Discussion

I think it’s important that people be able to talk about what’s posted here, but I don’t want to see any one article derailed into a discussion about something else.

I’ve decided to make this ONE page, and allow comments on it. You will be able to reply to each other and keep track of your conversations. If you want to start a new “thread,” just leave a new comment instead of replying to another comment.

I often respond to new comments, and just as a disclaimer, for any fact-seeking you’re doing, look on the front page. Rumors and opinions might be discussed and this would be the place where I personally would weigh in. Rumors may turn out to be false. Opinions may change. What is posted on the home page and in the media section, those are verifiable facts and documents. This Discussions page may not be verifiable. Be forewarned.

These will be unmoderated except for a few things:

  1. Spammers. Most of these are caught right away and won’t even make it to my approval inbox.
  2. Degrading comments. While both sides of the coin are welcome here, personal attacks against other commenters won’t be tolerated. Disagreement is natural, and can be done with civility.
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And that’s it for the rules! I think it’s important that these be unmoderated. If the website tells you a comment is being held for approval, assume that as long as it’s not in violation of those rules, it’ll be approved as soon as I can get to it.

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41 thoughts on “Discussion

  1. I attended Valleybrook regularly my freshman and sophomore years of college (2010-2012) and the beginning of my junior year (2012-early spring 2013).

    I started going because my friend’s were going, and although it was a huge adjustment from my Lutheran background, I learned to love being loved on by the community. I learned to like Doug’s sermons… I made friends, found mentors. Some of the theology I had to get used to, and I definitely questioned a lot of my own beliefs– but who doesn’t do that in college to some extent?

    I participated in Wounded in the fall/winter of 2012-2013. I was honestly on the brink of cutting off my brother when life got busy, and my participation at VB started to decline. Maybe it was just me getting busy…. maybe it was God helping me to not get too hurt by this community. Just before I started to pull away, and even after, I found some of my friends were.
    “Valleybrook likes to talk a lot about Valleybrook.”
    “Something just seemed off.”

    And I ignored a lot of it at the time, because I wanted to stay there because I felt safe, and because I had a community there. When a close friend told me that a lot of what was being taught at Wounded was essentially victim blaming… that was a huge red flag (at this point, I had become far too busy to attend, and I was done with Wounded by this time).

    When I saw all the articles over this past year… I was both freaked and grateful. Freaked that so many of my friends had been right thinking there was something off about VB, and grateful that I had graduated in 2014, and was back home, and “safe” from all of it. It was definitely a lot to process.

    I’m so glad that all of the abusive, manipulative, corrupted people are out of positions of power… and that VB seems to be moving forward. God go with them. But wow. I still sort of get this reeling feeling every time I see something in my facebook newsfeed crop up.

    • Hi Cassie,

      I’m really thankful to hear you got away. I was pretty hands-on with recruiting college students to come, and I’m always relieved to hear when they got out. It’s a major guilt thing for me.

      Wounded started off great, and when I was a part of it, to the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t much victim blaming. Instead, it was abuser blaming. Sometimes even making up abusive things that in actuality, those things are just how life goes. (Of course, I’m talking more about perceived mental abuse. Sexual abuse is never “just how life goes.) What I saw it turn into was a way to divide families. For everyday, normal acts of family dysfunction to turn into serious abusive acts that call for a divorce of your biological family, and welcome to your new Valleybrook family. Gross.

      I’m glad I never caught wind of victim blaming. It doesn’t surprise me at all. But boy am I glad I never heard about it. I probably would have said something and gotten fired a lot sooner than I did :p

      • The victim blaming aspect, as it was explained to me, came in this way.

        -I was sexually abused by my grandfather in my pre-teen, and teenage years.
        -In the “background” (I forget the actual term they used now) I talked about how my Dad and I were never close.
        -Wounded told me that because I was missing that paternal bond…. I sought out my grandfather’s attention when he visited…. and that’s what “caused” the sexual abuse. It may have been his actions– they definitely do abuser blame– but I sought out a relationship I was lacking.

        Or something like that.

  2. Rumor has it there’s a new “church” in town. Called “Ethos”. This is what I believe to be a continuation of the turmoil that was started at VB. Rumors that current leadership at VB have been contacted by another family, whose daughter goes to this church and is also being counseled to cut ties with her family. Again, parents who are extremely concerned and WANT relationship with their daughter. We need to make sure this does not continue. I am sorry that all I have are rumors, but I wanted to post them.

    Also, Thank you for your kind words about the current church continuing on at Valleybrook. It is very hard, but we are trying to stand strong.

