|To: The Elders of First Christian Church of Florissant‘Help Restore FCCF’ was born of a concern held by many members that FCCF has strayed far from its primary purpose which is simply stated in ARTICLE II of the By-Laws: “The purpose of the congregation shall be to fulfill the great commission of Jesus Christ as expressed in the New Testament, particularly as stated in Matthew 28:18-20.”It is in support of this stated purpose, nothing more and nothing less, that we felt compelled to write this letter at this time.It has become apparent that FCCF has developed major faults in the integrity of the church body–faults that continue to widen daily. We understand that failure to return to our founding purpose will inevitability lead to the collapse of the church we love. The church body is—and has been– in a poor state of health for quite some time. Many know this, many suspect this, and still others remain blind. The reemergence of the Milburn case was simply the flashpoint that moved many of us to act.Though certainly the most publicized and disconcerting issue the church has faced, the crimes perpetrated by Milburn must not be viewed in isolation, but rather as one more consequence of a consistent pattern of an inadequate, unhealthy and abusive leadership. The manner in which the turmoil surrounding the initial Milburn revelations was addressed, and the manner in which the aftermath of those events has been allowed to fester in the subsequent months, speaks conclusively to the flawed and fundamentally ineffective leadership guiding the congregation.As painful as it might be, we must ask some direct, specific and difficult questions:
- Has Steve Wingfield faithfully carried out the task of shepherd, overseer, and pastor?
- Has he demonstrated that he can be relied upon to lead our congregation selflessly, without an eye on personal aspirations, as he seeks to grow the body of Christ in Florissant?
- Is his primary focus fulfillment of the Great Commission of Jesus Christ?”
Furthermore, we must also ask:
- Have the elders fulfilled their role to support, counsel, and advise the Senior Pastor, to enable him to fulfill his role and further the stated purpose of FCCF?
- Have they provided support and counsel to the congregation in their efforts toward that objective, as well?”
We believe that a review of the actions taken and decisions made by FCCF leadership must be examined thoroughly and objectively: doing so leads to one undeniable conclusion.
Failings in Leadership and the Overall Decline of FCCF
During the past seven years our church has experienced an alarmingly high staff turnover, an equally alarming decline in attendance, and unwise stewardship of church funds.
- In 2010, Steve began to lead the elders through by-law changes to shift management of the church from the elders to the paid staff, with himself as the senior decision maker. This was to provide a framework to allow for greater church growth. In 2012, with little to no explanation and justification to the congregation, Steve and the elders proposed and secured a change in the church by-laws. The change resulted in a tightening of Steve’s personal control over the eldership and all decision-making in the church.
- Since Steve Wingfield became Lead Pastor, thirteen key ministry staff members have left the church; seven in the past 18 months. When asked why they left, most cited Steve’s leadership style and the inability to establish a working relationship with him as the primary reasons, if not the only reason, for departure.
- Jim Taylor, the Chairman of the Elders and Congregation, recently resigned as the chair, yet the congregation has not been formally advised as of today. It was learned on June 7th that he had also resigned as an elder, between the 8:00 and 9:30 services that morning. In response to questioning FCCF eldership on whether Jim Taylor resigned, the eldership response was “this is a personal matter”. The reason for Jim Taylor’s resignation may be a personal matter, however, his resignation is a church matter.
- Steve has claimed that he has been threatened by individuals. When one of his own security guards asked for evidence of such threats, Steve was unable to produce anything. The security guard resigned soon afterward.
- Attendance at our church has declined, even as we continue to baptize new believers and add new members.
- More than a hundred long-time and influential individuals have left the church (documentation available). As a result, many ministry areas have weakened due to lack and experience of volunteers.
- The church sold the Kirk House, a useful venue for counseling and a successful community outreach ministry, for $84,900. That was approximately the same amount spent to hire a consultant for strategies to increase giving, which resulted in the “I’m All In” campaign. Six months later, the congregation has not been apprised of the results of this campaign.
- The recent offerings trend indicates the church may be about to face a general decline in income, to be compounded by the typical decline in attendance and giving in the summer months.
- Many have been confused by the conflict they have witnessed in recent months: the name calling, the accusations, shouting from the mouths of alleged Godly men. Months have passed where the elders have exhorted us to reach out to them, to call them, to email them, affirming that they are here to help, willing to provide answers when possible. Unfortunately, the collective summary of those who have made such attempts, including unanswered emails and voicemails, and the now all too familiar, “We’ll get back with you on that”, characterizes a pattern of hurt and frustration. If dialogue is engaged, legitimate questions are treated as accusations, and the accuser becomes the adversary—an example of spiritual abuse. If one questions, disagrees, or doubts, that person becomes the enemy—an example of bullying.
Mishandling of Sexual Misconduct Allegations
Church leadership, largely revolving around Steve Wingfield, has demonstrated a failure to take actions to care for those impacted by Brandon Milburn and to ensure no other children suffer such abuse.
- Scott Seppelt (in 2011) and Dawn Varvil (in 2012) brought to Steve their concerns about Brandon Milburn’s inappropriate and alarming misconduct with children. These concerns were not reported or investigated, and Brandon was permitted to continue to have access and contact with FCCF youth.
- Steve has maintained in at least two “public announcements” from the pulpit that neither he nor the church has “ever” been made aware of concerns regarding Brandon Milburn or “any” reports of disturbing activity between Brandon and any minor. The then Chairman of the Elders, Jim Taylor, made a third similar statement, at a later date, in all three worship services. Steve and the elders, however, have yet to make a single retraction of this position.
- The statement released to the press by FCCF on February 11, 2014 stated, “For the last several years he (Brandon) has been living in another state.” Brandon, however, had been living in St. Louis, working at an area church, attending Sunday night services at FCCF, and leading at the church’s Vacation Bible School—all during the time the church had reported Brandon living in another state. Steve Wingfield or the elders have never provided an adequate explanation for this discrepancy.
- Church leadership has never contacted the family of one of the victims, nor has church leadership sought out to identify, care and support any other victims.
Conclusion and Recommendation
We take no pleasure in revealing this summation of Steve Wingfield’s failure in the capacity of Senior Minister, or the elders’ failure to provide Steve counsel and the congregation guidance in this time of turmoil. But to obey 1 Timothy 5:20, the truth must be brought to light. Steve requires Biblical discipline. We must follow the guidance of 2 Timothy 3:16, using Scripture to lovingly rebuke and correct Steve.
Our church needs to go through a difficult time of healing. Steve has harmed many people, has denied any wrongdoing, and offers no repentance. To think he could lead the healing process for the very people he has hurt is inconceivable.
But what must be done to accomplish the restoration and reconciliation we all want for our church? We prayerfully submit the only possible way to even begin the process is with either the resignation or removal of Steve Wingfield as Lead Pastor. Should the elders fail to act on or provide reasonable response to this request, there would be no option but to interpret that failure to act or respond as a tacit rejection of our requests, at which point we would be compelled to escalate the requests to the status of ‘demands’. These demands would in turn be applicable to the elders as well as Steve. Your failure to assist in the resolution of this situation would be in direct conflict with your role of representation, propagation, and protection of the faith and interests of the congregation.
“This congregation is and shall always remain autonomous in government, recognizing Christ as its sole head” (FCCF By-Laws, 2012).
The support for this position is in evidence by the signatures provided in following:
We, the undersigned, have read and reviewed pages 1-4 of this letter. We thereby offer our signatures in support of Steve Wingfield’s immediate resignation or removal from First Christian Church of Florissant: