~ Nashville’s Bellevue Community Church (BCC) fires pastor David Foster ~
This week the preacher at Nashville’s Bellevue Community Church (BCC), David Foster, has been in the spotlight again, but this time the stories have been less than flattering. It was learned this weekend that a seven-member board of church elders had fired Foster, along with his wife, Paula, who was the head of youth ministries.
In Nashville, the media savvy Foster has been spotted on television frequently through the years, promoting his books or espousing some position on a hot topic. Several members of the press have attended BCC in past years, so media attention has never been hard for David to come by.
A few years back, the church was embroiled in a somewhat less visible battle when Foster allegedly told the congregation his assistant minister had quit while the man – who reportedly had no intention of quitting – was gone on vacation. This led to a split as some members followed the assistant in founding a new church in Bellevue, while the rest of the congregation apparently was kept in the dark about the ousting of the assistant pastor. Granted, I only heard second-hand stories about this incident from friends who were attending BCC at the time. This story never made the newspapers and TV. Apparently nobody wanted the publicity.
This time things are different. Somebody wants publicity.
When I first attended BCC, back in 1994, some 200 people gathered at Bellevue Middle School auditorium to hear David Foster speak. David was and remains a gifted speaker, but back then he was the first to admit — he was no pastor. David did not want to remain after services to shake hands and get to know the members; in fact, he was accustomed to leaving right after his message to avoid being detained by members. The same pattern continued when we moved into the gym. David would appear to shake hands and kiss babies a few minutes before the service started as he made his way down the aisle to the front, then he would disappear after the service.
Paula, his wife, was a little more hands on, and she remained behind to help after the service. However, a series of incidents illustrated how little the leadership (Paula and David) knew or wanted to know about the problems and concerns of their members.
• A young single mother named Hannah lost her own mother, then her brother in short order. When I went to Paula to let her know about Hannah’s needs (because David was never around), I was told that I should take the issue to Sandra, who had been the leader of the singles program. What the leadership didn’t seem to know was that Sandra had not attended BCC for over a year. There was no one Hannah could turn to for support after her tremendous back-to-back losses.
• When Mary’s husband was terminally ill, Mary tuned to the church she and her husband had supported for several years. She told me neither David nor Paula ever came to visit at the hospital during her husband’s long illness in spite of numerous requests. I heard several stories like this during my time ay BCC.
• Fred came in early every Sunday to set up chairs for the service. He stayed late on Sundays to take the chairs down. At a church meeting he shared an idea that he thought would improve things. He was told that while the leadership appreciated his volunteer help, they did not want his input.
David and Paula both suffered from a disconnect with many of their members back when the church was small. David was the consummate speaker and entertainer, and Paula was the sweet and supportive wife, but at that time, they could neither one be bothered with the problems of their members. I don’t imagine things have improved as the church has grown.
That wasn’t the only problem the church faced back then. David persisted in hand picking his church staff from people younger and/or subservient to him. This included the first elders. David picked “yes” people who would do things his way. More than that, he used BCC as a platform for his burgeoning speaking career. According to a former staff member, funds from Sunday contributions were allegedly siphoned to support David’s travels as a guest speaker. And I know several staff members have quit over the years due to problems working with David, who is known to be difficult to work with.
David seeks the spotlight. I have no problem with that, to a point. He is a gifted speaker, after all. And people seem to like his message “How to Live a Positive Life in a Negative World.”
I heard the same sermon for four years and I got tired of it. I got tired of them taking references to “the blood of Christ” out of songs and sermons and replacing it with “the love of Jesus.” Yes, Jesus loves us, but he also bled for us. I got tired of politically correct, watered down slick pop culture theology, so I eventually left BCC. It was a little hard to do. I had friends there and I am not a church hopper by nature. But almost all my friends left before or soon after I did.
None of us clamored for the spotlight or tried to split the church over our issues. But this time things are different. Someone wants the spotlight now.
The elders have apparently matured since the 1990s and are now not so subservient to the wishes and control of one man. I don’t attend BCC anymore so I can’t claim to know or understand all that happened recently. However, it seems odd to me that while a story in the Tennessean says “Foster said the conflict had embarrassed everybody involved and done a disservice to the church” the next line of the same release states that Foster himself was the one in the limelight at Red Caboose Park where he told 30 or so members to “take back the church.”
The elders have been tastefully silent until forced to speak out. The BCC spokesperson. Elder Richard McKinney told the Tennessean there were “personal, relationship and leadership issues” that had become “a grave concern to all of us.” This comes as little surprise to those of us who knew staff members who quit as far back as 1997 because David was so difficult to work with.
But he is a gifted speaker as well as a charismatic personality when he chooses to be, so people looking for a leader may just follow him off a cliff, lemming-style.
It would be one thing if David decided, as his former assistant pastor did, to quietly start a new church. After all, he helped start this church at the request of a handful of families who invited him to Bellevue to pastor the church they started in their homes. If he wants another church where things are all done his way, he could easily start one. But he wants to dominate THIS church, even if it means splitting it.
Some will call me a “disgruntled former member” for saying my piece. I’ve been called worse – even deserved it a time or two!
However, the voices I am hearing in the media are moslty from the current crop of BCC cheerleaders who are blogging about their beloved leader. I just thought the view of a former member who attended for enough years to see behind the scenes might come in handy for a little perspective.
I encourage people not to judge the elders on this issue before you have all the facts, and be sure to keep the elders and the Fosters in your prayers