with the church. They refuse to move to a town that doesn’t have a GCM church. They choose a wife or husband based on that individual’s commitment to GCM. We were told at our fall retreat that “If you are not totally committed to your local church, you lack courage.” And that “every time you change church families, you are damaging a part of your soul forever.”

I understand that commitment to the local church is important. Where would an army be if every soldier thought they could just walk away and find somewhere else to go whenever things got difficult? We are in a war; there is no mistake about that. I know it is important, even vital, that a Christian is “plugged in” somewhere. Finding somewhere he or she can belong, can serve, is something every Christian man or woman should do. Finding a group of people you can grow with and minister with is an amazing blessing in a Christian’s life. But the difference between GCM and “the Church” referred to in the New Testament has become blurred in many areas. Great Commission Ministries is only a very small piece of “the Church”.

Great Commission Ministries is a way to serve God. It is a way to grow closer to God. It is a group to belong to. But the mindset seems to be that GCM is the way. It is the church. GCM has the answers, has the best way to do things, and other churches are seen as sub-par. Other churches will not get you as close to God as a GCM church will. Whenever such attitudes cropped up the first thing I felt was fear. Should I feel this, too? Should I not? Proverbs 3:34 scared me a lot. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” I used to struggle a lot with this in my conversations with God. Was this real pride I was encountering? If so, what was I supposed to do? Was this really an army I could fight in, or would even want to fight in?

During my time at Summitview, there were at least two sermons given on the concept of “putting God in a box.” We aren’t supposed to put limits on what we believe God can do in our lives. Yet isn’t that exactly what we’re doing when we adopt the belief that any one particular church, any one particular movement, is the best at anything? Isn’t it possible that God can, and does, use other churches outside of the GCM movement? A unit of infantry doesn’t even come close to doing everything necessary for an army to be effective. There are suppliers, officers, chaplains, medics, cooks, messengers. GCM cannot fight this fight alone. Yet they almost seem as if they would rather have it that way.

Something I read really alarmed me. Rick Whitney was writing about the history of GCM and said the following: “We became devoted – actually we became addicted - to the church and how God could use each of us, working as a team, to impact our world.” It sounds great, except that something about it rubbed me the wrong way. Then I realized what it was. The word addicted --- in Webster’s we can find this definition: “A persistent and compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.” It’s wonderful to be on fire for God. As Christians we should be devoted to our God heart, mind, body and soul. But an addiction is never, ever a good thing. Addictions do terrible things to a person’s mind and the body God gave them. An addiction can make a person blind to the bigger picture around them.

I’m not arguing against GCM’s methods, per se. Sharing the gospel with unbelievers. Praying for a certain amount of time every day. Reading your Bible and having more “quiet time” with God. Being accountable to other believers. All of these things certainly are effective tools in a Christian’s life. What I am arguing against is the attitude with which some of these methods are presented and put into practice.

This is something the leadership at Summitview and within GCM has been very careful to discuss. The idea of legalism, in words at least, is something carefully avoided. But it is there. Checklists can be effective tools to get people to accomplish something. But looking at that little box, and thinking about the chance to mark that box out with an X, can transform people’s intentions quickly and subtly. They may not even realize their attitudes are changing until they already have.

I have felt a calling to pursue a very specific ministry with my life. Part of that pursuit includes going to seminary. After a long time spent in prayer, I honestly believe seminary is a direction the Spirit wishes me to go. But when I presented this desire to the leaders of the church, I felt as though that desire was downplayed, even discounted. I was presented with alternative choices, paths that would keep me at Summitview despite the leading in my heart. To their credit, at one point in the conversation the leaders stepped back and told me that they would not try to stand in the way of where I felt the Spirit leading. But the next subject that came up was the importance of submitting to church leadership. Such turns in conversation seem to be too convenient, and have happened on more than one occasion. I was also told that it would be a mistake to take a step in another area of my life without explicit counsel from them. I felt as though I was being told that I could not be trusted to hear from the Holy Spirit myself.

Ah. Perhaps here we see a problem. I quoted the verse about man looking on the outside, and God looking at the heart. And yet here I am making a judgement about someone’s motives based on what I can see and hear.

Only I am not the only one, am I? If I were, I would not necessarily blame you if you paid little heed to what I’m saying. But there have been others who have disagreed with GCM’s practices, even labeled them as spiritually abusive or controlling or descriptive of a cult. Please do not handle this situation as if it does not exist, or as though there is no problem. 1 Timothy 5:19 tells us that we should not “entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.” To whoever it was in Fort Collins who wrote the website, I have now added my witness. Only I am not bringing accusations against any one particular elder. I am attempting something even more difficult: to bring accusations against GCM’s methods and practices, their ideology even.

