Dear Coram Deo Church family,
I am writing to provide you with an update on our relationship with the Acts 29 church planting network. We have been a part of the network for many years and as stated at an earlier church family meeting in 2022, over the past year the elders of Coram Deo Church have been engaged in a process with the leadership of Acts 29. Our goal has been to get clarification from the leadership regarding pressing and important theological and cultural issues including gender, church leadership, critical race theory, and LGBTQ+ ideology. Additionally, we have expressed our concerns over the network’s lack of financial and organizational transparency.
Unfortunately, our efforts have not led to the clarification that the elders believe is necessary for us to continue our partnership with Acts 29 in good conscience. In light of this, the elders have unanimously decided to leave Acts 29. We are grateful for the opportunities we have had to partner with other churches, and we are thankful for the other faithful churches that have chosen to remain a part of Acts 29. However, we simply could not continue to support an organization that refuses to provide theological clarification and financial transparency.
Below, you'll find two letters that the elders submitted to the board of Acts 29. The first was written in February of 2022 in an effort to get clarification and address our initial concerns. The board never responded to that letter. The second letter was written in December of 2022 to express our ongoing concerns with Acts 29 along with additional issues that have surfaced, and also to announce our resignation from the network.
We will continue to support Coram Deo, Las Cruces (an Acts 29 church plant) through the end of June of 2023. While we believe formal church partnerships are both strategic and important, we are not currently looking to join any other networks or denominations. Rather, we will focus on cultivating local partnerships with existing churches as well as exploring options to support church plants locally.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to the elders directly and personally on a Sunday, or via email. We can be reached at: email@example.com. Thank you for your ongoing support, encouragement, and understanding.
For the Kingdom,
Pastor Jon Needham
February 21, 2022
To the Board of Acts 29,
As you well know, the past two years have been incredibly difficult for many pastors and elders. Not only did we need to navigate unexpected challenges and issues for our own families, but we had to navigate these challenges for our church families as well. We have had to deal with a very real virus that has brought real harm to real people. We have had to respond to government overreach and unjust mandates. We have had to walk our people through the real dangers of Critical Race Theory (CRT). And finally, we have faced continued pressure from the LGBTQ revolution. Any one of these challenges by itself could be enough to wear out an elder team and even divide a church. But we have had to face all four challenges simultaneously. It is no exaggeration to say this has been the most trying and difficult season of ministry our elders have ever faced.
We, like many other churches, have witnessed God’s incredible grace throughout this trying season. He has provided above and beyond all that we could imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
- We have seen people come to faith and have baptized over 50 people during COVID. (We are a church of 400 on Sundays.)
- We have been able to not only pay our bills, but we paid off our building during a pandemic!
- We hired an additional teaching Pastor who will be planting just north of us shortly.
- We have seen families grow in their love for the Lord in incredible ways.
At the same time:
- We were told by our Governor that we were not allowed to sing in worship.
- We have been investigated by our local authorities for not complying with their draconian demands.
- We have been chastised and attacked by other local churches and pastors.
- And most painfully, we have lost long-time members for our positions regarding gender, sexuality, and CRT.
And yet, our church has continued to grow in attendance, surpassing our pre-COVID Sunday numbers. God is good, and yet ministry has been incredibly painful. I know that our pain and experience are not unique.
It is in light of this experience that I am writing to you to express concerns that our elders have regarding the direction of Acts 29. As the year came to an end, we reviewed our annual covenant and watched the town hall meeting that was held in November. Each of our six elders had the same concern with the network: a lack of clarity. To be specific, we sensed a lack of clarity in the very areas that we believe are our greatest challenges, and therefore demand the greatest theological clarity. Those areas are CRT, gender roles in the church, LGBTQ ideology, and government overreach.
Over the past two years, these issues have come up time and time again. These are the issues that all of our churches are facing. The pressure to cave to LGBTQ ideology has never been greater. CRT is destroying and dividing churches. Never before in our lifetime have our churches been threatened by the State as they have over the past two years. The egalitarian movement is rapidly growing and many churches are giving in to cultural pressures. This is happening everywhere. Acts 29 churches are not immune to this.
As I sought to lead our elders through these challenges, I found myself hoping that Acts 29 would put out some helpful resources for dealing with this onslaught of issues. Certainly, the board would have something to say about Governors ordering churches not to sing. Certainly, the network will take a solid stand regarding human sexuality, gender, and roles in church leadership. I kept waiting to hear something, anything. But what I heard was silence.
