The con man, the church, human gullibility and our beliefs

Their beliefs led to their destruction. The Pied Piper by Edmund Evans
Their beliefs led to their destruction. The Pied Piper by Edmund Evans [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Once we have spent time in a particular belief system, especially in a “church” environment that demands massive contributions, unquestioned loyalty, absorbs all spare time and which forms the entire social network for people, most don’t have enough mental energy to figure out that something is terribly wrong.

A year and a half ago, I did a “mystery worship” at a nearby prosperity, “come-here-and-get-rich” church, lead by an apparent Joel Osteen wannabe, Keith Craft.

You can read a full description of what I experienced there here.

My summation of the “church” AKA Elevate Life, AKA “The Cathedral of Frisco”:

I think it is the most evil place I have ever seen. I say that because the amount of deception going on there boggles the mind. And it is extraordinarily difficult to see.

Recently, I had an opportunity to be in conversation with a couple of people who had significant experience with Craft and Elevate Life. I divulge no other information about them. They indicated that they experience extreme shunning from those still on the inside of this cult-like place.

Each did note, however, that upon reading my original article, they asked, “How did she see so clearly after one visit (i.e., that the church was evil) what took us so long to figure out?”

We want to believe our beliefs

We want to believe that what we believe is true. It seems silly to describe our mental gymnastics this way, but I think that is the human condition. We can’t survive mentally or spiritually by saying we believe what we know to be untrue.

Once we have spent time in a particular belief system, especially in a “church” environment that demands massive contributions, unquestioned loyalty, absorbs all spare time and which forms the entire social network for people, most don’t have enough mental energy to figure out that something is terribly wrong.

Until it is too late–or in the case of my contacts, almost too late.  They are out–and they ache for those who are likely still being sucked dry by the teachings and what appear to be unaccountable financial dealings at their previous church.

I noted this during my visit and my research afterward: So, if he [Keith Craft, who dropped all sort of famous names during his message] is this successful as a motivational speaker and coach, why does he need to establish a church? Does he want access to all those non-taxable dollars? And who or what audits the church funds, particularly when it appears to run as a family business?

According to my contacts, it is exceedingly difficult if not impossible for members of Elevate Life to access any financial statements. Please note: this is second-hand knowledge–I have not personally tried to access any information.

However, just a word of warning: Your donations fund the church. You have an absolute right to see exactly how those donations are spent and particularly to see how much and in what ways those funds go to support the pastor and staff. 

But to get back to the mental/spiritual/emotional energy to question our beliefs: all of us carry resistance to facing uncomfortable facts about ourselves.

As I was writing, I happened to look at an article in the Wall Street Journal: “When you need to face facts in your life.” The article is behind a firewall, but all you need to know is in this quote by a psychologist contributing to the article: “We want to think of ourselves as healthy and smart, people who make good decisions, so we resist information that challenges these beliefs.”

Yeah, we do. None can easily face the fact that we have been conned, that we have followed the leader to the cliff and then fallen off–while said leader surreptitiously made off with the money, trust, etc.

I don’t know how to protect people adequately from the master con. However, it does seem that when people don’t learn to think critically about things, they are more likely to buy into the subtle lies that cons so exquisitely and effortlessly spin.

But how do we make people think? And, should we be able to help them think, what about the extreme discomfort of leaving a belief/friendship situation behind?

It hurts to leave behind beliefs

I spent most of my early and middle adulthood in a very conservative religious environment. After significant study and an intentional decision to read beyond my tightly bounded theological world, I saw some unsolvable problems with the theology.

I knew I needed to leave. And it nearly killed me.

The thought of walking out, of leaving behind all that I had based my life on, left me paralyzed with fear. Physical death became preferable to the spiritual, emotional and social death I knew I would experience should I depart.

After a while, I could no longer lie to myself. And ultimately, I did choose truth and life. But it cost me.

However, I slowly learned to trust myself. My rebuilt truth was informed and robust but in conflict with the foundational ideas of my social and religious circle.  They had their beliefs to preserve. It became necessary for them to ostracize me.