  3. I am wondering if this is a problem with a number of churches affiliated with the converge denomination. Our son is dating a girl who’s dad is a pastor at one of these and over the last few months has been convinced that he was emotionally abuse by his mother and is know being counseled by the pastor (her dad). We just found this out , we just noticed that he wasn’t talking to us and was pulling away. All of a sudden he is taking about boundaries and cutting us out of his life for 6 months if we say something he doesn’t agree with. We have never even met this pastor and he is counseling our son about us. I guess I am wondering is this something that is taught to their pastors or is there a book or method they use that leads them down this track. thanks

    • I’m really sorry this is happening to you. Let’s hope that the Pastor will reject your son dating his daughter and sanity will be restored. Having been the son in that scenario (not dating a Pastor’s daughter, but being counseled against my mom) pushing the point of it being a cult and falsified information doesn’t help at all. I don’t know why it happens so often, but it’s too bad. I don’t know enough about Converge to give an opinion on whether it’s a wide-spread problem, but I also don’t hear about this much outside of the new-religion denominations. So you know, you’ve got your core Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, we’ll throw Catholics in there too…but then when you start getting the off-shoot denominations, that seems when the cult mentalities start. Note, I’m not saying other churches don’t have problems. I’m talking only about cult mentality.

  4. This type of church abuse happened to my family as well It was the church I grew up in, was married in, and taught Sunday school. It is in Madison Wisconsin and part of the Evangelical Free Church of America, but no longer publicly bares that name. A charismatic pastor came after the senior pastor retired. He encouraged other church members to no longer speak to members who differed with the leadership. Members who volunteered in serving the church were dismissed if they disagreed with the pastor.. Members were told by the leadership that some expressing concerns about them were mentally ill. This senior pastor wanted to take a small conservative church, sell it and build a mega-church in Madison. He was not about to let those concerned about his deceptiveness and manipulation deprive him of his mega-church agenda. Despite a congregational meeting and the HQ for the EFCA being informed, EFCA headquarters sided with the pastor. Approximately 100+ members left. We lost so much. Old friends would no longer talk to many of us. Our children missed out on Awana and Youth Group. I could not understand how the safest haven there is in this world could be such a place of harm. I was so naive. The sad commentary IS that situations like this are happening more and more as we live in this culture of instant gratification, and the need for self-affirmation and notoriety. It does not discriminate among denominations. It can happen anywhere. For years afterward I mourned the loss of my childhood church home. That was almost 15 years ago and to this day I have never committed to a church membership again. I truly hope everyone harmed at VB can heal and that somehow this man will be stopped!

  5. We are one of the families who has been cut off…evidently because we are “evil” and have not been “chosen.” We know that God is bigger than any lie and perverted half truth that Doug Lebsack can perpetrate. Although our hearts are sad and we long for the embrace of our son, his wife and our 2 grandchildren, we also believe that somehow God will bring good out of this whole mess. We see the Lord as the God of redemption and healing and that is where we have our hope and in Him alone do we put our trust. We are praying for the healing of all those involved…may God have mercy on Doug Lebsack and rescue Nate Hagedorn and his family. And may Ricky and Tracy Vargas always know that we love, love, love them. Our arms and our lives are always open to them. We are their parents, the ones God chose to have Ricky as our son. Families were God’s idea and through our loving forgiveness and acceptance of one another, His glory is shown to the world. Let His kingdom come and let His will be done! There is forgiveness and healing at the cross. We can become restored and God does rescue and redeem our past and every mistake we have ever made. We are free from condemnation, shame and guilt because Jesus took it all for us. This is the message of the cross…This is the power of the blood of Jesus. This is the freedom that God desires all of his children to walk in. And so we wait and hope and pray and trust. No man can keep God from doing as He pleases….no man.

  6. It is important to note. While we did receive a letter asking me not to text or write, I did, and my husband did, make huge horrible mistakes as parents that caused emotional damage. I will be paying for these mistakes for the rest of my life, in my head and my heart.

  7. After reading the numerous enraged accounts of spiritual abuse, I send my condolences to all that were impacted. You stated that Doug neglected to report an incident involving a minor and another member of the church. Although disheartening, it is now your responsibility to report such allegations. I am writing this to make sure that someone is addressing that case, and advocating for an innocent child who deserves to be a product of love and support rather than the subject of evil.

