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Stevie Flockhart, 901, and the Next Season: Part 2

Seth Dunn

This is part 2 of a multipart series on the pastoral career of Stevie Flockhart of 901 Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Part 1 can be found here.

In 2016, SonCoast Church in Boca Raton, Florida was looking for a new pastor, a younger one. As an aging church, Soncoast hoped hiring a young pastor would help it reach its community. One of the pastoral candidates it considered was Stevie Flockhart, who was looking for a new job in the wake of the failure of Mosaic Church. Stevie looked the part. Church leadership, unaware of the forgery charges against Stevie, hired him to be SonCoast’s pastor. Shortly after his arrival in Florida, Soncoast was contacted by Moasic Church’s former landlord and warned about Stevie. When confronted by church leadership, Stevie admitted to the charges. Instead of firing Stevie and sending him packing back to Georgia, SonCoast decided to keep Stevie in Florida and enter him into a process of restoration. The result of that decision would nearly tear the church apart.

A Letter from the Church Secretary

At any given church, perhaps no one is more atuned to the rythms of the church body than the church secretary. At Soncoast Church, that person was Addie Bruening. She served as the Senior Administration of Soncoast for a quarter century. Pulpit & Pen obtained a letter from Addie Bruening, provided to members of 901 Church, after she learned of the problems these members had been having with her former pastor. The letter (edited for clarity) is included in its entirety below:

Dear John and Mark,

I would like to reiterate that our hearts are hurting for the journey your church is going through right now. As per our conversation with John yesterday it seems to parallel what SonCoast Community Church (also known briefly as DBA Hope City) experienced. As I mentioned yesterday God has worked in my heart and I am not saying or doing anything out of anger or vengeance towards Stevie Flockhart, but to help our brothers and sisters in Christ through a difficult time. Over the years I have been praying for Stevie, Whitney, and their beautiful children. My prayer was and is that Stevie would recognize and own behaviors and actions and how they have hurt and damaged the Ministry he was hired to shepherd and grow. That the Lord would be able to use his gifts and talents to nurture and grow people in Christ. That does not appear to have happened as when he was asked to resign he acted like he did nothing wrong, we just were not ready for him. My role at SonCoast was Senior Administrator which included the day-to-day accounting, Payroll, and operations of the church, and for most of the time I was the only paid staff other than the Pastors. My husband and I have been part of this church family for over 28 years, and I was on staff for about 25 years until I retired last year to move to a new area. I have given you my background to help you understand my love and passion for God’s Church and my brothers and sisters in it as well as the lost in our community. In late 2016 we were searching for a New Pastor; we were an aging church, so our hope was to bring a younger Pastor in to reach our church and our community. Stevie Flockhart was one of three candidates that we brought in to interview and meet the church. Our leadership team and the church really liked both Stevie and Whitney. We went forward with a Church vote and Stevie received 99% of the church vote to join the Pastoral staff as the Teaching Co-Pastor alongside Pastor Ken Whiteman who was the family Pastor. We were excited to welcome Stevie and Whitney to our Church December 1, 2016, to join the SonCoast family. Upon their arrival we received a call from the landlord that had rented Stevie the warehouse facility for the startup church, Mosaic, in Georgia that he was the Pastor of prior to accepting our offer. We were told that Stevie Flockhart had committed forgery twice by signing the names of three guarantors on a lease agreement and then signing their names again to end the lease agreement. Stevie did not come forward with this on his own. Pastor Ken Whiteman and the Elders confronted him, he confessed, Pastor Ken Whiteman and the Elders plus the leadership team all agreed to walk with him through a restoration period. Stevie and Whitney agreed with this and signed a restoration agreement. Stevie went before the church, confessed, and apologized. Stevie was suspended from any pastoral responsibilities, which meant he was not entitled to his pastoral salary, if he wanted to stay, he would need to get a job to help support his family, attend church and go to an agreed upon Christian counselor agreeing to let the leadership team get progress report from him. They also agreed to meet with an accountability partner and attend various ministry groups; get to know the church from the inside out. There were several men who donated money to them so they would be able to take care of their family while he was in the restoration progress. Stevie asked if he could get paid to do the church cleaning so he would not have to get outside work. We agreed to that. We later found out he was having a young adult come in and do the cleaning a lot for a small amount of what he was getting paid to do it. We in good faith trusted who Stevie Flockhart was and the God-centered intentions he had for our ministry. During this restoration process, the more responsibility and independence Stevie was given, the more issues started popping up in the church. Church members started becoming divided with each other, suddenly it seemed people were taking sides and unity and friendships were being broken. Stevie was given permission to sell some old music equipment to help cover the cost of replacing it with better equipment. He was asked to keep accurate records of these transactions; He set up a pay pal account to do this. He has never given a full account of what he did with the money received from items he sold. It appears he was also selling items he was not given permission to sell. I personally dealt with a minister from a Haitian church who well after Stevie left kept coming back asking for items Stevie promised to her that she did not receive. I felt very bad, but we did not have the money to pay her back. She did not pay the church; she had paid Stevie directly in his Paypal account. Here is an example of the confusion and manipulation that was happening: a guitar from one of our worship team members went missing while it was left in Stevie’s care. Stevie insinuated that it was in the possession of a young man who was being groomed to lead worship and he knew nothing about it disappearance. When we asked the young man about it, he was shocked and hurt and with tears in his eyes he swore he never had possession or care of this guitar. There was a group of us who stood with Stevie believing in his call from the Lord and the impact he was having on a Sunday morning once he was restored to the pulpit and to lead worship in April of 2017. It was hard for us to see we were being manipulated and used, we really loved and believed in Stevie. Meanwhile we were losing members and longtime friendships, it was a heartbreaking time for our church and me personally. I lost longtime close relationships with people I have served the Lord with and loved a long time. By Gods grace and love we were able to restore some but not all those relationships. So much happened very quickly and dramatically during this period and people’s emotions were high and acting out of that emotion with a heart to save the church. This is a general overview of what escalated in the church: There was a division between Co-Pastor Ken Whiteman, who was a long-standing leader in the Church and was given authority over Stevie during the restoration period, and one of the elders. A meeting was set up to remove the elder from the Elder Board due to conflicts. It turned into an attempt to remove Stevie. It went very badly; I am not proud to say that I was convinced at that time Stevie was being mistreated and Stevie did a lot to fuel that. I was not the only one who was Stevie-blind at the time. What occurred after that meeting was that Stevie hacked into the email of Pastor Ken Whiteman and an elder sending mail from their accounts to anyone he thought it would offend and hurt; It worked to break us apart. Some of the emails were hurtful because the people who sent them felt hurt and that was their way of communication, never thinking someone could hack into their accounts and use them out of context. Stevie printed the emails and was using them against Pastor Ken and the elder. Stevie threatened to bring Pastor Ken before the Church and share the emails with the church. After much hurt and deceit from Stevie, Pastor Ken feeling he had no choice, resigned and left the church. This immediately had a devastating effect on our church body. Stevie gave himself the Senior Pastor role, as he said he was the only Pastor left. He started to make major changes quickly. He held himself apart from a lot of the church. He came out right when he was going to teach and just wanted to meet new believers immediately after service. Then he left. Our church family was not used to that, what was left of them. As time went on, I started to see inconsistencies on the credit card statements that were not validated as church charges, as well as other things that did not make sense. I received an email from our credit card company advising me that someone was making changes to the credit card account. I called and was told someone called saying they were Ken Whiteman, and he was trying to change the authorizations on the account. I knew it was not Ken Whiteman, he was off staff and the phone number of the person doing it was Stevie Flockhart’s number. I put a fraud alert on the account. Stevie denied this to me when I asked him about it. I was starting to get very concerned about the character of our Pastor Stevie and very hurt by the damage done to the ministry, and that I had stood by him and supported him until the evidence and the damage was so clear I had to see it. It was January 12, 2018, when Stevie was arrested for the prior forgery charges in Georgia. At that point we had three elders and I was the only staff member at that time. The decision was made after much prayer and consideration that if the church was going to survive, we needed to ask Stevie to resign. Stevie agreed to resign and accept a severance package. The payment of the severance package was contingent upon him providing agreed upon information justifying the spending of the church’s money and payments he received from church property sold. We split the severance up into payments to give him time to comply. We paid him the initial payment so he could move his family back to Georgia. After he left, we did not receive the requested information. I sent him an email in February of 2018 asking for the information to no response. Because Stevie did not respond in the allotted time, that invalidated the severance agreement. In the last five years he has never sent any of the requested information nor asked for the money. I have attached a copy of what the church was asking him to account for. I have also attached a copy of the email sent to the church when he was arrested to prepare them in case the media showed up at church. I have also attached a letter from the property management company that he leased his house from. The property manager stopped by the church explaining that when they left the house, they took items that belonged to the house as well as left damage. He was very angry and wanted a forwarding address and expressed that the owner wanted to press charges, but it would cost too much. I am unaware if Stevie settled this. What I have been made aware of was that the young adults who helped them pack to move inadvertently were packing stolen items. This hurt my heart on many levels as they trusted and looked up to him. I am sorry for the length of this letter, and it is just an overview of the journey we had during a very challenging time in the history of our ministry. But God… there has been restoration and healing in our church, not a lot of people came back but we have healed together. God united SonCoast with another small ministry who we knew in our area. Above and Beyond Community Church and SonCoast Community Church merged adopting the Above and Beyond Community Church name in April of 2018. Under the Leadership Pastor Austin Calder, we have healed and are thriving, sharing the Love and Grace of Jesus Christ with the communities around us! I was very surprised when Stevie sent me an email within the last year, apologizing to me if I was hurt by him and that he knew I had been his friend. He said he was sorry for managing a loan from one of our elders badly. I was sad that he did not seem to understand the real damage he did and did not take any accountability or ownership of it. I did not respond as it did not feel like he was authentically sorry. We just paid off the loan from the elder a few months ago. I want to stress I have no ulterior motives; this information is not meant to hurt Stevie or his family, but to speak truth about what occurred during Stevie’s time at SonCoast Community Church and how it affected all of us there, and to hopefully help the body of Christ walk through a difficult season. Isaiah 41:10 says, “So, do not Fear, for I am with you: do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you: I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Blessings in Christ.

Addie Bruening

Former Executive Administrator

SonCoast Community Church/ Above & Beyond Community Church

The Debacle

Addie Bruening is not the only former SonCoast staffer who has sought to warn others about Stevie Flockhart. In a document entitled “The Debacle” former SonCoast Executive Pastor Ken Whiteman provided 901 church members his own account of Stevie’s tenure as pastor of SonCoast church. The document is included in its entirety below:

Hello John and Mark,

I have read Addie’s letter to you. She eloquently described much of what the group of Christ. Followers went through during and after my tenure at SonCoast. I have gone in and out ofthinking her account is suffcient to provide you with support of the idea that this is a pattern, not an isolated or misunderstood anomaly. But as I was a pastor and a key player in our ill- conceived journey, I think it appropriate for me to confirm the tragic ingredients of our unfortunate journey with Stevie Flockhart. Your accounts are disturbing, but very familiar… Like Addie and Glen, I want to articulate support for you in your efforts to halt the ongoing abuse of the Church. I concur with them that I am seeking repair, not retribution. And it is in this spirit that I express below a kind of summary of my experience and observations about Life with Stevie. Perhaps the variety of inputs from Addie, Glen and me form a reasonably coherent picture of what preceded your experience. Stevie is a master manipulator who is in a constant state of exerting Power & Control. I believe he learned much of this from his father, and is committed to be greater than or at least equal to his father in terms of “success”…with that said, he has significant internal issues that keep his narcissistic game going… I believe both sets of counselors (ours and yours) sensed this…I believe Stevie needs a kind of surrender he has not yet found. And for him, I think that finding success in his pseudo (his survival self) will not bring him to that surrender, will not grow him into a humility through which God can develop and use his considerable gifts to their full potential.