In retrospect, that is easy to see. The pain at the time didn’t make it so easy.

It’s easier to stay conned, to follow the piper to destruction. But let me offer a few suggestions to those find their religious environments growing oppressive.

First, pay close attention to your soul. Do you have a sense that something is just wrong? Just a bit off? Don’t ignore those thoughts.

Second, are you losing joy and struggling with requirements placed on you to stay within some inner circle of power or prestige? If so, what happens when you try to express your concerns? Is there a place to be heard, to find safe space to back off? If not, the system is fundamentally unhealthy and will probably not improve.

Third, consider exit options. What price will you pay if you leave? What price will you pay if you stay? Do you know of safe places outside the religious environment where you might find help? Are there others who found a way out?

Fourth, and once more: if you do not have access to full financial disclosure of your religious environment, get out. Now. The leaders are using you. More than that, they are abusing you. Leave while you can.

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  • Juan Lopez

    Great blog! Yes, it does hurt very much to divorce your beliefs- to give up all your friends and admit you have wasted much time and energy. This is why so many people just continue out of tradition and habit.

  • jekylldoc

    Well explained. I love the personal story, even in outline form. The thing about truth is that the more you look into it, the more confirmation you get, but we do have to worry that our confirmation bias will lead us not to look into it very far. The thing about those who are committed to truth is that they understand that trust needs accountability. “Just trust me” is okay for the urgent moment, but the one trusted needs to go back in a less urgent moment and debrief the one they asked for trust, and explain why time was so pressing that they skipped over accountability.

  • Linda Coleman Allen

    Great blog and explanations of the way things are done in every church I have ever attended. They are like little cliques of snobby people who I find to be very tiresome

  • David Anderson

    very interesting read….I have a friend who is a CEO of a major company that lives in the same neighborhood as Mr. Craft with a “C” and we were joking one day about the fact we both should have started Church’s instead of companies given the amount of Perks, Toys, and Tax-Free stuff mr. craft enjoys. So we decided to look up his home value and low and behold he spells his name differently on his property than he does at his church. On Denton CAD he spells it Keith & Sheila Kraft instead of Craft. $1.495m dollar house for a “pastor”…..I’m assuming it’s part his deceptive practices at his Church and with his congregants.

    Every time I’m at my friends house we see a multitude of sports cars, luxury automobiles, etc.

  • Ryan Weindstrom

    very interesting read….I have a friend who is a CEO of a major company that lives in the same neighborhood as Mr. Craft (Craft spelled with a “C”) and we were joking one day about the fact we both should have started Church’s instead of companies given the amount of Perks, Toys, and Tax-Free stuff mr. crafty enjoys. So we decided to look up his home value and low and behold he spells his name differently on his property than he does at his church. On Denton CAD he spells it Keith & Sheila Kraft instead of Craft. $1.495m dollar house for a “pastor”…..I’m assuming it’s part his deceptive practices at his Church and with his congregants or he is an heir to the Kraft macaroni and cheese empire…doubt it!

    Every time I’m at my friends house we see a multitude of sports cars, luxury automobiles, etc.

    • It is really shocking . . . and all those things apparently paid for by money given to the church by far lower income folks.

      • Ryan Weindstrom

        I’m not against pastors having nice things and many times I want to bless the Pastor for their servanthood. What I am against is this guy standing on stage week-in/week-out hammering home the giving message and saying your “favor and blessings from God are directly tied to your giving” and then living a millionaire lifestyle behind the scenes and under the veil of “he’s a businessman outside of the church”…when nothing can be found or verified.
        in regards to your comments above…my facts are via second hand from direct friends that have previously been involved or per my above statements from his neighborhood!

        One example is/was business leaders in his church being
        “urged” to participate in his CEO Business Mastermind group for
        several hundred dollars per month. one friend said that they wanted him to write the check to Keith’s personal ministry for the mastermind meetings. he declined as one of the companies he was “mentoring” was in horrible financial disarray and keith and the CEO were known to fly around on the company jet while investors & employees were being ripped off. online reviews of the company and the executives which are members of keiths church were not positive. last I’d known the company was folding.
        Another one was one of keith’s cronies was trying to convince another friend to hire keith as his corporate coach. no details were discussed but my friend was not interested at all and thought it was fishy that keith sent one of his guys to talk to him about it.
        I will try to note his license plates the next time I see his fleet
        of cars…pretty easy to do a property search.

        • Solus ELC

          “FORCE 1” is the license plate currently on his White C7 Corvette.

          The company of which you speak of is “DNA Stat”. The owners, Mitch Edland and Mike Escobedo, are members of the church and are “kings” in it. DNA Stat is no longer. Their website goes to a placeholder page. Last I had heard, they missed almost 6 months of payroll, all the while, Keith and his family were using the “company” jet.

          Mike Escobedo is a very well respected Veterinarian and is one of the best surgeons in DFW.

          Mitch Edland on the other hand, watch out for him. He has had several companies, all of which have failed, and one that was being investigated for illegal medical billing. He has a very large IRS Tax Bill ($500k+) that has been lingering for years.

          As far as the CEO MasterMind Group, it isn’t really a group at all. It is a way for Keith to say the same stuff that he has been saying for the last 15 years from stage at the church. It is a waste at $2000/month to be in it. I only know all of this because I know someone who is very familiar with the church and The Craft/Kraft Family, if you can even call it a family.

    • Solus ELC

      Frisco Townhouse –
      Quinlan Lakehouse –
      Frisco (Newman Village House) –
      Florida “Beach” House –

      Those are all his properties. The Quinlan Lakehouse sold in 2016 at some point. They had a”flood” in it and had insurance redo the entire interior of the house. They had a toilet that “overflowed”.

      They have also had 3 cars “stolen” and burned to the ground.

  • David Anderson

    you are on-point with this guy and the circle of “pastors” he associates with. I’ve been to the church, read other articles…its a shame the deception goes on! But its also a shame that so many people line-up every weekend to feed off of the waste from the south end of the animal. I am also surprised at the lengths people go to “protect” their king when you challenge them on their thought process, their pastor, etc. He really has a group of them brainwashed.

    • I think this man needs to be exposed for who he is. I’m not sure how to do this, but if you have some hard facts, let’s put them out there.

      • David Anderson

        one of the ways he is being exposed is by the folks at who’s goal is to help people think biblically, think critically, and help you to slow down, stop, and open up your Bible and compare what people are saying in the name of God. However, keith is diabolically opposed to people thinking critically of him and his church. You are either in “unity” with him or you are an enemy! critical thinking of him or the church is seen as negative from his perspective and he regularly teaches “See the best, believe the best, even when the worst has been displayed” as a form of hiding his deception under the guise of everyone’s job is to see and believe the best.

        do a search of Keith Craft and/or others on the site and you will hear the fighting for the faith team biblically break down his messages and expose how biblically incorrect the nonsense he spews.

        in regards to the financial deception he has going on…one only has to look as far as the “Charter School” and know that taxpayers are paying for the school…which in-turn pays exorbitant rent to the church to pay for the gaudy Cathedral of Frisco..then I assume all the giving from the church itself goes to the several homes, cars and family members that are on staff.

        • Thanks for the link. Am glad to know people are onto him.

        • Solus ELC

          Wanna know something funny about “Leadership Prep School”?

          Sheila Craft is the co-lead pastor of Elevate Life Church but she is also Chairman of the Board for Leadership Prep School.

          The treasurer of Leadership Prep School is David Stroud. David Stroud is the Executive Pastor of Elevate Life Church.

          For someone from the outside looking in, doesn’t that seem like a conflict of interest on both parts?

          Not to mention the facility that the school is using has constant water leaks, to the point that the lobby fills with water anytime you have rain that is harder than a drizzle.

