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#ChurchToo Church Culture Investigations

Watchdog Group Calls For Independent Investigation of Pastor Steve Morgan and “The Network”

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Steve Morgan is the lead pastor at Joshua Church in Austin, Tex., and the leader of a church planting group called The Network.  The Network has 26 affiliated churches in the U.S., the U.K., and Taiwan.

The Vine Church in Carbondale, Ill., is the “mother church” of The Network.  That church was founded in 1995 by Morgan.  It was originally a part of the Vineyard Association of Churches, an evangelical and charismatic denomination.  The Vine Church had a significant campus ministry to nearby Southern Illinois University.  

The Network churches are no longer a part of the Vineyard Association.  Morgan left the Vineyard Association in 2006, taking five churches with him, to form The Network.  Since then, The Network has grown.  It now has 26 churches with as many as 7,000 people in attendance.  

Following the model of the original Vine Church, many of the churches were planted in cities with a significant college student population, including Athens, Ga., Bloomington, Ind., Gainesville, Fla., and State College, Penn.

A former bookkeeper for The Network told MinistryWatch that The Network asks member churches pay 5 percent of their income to The Network, and these contributions add up to about $1.5 million a year.  

But a group called Leaving The Network says all is not well in The Network.  They say Morgan was arrested for sexual assault of a minor in 1987, when he was a 22-year-old youth leader for a church associated with the Reformed Latter-Day Saints.  He was arrested on May 19,1987, for aggravated criminal sodomy, which at that time was defined as sodomy with a child who is under 16 years of age.  The alleged victim was a 15-year-old boy.  The complaint said the alleged crime took place on or around November 1986.

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The case was ultimately diverted.  Diversions sometimes occur in the case of first offenses when the perpetrator agrees to penalties.  Diversions often result in the sealing of court documents, usually to protect the identity of the victim.  In this case, Leaving The Network obtained a copy of the diversion agreement with the name of the victim redacted.  The agreement required Morgan to participate in therapy with a therapist trained in sexual abuse, and to pay for any treatment required by the victim.  Morgan was also told not to have any contact, either direct or indirect, with the victim.

Leaving The Network is calling for an independent investigation of The Network.  An eight-point “Call to Action” includes not only an investigation, but a commitment to publicly release the investigation when it is complete, and the development of policies and procedures to deal with sex offenders in Network churches.  The “Call to Action” is signed by 18 former staff, elders, and deacons of Network churches.  The group has also created an online petition for others to sign.  So far, more than 100 people have signed the petition.

The leaders of Leaving The Network include Andrew Lumpe, who held lay leadership roles (elder and deacon) at Blue Sky Church and Vista Church, two Network churches.  Other leaders include Ben Powers, former Lead Pastor of City Lights Church, and Associate Pastor of Vine Church.  Also included:  Jeff Miller, who was Lead Pastor at two Network churches, and Skyler Ray Taylor, who was a staff member at Vine Church.

MinistryWatch attempted to contact Steve Morgan multiple times by email and phone.  We did not receive a response.

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.