Letters to Nowhere: Tim Dilena, Dino Rizzo, Winkie Pratney

Two weeks ago, I sent the following letter to good friends and ministry partners of the pastor of Our Savior’s Church to see if they’d be able to speak with their friend to stop the abuse going on.

Not only did I NOT get a response from these pastors, one of them actually forwarded the letters to the pastor of Our Savior’s Church, who then read the letters to his staff. How awful, but totally expected.

Dear Dino, Tim and Winkie,
I’m writing on behalf of myself and many others who have been deeply hurt by the controlling pastoring that is taking place there, and the illegal employment issues that are taking place there.

I worked for Pastor Daniel Jones for a year as his wife’s personal assistant, which meant I nannied the children and homeschooled their son, as well as cleaned the house, cooked, ran errands, and was involved with the Women’s ministry and Master’s Commission. I was on staff with Master’s Commission 3D for years and was Nathan Davies’ right-hand girl (one of Daniel’s pastors at OSC and the Executive Director of Master’s Commission)–his Executive Assistant while he was Vice President of the Master’s Commission International Network. Nathan Davies is no longer the VP of the Master’s Commission International Network.

I’m attaching a letter that I sent to Daniel Jones, Nathan Davies, and Tim Wilson (who took over for Nathan for one year as MC Director). As you can see from the letter, OSC and MC3D are in serious trouble. They are abusing young people as slaves of the church and paying them less than 40 cents an hour! My story isn’t the only statement out there. I’ve gathered dozens more, and have collected numerous emails.

I have NEVER received an apology letter, phone call or any other sort of communication from Daniel, Nathan or Chris, as of the date of this email in regards to this letter I’m attaching and the issues I’ve addressed in said letter. I have used names in my blog, and I stand by that decision because I know that every fact I’ve shared on there is 100% verifiable by multiple sources, and I have given the aforementioned pastors plenty of chances to seek out dialogue with me. All three have denied the opportunity, ignored my peaceful outreach, and therefore, have shown great disrespect to me.

I’m asking you to read this letter and please do the following:

  1. Respond accordingly
  2. Talk to Daniel about the spiritual abuse.
  3. Encourage him that the ball is in his court to make amends with those he’s abused.
  4. Know that you are now partly responsible for the information I’m presenting to you.

Also, I’m aware that in some ways, you all are either good friends, mentors, or ministry partners with Daniel Jones. Because of this relationship, I feel I should hold each one of you responsible for what I’m sending you.

Now that you’ve read my letter, my blog (www.mycultlife.com) and the comments fellow ministers, church members, and MC staff members and students have left on the blog, I’m holding you responsible for what you’ve seen and heard in this email and in the others that are to come. I don’t feel this is too harsh a responsibility to ask a friend or ministry partner who does close ministry work with another pastor. If you would not like this responsibility, or if I have misplaced it on you, please notify me by email.

If you knew that spiritual abuse was taking place in a close friend’s church and remained silent, I’d be shocked. I’m very sure that none of you would overlook this. Hopefully, as friends, you can approach him in a way that he will receive. Otherwise, I will take further action.

I’d like a response to this email within a week. Please acknowledge that you received the email by July 30th, 2010.

With Respect,

Red Flags and Warning Signs

what are the warning signs of a controlling group or a manipulative pastor (or discipler) according to your experiences?

Hello readers! I’m in the process of compiling a list of specific red flags and warning signs about OUR experiences in a destructive discipleship program and/or a church that teaches unbiblical doctrine. Most specifically, what are the warning signs of a controlling group or a manipulative pastor (or discipler) according to your experiences?

For example, some Master’s Commission’s applications to enter as a student ask very specific questions about a person’s sexual life (i.e., Do you masturbate? Have you ever had an abortion? Have you had a bisexual experience? Do you use pornography and when was the last time you did?). Other groups take students into a room for a meeting and forbid them to have sexual thoughts, to masturbate, or look at pornography. Other groups tell men and women what to wear, and make women change their clothing or burn it if it’s too tight fitting or revealing. Group and individual confessionals are frequently required.

These are ALL red flags of a controlling group.

in retrospect, what are some warning signs YOU may have seen BEFORE joining a group like this or a church like this?

After your experiences in a church or group like this, what warning signs and red flags can you IDENTIFY now?

Former MC from TX Speaks Again

J told me Nathan could sense when she had sinned.  When I asked how that was possible, she could not give an answer.  She said, “He just sees it in my face.”

Nathan rarely needed to sense anything.  We were all desperate to please him, to please God.

We confessed our darkest sins and our imagined ones.

It was never enough.

By the time our group visited a small church in Corsicana, I felt alone and desperate.   I was trying to rectify Nathan’s teachings and actions with what I had been taught my whole life.  I could not pinpoint why I felt so guilty, so sinful when I tried so hard.