      • William Barlow

        I too am interested in putting out facts to expose this scam. I’ve been following Keith Craft for some time and only recently came across your previous piece about Elevate Life. I’ve been able to find the 990 tax forms for the Leadership Prep School and the charitable organization that is called Operation Elevation, but is filed under the name Operation Celebration. I think the real info that could be useful would be in Elevate Life’s 990 form. The problem is finding that information. The church was originally called Celebration Covenant Church and I have not had luck finding information using that name as well as Elevate Life.
        It’s worth noting that on the most recently filed 990 form from Leadership Prep, the school paid the land owner, which is Elevate Life, $800,000 in the 2014-2015 school year. Almost all of their funding comes from the taxpayers.

  • elevate life

    i sent the below email back in 2010 to keith…let’s just say it wasn’t received well. he was more interested in giving me “wisom” and even stated

    “It is not about me asking for money…it never is. It is about the heart. Nothing to debate here…bottomline it is one thing to vent what is in our heart it is yet another to want to “get wisdom.”

    Dear Pastor Keith,

    We have been attending the church for a few years now…and quite frankly love almost every aspect of it. However, there seems to be some key missing components that I wanted your insight on.

    1. Corporate Accountability-it is not clear or stated anywhere who is on the church board. I’ve heard from others that it is you, the rodman guy (too many problems to list here) and Scott Unclebak (sp?). It is interesting that a friend for 20+ years with a history of financial problems, questionable business deals and a multilevel marketing business heavily based on the church attendees/members would have a huge “conflict of interest” to be a board member and the COO of the church. I have also heard you mention Max from the stage and would assume that you are profiting from it as well. If that is the case, I believe the IRS would have a problem with the “not for profit” status a church carries and the fiduciary responsibilities that come with it. Quite frankly if i get asked one more time by mitch or scott to sell max…i’ll probably leave the church as it is highly inappropriate and distracts from the Mission, Vision and purpose you have stated so clearly. Do you really want your church known as a MLM church? it seems opposite of your values! You’ve mentioned from the stage how the church uses a 3rd party to handle its finances…you seem to think that means something. It really doesn’t as my bookkeeper can manage my money but doesn’t mean they have authority to stop me from doing anything i want to do. Mostly they assist with specific compensation issues as they relate to legal, accounting, tax, payroll, insurance, and retirement considerations but hold no authority on whether not you have the church cut a check for work done on your personal property or assume any liabilty for such decisions. (i.e. Enron, Worldcom, and many Churches). Any person with a business mind in the church would see through that.

    2. Financials-we hear you speak from the stage about how much you have given to the church and have heard you contradict yourself many times on what you have given and how much you live off of. I’ve heard you talk about your vacations (you tweeted from Puerta Vallarta this week alone), your cars, your lake house, motorcycles and see your jewelry & cars and your desire for an airplane and quite frankly it doesn’t add up. It seems to me that it is time to take this church from a small private organization to one that is run like a respectable business/church by being more open about the financials especially given the frantic plea for giving over the last 30 days. It would be interesting to understand where the money goes, who makes the decisions and how you are maintaining your lifestyle. Your income seems to be highly disproportionate to that of your staff. As it relates to the church financials you’ve mentioned on a couple occasions of bad investments but yet make the statement the church doesn’t need money. if that is the case, why the full court press on giving and the strong “correction” for people not signing up for events.

    3.Leadership and Structure- you preach about Leadership and quite frankly I think it is awesome…however, there are many things that seem to be preached but not lived. Financial Leadership…you talk about the leaders who are giving and point out big givers in the church so one would assume you are checking up on our financials. Giving seems to be a requirement of leadership however, the church structure, financials, etc. seem to be off limits. It seems to be a double standard and who is validating the financials of the church to determine if you qualify for leadership?

    The building…man this has been the biggest “over promise/under deliver” building campaign ever. I’ve given towards a gym, a youth center, a chair, a chapel, a building, my name on a wall, on a pew, in a garden…but nothing to show for it. Where is the accountability? How much money has been wasted on architectural design, change orders, etc. meanwhile the existing building is under maintained, bathrooms are unclean, etc. I am assuming it went into the “expensive” name change.

