Matt Guevara, the Executive Director of the International Network of Children’s Ministry (INCM), has resigned after it was revealed that he targeted certain children’s ministry leaders for ridicule in stories he wrote anonymously on a website called the Flannelgraph Gazette.
In an emailed statement, Brodie Swanson, Chairman of the Board of Directors for INCM, said the board became aware of “troubling” actions by Guevara a number of weeks ago and placed him on a leave of absence. The statement suggested the board was not aware that Guevara was the writer of the Flannelgraph Gazette. The site has since been taken down.
THE SATIRICAL SIDE OF CHILDREN’S MINISTRY
In his explanation, included in the INCM statement, Guevara describes the Flannelgraph Gazette as satire and sarcasm that he used in “humorous articles that poked fun at the challenges of being a Children’s Pastor.”
“But while many of the articles were simply entertaining, several took aim at kidmin leaders that I took issue with, however misguided. I specifically called out Ryan Frank, Martijn Van Tilborgh and their ministry. My words were critical, sinful and born out of my own deep shame and pain.”
Martijn Van Tilborgh, co-owner of Kidmin Nation, told ChurchLeaders.com they endured “eighteen months of cyberbullying” in which Guevara “systematically tried to sabotage our organization and ministry efforts.”
Van Tilborgh said he doesn’t know why Kidmin Nation was targeted and isn’t aware of any issue between him and Guevara. But it appears Kidmin Nation was also producing some satire and sarcasm of their own. In November of 2016, Van Tilborgh and Frank produced a video to promote their upcoming Kidmin Nation Megacon in Nashville. The first four minutes of the video were reasons why no one in youth ministry would want to meet in Orlando. INCM meets every year in Orlando.
When asked if there was a history of satire and sarcasm between the two groups, Frank told ChurchLeaders.com in hindsight he shouldn’t have produced the video. He said they later apologized to the INCM board and staff and took the video off the Internet. The video was still available at the time of publishing this article.
HISTORY OF THE FLANNELGRAPH GAZETTE
Van Tilborgh said INCM sent an email blast to its constituents in January 2017 touting the top 5 websites to watch in 2017. Flannelgraph Gazette was on the list. After reading some of the articles that Van Tilborgh said were geared toward “discrediting” himself, Frank and Kidmin Nation, he contacted the INCM board asking about the website and why it was considered a top site given its content. He said the board promised to investigate and get back to him. They never did.
In September, 2017, after conducting his own investigation, Van Tilborgh contacted INCM again saying he had found out who was behind the Flannelgraph Gazette. It was then that Guevara confessed his involvement and was placed on leave.
ATTEMPTS AT RECONCILIATION
For the past 10 weeks the two sides have been trying to repair the rift that Van Tilborgh said has caused “significant” financial damage to his organization but the talks have not led to any “mutually agreeable conclusion.”
In his statement, Guevara wrote,
“I am seeking and will continue to seek forgiveness and healing. The healing piece is harder than I had imagined, which is probably why I put it off for so long. As it turns out, facing your demons is harder once you’ve hurt yourself and others trying to outrun them. Because of God’s overwhelming love, I am finding forgiveness and grace in Christ, as well as from the people I have hurt along the way. It is profoundly humbling because it is profoundly undeserved.”
Frank says he has forgiven Guevara and the organization and is praying God’s best for the ministries of both Kidmin Nation and INCM. But when asked if a lawsuit is in the offing over what has transpired, Frank said “that’s probably not going to happen” but says he believes there are grounds for one.
It appears that in the world of children’s ministry, it’s going to take more than a flannelgraph lesson on Joseph and his brothers to bring peace to this conflict.