  8. About two years ago my husband and I visited Valleybrook on a Sunday. At the time we were concerned about how Doug used Scripture. He took the passage out of context. He also added to the text insights that he said only someone with his knowledge/training would be able to know which was very troubling since there was no basis for what he said. All of this missed the main point that many careful Bible teachers would say was in the passage. Another troubling thing about his message is that instead of taking responsibility for his sin, Doug used this passage to make excuses for it and shift the blame elsewhere (ultimately he blamed God much like Adam did in Genesis 3).

    Red flags were raised and because we had friends attending Valleybrook and some involved with the Wounded study, we continued listening to messages and some of the Thursday night teachings over the next year or so. Every time we listened we heard error in biblical interpretation. There were times when we didn’t even hear Christ and the gospel mentioned even though it should have been the main point in the message presented. God’s mercy, grace, forgiveness and then our extending these to our fellow sinners was rarely mentioned.

    The reason we feel compelled to add to the discussion is that we want to encourage all who desire to follow Christ to read, study and know the Bible. The errors were there in the messages, but it appears that many were unable to see them. We are to be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and examine the Scriptures. The only way we are going to be able to know something is counterfeit is if we really know the Word of God.

    There are excellent resources to help people who have been abused that are biblically based. ‘Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault’ by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb gives biblical help and counsel to all victims of abuse. The Peacemaker Ministries at peacemaker.net has a wealth of free resources for believers to work through conflicts with others that are the result of our sins against one another. There is much wisdom in the Bible on how we seek forgiveness and lovingly work through conflicts with others.

    We all sin. That is why Christ had to die and pay the penalty for our sins. Thankfully He rose again and conquered death and has given us the gift of eternal life. May we all come to a deep understanding of the mercy and grace that He has shown toward us so that we can extend it to one another. We love because He first loved us.

    “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.” Ps. 119:103-104.

  9. I am in shock reading all of this. I attended VB in the early years with Kendall A. I remember feeling comfortable for the first time in a church, and I began to let God into my heart. I moved away eventually and recently came back to EC six weeks ago. Of course I went to VB looking forward to my spiritual needs getting met. Immediately something was wrong….no one greeted me. The parking lot was empty. The service focused on “difficult and trying times”. Still I went back for Easter services…more somber faces and no feeling of joy. I didn’t understand what was going on. I’m so very sad to see how things transpired. I am someone who is “wounded” and now I feel lost and afraid to attend any church.

  10. I don’t want to take anything away from the hurt that people have experienced through this, as that hurt is real. This is all around a very unfortunate situation for all involved. It doesn’t seem like reality. I offer my sympathy and prayers to those closest to the situation. I have been attending Valleybrook off and on for 8 or so years. I did not see this coming at all. I didn’t hear every message delivered by each of the pastors, and over the past year I had heard less of them than past years (maybe the past year is when things really went south, and that is why it is so surprising to me), but I never heard a message that was really inappropriate or creepy. The majority of the messages delivered in that church were good messages, and in the years that I did attend more regularly, really good things were happening. It saddens me to read the various comments remarking on how this has turned people away from church. That’s like never eating another egg because of the one bad batch with Salmonella. A church is made up of the congregation, not just the pastor and leadership; there are really good people in that church still. It is sad that people are judging the church for all of this, when the majority of the church had nothing to do with negativity. Valleybrook has helped many people over the course of time, and for that we can be thankful. Ultimately, we are all human, and if we expect each and every pastor or priest to be sinless; we will be disappointed. Though we oftentimes hold pastors or politicians to a higher standard, we are all human and sin can get us. We are always called to love. I would hope that people hearing about this story are not so nearsighted that they base their decision on being a member of a church on a few bad apples. 😦

    • I think, perhaps, if you were to experience something incredibly wounding, you too would be wary of that activity ever again for the rest of your life. I would say “nearsighted” is probably a very poor choice in wording, especially in this situation.

      Additionally, it is biblical that preachers are held to a higher standard by God. They are judged more harshly since they are in a position to lead or derail.

      • I agree that nearsighted was a poor choice of wording, (my apologies) and that we should hold those in power to a higher standard. No doubt. For those near to and hurt by those in leadership, it will certainly be a long road to healing and trust again. My hopes are that all impacted can ultimately find healing and the opportunity to become part of a loving church family that they can trust again. Thank you, Matthew!