Early in our process, one leader, after getting to know Stevie a little, told him he saw him as an Elmer Gantry figure. He later retracted his statement in reaction to objections from other leaders. But it is interesting and sad that there were many red flags that we ran right past…those of us who have discussed what I call The Debacle, share the view that we could not resist “The Shiny” aspects of Stevie. My perspective: I view Stevie as:

• Domineering, a Force of Nature

• A Supreme Manipulator

• Consistently Insular and Deceptive as it met his needs

• Very Divisive

• Obviously NOT a Servant Leader.

Stevie used many methods to establish his control and draw people into the idea that his vision was one from God. Here are some examples:

• Conveying an overwhelming sense that he was anointed and it was our role to support him in his mission

• Sympathy for a poor family man

• Belief in his vision and message via his powerful charismatic giftings and ways

• Gaslighting (i.e., Deception)

• Outright divisive actions, such as his hacking my email and selectively using the content to discredit me, as well as many other manipulations

• A powerful Lead Pastor – as – CEO organizational model, further strengthening his grip on followers (I believe he learned this from his mentors; beginning with his father and others, culminating in the very strong input from JR Lee and his dramatic appearance late in our process at SonCoast, designed to underscore the need to promote Stevie to Lead Pastor. Sadly, it convinced many in that direction.

Stevie’s Rules of the Road:

• As Lead Pastor, his vision and its details are sacrosanct, not to be questioned.

• All relationships are to be conducted with him; no intra-leadership relationships allowed…they were attacked when he became aware of them.

• The Church’s focus is to be Outward… we are to view “prospects” as more important than the Flock. (and if you disagree, “you need to talk with Jesus about Matthew 28…”)

So how were we so susceptible to all this? In the previous ten years of its existence, SonCoast had developed a sense of being a “Place of Grace”, where our modus operandi was to minister to people who could not pay us back. This was a principle that felt like a Biblical calling to us as a congregation. As you no doubt know however, being a church that focuses on ministering to the outcast and broken often does not result in a very good business case. Some people did not like the fact that we didn’t seem to be growing in numbers. (We were consistently at 100-125 people over this period.) This general feeling probably led to the sense that when our previous pastor retired, it was time for a more success/growth-oriented approach to ministry. So when the Search Team encountered Stevie Flockhart, it seemed that an important new ingredient to the Grace and Recovery focus had been found. Although we had felt God work though the past decade, surely this outward focus was also of God… So as our engagement with Stevie led to the revelation that there were problems in his past, we felt it was wrong for such a Grace-based church not to stand with this young man and give him the support and space to move beyond his focus on success orientation and all the emotional issues connected with that. (Sounds like this bug bit you too!)

