In concluding a three-part series on exposing the practices of Grace Fellowship Church of Davenport, Iowa, (GFC) we will look at some of the specifics of the practices that occur, and why they are so dangerous.
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! – Psalm 139:23-24
February 4th, 2018 was the last service we attended at GFC. This very evening Mike Reid read this verse asking the congregation to examine their own hearts, I jotted down this note not knowing at the time its significance. I wrote in my note, “You prayed this Sunday night. The Lord is being gracious.”
I write this last article, with heaviness in my heart, that these leaders will turn from the practices that have hurt so many people, and the Lord will convict them to “clean up their messes”, and experience the joy and freedom of the Christian life.
I firmly believe the leadership of Grace Fellowship Church is biblically disqualified from Christian ministry, and dangerous to the church of Christ. I will present arguments from Scripture, from example, and personal interactions. These interactions are not only mine but also others. These are not personal attacks. Each of these men played a role in my life at one time, and I have no personal vendetta against them. The truth is I have a particular love for many who are still at GFC. I continue to pray for them. It is the glory of Christ and His church that needs protection from men that distort and twist the gospel to be something other than what Christ has given to the church. It should serve as a warning, not only to these men and those they lead at GFC, but to anyone that would potentially visit GFC. Also, to the universal church that it might be aware of these serious issues. May the Great Shepherd rescue His sheep from GFC and prevent even one more of His own from falling into this cesspool of biblical errors.
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. – 1 Timothy 1:8-11
I believe Paul’s point is clear. Any slight distortions can and will be damaging. We see the example of teachers without understanding yet they make confident assertions. They use the law, but they do not use it lawfully. They use the law in a way that hurts others. The law is meant to convict and show error, but always in love. Then Paul calls them out, by name.
This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. – 1Timothy 1:18-20
Countless people have attempted to expose the grievous errors that occur at Grace Fellowship. Godly men and women, godly pastors, well-known and respected church leaders have attempted to correct the issues. We are left only to do what the Scripture calls us to do; Expose evil. Specifically, I want to put the spotlight on the ungodly and cult-like control the leadership exercises over its members.
What is Grace Fellowship of Davenport IA? How did this place become a thing that has been written about previously and now? Who are its leaders? Grace Fellowship Church, originally called Legacy Church, sprang out of a church plant in Davenport from Christ United Methodist Church. The intent was to have an inner-city ministry that served those in need. From the start, there were problems, and it never got off the ground in the right way. The original church plant included my family and several others. Of the original launch team, only two families remain.
The original failure launched a pastoral search that eventually landed Mike Reid as the pastor, despite Reid’s lack of formal training in pastoral ministry, or a thorough examination process, he took the reins. Reid is still the pastor at GFC and the main subject of this article. He began his ministry by transforming a church that was hurting into what he believed a church should be. My wife and I had originally been very convicted and challenged by Reid’s preaching, and in the summer of 2009, while going through a bible study, came to repentance and faith in Christ. We were “all in” at the time and appreciated Mike’s teaching and preaching. It was like nothing we had ever been exposed to before. He preached from the Bible, verse by verse and we were learning and growing.
Nevertheless, many people were leaving. His “style” was not for them. He could be aggressive and abrasive; he could also be kind, which will be addressed later as one of the techniques of something called “gaslighting” which is a form of emotional manipulation. In addition to Reid’s behavior, some left GFC because he began to teach the doctrines of grace. This highlights the sovereignty of God and is difficult for some to swallow. While some were leaving, others that Mike knew from his previous church came and joined. One of those men, Nick Rolland, soon became one of the elders in the church. Rolland was virtually unknown to the church nor came with any formal training, and none of the current eldership or former had any experience or training in church ministry, which I will discuss more later. He, along with Cal Bolkema, and Mike Reid made up the eldership in the earlier years. Cal Bolkema was removed as an elder over some personal indiscretions. These were mostly hypocritical, as opposed to moral failures, but he was removed rightly as he was clearly no longer biblically qualified. Eventually, Tyler Bolkema, Cal’s son, became an elder at GFC. Cal is currently in leadership as a deacon.
