Why We Left The Crossing Church

This is our story of why we, Neil and Hannah, chose to leave the Crossing Church in Elk River, Minnesota. If you’re reading this and you attend or have attended the Crossing, chances are you have at least seen us around.

We began attending in September of 2010, during the series First and Goal. We were drawn in the by alternative feel of the church, like so many have been. The loud music, the flashy lights, the dreadlocked worship leader, and the lead pastor with ripped jeans and a visible tattoo. During our nearly six years at the church, we both occupied various serving roles. By the end of our time, Neil was on paid staff as a weekend video producer, and Hannah served on the tithe counting team. We were part of the “#chosenfamily.” We went on a staff retreat with every staff member for four days. We had thanksgiving dinner in the Dykstra’s home.

We truly loved The Crossing. We believed that they did church the way it was supposed to be done. We enthusiastically gave our money, our time, and our devotion. During the series What Christians Believe About, Hannah even got a tattoo inspired by a point in one of the talks. We truly believed the message and stood behind it. When people we knew would say something negative, we were quick to defend the church and the Dykstras. We would encourage them to come and see for themselves, even if it was just to check it out one time. We were always inviting our friends and family, to the point where Hannah was awarded for bringing the most people on Easter one year. The Crossing was our church, our home.

At the beginning of 2016, as an increasing amount of time was being expected from Neil’s part-time position, we realized that it was time to take a step back. After a year of employment, Neil resigned in early January, and offered to work until they found a replacement, or until the end of February. Hannah informed her team leader that she wanted to take a break from serving, as we were feeling burnt out and were worried about resenting The Crossing for how much time was expected of us. We wanted some time to actually attend church together as a family, something we had not been able to do in months. We resigned on what we thought were good terms, with an open invitation to consider returning to staff later.

Hannah was encouraged to continue attending, and to not take more than a two month break. Neil was also encouraged in his exit interview to continue attending. During all this, we never intended to leave for good. But by the time we had decided to take a break, we had already begun noticing a lot of red flags. A lot of things that made us uncomfortable. Our last series at The Crossing was Easter weekend 2016.

Around May, Hannah was expected to begin volunteering again. She informed her leader that we would no longer be attending The Crossing and expressed disappointment that our absence had not been noticed. She explained that it no longer felt like our church, and that too many things were changing. This conversation, which was initiated by Hannah, was the only time someone from The Crossing has expressed any concern about why she hadn’t been around. Neil only received a few impersonal text messages from people he was never close to, and a voicemail from the Elk River Campus pastor, whom we’d never met or heard of.

As mentioned before, the last time we attended The Crossing was on Easter Sunday, March 27th. It took over two months for somebody to reach out and express concern for us. Why is it that two people who were a part of The Crossing for six years, who were staff, were so easily forgotten? So easily written off? What does this mean for you, the volunteer, or just an attender? If they didn’t care about us, what’s to say they care about you? Nearly six months later, and neither of us have heard anything from the Dykstras, our pastors. We thought we were doing ministry together?

Suddenly, six years’ worth of excuses hit us like a ton of bricks. The past few months have been spent talking with each other, our friends and families, as well as other people who have been hurt by The Crossing. We began asking questions, a lot of them. We learned that we were not alone, that our story was far from uncommon. We have come to believe that we need to share our perspective.

The Gratitude Project was the series that first challenged our trust in The Crossing Church, as well as Eric and Kelly Dykstra. This series was marketed as a four-week teaching series on how to become more grateful in your life, so you could ultimately live a better life. Statistics about better marriages, better jobs, a closer relationship with God, a longer life, and greater income were among the advertised benefits that gratitude carried. Staff were encouraged to change their profile pictures to the series’ ad, invite friends, and push this series on social media. They passed out bracelets and sold t-shirts to create hype. This is typical, however, this was much greater. Each staff member was asked to write a blog. They wanted everyone excited for this series.

It became obvious in week one what the real message of this series was. Within the first two minutes of the first talk of the series, Eric Dykstra describes ungrateful people as being far from God, weak, whiners, grouchy, and miserable. He tells the audience that if they want higher incomes, they ought to be grateful. That if your kids are behaving badly, it’s because you’re not grateful. “Gratitude draws us closer to God and makes us stronger, happier, healthier people.” Gratitude makes everything better.

Then Eric defines gratitude. “Gratitude is more than an emotion, it is a desire to express appreciation in words and action.” Some other points that are made:

If you’re reading this and you went to the series, you know what the Gratitude Project was really about. The Gratitude Project Commitment was about showing your gratitude to God by giving money to The Crossing. So the way you express gratitude to God through action is by giving money. You were asked to bring a big gift, over and above your normal giving, in week four (titled “A Gratitude Gift”, and unavailable to view online), and to choose an amount higher than your regular 10% tithe to regularly give toward this project, or to begin tithing. (Very reminiscent of Purple Cow and Code Of The Samurai for those who remember.)