Even worse, I saw our network promoting resources that were problematic at best, such as Jemar Tisby’s “How To Fight Racism” among others. Certainly, you are aware of how CRT is tearing apart both school boards and elder boards. There is not a more heated topic among Acts 29 pastors at this point. What is the board’s position on CRT? You can not avoid taking a position. If you say nothing, you communicate that CRT is not a pressing issue that requires us to address it, in which case you risk marginalizing those of us who believe CRT is utterly incompatible with our Christian worldview. If you stand against CRT, you risk marginalizing those who have embraced CRT, whose books Acts 29 currently promotes. Either way, you will risk marginalizing someone. We understand that. But right now, your ambiguity is doing real harm. This issue is dividing churches. It is dividing churches in our network. It is a sad and painful reality, but it is happening, and it will continue to happen until the board takes a stand.
Additionally, in a March 2021 meeting, Brian Howard announced a forthcoming revamped position paper on gender and church leadership. For some reason, (which to my knowledge was never shared), the old position paper was no longer adequate and needed to be replaced. I reached out to leaders about the status of a new position paper, but no one seemed to know that a new paper was coming. Then in November, it was announced that a new position paper would be unnecessary and that the old position paper that was submitted and adopted in 2017 was going to be removed. Why? In a moment of such gender confusion, in a moment when influential pastors, (such as Rick Warren), are ordaining female pastors, why remove a clarifying paper that faithfully and generously presented a biblical defense of complementarianism? Why remove this protection?
To add to the confusion, it was stated by Tony Merida in the Town Hall that Acts 29 will not hold its churches accountable for orthopraxy. Why would we not hold our network churches to a standard of orthopraxy? What good is a covenant if the terms are not honored and measured? What does Acts 29 consider orthopraxy and what do we consider heteropraxy? Is a non-elder female pastor orthopraxy? Why or why not? These are not rhetorical questions or peripheral challenges. These are the very real issues that all of us are facing right now.
What this moment requires is courageous theological clarity and conviction. As churches committed to the Word of God, we must be unwaveringly clear on issues of gender, race, worldly ideologies, and God’s ordained spheres of sovereignty. In a world gone mad, the Church is God’s pillar of truth (1 Timothy 3:15). We must speak.
We do understand that there are numerous challenges and issues that the board has to faithfully navigate that we are oblivious to. We can not imagine what it requires to lead a global network in a time like this. We are thankful for your sacrifice. We are also grateful that in the midst of a pandemic, God was gracious enough to use our network to plant churches. He truly is sovereign, and He truly loves His people.
We remain committed to Acts 29 and our covenant. I, (Jon), am grateful for the life-giving relationships that I have found in the network. How can anyone survive without them? But as elders, we are concerned that the lack of clarity in the areas previously identified will lead to further confusion and division among our churches, leaving the door wide open for harmful ideologies and practices among our network. It is our hope and desire to see increased theological clarity which leads to increased unity among the brothers and glory to our God.
To that end, we request that the board would respond to the following questions:
- What is the board’s position on CRT? Is it consistent with a biblical anthropology and worldview?
- What is the board’s position on government overreach and mandates?
- Would the board consider replacing the previous complementarian position paper with a new position paper clearly defending complementarianism, written by someone within Acts 29?
We pray for you and eagerly await your response.
Pastor Jon Needham
Pastor Brandon Johnston
Pastor Rusten Harris
Pastor Ryan James
Pastor Derrek Busha
Pastor Aaron Kuhns
Pastor Kim Highfield
December 13, 2022
To the Board of Acts 29:
Brian Howard, Matt Chandler, Hunter Beaumont, Donny Cho, and Vic Keller.
It’s the end of another year, and with all the churches in our network, we have been asked to renew our Acts 29 partnership. As elders, we do not take this commitment lightly. God has placed us in a position of leadership over our own church for which we are accountable (Hebrews 13:17). Whenever we enter a partnership, we do so not just as individuals, or as an elder team, but we do so on behalf of a local body of Christ. Consequently, we must consider our partnerships, especially those involving finances, with the utmost wisdom and discernment. It is with that in mind that we share the following with you.