I remember walking around the Corsicana church in a haze.  I was smiling and playing my part, but I was wondering if I had a chance to run away.  Could I walk to a bus station?  What would I do for money?  Could I call my parents?  These were idle daydreams because even thinking of defying Nathan scared me.

When the people of the church prayed over us,  the man praying for me was saying how much God loved me.  God valued me.  He had great things planned for me.  I cried my heart out, wishing it were true.

It was the most hope I  felt in months.

Then it came time for the Master’s Commission students to pray for the church.  Before I could step forward, Nathan called me to the back of the church.  Natalie stood off to the side.  While everyone else was praying, Nathan got down to eye-level with me and said, “God is very unhappy with you.  You are rebellious and keep pushing us away.  You either need to get things right or I’m kicking you out of the program.”

I should have been thrilled. I should have hit the ground running and never looked back.  Instead, it was like a physical blow. I began sobbing.  I had never been a bad kid.  I had never been kicked out of anything.  My parents, teachers and pastors had always taken pride in my eagerness to do the right thing.  Now, I was a failure.  I fully believed God was mad at me because Nathan was mad at me.  If God did not want me, who would?

I did not only beg to stay.  I wept, pleaded and groveled.  Nathan, so graciously, put me on probation.  I could stay if I began to be obedient. Though I had never defied an order to work, pray or study my motives were not pure.  I was disobedient and rebellious of spirit. If I made a marked change, I would be taken off probation and allowed to stay.  I felt a wave of gratitude.

Afterwards, the church members shared dishes they brought just for us.  When they all left the room, Nathan made rude comments about the taste and quality of the food.  I snapped out of my fog of relief and, for the first time, clearly saw Nathan was a bad guy.  This man who just lectured me about God’s love and “pure motives” treated strangers disrespectfully and his students terribly.

I resolved to fake my way through the rest of the year and get as far from MCA as I could.  I was already an outsider in the group, the other students knew I was considered a troublemaker.  Pretending would be easy since I was so alone.

Looking back, I’ve tried to decipher what reason Nathan could have given for kicking me out.  How would he tell my parents the three thousand dollars they had paid for my stay in Master’s Commission was rendered irrelevant by my rebellious heart?  Time and wisdom have reduced a lot of Nathan’s threats to ridiculous bluffs. 

That was why he “taught” young, inexperienced kids.

It is also why he will not talk with us now.

Former MC from Texas attended Master’s Commission of Austin under Nathan Davies.  She loves the Longhorns and Tex-Mex.

To contact Former MC from TX or to drop her a line, you can email her at: FormerMCTX@gmail.com


Creative Commons License
This work by Lisa Kerr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. © Lisa Kerr and My Cult Life, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lisa Kerr and My Cult Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

This just in: I’m bitter. Again. Blah, Blah, Blah.

This email was sent to me from Kelli, who titled the subject Broken Heart. Read on for more magic. Yawn.


Hello Lisa,
You do not know me as I do not know you personally. I was wondering around on you tube today and came across your video “Master’s Commision Rant.” I was curious, so I watched. I’m not surprised by anything you said. I have herd many people who left a mc with the same attitude. I’m must say that you sound bitter. I was in masters commission for 3 amazing years. I was not raised in church. I started walking myself to church at age 8 by myself. I was not raised in a Christian home, so I made the choice to believe in Jesus Christ and have him be the father and savior in my life. I started thinking for myself at a very early age because I had parents who left me no choice to think any other way.
I am so very sorry that you had this experience as well as many other students. However, masters commission is not intended for everyone. I have become great friends with the funded and many of the staff that have been there from the beginning and I know first hand that it is not intended for everyone. I had a fanominal experience and ministered to thousands of people. I know many people who spent one year in mc to grow their spiritual self and “get their self control” under control before they went to a university. Those people lead great lives and have stable families. They are successful and thank God everyday for that mc that helped them. I also know hundreds of alumni, including myself, that go on do ministry around the world. As far as the covenant for first years, it’s not intended to put a chain around your neck. It’s there, I you choose to do so, to have you focus on God for 9months rather than the distractions that come along with dating. Let’s face it, as for me , a disciple of Jesus Christ, if a man can not be completely focused on the one who  created him for 9 months out of his entire life, then how could he ever be faithful to me as his wife for the next 50-75 years of his life? I am so blessed to say that I have married a great man of God with morals and values that I believe that he could have never had without that covenant. I am in no way saying that people who don’t make 9month covenants with God can’t have them, I’m simply saying the if the opportunity is placed before you and you can handle it, then you can not handle future covenants.
I just don’t understand why you have made your bitterness into a business. You said in one of your comments on your video that a community of people need to come together…..do realize what you are doing? You are promoting a community of unforgiveness and bitterness. Why focus on the negative? What a terrible way to live. It seems as though you are the one that is hurting yourself by ranting on about the wrong that apparently happens to you. Why live in offense instead a life full of joy and freedom? Everyone gets hurt, it’s how you deal with it that developes you…..you obviously are living in the negative. Move on…. Do you really think that at the end of your life the world is going to remember you for doing good? Or will they remember you for contributing to the bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness? It seems as though your purpose in life is to down religions and be negative…..wow….I couldn’t imagine living in such negativity. I feel sorry for you and hope that you find purpose in your life and stop living a life that is devoted to bashing everyone else’s lives….