One other significant player in the organization is evangelist Tony Miano. Tony is not in leadership, to the best of my knowledge. However, Tony’s role in the church is important for numerous reasons. Why was it important to get Tony here? I will attempt to cite several reasons later, but for now it was important because it provided Mike with some credibility in his ministry. Tony had influence and sway in the open-air crowd and the larger, Reformed camp. He had spoken at conferences that had speakers like Paul Washer and James White. He had been arrested twice in the UK for preaching in public. That he would move from Grace Community Church in Los Angeles to little GFC in Iowa was significant and signaled that Reid should be taken seriously as a pastor and preacher.
Tony was recruited by Mike and Nick while they were at the Shepherd’s Conference in 2015. I was serving as a deacon at the time and was a part of the recruitment process on some level. I would say Mike Reid played the most significant role in bringing Tony to Davenport. Some have argued that Mike steals credibility. He is not a seminary-trained pastor, and he never sat under proper teaching for an extended period that he might be tested. Some of his methods are evidence of these very things.
He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. – 1 Timothy 3:6
This may be a significant factor in the issues at hand.
While there are many godly men leading churches that do not have seminary degrees or seminary training, men that have oversight stand a better chance of not becoming puffed up with conceit, the importance of the two-fold call, internal and external, and the cultivation helps protect the church from unqualified men. I contend that this has been the case with Mike. He has a powerful personality, almost overwhelming at times. Given some power over people, nobody to answer to except himself, and you have a recipe for a cult driven by loyalty to its leader. Mike will claim the Scripture is his authority. He will also claim the other elders keep him accountable. No one should be fooled. Mike Reid runs GFC. Nothing is done without his approval. Any contrary thoughts or expressions are condemned and quashed.
A plurality of eldership is biblical, and I believe the best way to protect a local church. Additionally, having the support and oversight of an organization, or at the least other pastors that can provide counsel and truly speak into a man’s life, is a necessity. See the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith – Chapter 26. There is great danger of falling into this trap and the condemnation of the devil, but this is not the case with GFC, they are a completely independent church, without oversight, and no fellowship or accountability to any other local churches.
Grace Fellowship claims to be a Confessional church, formerly citing a combination of the Westminster Confession and the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith. They have abandoned their combination of those two venerable documents and adopted the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith. While I’m not sure when the change occurred, I do find it interesting they believed they could write a “better” confession by combining the two. I think it speaks to the inflated view of their abilities.
Writing in his book, The Creedal Imperative Carl Truman said: “On the whole, those who reinvent the wheel invest a lot of time either to come up with something that looks identical to the old design or something that is actually inferior to it.”
The leadership of Grace Fellowship of Davenport, IA are products of Mike Reid’s teaching and influence, there are no two-ways about it, he has been and continues to be the primary influence over the men he has picked to serve alongside him.
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. – Matthew 10:24
Christ has told us we will emulate our teachers and ultimately Christ is the one we should be looking at for our final authority. However, the leadership at GFC very much resembles Mike Reid. They use the same techniques, they say the same things, and they have the same tendencies. While a plurality of elders exists in theory, it does not exist in practice. I believe the ultimate, determining factor in any disagreement at GFC is not Scripture, but whatever Mike Reid wants.
In his book Churches That Abuse, Ronald M. Enroth notes that this pattern tends to happen over time in “churches” with abusive and authoritarian tendencies, and this is the bottom-line on Grace Fellowship. The central theme is the control-oriented leader. Mike Reid desires to know everything he can about everyone in his congregation. This creates a situation where everyone depends on him for “counsel” and advice.
Detractors of GFC have predicted that this type of control, along with Mike’s insistence on meeting with everyone, including women, would eventually lead to the usurping of a man’s authority in his own home. As former members of GFC, we watched this play itself out right before our eyes. It really begs the question, how many years must a pastor continue to “shepherd” a man’s wife on a weekly basis and not expect it to interfere with the authority structure of the home? How can a man possibly maintain credibility with his wife, when the pastor has this much influence? While the marriage bed may not be defiled physically, it certainly is defiled mentally and spiritually.
