Something's wrongBy May 2003 I had been officially relieved of any national responsibilities in France, whilst still being "Mr France" in terms of much of the legwork and representation.
However I was asked to help Piet (the "apostolic delegate") to organize the first NewFrontiers national leaders' conference in Bordeaux and speak at one of the sessions. The leaders of two significant churches in France told me they were fed up with Piet and decided to come to the conference only because I had a platform and could speak for the French. My organisational involvement continued right up to the moment the conference began, after which I had no further say in the proceedings.
I spoke from a passage in Romans and appealed to NFI to recognise the christian heritage in France. We needed their help, I said, but they should be able to benefit from the diversity we would bring.
In the ensuing discussion I brought up some of the ways I felt our welcome of NFI in France was not reciprocated in the UK, and in this I was supported by other leaders. This was the last time I spoke from the front in an NFI gathering.
Very soon afterwards (quite possibly around a dinner table that same evening) Piet told the other two elders from our church that I had a spirit of control, and other leaders were made aware of this, in my absence.
No-one told me of this accusation until January 2004, at which time one of the elders unintentionally let slip just how long that accusation had been being passed around behind my back.
All I knew was that I was deeply unsettled by the conference and some of the things I had heard, to the point that I considered committing suicide by driving the car into a tree on the way home.
The first news I had after this conference was a round robin e-mail from Piet translated by one of my co-elders, Al, giving a summary of the conference.
I was upset, firstly because up until then all this kind of work had gone to me.
Secondly, in my mind I was still part of the conference organisational team and did not appreciate having no say in the report.
Thirdly, I had objected before to people outside the church giving jobs to people in the church without running it past me, since I might have many good reasons to advise against doing so.
Finally, the report contained extensive coverage of other contributions at the conference, and scarcely a word on mine.
I wrote to Piet explaining that I was fed up with this poor communication and that it was not right that I should have to listen to endless catalogues of my shortcomings and not be able to point out others'.
The response to this was an e-mail which forbade me from going on a previously agreed ministry trip to Paris and hinted darkly of serious problems with me, without specifics. I discussed this with the elders who agreed that Piet and I had a relationship problem which we arranged to discuss in a telephone conference in June, with the three of us on one end and Piet on the other.
During this call there was some admission of difficulties on both sides and promises from Piet to clarify my status, particularly in terms of what he was expecting from me outside the local church.
Brighton 2003In July 2003 we all travelled to Brighton for the NewFrontiers international leaders' conference. I fully expected to Piet to make the most of this opportunity to discuss matters with me face to face. In fact he avoided me throughout and only greeted me when, on the last evening, I went up and stood in front of him in such a way that it was impossible for him not to. The conference again left me disillusioned and upset.
Summer 2003 came and went, and there was still no clarification from Piet on my role. I booked into Prayer and Fasting in the October, again expecting Piet to be there and to be able to discuss things, only to discover that he was on holiday.
I once again vented my frustration to the eldership here and they agreed it was necessary for Piet to come over so we could sort things out once and for all. I discussed this visit with Piet's mentor Roy and invited him to come too as I felt he understood something of my predicament and could be a bridge between me and Piet.
I want to emphasise that in my mind, at this point there was a problem between me and Piet, but that we were united as an eldership. Ron supported me openly in many of my grievances with Piet. The issue was about how we as a church were to move forward with NFI given the difficulties with Piet. At no stage was it suggested that these difficulties lay with a spiritual issue in me.
At Piet's request, I drew up an agenda for a meeting in November 2003 which was agreed by the eldership. The central item was our relationship as a church to NFI and how to progress in this.
When Piet and Roy arrived for the meeting, I turned to the first point in the agenda. Roy turned on me and urged me to tear up the agenda, this was about whether we were in or out. He was verbally and physically intimidating, which totally shocked me.
I stuck to the agenda nonetheless. During the course of the meeting, in a strange outburst Al spoke of being afraid and of "control", but in no way that I could relate to the issue at hand.
Finally, it was agreed to draw a line under previous dealings and move on afresh, although Roy added "but if we want to bring something up from before the line, of course we can" (Piet let Roy do almost all the talking).
With hindsight I should have read the warning signs, but after Roy's threats I was happy to have won a reprieve from NFI slamming the door on us there and then. Roy kept saying "this is a divided eldership" and telling us that the church was in danger of exploding if we did not resolve our issues.
This seemed a strange turn of events to me since to my mind we did not have any insuperable eldership issues, and the problem was in our relationship with NFI and Piet in particular.
Piet suggested returning in January with a colleague who was an expert in 'spiritual strongholds' and would be helpful in discerning "any issues of control".
Again, no personal accusations were made and my feeling was, "let them come and do their stuff, if it does bring something to light fair enough, and at least we have bought ourselves some time to restore the relationship".
We went away to work on some questions Piet sent us to improve our eldership team; some of these I found quite helpful, although tangential to the issue with Piet.
