In what’s being called a major shake-up, four pastors have resigned from Bethlehem Baptist Church (BBC) in Minneapolis in the past month, and five faculty and staff members have recently resigned from its affiliate school, Bethlehem College & Seminary (BCS). The resignations include Pastor Jason Meyer, who took the helm from Pastor John Piper in 2013.
Based on tweets and interviews, the discord stems from allegations of corruption among leaders and bullying by church elders. Other key issues include the treatment of minorities and women at the three-campus megachurch.
Painful, Confusing and Jarring Times at Bethlehem Baptist Church
In a July 15 open letter to congregants, Pastor Dave Zuleger admits that Meyer’s resignation “feels jarring” and leaves him “personally heartbroken” because Meyer is “a dear friend and mentor.” Zuleger, pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem’s south campus, says it wouldn’t help to “sugarcoat the troubles” and urges congregants to “lament together.”
Zuleger doesn’t provide a reason for Meyer’s departure but says he’s “deeply encouraged by what the Lord is doing among us.” He urges church members to pray for their leaders and to reach out to elders if they want to talk.
Other recent resignations from BBC include Bryan Pickering (pastor for care and counseling), Ming-Jinn Tong (pastor for neighborhood outreach), and Richie Stark (director for youth and family discipleship).
In an interview with investigative journalist Julie Roys, Pickering describes seeing and experiencing ongoing abuse, especially by elders. “There’s harm being done. There’s unethical behavior. There’s domineering. There’s bullying…cultural, damaging behavior that’s being done, and has been done, for a long time,” he says.
On July 11, elders read a statement from Pickering to the congregation. In it, the church’s former pastor describes seeing various people “profoundly mistreated by elders in various ways.” Additionally, he refers to “domineering” leadership, “patterns of deception among our elders,” and “bullying behavior.”
Pickering says he tried to speak up, but as he too experienced “what I would call bullying behavior,” he concluded “it is best for everyone for me to resign.” He tells Roys he bears “a measure of culpability and complicity” as a leader himself. But now he hopes to “warn the congregation, ‘You’re all in trouble because elders can’t hold each other accountable.’”
Critics Point to Red Flags
Among the resignations at the school is Johnathan Bowers, who tweeted last week that he left a 10-year teaching career at BCS last fall “because of the school’s toxic environment, particularly among the leadership.” He and his family left the church “for the same reason,” he adds.
Bowers retweeted comments from Kyle Howard, who led a “racial trauma” workshop for Bethlehem staffers in 2019. Those comments read, in part, “When an environment becomes so toxic that several pastors and a multitude of members (including almost every minority) has to flee [a] space or be forced out; red flags should abound. Not just in regards to the church, but also regarding the seminary that church houses.”