Mike has consistently been warned and criticized of this in the past but continues to exercise this kind of authority in the marriages of those at GFC. He believes this is part of shepherding the flock. He also meets with women of the church alone, with no accountability to anyone but God. He cites sources to validate this “ministry,” yet he denies any need to listen to any other counsel.
The following illustrations show the dangers and failures of this approach to ministry.
My wife and I were requested to meet with the elders for “marriage counseling”. While our marriage was in no way perfect, it was stable, and we had not requested counseling. In one particular meeting, Mike Reid continued to press my wife, over a past situation that finally left her in tears and repeatedly asking to leave, because she needed to pick up our daughter. She desired to be respectful, but Mike was having none of it, it seemed he desired to pick a fight, and after Jen had left, and I had more conversation with the elders, Mike stated, “I’m doing your job”. This really was the beginning of the end as I look back in disgust at the way my wife was treated, the cowardly way I failed to protect her, and the unbelievable control he has over people that place their trust in him. This is control-oriented, abusive leadership at its “finest” and it needs to be exposed, because this is sheep-beating, not loving shepherding. It also shows his desire to “do the job” of those husbands that can’t, won’t or aren’t progressing fast enough for him, and the goal is for the husband to have complete dominance over the wife. She should never question anything her husband says or does, nor should she ever ask questions of the eldership, after all they have been ordained by God, a phrase they were fond of using.
Another grievous example occurred on a car ride home from the abortion ministry in Iowa City; my wife was riding with Mike and Tony. My wife had recently experienced two miscarriages and perhaps too much time had gone by with her not being pregnant, so Mike asked my wife if “her parts were still working?”
On the face of it, this is immature and insensitive—at best. Why would any adult, let alone a pastor, ask such a rude and intrusive question? I believe there is a two-fold explanation. First, Mike does not hesitate to ask anyone almost anything, and often in a “caveman” sort of way. There appears to be little or no filter between the brain and the mouth. Second, and much more importantly, this is designed to show Tony the type of “relationship” or control Mike has with his people. It made Tony uncomfortable, in his own words, “I’m driving as fast as I can Jen…” Tony knew this was out of line, and this also has the future benefit of dropping Tony’s guard toward future boundary violations by Mike.
and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. – Titus 2:8
Mike has consistently used unsound speech, as evidenced here in this one example, but there are others, and the egregious nature of such a question to another man’s wife, in the presence of a virtual stranger (as Tony was at the time) is really inexcusable, and not above reproach, not dignified, not the behavior of a man of God, much less the pastor of a church.
Mike consistently digs into the intimate relationship between husbands and wives. He would tell of his relationship with his wife, in completely inappropriate ways, to help soften the blow for a wife to share details of her marriage bed. How often did she and her husband have relations? What types of techniques do they use? Again, there are no boundaries permitted—no information is off-limits to “Pastor Mike.” In his mind, this is a shepherding issue. However, the reality is that there is a trail of those damaged by these intrusive methods, having memories etched into their minds which they will never be able to remove. For Mike sex is a big part of marriage, “all things are spiritual” but if a couple is not seeking this counsel why must it be a part of the normal practices of the church? Is it truly a shepherding issue? A Christian minister should never overstep his authority in the home of congregants, and bring shame to the pastoral office in this manner.
Gaslighting is a psychological technique used to manipulate and confuse people. It causes them to question reality and to lower their defenses. The techniques vary, but the goal is control over people. This article provides a good overview of the techniques used and, when used consistently and properly, can gain control over whole societies. This sort of psychological warfare is heinous and dangerous. Victims learn not to trust themselves, but to lean on the person employing the techniques. That is the point: breaking down a person’s independence, causing them to lean on the manipulator. I believe Mike Reid has continued using gaslighting as a means of controlling those at GFC.
The ultimate danger in gaslighting is that it causes people to question their sanity. In my personal experience with Mike’s techniques, I saw him use this on my wife and even on me. While I did not understand it at the time, I can see how I was manipulated into believing the leadership over my wife. They claim to put a high emphasis on marriage but they have actually done a great deal to tear down marriages. There are many broken relationships and shipwrecked marriages in GFC’s history that show how Mike’s desires to “shepherd” the flock did significant damage.