In hindsight, it now seems we were captivated with our own “calling”, as well as with Stevie himself. Sadly, I think that I played a leading role in this faulty interpretation of our calling. As Addie outlined, our Recovery Plan for Stevie was agreed upon by him but was carried out by him for only a short time. Soon after agreeing to it, his belief that he needed to be Lead Pastor resurfaced in powerful, sometimes insidious ways. Although I was appointed to be his mentor, and others were assigned differing support roles for this covenant agreement we established, it was soon clear he was not looking for guidance from me or anyone else. After a months-long period of struggle, I called a meeting with Stevie and the other active leaders and stated that I believed the plan was not working, fundamentally because Stevie was not working under my mentorship, but was focused on becoming established as the Lead Pastor. In the meeting, I said we needed to meet in order to reassess the agreed-upon plan, and make whatever adjustments were deemed necessary, e.g., Install Stevie as Lead, reset/recommit to the co-leading paradigm, or let Stevie go. The meeting I requested never happened. Instead, this is when Stevie accelerated his efforts to damage my reputation. It was not long before the email scandal that Addie described took full hold of the situation. With the express support of several leaders, Stevie had hacked my email account and used my honest refections and interactions with an elder to demonstrate my treachery. He did not do this openly, but rather, used the emails with individuals to poison their perception of my actins and intentions. This resulted in an elder coming to me with allegations of disloyalty and conduct unbecoming, with no request or willingness to openly discuss the matter. As I had been convicted without a hearing or trial, I then knew that my credibility was gone, despite ten years of faithful history and loving relationships. Stevie had truly won the rest of the leadership over.

I resigned. My resignation was announced at the end of the next Sunday Service gently. But when congregants questioned why this was actually happening, the two remaining elders placed the blame squarely on me as undermining Stevie and being deceptive in my dealings with leadership and with the Congregation. Stevie punctuated the statements by declaring the allegations true and the public discussion closed. Addie has described what ensued as Stevie sought to fully establish his control over the church. But his ways and actions betrayed him, as his actions made it clearer and clearer to Addie that he was seeking absolute control. My bottom line is that your descriptions of your experience with Stevie Flockhart demonstrate the continuation of a pattern that was extremely toxic to our church’s life as a connected gathering of those who had largely been known by their love for one another, and clearly has been toxic for you as well. I conclude with a sampling of your citng of Sam Strong’s pastoral domineering principles and your specifc examples of Stevie actng out his multi-faceted dysfunction. Again, these are all familiar and disturbing to us, and together with our experience, depict a clear and unrelentng pattern of behavior that is detrimental to The Church. Your selection of some of Sam Strong’s ways of pastoral domineering are applicable to my/our experience as well…

a. “A pastor domineers whenever he uses the sheer force of his personality to overwhelm others and coerce their submission.”

b. “A pastor domineers whenever he uses intimidating verbiage or eloquence to humiliate people into feeling ignorant or less competent than they really are.”

c. “He domineers by building into people a greater loyalty to himself than to God through the incorrect teaching, context and application of Hebrews 13:17. Or he makes it appear that not to support him is to work at cross purposes with God.”

d. “He domineers by short circuiting due process, by shutting down dialogue and discussion prematurely, by not giving all concerned an opportunity to voice their opinions.”

e. “He domineers by establishing an inviolable barrier between himself and the sheep. He either surrounds himself with staff who insulate him from contact with the people or withdraws from the daily affairs of the church in such a way that he is unavailable and unreachable.”

f. “He domineers by making people feel unsafe and insecure should they desire to voice an objection to his proposals and policies.”

The offenses you list below are quite similar to ones we experienced. I refer to Addie’s account of her discoveries of Stevie’s malfeasance and fraud. Some that you list went beyond those we experienced, as he had more time to establish his comprehensive control with your church.

Stevie Moves On

After years of ministry, SonCoast Church is basically gone. Arguably, it would still be around if not for Stevie Flockhart. Yet, Stevie Flockhart cannot shoulder all the blame for “the debacle” to which Ken Whiteman refers. If SonCoast had held to biblical wisdom regarding the character of a pastor, no process of “restoration” would have been begun for Stevie Flockhart. He would have simply been dismissed as a man who does not meet the pastoral qualifications of being above reproach. SonCoast’s failing was its own doing. As for Stevie Flockhart, others continue to allow him to act as a vocational pastor. After the failures of Mosaic Church and SonCoast, Stevie’s father sent him to Memphis to lead an extension of New Season Church. That extension would eventually become 901 church. Rather than a New Season, the members of 901 church would get the same old Stevie Flockhart.

Part 3 is forthcoming…

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.