  11. I’m so glad this information came out finally. I am a family member of one of the pastors who resigned. I have been witness to the unorthodox teachings at VB. This pastor and significant other ( I’ll call them Meg & Garth) had in the last year written letters to my grandparents telling them they and their siblings were no longer part of thier “Family”. They also brought up things from the past which was the reason behind this separation. My grandma took this extremely hard, as any loving mother would do. They didn’t cut ties completely, but it isn’t the same at all. I haven’t seen them or their children in over a year, not even Christmas. I can’t speak to what was exactly said in these letters as I haven’t read them myself, but everyone in our fairly large extended family had/has definitely noticed a significant change in them. At first I was happy when Garth and Meg got married and had kids, they were happy. But over time Garth became a totally different person then I remembered him to be and I chalked it up to be his new found religious beliefs. I hope that Meg and Garth can get out of this ok, but first they have to accept the facts. So far that is not the case. As more people come out with their stories maybe they will see the true light that’s been shining before them this eentire time. That light is FAMILY, THIER REAL FAMILY. I miss “Garth” I really do. And his kidS. Please, Garth if you’re reading this please , you’re the smartest person in our family so you should easily come to your senses soon enough! If for anyone, do it for your kids they don’t deserve to be brainwashed, especially at such a young age. Let them figure out life on their own. Please.

    • I know exactly who you’re talking about, and I’ve really been wondering about how Garth is doing with all of this.

    • Thank you for your strength to write this. If they are who I think they are, I am also a family member. I too miss the relationship I had with the kids. My heart is broken. I have had the gamut of emotions from shock, anger, disbelief, and extreme hurt and pain. I admire your courage to write about this. I have considered it many times, however, I am afraid it would send them further apart. They are in total denial. I think the only possible hope is if collectively many of us can share what we feel. You are very brave for doing this. It would be good, if we could all share our stories and thoughts, and even use real names. Perhaps if each family member does so, collectively, they would see what it looks like when all together. I encourage you to suggest to other family members to tell their story as well. I am trying to summon up the courage to do so also. Again, you are very brave and strong. My heart goes out to you, whether we are speaking of the same family or not. I understand your pain. This whole thing has affected me deeply in every part of me. My health physically, my emotional health, my spiritual health, my self image, even at times my will to live. I am completely devastated and destroyed, and on a daily basis have to tell myself to put on my pretend suit of clothes and facial expression that says to everyone around me, that I am ok…but I’m not! Thank you again.

  12. Ah, Valleybrook.
    I visited it regularly as a freshman and sophomore in college (2010-2011) and left due to lack of time, but I came back once in 2013 and the place didn’t feel the same anymore. For reasons such as what has gone public at Valleybrook, I am hesitant to attend a church regularly now, and really haven’t since 2011.
    I made it a point to go to as many churches as possible in Eau Claire in my first two years as an undergrad over there. In doing so, I discovered there are other problematic churches in the area in which the pastors have pursued questionable actions toward members.
    I wish that I could have faith in humanity to run congregations in a sane and at least *somewhat* professional manner, but given what I experienced in Eau Claire (not just Valleybrook) and at the church in which I grew up, I cannot get myself to regularly attend a church anymore, as unfortunate as it is for me to admit that.

  13. MatthewCM, Thank you for putting this together. I have been in and out of Valleybrook between 2009-2013. At first I loved Valleybrook, it was the first church I had ever been to and accepted God into my life. I also joined Wounded Heart and became more wounded than helped in the long run. It has taken me a very long time to really trust another church and still haven’t really come full circle on that one. The line that made me leave the church was one that was told over and over to me by pastoral staff. “You cannot worship at the same table on Sundays’ with us if you are with other people throughout the week that do not worship at the table with us on Sunday!” I.e. you cannot be with other people during the week and expect to have a relationship with God and Valleybrook on Sunday. How this church and their “helping groups” hurt my past relationships is just ridiculous. All of it is sad really, because there is true healing that could be done with the church and people’s struggles. I think Valleybrook could have done wonderful things with their ideas of “do you want to get well”, instead it was taken down a different path of mistrust and upheaval of personal relationships and beliefs.

    This whole blog has given me reassurance that what I did feel at Valleybrook was true and I was not being overly sensitive or wrong. I am glad I walked away when I did. I even went back and saw Nate’s first service. I thought he was so relate-able and could possibly help Valleybrook with the decline in attendance, even though it did not keep me coming back. It is so sad to how all of this has happened. My prayers and strength to you MatthewCM for healing with the pain all of this has caused you. To everyone else involved, I hope everyone finds clarity in everything that has happened.

    Also trust your gut, it never fails you. I left in the middle of Wounded Heart at its height. I knew their message of turning inward to only them was not right. God is love! Love is everywhere with everyone! Don’t ever sell that short. I pray that the families involved all find truth, peace and healing. While this news has bothered me today due to my past with the church I cannot imagine what active members are and have been going through the past few months. Good luck and God bless.

