The first time I met John was in the summer of 1989 when we both participated as eighteen-year-olds in the summer outreach of Youth with a Mission in New York. John and I were to share a room for the entire month of July, and that’s how we got to know each other. We were both ‘on fire’ for Jesus and had the biggest plans: we were going to change the world for Jesus. He in Asia, me in Sudan.
John was a boy full of charisma, someone who made you feel at ease. He was fervent for Jesus, and we spent whole days at Times Square telling people about the gospel. John hailed from the suburbs of New York, where his father was the pastor of a Pentecostal church. Unfortunately, John and his father did not click. Years later, John would tell me that as a child, he always had the feeling he was never good enough for his father. John was actually very insecure, someone with a strong inferiority complex and a deep desire for recognition. But I didn’t know that yet. Nobody knew, not even John. We were just eighteen-year-old boys who were going to win the world for Jesus. For one summer, we were friends.
After that summer, I lost track of John for a few years. I left for England to attend an evangelism school, while he did a prophetic training in Texas. After a year, he returned to become a co-pastor with his father in his father’s church.
“John soon came into conflict with his father and forced him to step down as pastor.”
Unfortunately, this only went well for half a year. He soon came into conflict with his father and forced him to resign as pastor. John was now the sole pastor and changed the name of the church to ‘Joy’. Around the same time, he married Abigail, and together as a couple, they led the church. Abigail led the worship, John preached. The church slowly grew from eighty to a hundred and twenty people.
A year later, the first conflict with the board of elders arose. This board had been in place for twenty years and was trained by his father. John felt that the board showed no loyalty to him. The board was not happy with John’s leadership style. The conflict escalated and reached a point where either the board or John had to resign. The board lost and left the church. John chose not to appoint a new board of elders right away but to let things calm down. To make his own position clear to the congregation, he declared himself senior pastor. People in the church were asked to no longer address them as John and Abigail but as pastor John and pastor Abigail. This caused some confusion at first, but after a few months, everyone in the church was used to it.
“People in the church were asked to no longer address them as pastor John and pastor Abigail.”
I also returned to the States after several years. Not to become a pastor, but to work as a street evangelist among the people in Baltimore. From this point on, I decide to keep a diary:
Spring 1993. A large Reformed church in New Jersey has asked me to train their evangelism committee in street evangelism. That same afternoon, we go to a mall with the participants. I preach, after which the church members start talking to others. After one of my sermons, I also get into a conversation with someone, a Hank from the suburbs of New York. Hank tells me that he has been part of a church for years, but he is so disappointed that he no longer attends a church. I suggest he take a look at John’s congregation. That’s the only church I know in his area and where I’ve heard good things. Maybe that’s something for him…
“The prophetic words came faster and faster, but they also became a dime a dozen. The church thought it was wonderful; we have a prophet among us!”
Hank begins to laugh mockingly. He tells me that he has been an elder in that church for years and that is exactly where he became so disillusioned. In no time at all, the whole story comes spewing out:
“John started well. Together with his father, he led one of the oldest Pentecostal churches in the city. He regularly had a prophetic word, which the congregation responded positively to. You could see that this did him good. John has something with people’s recognition, as if he needs it. It started with a prophetic word every few months. Soon it became a prophetic word every week. I can imagine that. If you see that the congregation reacts so positively, a beautiful thought during Bible reading quickly becomes a prophetic word from God. The prophetic words came faster and faster. But they also became a dime a dozen.
The church thought it was wonderful; a prophet among us. One of the sisters even began to call him ‘the anointed.’ This seemed to really touch him. John began to see himself as the anointed. What was first a nice boy now changed into a dictator and a manipulator. It all started to revolve around HIM. John this and John that… And his wife is not good at all. She only encourages that anointed behavior and dares to say on every criticism from the board that we should not touch the anointed.”
“Crying, Hank tells me that the board of elders was ousted by John in a sneaky way. The congregation is now completely under his manipulation.”
Crying, Hank tells me how John first ousted his father in a sneaky way and not much later the entire board, under the pretense that God had told him this. “The congregation is completely under his manipulation. He has told them that we, the board, are led by religious spirits and that my wife is even under the influence of the Jezebel spirit because she dares to oppose them. The whole congregation that we have faithfully served for years believes John. Nobody wants anything to do with us anymore. We have even been told that if we speak negatively about John, the anointed one, to others, we would no longer be under God’s protection and would become ill. Can you imagine the fear that causes? You will never see us back in a church. And that goes for most of the other elders too.”
Intense, I think. I don’t know John like that. That can’t be true. I don’t know if I should believe that.