In February of 2022, our elder team submitted a letter to the Acts 29 board sharing our concerns and respectfully asking for clarification from the board on some pressing theological and cultural issues. (We have included a copy of this letter for you.) To this day, no one from the board has personally or directly reached out to us in response to our questions or concerns. Even after sharing our frustrations with Dave Bruskas during a phone call in September, no one has responded.
Since then, other issues have surfaced that we would like to share with you.
As you already know, in a sermon that has since been seen by tens of thousands of people, Guy Mason of City on a Hill in Melbourne, Australia stated that “Christians can and must lean into the rights of those who identify as transgender.” Certainly, you have seen that sermon. That statement is deeply troubling. When I asked a question regarding this statement and the position of Acts 29 on our internal community site, I received no response. Nothing was said or shared by the leadership. A few months later, Mason preached at The Village with no mention, explanation, or defense of his previous statement. That was a statement in and of itself and many pastors in our network noticed it.
Following the firing of Shaun Garman, I reached out to Brian Howard. Shaun Garman is why many churches, particularly those on the West Coast, and specifically, our church, are part of the Acts 29 network. It was Shaun who pursued me and asked me to consider rejoining the network. It was Shaun who flew to Seattle to meet with our elders. In many ways, Shaun has been not only the face but also the heart of Acts 29 to countless pastors. When I heard that he was fired, I was troubled. When I learned additional details of his firing, I was more than troubled. When I reached out to Brian Howard to discuss Shaun’s firing, I was met with a stone wall. He responded with “We make employment decisions based on our mission, values, finances, and strategic plan and have every right to do so. I also have my hands full leading a huge organization that is in 50 countries and 30 languages so please reach out to Dave Bruskas who leads Acts 29 North America if you have future questions.”
When I reached out to Dave Bruskas, I was essentially told the same thing. I asked why Shaun was offered a promotion and a raise and then a week later told he was no longer a good fit for the network. I was given no further reply. At best, this makes his boss and leader look unstable and untrustworthy. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Acts 29 leaders have been quickly fired and left behind without any explanation.
Bylaws and Budget
I then asked Dave Bruskas for a copy of the bylaws and budget for Acts 29. As a church that has supported the network with monthly financial contributions for over ten years, this seems like a reasonable request. Is Acts 29, as a non-profit, required by law to provide these documents? More so, as a community of believers, do we not owe each other this transparency? Instead, I was told that those are “in-house only” documents and that I could not see them. If I treated the members of my church that way, I wouldn’t have a church for very long. As members, they have access to our bylaws and our budget. We have nothing to hide, and they have every right to know how the money they give is stewarded. This is how trust is built. Why is Acts 29 unwilling to share its budget? I know that other pastors have asked this same question and been denied. Why?
Broken Trust and Hope for the Future
Needless to say, our experience with Acts 29 over the last year has produced anything but trust and respect. Is it good stewardship for us to send you a monthly check while you refuse to show us how those funds are used? Is it right for us to place ourselves under your leadership while you refuse to communicate how you are organized and operate? Ask yourselves, after years of faithful service and sacrifice, why wasn’t Shaun Garman celebrated? Why didn’t we make much of all that God did through him at the Denver event? Why was his termination handled so quickly and secretly? Does any of this garner trust and respect?
Men, we believe in planting theologically reformed, missionally-minded, complementarian churches. We want to partner with others who share those same values and convictions. But based on your recent track record, we cannot in good conscience partner with you as things currently stand. If the board of Acts 29 is unwilling to engage in conversation regarding theological clarity and conviction, and to provide us with a copy of the current (2022) and future bylaws and budget, then we cannot in good faith commit to a partnership and trust the financial gifts of our congregation to your care. You have not earned that trust.
It is our sincere hope that Acts 29 will once again be a network that is not afraid to speak boldly and truthfully. We hope that Acts 29 will once again be theologically and biblically clear on the cultural issues of our day. We hope that Acts 29 will humble itself and be transparent with finances and bylaws. We hope that Acts 29 will be an organization that cares for its employees and celebrates their faithful service to the great churches in the network. We truly hope for that day. However, until then, we cannot in good conscience continue to partner with you. It is with heavy hearts that we resign our membership from Acts 29.
Pastor Jon Needham
Pastor Brandon Johnston
Pastor Rusten Harris
Pastor Ryan James
Pastor Derrek Busha
Pastor Aaron Kuhns
Pastor Kim Highfield