After much consideration, I have made the decision to publish this article. The internet seems to be inundated with websites and blogs regarding the G12 movement, some containing truth while others contain myths and a whole lot of speculation. I personally have been involved with two churches with ties to G12. One church attempted to implement the concepts and, while it maintains some of the programs, it never became part of the G12 Network. The other church follows the strategies and has been quite successful in achieving growth. I believe that I can clear up some misconceptions and bring a balanced view of what G12 is and is not. Disclaimer: I am not presently attending a G12 church. However, that does not mean that I cannot be objective.
To begin, we really need to come to terms with the fact that G12 is nothing more than a strategy for church growth. I will not get into whether I believe Pastor Cesar Castellanos did or did not receive a vision from God as he has related which gave birth to the G12 movement. That really has no bearing on what goes on in the individual churches which have implemented the strategy. So, what is the strategy?: winning souls for Christ, consolidating them (caring for and nurturing them after their confession of faith), discipleship (getting new converts into God’s Word and teaching them basic Christian doctrine) and sending them out (based on the Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20). Sounds great so far, right? The truth is that this is the role of the church. G12 groups are kept to a maximum of 12 people which meet once per week, generally in homes, and of course, there is a corporate worship service on the weekend.
In my opinion what really sets the strategy apart from others is the Encounter weekends that are part of the consolidation process. These weekends are what bring much controversy to the strategy. I personally attended an Encounter weekend in 2003 and it changed my life. I consider that 3 day event in my life the most important event in my life; the event that most impacted my life and transformed my faith. I truly encountered God and it changed everything about me.
The controversy comes in how the different churches implement the encounters. I have read the horror stories. Clearly that was not my experience. However, I will say that I have seen a change in how encounters were done when I first went and began serving in the encounters and how they are done presently. Quite frankly, the change caused me to walk away from serving in the encounters at the church I previously attended. Originally it was about encountering God in a very personal way. Each of us, because of our different life experiences and our different stages in our walk will have a different experience. We each react very differently and have different ways of showing what we experience emotionally. Personally, I did not show any emotion when I attended my encounter. Anyone there would have thought I was not receiving any benefit from the weekend. However, God did an amazing work in my life.
So what changed? What I have personally witnessed from serving in the encounters is that if the women are not reacting emotionally (crying and screaming for the most part), that person is not allowing the Holy Spirit to work in them. Seriously, I have been there and heard the comments. Those running the encounters will go to any lengths to create emotionalism. The most disturbing thing I experienced is an extremely graphic abortion video that is shown that cause some women to experience a traumatic breakdown. When I questioned the need for showing this video, I was told that it assisted the women who have had an abortion to experience “healing and forgiveness.” I have witnessed some women become completely hysterical and was told this is how they receive “deliverance.” Really? Imagine, after being told you have been forgiven of your sins, you are confronted with horrifying video of the very sin you committed. I will not pretend to be an expert in mental health, but I believe this type of experience causes regression rather than regeneration.
Another matter which caused me great concern is the apparent “excitement” that certain persons serving in the encounters expressed when there was a demonic manifestation. We are there to experience God’s presence through His Spirit, not demons. I have a question that no one seems to want to answer: Why is it that demons feel free to manifest themselves to such an extreme at these events? And when they do manifest themselves, should “excitement” be our first response? I don’t have the answer to my first question, but if someone does, I would welcome your response.
Some of the doctrine taught, such as “generational curses,” coupled with the above was more than enough for me to walk away, actually run away from this ministry. Now, let’s be clear, this does not happen in every church. Again, I have served in encounter weekends in two different churches. This was only experienced in one church and I am sure it is an exception.
Leadership training, as we all know, is important in any organization, especially in the church. G12 purports to provide leadership training through its School of Leadership. And while many truly become ready through the process to lead a small group, many others do not. So, you send someone to an encounter, get them through the post-encounter classes, push them through the school of leadership, send them to a re-encounter and off they go to open their own small group. You would think this was enough, but it is not. The truth is that while all have the potential to become leaders/mentors, not all do. Herein lays the problem: the object is multiplication and the requirement is that you simply go through the process. The outcome is that those who do not have a heart for leadership, cannot get people to follow them and therefore use manipulation and control to get things done.
