by James M. Rochford
We have rarely felt a need to respond to misinformation about our church. We usually just encourage people to judge our church for themselves by checking out one of our meetings, or observing one of our service ministries. Many people who would typically never set foot in a church find themselves pleasantly surprised at what they experience.
At the same time, we feel compelled to write a short response regarding clear misinformation that we’ve encountered recently. While people are entitled to their own opinions about our church, they are not entitled to their own facts. We hope that this paper will answer some of the misinformation we have come across.
Does the church isolate or alienate people from family or friends?
What are ministry houses? Does Dwell own these houses? Are people required to live there?
Why does Dwell practice church discipline?
What is Dwell’s stance toward those who have left fellowship?
What are the limits to authority in discipleship or leadership relationships?
Does Dwell dictate dating relationships or arranged marriages?
What is Dwell’s stance toward personal finance and spending?
Do members in Dwell pursue higher education?
What is the church’s stance toward psychological disorders or clinical counseling?
Does Dwell use spyware on phones?
Does Dwell have an $8 million dollar budget?
Does Dwell teach anti-Semitism?
Absolutely not. We encourage people to (1) spend time with their families, (2) pursue reconciliation with family members where needed, and (3) encourage healthy marriages, parenting, and families. The overwhelming majority of Dwell members have good relationships with their families, and report a better relationship with their families due to God’s influence in their lives.
Many single people in Dwell live together in ministry houses. These foster lifelong friendships and a deep sense of Christian community between members. Before moving in, members agree to live according to basic biblical principles as they try to learn how to grow with God together in community. Participation is voluntary. In fact, leaders of home groups are instructed to read through the ministry house agreement before a person moves in, so that they do not move in under false assumptions. Members can also move out at any time, and many do.
Dwell does not own ministry houses, nor do we collect any money from these houses whatsoever. Some members of our church privately own some of these houses, but campus realty companies own most of them.
All social groups have ethical or philosophical standards. For example, if a member of Greenpeace believed that global warming was a hoax, they would be removed from their organization. Likewise, if a member of an anti-racist organization was found guilty of racism, they would be removed from their organization as well.
Dwell practices formal church discipline only for very serious cases of objective, damaging, ongoing, and determined sin. Most evangelical churches practice church discipline to one degree or another, because this is a subject taught throughout the New Testament (Mt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5). We only practice church discipline after close consultation and review with our pastoral board.
Put simply, we don’t have a stance. People are free to pursue friendships with whomever they want. We have encountered cases where people have been unhappy after leaving our fellowship. We can speculate a few different reasons for this:
(1) Unspoken expectations for initiation. As we all know, the burden of initiation goes both ways in a successful friendship. In some cases, people who have left fellowship expect constant initiation, which we feel is an unfair expectation.
(2) Spending less time together. Like all social groups, our relationships usually change when we decide to no longer spend time together in a group setting. Friendships tend to wane when we see less of each other.
(3) Having a change in values or convictions. In some cases, people leave our church because they no longer believe in Christianity. Of course, this is their choice, but this can have ramifications on relationships. It can become difficult to maintain a close friendship with a person who rejects your core values and convictions. We find that friendships usually continue quite well for those who simply felt called to follow Christ elsewhere.
Our leadership training material states, “Biblical discipleship is a role involving facilitating others’ growth through sharing knowledge and experience, and living as models. It is not a role involving controlling others in any way.” We would be appalled to hear about leaders (or members) pressuring others in non-biblical areas. Again our leadership literature states, “We believe leaders should not be intrusive by calling on members to order their schedule a certain way.” Furthermore, we hold leaders accountable if they overstep any of these principles, and this could result in immediately being stepped out of leadership.
The biblical practice of discipleship has been one of the great hallmarks of our church, leading to changed lives, spiritual growth, and lifelong friendships. Many evangelical churches have studied Dwell to learn how to implement discipleship in their own churches (For example, see Thom Rainer, Breakout Churches; Joel Comiskey, Planting Churches that Reproduce; Randall Neighbour, The Naked Truth about Small Group Ministry; William Mount, Called to Reach).
Our church has never arranged any marriage and would be horrified if someone tried to do this! In fact, our leadership training material states that leaders can offer “advice” and “wisdom” in the area of dating, but people ultimately have the freedom to date if they want to. Regarding dating and marriage, our leadership literature states, “Leaders have to restrain themselves to offering personal opinion, and carefully delineating between their opinion and their authority as leaders… [Couples] will be supported regardless of how they chose to proceed.”
People are free to make their own decisions with their money. Our leadership literature states, “Some Christians get into trouble through bad spending decisions, and leaders may be tempted to try helping them through guiding their spending. This would be a mistake. While we must feel free to teach biblical principles of financial stewardship, or to raise questions about extremely questionable big-ticket spending, these decisions belong to the individual member.”
No. We have many leaders and members with higher education, including PhD’s, Master's degrees, etc. In fact, our ministry house agreement actually requires individuals to go to school or to work full-time, and most do both. In a recent poll (2018), we found that 70% of our members have a college education.
We have seen countless cases of members who have seen healing from generalized anxiety and depression, mostly from involvement in Christian community, discipleship, and lay counseling. However, clinical disorders are in a different category. We teach our leaders to urge those with psychological disorders to get professional help.
Professional clinicians are well aware of the growing crisis of suicide and suicidal ideation in our culture—specifically on college campuses. For those struggling with suicidal ideation, we have a policy of referring people to professional clinicians for help. The Bible does not teach—nor do we—that suicidal people go to hell. It would devastate young people to believe that even the thought of suicide would mean eternal separation from God. We do not believe that this is who God is, nor is this how we would ever represent Him to those going through such a desperate time in their lives. Consequently, we have helped hundreds of young people get help and healing from major mood disorders and psychological conditions.
No. Some members voluntarily use accountability software with their friends as an aid to avoid unwanted pornography use or addiction. Other churches and organizations use this exact same software for those who struggle with pornography addiction.
Yes. We have a 5,000 person church, and we have major costs to keep our ministry running. However, we give $3 million of our giving to the poor—both domestically (to the inner city) and internationally (to the poorest of the poor across the globe). In fact, our inner-city ministry (Urban Concern) was awarded the White House’s Thousand Points of Light Award, the World Vision Mustard Seed Award, and the Columbus Dispatch Community Service Award. Furthermore, we have an “open book” policy so that anyone can see where our money is spent, making us financially accountable to our church as well as the public.
One of the greatest and most shocking allegations seems to be the notion of anti-Semitism that is being attributed to us. Online we have been called anti-Semitic and Holocaust deniers. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have a special place in our hearts for our Jewish brothers and sisters and worship a Jewish man (Jesus) as our God.
In an age of church scandals and abuse, our fellowship will continue to hold out a positive ethic of accountability and transparency. If you have any questions about our church, please reach out to voice your thoughts and to create a dialogue. In the meantime, we feel that our church is as dynamic and healthy as ever before, and we look forward to many more years of serving Christ and our community together.