    • Thank you for your kind words. I really appreciate it. I’m sorry for the situation you found yourself in. I’m glad you got out of Wounded Heart. That’s something that weighs heavily on my some days…my involvement in spreading a false teaching. I’m glad you walked away.

      I agree with you about Nate. He’s very relatable, and he was a great speaker. He was a great friend. I hope he’s back in Eau Claire soon, and out of the clutches of Doug.

      • MatthewCM- I know it is easier said than done but try not to let that weigh on you. I found all of this out today due to a friend involved with a Church in a different part of Wisco forwarding the Leader-Telegram article to me this morning. I will tell him what I told you, when he said, “as a fellow Christian this makes him so mad/sad.” I get what he and you are saying, but we go through struggles for reasons, usually to teach us and make us stronger, granted, this is easy for me to say, I am removed from the church and have been for a while, but you are wiser now and can red flag this stuff pretty quickly. I too, can red flag this stuff quickly, my relationship with God has never been stronger! With the church; it’s non-existent, and for now that is ok.
        I firmly believe in strength in numbers, I know I was not the only former vb-er to feel this way. I have talked to many women from Wounded Heart, who felt the same way. I hope you find strength in numbers as well. I was kind of given the cold shoulder and fb deletes once I stopped regularly going to VB. Which also says something about group mantality, exclusion. I only hope your friend Nate or his wife can realize this stuff and come home as well.

  14. wow. I briefly attended VB in the fall of 13, shortly after I left another cult-like church (JFB) in the area. I only attended for a few months, because something there just didn’t seem quite right, but I couldn’t place a finger on it. I was close to a member of VB, who abused me emotionally, spiritually, and verbally because I wouldn’t take part in the “wounded” class.
    I now consider myself a “free range Christian”, and have no plans to get involved in another toxic church situation.

    thank you for your bravery, for speaking up. I pray that the former members of JFB are willing to come forward as well. But… that’s another issue.

    I also pray for everyone who is recovering from spiritual abuse.

    • I’d love to, but as it’s his letter, I need his permission first, or that wouldn’t be fair to him. So if I get his permission, yes, I’ll post it.

  15. I know Nate’s family well. They are loving, concerned, happy people. They just want Nate free, safe, and home. Please everyone join us in our loving thought and prayers for this to take place.

  16. I haven’t been able to listen to all of “The Knitting” yet but heard most of it yesterday. Creeptastic to say the least. Doug is clearly grooming Nate and it’s seriously sick. I know that Nate isn’t a child, but he’s still being manipulated by an authority figure and I believe that Doug will get him to do whatever he wants. And yes, I’m alluding to sexual behavior. There’s a reason Nate was so resistant at first to Doug’s news that “God told him” that the two of them were to be knit together: his instinct told him it wasn’t right. It ISN’T right! This is a gross misinterpretation of Scripture and to justify it by saying that it was a personal message from God two nights in a row is beyond wrong. I can’t help but wonder what their wives think about all this (and maybe that was addressed in the part of the “sermon” I haven’t heard yet). I am truly worried for Nate and his family. I pray that God sets them free.

    • You’ll need to submit under an anonymous or fake name in the future. Sorry, names are posted for personal accountability.

  17. Been a member for 20 years, close to leaving, but God said no. My biggest concern is that this will be swept under the rug. I don’t want this to be repeated at another church. I don’t like they are paid a severance, and Doug should be stripped of his pastoral title. Nate does not have a degree. They ran away, changed numbers, so they don’t have to face the damage they have done. Doug’s own wounds clouded his vision of every father and family. There was good, but the bad far outweighs the good. I am not a disgruntled VBer. This is our family, our home, but it’s been destroyed by God to make all things new again. We feel violated for trusting, sharing, supporting Doug particularly. I was given an article, “Spiritual Abuse, Unspoken Crisis” by Shawn Nelson. My husband and I wept. We experienced these things with us, with our family. One day we questioned him, and we paid the price. When we told him we spoke to other pastors about the “Choosen” paper because the verses were taken out of context, and they too disagreed, he was angry. He said of course they’d disagree. He told us to not question, “read it as if it were true,” and reminded us this was his labor of love. It is so hard to trust again, to be invested, but God says stay. Everyday we are praying for guidance, for the leadership, what does God want….

  18. I was a member of the Valleybrook community from 1995 (under founding pastor Kendal Anderson) until 2012/2013. I left because things “just didn’t feel right” anymore. I’m unfortunately not surprised to find out that all of this has been going on. It’s sad. Valleybrook used to be such a wonderful church.

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