So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. – Matthew 19:6
Other daily workings in church life previously included that girls in sports or attending college was highly discouraged. Most all sports were considered potentially idolatrous. Sports and girls getting a college education were the subjects of many teachings, and not only casually, or suggestively but quite aggressively. After all, why would you have girls participate in anything other than preparing to be godly wives and mothers?
A couple of things changed through the years regarding this teaching. The arrival of Tony Miano was significant because Tony’s daughter began attending the University of Iowa, and around that time, one of Cal Bolkema’s daughters decided to pursue a degree in nurse-midwifery. Nothing was ever said to the congregation; it just became something that was accepted. While this would seem the normal course of life to many Christians, it was nearly iconoclastic at GFC. It was shocking when it happened, yet nobody dared asked any questions.
As reported by a former member, Mike asked Tony Miano and Cal Bolkema in a gathering time if “(we have) ever taught against girls going to college?” Tony boldly declared, “no, pastor” as did Cal. This congregant was considerably upset over this hypocrisy, as she had lost a friend over this doctrine a few years earlier.
Here is a link to the teaching that Mike Reid, Nick Rolland & Cal Bolkema, himself, as the moderator of the conference, were quite aware they had taught against girls going to college.
From about 38 minutes and to 44 minutes will give a good overview of the clear position these men held regarding college education. I’ve quoted a few things stated below and the timestamps.
37:54 – Mike Reid: “But what did you learn in college that about being a wife and a mother and being a homemaker and being chaste and discreet and reverent… you learned the opposite at most every college you would go to not to mention you are outside of the protection of your father, again what did you learn and what is it that you are saying it is helping you to be a wife and a mother and help teach my kids?”
38:45 – Mike Reid: Speaking about his son Jack. It sounds good here, but Jack received very little education. “I’ve taken that on because he’s a man, or he’s becoming a man, so I’m educating him…”
The main idea is that teaching children the Bible and about God is the only thing that truly has eternal value. While on the surface this sounds like it might be a legitimate concept, the Bible teaches and encourages it is good and godly to work, to be able to provide for a family. Working toward a college degree is not necessarily sinful but can be a way to provide for a family.
What are the ramifications of such teaching? Observation and testimony from others that have family at this place are that many of the children will receive nominal if not marginal education. They encourage large families, which is not a bad thing, but many are unequipped, and unprepared to school this many children, so what happens is that education falls by the wayside. The church would never encourage you to send them out to school, and most people cannot afford private education, so you are stuck with getting by. Getting by is not enough to prepare these children. They talk a big game, like Mike said in his quote, that he is now educating Jack, but the reality is that probably doesn’t happen.
A question came in about girl’s attending a local college, but still living at home.
40:40 – Mike Reid: “Possibly, what are they going to learn there that you can’t teach them?”
41:36 Nick Rolland: “I think a strong desire to learn is a great thing, and there are these things called books that fit into most people’s homes and there’s lots of them and they can be read by almost anyone, anywhere at any time…”
Will an article exposing some of the hypocrisy, and heterodox teaching be effective? Only the Lord knows, and I will trust Him to have those that need to read this, read it.
I pray this will assist unsuspecting church goers with critical information before making a decision to attend GFC.
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. – Proverbs 11:14
The former members and attendees of Grace Fellowship have voices that others will want to hear, I’ve posted them here. I know they struggled through leaving, just as we did. They were hurt, they were abused, and they needed to say what could not be said. Thankfully, they have been given an opportunity to say what needs to be said. So that all that read these articles have an opportunity to hear from them. I’ve talked to so many of them, and in many instances they thought nobody cared. Grace Fellowship is not all that unusual as I said in the first article, and so there are other places like this. I have seen the playbook written about time and time again as I began to spend countless hours researching these types of places.
Will those that still remain examine these claims and examine the teaching carefully and prayerfully desiring to know the truth? Seek the Lord, He will provide the answers.
There is so much more that I could say, and so many more stories that could be recounted, but this question needs to be answered;
Why would legitimate men of God desire to distort the Bible’s teaching?
Many would like to know.