January 2004At this time, I was beginng to realise something was seriously wrong and began to re-examine stories of other departed NFI leaders in a new light. I speculate that Al had given Piet to understand that the church would back my removal (or indefinite 'sabbatical' from which I would never return) and that I would take the bait. I think things started going seriously awry in NFI's plans from the moment I dug my heels in about the format of the January meeting.
As the January 2004 meeting approached I received a fresh e-mail from Piet. In it, he styled the forthcoming meeting an "Apostolic Consultation", announced he wished to chair it, that it should take place at Al's house, and that the main item on the agenda would be "who is best suited to lead the church".
I could not read this any other way than as a direct attempt to remove me from leadership. I immediately consulted the other elders, who concurred. I asked them whether there was any question in their mind about my leadership of the church, and received assurances that there was not. I told them, "if we don't stand together on this, he will split the church". I therefore proposed that I write a response to Piet, telling him the eldership were clear that I was the senior leader, that in that capacity I would chair the meeting, and that it would take place on the neutral territory of the church premises. To my mind I had the full support of the elders in writing this letter. I sent it by e-mail and copied it to Terry since I considered he should be made aware of what I thought he would find unacceptable behaviour on the part of Piet.
Within hours of the letter being sent, I had received a copy of an e-mail sent by my co-elders saying, in essence, that in fact they were not really in agreement that I was the leader, but that "saying so to me would not have been appropriate in the context". At this point I felt the ground fall from under my feet as I could not understand this about-turn. I immediately went to both elders to ask them what they meant. Al blustered and could not tell me. Ron launched into the accusations of control which I thus heard directly for the first time, days before the "Apostolic Consultation".
Before the consultation I spoke briefly with Terry by phone. He did not comment, beyond suggesting that we spend some time talking about matters at the forthcoming Prayer and Fasting in February.
At the "Apostolic Consultation" Piet basically let Al and Ron make repeated accusations of me having had a "Jezabellic", controlling spirit for years. It was at this point that I discovered that the three of them had been discussing these accusations behind my back since May 2003. He was very careful not to make this accusation himself. He did however make it clear that "NFI had withdrawn from me". He also made it clear that he had discussed matters fully with Terry and was totally confident that he spoke for Terry on this. I relayed this verbatim to Terry, giving him the opportunity to differ, and received no response. I saw little point in going to England simply to hear more of the same, so I cancelled the trip to Prayer and Fasting. Terry later confirmed to me in writing that he fully supported Piet's course of action throughout this episode. Piet said he would continue to keep in touch to enquire after my spiritual welfare. I have never heard from him since.
Two days later, the elders went public with these accusations before the whole church, threatening to leave and start a new church with NFI if I did not step down. I asked the church to vote on whether they wished me to continue as pastor as provided for in our constitution. The elders warned the people not to vote but to pray and fast. The church, which had assumed, as I had, that the eldership was united, was totally shellshocked by this turn of events.
The aftermath of the attackAfter the meeting in which the accusations were made public, it took several weeks and several meetings for things to develop. Other influences appeared in a struggle for control of the church at this point, but in this account I'll try and keep principally to NFI's role.
A few weeks later, the entire eldership agreed to stand down in the hope of resolving things while an interim team filled the gap. I agreed to this in extremis as a last-ditch attempt to enable the church membership time to gather its wits and react. I knew Al and Ron, guided by Piet, had absolutely no intention either of leaving or of allowing me to stay, and that if I stepped down at all I would very likely not be coming back.
I attended the church meetings for a further three weeks before feeling so totally humiliated that I decided "your meetings are doing more harm than good" and stopped. People were being manipulated and intimidated under the guise of prophecy and spiritual commitment. I felt like a gym teacher forced to watch some sadist take charge of his pupils while he was powerless but nonetheless fully responsible for anything that happened.
I returned in March 2004 for a final EGM at which a large number of members had assured me they would see to it that a vote was cast on my pastorate as I had requested.
After two hours of meeting it became clear to me that no-one would move for this and that church business was not being conducted in anything like a legitimate fashion. I therefore resigned from my leadership and the church saying that I felt it was no longer a safe place to be and that I would have no more part in it.
In May the church met again and Piet appeared unannounced at the meeting to present himself as "an expert on making sick churches better".
Al and Ron were still officially stepped down from eldership and several in the interim leadership team had expressed serious reservations about NFI's involvement, but there he was in the role of saviour.
Within a matter of months, though, the initial damage had given rise to further divisions in the church between those loyal to NFI and others keen to make a grab for power. Al and Ron left to plant a new NFI church. The church as it had been in January had been effectively destroyed.
Around this time, I received a phone-call from the person who got me involved with NFI in the first place. He assured me that "things had changed", that Piet had been in trouble for his behaviour, that there might be a way back for me, and that if I talked to Terry now I might hear something different from previously.
I replied by sending a copy of Terry's letter to me and pointing out that if Terry had something to say to me, he could do so himself. I've not heard from him since it all happened.