The creator of the website may or may not have been approached about a disciplinary issue and therefore reacted out of anger. I personally am taking issue with the way his perspective was discounted before it was even presented. Again, there was a judgement of someone’s motives without any real knowledge of them. The website’s accusations have been labeled as “silly things”. I disagree. The accusations were about elitism, pride, control, blind devotion. Every single one of them things that any movement of churches should be quick to discuss and to avoid.

There was also discussion of the invalidity of the website’s arguments because their “witnesses” were all anonymous. I don’t believe this discredits what the website is trying to convey. Think about this: If you were outside of a group and were attempting to maintain relationships with people still in the group, would you really want your name attached to something this controversial? Those relationships would suffer, possibly end. People do not normally willingly put themselves in a position to be ostracized.

Here we come to the reason I have stayed silent for so long. I value your friendships and was trying selfishly to hold onto them. A friend once told me that he would be willing to sacrifice “our friendship to be sure your walk with God is OK.” I couldn’t do that for a very long time. I struggled with questions: If GCM does have cultish tendencies, how can I leave without taking everyone else with me? If there are doubts about the leadership of the church or their movement, how can I leave without bringing those doubts forward and making sure they are dealt with? Why would God allow me to feel so right about my decision but then not give me peace about what I should tell others? I think perhaps it just wasn’t time yet. I guess I also wasn’t really sure that I could trust God with my relationships. But I can. I have given our friendships and our camaraderie to the Lord. If He wishes such connections to continue, they will. They will continue despite anything else that may happen. If not, then His will be done. But I cannot stay silent.

So how do we deal with this? How do we deal with a situation in which each side believes themselves to be following God and yet there is such confusion and disagreement? The issue at hand is really our own personal faith in God. Do you trust God to put you in a spiritual environment that is the right one for you? Do you trust your leaders? Do you have faith in what God has planned? Do you wish to answer these questions yourself or provide a canned answer?

Let me make sure one thing is clear: I am not perfect. I try every day to grow and become more Christ-like, but I still do not have the walk with God that I could. I lie, I cheat, I steal. I sin. And you know what? I could be wrong about everything. I am not so naïve as to believe that God always makes everything crystal clear to me. In many cases I can only do what seems to be the best, what seems to follow God’s will. That’s all any of us can do, really. We have to follow God to the best of our abilities.

But when we roll over and allow others to tell us what the Holy Spirit’s will is for our lives, that is not following God. It is following man. The most common verse we were given in GCM about this issue was Hebrews 13:17 --- “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Our leaders have been appointed by God. I won’t argue that. But, as a soldier in GCM’s unit, you still must have the presence of mind to dodge the bullets being fired at you. I don’t believe you are making things difficult on your leaders by looking out for yourself.

If you wish to visit the website, the address is www.gcmwarning.com. Take it or leave it, believe it or don’t, but it is still someone’s voice asking to be heard.

Let me make another thing clear. I have no desire to slander, or to gossip, or to do anything at all to break down GCM as a movement. What I want to do is urge everyone to make your own decision. Don’t allow someone else to tell you what to believe. Examine each side of an argument before coming to a decision. Have faith that God will make the wrong path clear to you as well as the right path. Never assume you are on the right path just because it seems like it or because someone has told you it’s the right path. If something about your church doesn’t sit right, ask questions. If God gives you a conviction about something in your life and you can follow that conviction in a Godly way, do so without hesitation. If a particular issue arises, don’t be afraid to bring it up and voice your concerns. I believe Steve and Perry are godly men and will address any of those questions or concerns you may have. But allow for the possibility that God may want you to devote yourself to a movement that is not GCM. Or he may want you exactly where you are. I cannot answer that. Your ultimate destination as a servant of God is between you and God, no one else. If that destination is within the GCM movement I would offer you this challenge: devote yourself mind, body, heart and soul to God and do everything in your power to make sure GCM is a movement completely free of pride and elitism and control. If such concerns about GCM are valid, begin a change in yourself first. Then do what you can to spread that change to everyone whose life you touch. Change things from the inside.

If your destination is away from GCM, don’t be afraid to take that step. It’s terrifying and most certainly a challenge to anyone’s faith. But God will take care of you. And He will take care of whoever remains in GCM’s unit. Read Romans 8. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

We are enlisted in God’s army. And we are all involved in a fight to the death. But our orders are not all the same. Don’t assume you’ve gotten your own orders just because the soldier on your right and the soldier on your left have both gotten drafted into the infantry. Maybe you’re supposed to be a medic. Maybe you’re supposed to be a messenger. Maybe you’re supposed to be a sniper. Who knows?

God does.

Wherever your path lies, take time to pray and give such decisions to the Lord. He will be that lamp on your path if you let Him.

I love you all and want only God’s best for each of your lives.

Your Brother in Him,

Paul Willis

Member Paul Willis' letter, distributed to some at Summitview Community Church, Greeley, Colorado, in 2006.