Do you see what’s going on here? When breathing is a miracle, and gratitude requires action, how could you not feel obligated to give money to God, to his Church, to The Crossing? This is manipulation through guilt. We are told we are under grace because Jesus paid it all. We are told that we are guilt free.

That’s just week one.

In week two, titled “Acts of Gratitude”, Eric calls people who aren’t expressing gratitude “ingrates,” which he defines as being whiny (“whiners are wieners!”), negative, entitled, demanding, and that they aren’t practicing true spirituality. He suggests that if you aren’t getting anything out of his messages, that it’s because you’re ungrateful and entitled. He says that there is a direct spiritual connection between gratitude and increase and says the more you express gratitude the more increase you will see. But he says that God cannot pour increase on an ingrate, because the ingrate wouldn’t notice it. “How you view your life when it comes to gratitude determines if you’re ever going to see increase.” If God never did anything else, it would be enough. The third and final point is completely missing from the uploaded video of this talk. Why? It says that you “increase in gratitude by habitually bringing tithes and offerings to say thank you to God”. Neil was instructed to edit this part out of the video because it’s about money. Which brings us to what we find to be one of the biggest red flags.

There are entire points of each talk during this series that were cut from the videos. It’s common knowledge among those involved in video production that if the focus of the talk is money, it will not be uploaded to the website (which they have been doing for years). This includes The Gratitude Project week four, and most recently Magical Mystery Tour week two, where tithing was the focus of the entire talk. They’ll say that this is because they don’t want to have the image of focusing on money, but aren’t they? Is that not deceit? If you don’t want the image of asking for money, why was a giving pitch added to week three of The Gratitude project when Neil was instructed to edit out any mention of money? (This is not in any other uploaded talk.)

Neil’s job duties as weekend video producer were to direct the video volunteers through the worship set and the pastor’s message. He would record and edit the services, then load the edited video onto laptops for the other campuses the next morning. On Sunday morning, he would direct another two services, and finish some editing from the night before to go to YouTube and DVD copies. In all, he would attentively see the entire service four times each weekend.

During The Gratitude Project, Neil was informed that at some point during each talk of the series, it would transition to a portion specifically speaking on giving money toward the project. This portion would be the final point of each of the weekend’s talks he directed. He was told this so he knew to edit out any reference to that final point. He was to pay attention to when the point began and ended so as to find a place to cut that part out and resume the video for the final prayer.

The average time of 20 other talks around The Gratitude Project comes to about 47 minutes. Taking the average time of the 3 videos available online from The Gratitude Project, you get a different figure. It comes out to about 36 minutes. That’s an average of 11 minutes missing from each talk.

In week three, “titled Statements of Gratitude,” more emphasis was put on on showing gratitude, and the importance of giving a valuable gift to show your appreciation. Here are a few points:

As you can see, this entire talk is so full of guilt. Jesus died for you, so how could you even consider giving below 10%? Even if you can’t afford it. And again, there is an obvious cut at the end.

Another huge red flag for us came the day of the Community Of Leaders meeting (a monthly meeting for volunteers, known as “COL”) in December, right before the final week of The Gratitude Project. Both of us received text messages the day of asking how much we would be giving to the commitment project (not IF we were giving), because they wanted to announce the amounts to COL. Why? So the total amount staff would be commiting could be announced to all the volunteers to encourage more people to join in giving. We were not offered a choice in giving to The Gratitude Project, just like we were expected to set up our tithe as automatic giving from Neil’s paycheck. (Because we were expected to lead the way in generosity.) Being new parents and still recovering from both losing our jobs during Hannah’s pregnancy, money was already tight, but we replied with an amount out of guilty obligation.

Week four, as stated before, was titled “A Gratitude Gift” and is not available online, nor are the notes. This was when everyone turned in their commitment cards and brought their big gift. They asked you to list five things you were grateful for in 2015, and to list what you are thanking God, in advance, for answering in 2016. They then ask you to give money. “I believe all I have comes from God, the Giver of gifts. I choose to express my gratitude with a gift in return.” [their emphasis] We never turned in a commitment card, but received a letter a few months later informing us we had not been meeting our commitment.

To members of the Crossing Church, or people considering attending, we urge you to consider our story. Consider that we were staff, a title that not many are offered. We ask you to take a step back and look at your church. Ask questions. Have you noticed how often they ask for money now? Or that the offering is now before the main message, before you have a chance to leave? (They’ll tell you that they moved it because it’s part of the “worship experience.”) Do you think it’s a little strange that coffee costs you money, but they don’t have Bibles available for use anymore? You’re not alone. Ask why week four of The Gratitude Project isn’t online. Ask why they cut entire points out of the talks.