    The structure of the church and the lack there of it. Every time i see or talk to a staff member they seem so burned out or worn out because of the hours of work, late nights and lack of resources/staff to do their daily jobs or frustrated by the lack of communication, last minute details, or fear that Pastor Keith will be mad or they will have to deal with Pastor Tad (another topic for another day!). such is the case that they rarely exhibit the Love of Christ. Many times they are tense, stressed, short and rude in the “spirit of excellence”. They all seem to live off of caffine and energy drinks just to get by! I’ve met some of your staff who are broke and can’t even afford to have their vehicles fixed or afford to buy their family dinner however, you roll in with multiple very expensive cars, clothes, etc while your small staff struggles. From what I can see most of the staff are young kids and your kids. The difference is your kids drive expensive luxury vehicles and you’ve even bragged about Josh buying a $250,000 condo all on his own. How does a recent college graduate afford that kind of house when he “has given it all” like his dad? It does’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what kind of salary is needed to support that kind of mortgage (at a minimum 60K/year). Again, this speaks to the finances of the church! It would be interesting to see the incomes of your kids vs. the incomes of the other staff! Does the board decide this or do you? You also commented on Pastor Ed Young a few weeks ago and his plane…it is easy to justify his actions when yours seem to be the same minus the plane.

    I know this email will be ridiculed by you to your staff, your inner circle, your mighty men, and probably even to the congregation for “stinkin thinkin” or a “religious spirit”. however that is not my heart at all. I haven’t shared my thoughts with anyone…not even my own family. I merely want to understand

    • Solus ELC

      Josh & Keela were on the church payroll before they even graduated college. Josh also drives a Tesla that was purchased by Keith, I mean Elevate Life Church, from Earth Motorcars in Carrollton for a sum close to $92,000.

      As far as the staff goes, super talented people who are overworked and told they have an “attitude” when they speak the truth about a situation or have knowledge that surpasses that of their “upline”.

    • Solus ELC

      The “Board of Directors” include the following: Sheila Craft, Rod Vilhauer, Mike Escobedo, Scott Unclebach…all friends of Keith. They NEVER have had a meeting where there was a proxy taking the hours down.

      Does anyone want to know the salaries of everyone staff?

      • Francine Daniels

        It would be nice to see if the others on staff get paid as much as the family?? I’m sure they don’t yet they give of all their time, treasure and talent 24/7. This whole thing is very disheartening since me and my family were sucked into this mindset for 10 plus years!

    • I’m sorry I didn’t see this earlier. What a letter–and apparently, it made no difference.

  • Beau Jaxon

    So glad to see this guy getting exposed! we used to live across the street from that church and his total disregard for the neighbors around the church building was terrible. I bet between us and the neighbors around us we called Frisco PD dozens of times to file noise complaints as they’d have outdoor concerts with music and lights blaring until all hours of the night…many times on Sunday night when our young kids had school the next day.
    Nothing ever happened and nothing ever changed. It was one of the main reason we sold our house and moved. We even went up to the office to meet with the “pastor keith” several times but he would not meet with us..the office manager guy would basically lie to us that he was in meetings, etc and was “generally unavailable to meet with people who were not members, tithing and/or serving in the church”

    • Solus ELC

      This never changed because of the agreement that they had made with the Police Chief and Mayor. They basically had a no ticket policy for the church, not to mention, Mayor Maso had been to the dedication ceremony in 2012 for the “Cathedral of Frisco”. By the way, the church gave it that name, not the City of Frisco.

  • Michael Weaver

    Thank you for this. Even as (especially as?) a pastor in “the system,” it is difficult to look beyond the system and trust one’s instincts that “things just aren’t quite right.” Your article gives us permission to trust our gut, which, I guess, just might be the Spirit whispering.

  • Solus ELC

    Now Keith is talking about having relationships with someone of the opposite sex and a womans g-spot…..

    Fast forward to 30:10 to go….

  • Brandon Roberts

    agreed with a lot of this