Look, this is not a matter of being critical. This is intended to hopefully open up some eyes, get people to dialogue because, I’ll tell you, anytime I’ve tried to bring this to anyone’s attention, I have been labeled “conflictive” and “rebellious.” The fact is that a true leader will never have to demand that people “submit” to them. People will want to follow and will be eager to help a true leader in fulfilling the leader’s vision. Manipulation and control have no place in leadership and especially in the church. I have seen two devastating things happen as a result of this: First, people who have experienced healing and restoration through the encounter process have been left worse off than they came in after being under the “leadership” of a manipulative and controlling person. Second, I have seen true leaders, persons with an incredible capacity and anointing sat down or placed out-of-service for failure to submit to the manipulation and control of others. I am telling you, if you even once question what goes on, you are labeled and you can forget about serving in ministry until you are deemed “submissive.”
My Experience at the 2009 West Coast G12 Conference
Everything is usually pretty good when it is done the first time, isn’t it? I attended the very first G12 conference in Los Angeles in June 2004 and it was amazing. Later that year I would be in Miami attending the Annual Conference. And again, that was an amazing experience. I was truly blessed by the conferences, the conference speakers and the messages they brought. I’m not sure when all of that changed.
What I can tell you is that I attended this year’s conference in Anaheim and was blown away. Not by how “amazing” it was but rather by how much the focus has changed. I will say from the get go that there were a few very good conference speakers. But I was very disappointed especially by Pastor Cesar Castellanos, the founder of the G12 movement. Apparently, according to Pastor Castellanos, it is a sin to not accept his G12 Vision. I don’t make this stuff up. He specifically called people at the conference to repentance for not accepting his G12 Vision as God’s revelation of how things should be done in the church today. On Thursday evening, Pastor Castellanos provided us with a new version of the story of Abraham taking Isaac up to be sacrificed as God had instructed. According to Castellanos, Abraham was given the “revelation of the Cross.” I have to admit, the way Pastor Castellanos tells the story, there is no doubt he has a gift for fictional writing (which if you have read his books, you would agree.) On Friday evening of the conference, Pastor Rich Witmer of Tucson (who has created his own brand of controversy in his town) called for an offering: 300 people were to step to the front of the conference hall and pledge $300 each (the first pledge taken that day was a minimum of 24 people pledging $1000 each.) Pastor Cesar Castellanos was to bring us God’s Word after that second offering. However, when Pastor Castellanos came up after the offering was taken he stated that he had noticed that only about 100 people had pledged the $300 and, as a result, unless the other 200 people came forward to make the $300 pledge, he would not be able to preach that night. To make a long story short, Pastor Castellanos did not preach because the $90,000 in pledges were not made ($300 x 300 people = $90,000).
Okay, before anyone starts telling me about the cost of putting on an event like this, I understand it is costly and the problem is not about taking up an offering. The problem stems from a man of God refusing to teach God’s Word because the offering did not please him. Am I really the only one that perceives “wrong motives” here?
I did come back the third day. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being close minded, conflictive and argumentative. I was willing to give it one more shot. I had already been praying for months for God to open up my understanding if in fact it was me who was wrongly perceiving the G12 movement.
So Saturday, the last day of the conference, during a break I stepped over to Starbucks for a “wake-up” shot of java. Behind me poured in the whole bunch of youth from our church. I sat down with them and asked the question, “What have you learned these last few days?” One young man said very matter-of-factly, “If you don’t have your 12 [disciples], you don’t count!” Well, that is in fact what one of the pastors stated in his conference. If you are discipling/mentoring anything less than 12 people, “you don’t count.” I heard him say it and so did everyone else in the conference hall. I don’t count! I could volunteer 4-6 hours per week of my time to the work of the ministry using the talents God has given me, but I don’t count. I could minister to people and the Holy Spirit will bring them to confessing their faith in Jesus, but as far as G12 is concerned, I don’t count. Okay, am I the only one concerned about the message here?
I thank God for one thing especially: that when I met Christ, I was taught the pure Word of God. I may not have been very productive in the beginning, but I received the Truth which I have carried in my heart and which gave me the strength to eventually walk away from a church full of people I truly cared about, and especially a Pastor who has an incredible heart and love for the Lord. G12 is supposed to be a strategy for church growth and discipleship and I honestly believe it is a good strategy. So the problem is not in the strategy but rather some of the people behind it. No doubt I will lose some “friends” over this article. And those of you who read my articles on Facebook may notice my “friends” count go down considerably, but I’m okay with that. That would mean that the article was being read. I leave the rest up to the Holy Spirit.