We took a step back and examined the big picture. We stopped looking at the individual complaints we had and began piecing them together as a whole. We’ve come to see the subtle, systematic manipulation that The Crossing Church uses. What we’ve laid out in this post is only one small portion of our six years of memories.

This blog will serve as our personal story, yet it echoes many that are similar. We’re coming out against The Crossing Church not out of bitterness, spite, or anger. We’re coming out against The Crossing Church because enough is enough.

Don’t just take our word for it. Do some investigation of your own.

-N&H

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20 thoughts on “Why We Left The Crossing Church”

  1. Thank you so much for your bravery in coming forward with your story. I do hope you won’t experience the shunning and cruelty that others have experienced when leaving, but it certainly wouldn’t come as a surprise. Your story is real and powerful and I hope people’s eyes are opened and that they start asking hard questions.

    To those reading this: click the links, read it a few times, take it all in. They put a ton of work into this blog post out of care and concern for others; for you. As you probably know, these concerns about the Crossing Church have been voiced for 5 years! Look beyond the flashing lights and you’ll see you are being used and manipulated. Is that what Jesus would do?

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  2. Unfortunately these things are common in many churches today. My wife left a church a few years back for similar reasons. It’s a hard thing to loose a home but I believe God has something better around the corner for you guys, he certainly did for us!

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  3. I’m so sorry for the loss of something you guys entered into for your true love of God. Shame on the leaders of the Crossing for their greed. The important thing is that God knew your good intentions in trying to find a path to be closer to Him. And that you still have your faith in Him.

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  4. I left just after graduating from The Crossing College and noticing the exact same red flags you have. The final straw for me was hearing Eric teach a class about what constitutes good preaching. He was referring to the point that good sermons are scriptures preached in context and said, “But if you preach a verse out of context and it leads someone to Jesus, who the hell cares?”

    I’ve also noticed over the last year that things were being preached way out of context. As soon as I stepped down from leading The Shop in St. Cloud and serving on cameras the Dykstras quit talking to me and acknowledging me in the office.

    I saw them two weeks after I left and Kelly made a passive-aggressive comment about how she hadn’t seen me since she handed me my diploma (my Associates Degree) and Eric just avoided looking at me and didn’t speak one word to me.

    Very classy and mature. I finally heard from Tracy this week only because she suddenly misses me (she got her new intern from TCC).

    No one else from the core circle talks to me or acknowledges me

    Thank you for sharing your story. I hope you guys have found a new church where you are appreciated and loved without strings attached.

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    1. Bri,

      Thank you for sharing your story with us. Unfortunately, It’s all too familiar. With so many red flags, I’m not surprised other are noticing. Eric is notorious for taking verses out of context. It’s very dangerous when a pastor of so many people can easily justify using verses for whatever purpose he wants to.

      Like others have also seen; if you fall out of their good graces for whatever reason, you’re given a cold shoulder. I’m sorry you had to experience that. It’s a truly awful reality.

      Again, thank you for speaking out. We put our names on this because we felt that it could give confidence to others to do the same.

      -Neil

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      1. I have not attended often since my home life has been so busy. This makes me really sad, however I am glad I came across this. Thank you all for sharing. Lately I have been torn about checking out new places but I might just do that after reading all this.

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    2. Hi Bri, I’m crying so hard and thank and bless each of you for doing this. I thought I was alone. I should have listened to Chris long time ago but being old as I am didn’t want to think I still had not yet found my church home. I don’t want to go anymore, I do have been for reasons unknown to me shunned first by Eric now Kelly. My daughter has been helping in kids ministry on Wednesday when not even a member of the church. I introduced her to Etic and Kelly and Etic actually turned away, Kelly actually said hi. She used to greet me with a hug and say hi beautiful lady now she sees me and I swear she’s ditching me. She even at one point told me Eric has a soft spot in his heart for me. Do I give no, have signed up two times but every time a big fat booming no comes at me so I withdrew. I have more issues because of how violence in kids ministry is alloweed, I pray no child is hurt, I have been even got one hell of a bruise under my right eye and not one person not even on staff not even Eric or Kelly asked me what happened. I was so hurt, I cried so hard felt like a stupid fool in thinking they cared. They went out of their way to be nice it seams to get me to give. When they found I was not going to they took it away. Things, changes are harder to do when your older but I swear to God Chris was told to by God for me and who ever else will read his post. Its so unlike Chris to post such a thing. Thank you much for your bravery and caring about others💕🙏☺️

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  5. This is so sad to read. Me, my husband and my children did alot for the Crossing but it was for the people too. But I was so burnt out, I needed a break and when I went to Pastor Bruce, I was told to break away from the broken addicts, not the church duties they needed me for. I want being heard, I was being manipulated and made to feel guilty. I relapsed and I needed them, my church family and friends but they were no where to be found! Even my sponsor, also a staff member and pastor,wouldn’t return my calls. And when my husband was confronted about my relapse, he was yelled at and told to not call anyone if we were in trouble unless we were sober. We were so hurt, so disappointed, so surprised. How was I so useless to them after all the love and praise and friendship I got for over 2 years while serving the church and Jesus? Well, it was just that…in their eyes I wasn’t serving Jesus, I was serving them and I was no longer useful because I was broken! I’m so grateful I learned that my faith needs to be in God, not people and certainly not a church who has no faith in people!

    Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Funny, after I left and started my blog, I was also berated saying I was doing it for the praise and not for Jesus. I was told to reflect on why I was upset and I would realize it was because I was mad that I didn’t get enough praise. I needed to change my mind set and work my heart out for Jesus. After all, as Eric said, there is time to rest after I get to heaven.

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  6. When we left, I did notice something. I don’t know if I was shunned, as I had already committed to leading my new church’s recovery ministry, and was very busy getting that off the ground. I will say that my brothers and sisters in the recovery program were and are still a part of my life, though I don’t see them all that much. The other guys and gals I figured were watching out for their own flocks, as I was in a different fold now. I was mostly in Zimmerman and Princeton, and very rarely in elk River, so you didn’t see some of the politics I kept hearing about. All in all, I hold no ill will toward any of those guys. But I feel for all of you who were hurt, and I believe you all were, and are not crazy. I will tell all of you to not hold all that stuff in, but give it to God, and pray it off with someone. Because, contrary to what it sounds like you were told, He wants all of you, not just your money, not your service, He wants your heart! And He is the only One who can know your hearts:) Gods love to all of you! And thank you Neil and Hannah for making this blog, and helping people.- Rotz

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  7. Sad how the cycle continues year after year, person after person, family after family.
    I’m curious what those that have recently left thought when we did the “double crossed at the crossing event or when it was all over the news with the warnings of the cultish and money hungry behavior back in 2010 (crazy it’s been 6 years already)
    Be thankful you got out of there, and I hope you all take the time to grieve and heal.
    PS.. If you go into to a “Church” website and it looks and sound like the crossing….. Do yourself a favor and stay away. These places are all set up exactly the same.

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    1. I will answer you honestly Jeremy.

      I was pissed off and I thought you all were overreacting about some perceived hurt that you felt due to something not going your way.

      I thought to myself, “How dare they go after the place where I recommitted my life to Christ, where I obtained sobriety, where I rediscovered my love for my wife, where my marriage was healed, where my daughter was baptized, and where I could help others”.

      I was hurt by the thought that your allegations could be true, I was angry that you all were attempting to shake the foundation of the only stability that I had felt in years, and I was terrified at thought of being duped after investing so much.

      My world had been shaken up so much over the years, I couldn’t bear the thought of going through yet another shake up.

      I am no longer mad now though.

      I get it now and understand the place where you were coming from.

      I know what your motive was.

      How?

      Why?

      Because I had my own experience, but nothing you guys said back then was going to change my mind and prevent that from happening.

      I had to go through what I did so that I could grow in my relationship with Christ.

      Like you though, I too tried to warn people and save them, and like you, I was met with resentment and abandonment.

      Why?

      Because people felt the exact way toward me that I felt toward you all when you first spoke out.

      I fractured people’s worlds with my words, and they were mad.

      Now, I am seeing some of those that were angry with me, leaving because of their own experiences.

      Instead of being spiteful toward them for their treatment of me, I have thank God for bringing them to their own realizations, so that they could move on and continue growing in the Lord.

      We have to trust God that He will awaken people to whatever they need to be alerted to…and not just in regard to The Crossing, but to some of the things we encounter in this life in general.

      I also had the recent realization that perhaps my being vocal about my experience hurt someone else’s walk with Christ, and that bothered me to no end.

      I’m not saying that those that left are wrong in sharing their stories, but I know that I was too aggressive about it, and while my intentions were good, I should have considered the ramifications a little more than I did.

      At the end of it all, God is sovereign, and believe it or not, people do come to wholly love the Lord at The Crossing.

      Like I said, we just need to trust Him and His plan.

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  8. My only advice to anyone hurt by The Crossing is to allow the process of healing. Allow yourself to feel the feelings, think the thoughts, and express the anger. Going through the stages and processes of grief is necessary. It never goes away completely but it does get better. Spiritual abuse hits you at the very core of your being. It is the worst kind of abuse. Many of us left and not long after realizing the truth, felt shame and guilt. Working through those feelings with loved ones can help you toward forgiveness, not for the abusers sake, but for your own. These wounds are very deep and need a lot of tender care. Be free in Christ and let Him help you heal. Holding onto resentment will only hurt you in the end. I know that from experience.

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