It’s unfortunate that Master’s Commission hasn’t taught Kelli how to use spell check. Thanks girl.

In response, I didn’t cuss her out. I simply said, I don’t support abusive groups and I hope you will do your part to be socially and ethically responsible with those you deal with, too. 

#mycultlife #hatemail #dumbasses #bitteragain #yawn

Master’s Commission International Network Using Unaccredited College

According to the MCIN (Master’s Commission International Network, www.mcin.org), they’re partnering up with West Coast Bible College and Seminary:

“Master’s Commission International Network recently signed an articulation agreement with West Coast Bible College & Seminary to partner together in the training of ministers worldwide!!! Its been a few years in the making but it is finally done. Can you imagine that while attending any Master’s Commission in the world, students will be able to complete a bachelors degree…….. well now its possible and for only $1,250 per person (plus application fee & books).
However, closer inspection shows that West Coast Bible College and Seminary is not accredited through a typical accrediting program. The Transworld Accrediting Commission is NOT affiliated with the Department of Education in the United States. This information is taken from their website (http://www.westcoastbible.org/accreditation,%20Affiliations,%20and%20Credibility.html):

Transworld Accrediting Commission is in discussions with the U.S. Department of Education regarding becoming a governmentally recognized accrediting agency with a specific focus on theological schools.

What does this mean for students of Master’s Commission? They can spend money on a degree that is not recognizable in the United States to the Department of Education. When they attempt to get their Master’s Degree, they won’t be able to do so without retaking their courses for their Bachelor’s Degree.

Wonder what courses at West Coast Bible College and Seminary are like? They’re not like a typical college class! Take a look: http://www.westcoastbible.org/academics.html

At WCBCS, we are committed to providing our students with the best in academic quality, while focusing on the key principles that will be most used in their chosen field.  Students are required to complete any classes started within a six month time frame.  If a class is not completed in the given time frame, the student will receive an “I” on their transcript.  A student will not be allowed to graduate with an “I” or “F” on their transcript.

Modules – Student requirements for every level include:

1) Read one textbook and write down one personal key truth learned from each chapter and how you can implement it in ministry (our belief is that if everyone can learn one practical truth that will stay with them for life, then the reading exercise has been successful) (Read and write down a personal key truth??? This isn’t college coursework! Not even Bible College coursework. This is less qualified to be “Academic” than homeschooling from a DVD)

2) Listen to two 30-45 lectures or watch an online video and fill in the blanks of the lecture notes.

3) Complete an open book exam – (the student can complete the open book exam with reading – each exam will consist of 20 to 25 questions – however, students MAY NOT collaborate with other students to complete this exercise)

4) Find magazines articles or internet articles discussing the subject and write a summary of each article. (each article must be properly identified with the title, author, and web link noted) (Wow…really? This isn’t college level coursework!)

5) Write a final paper discussing how the subject matter is relevant to your personal ministry and what you will implement.

Students are required to purchase a 2 inch notebook to keep all assignments organized.

This Tract Will Save Your Soul

Back in the days of Master’s Commission of Austin, we used to pass out these tracts by Chick Publications. You know the ones–they’re plainly designed cartoon tracts.

We had this big production called Hells Alternative, where I played this girl who chose a life without God and I entered Hell after the rapture. My friends Sean and Jeremy played two demons who dragged me to hell and tortured me, while my friend Brent played Satan. Satan captured my soul and I screamed bloody murder, “Hell is real…Hell is real…” as I was sucked into Hell’s gates.

At the end of this production, we’d scared a few dozen people into accepting Christ, and we’d often pass out these tracts or have something like this available. When we ministered on the streets of Austin, we had a pack of these tracts available to share with people.

Tonight, I stumbled upon this website for Active Hate Groups in the United States. Many of them are Neo-Nazi groups, others are like the Westboro Baptist Church. I wandered through some of the names to see if any of the ministries I knew or had worked with would be on the list. Oddly enough, Chick Publications (the makers of Chick Tracts), is registered as a General Hate group.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center: “These groups espouse a variety of rather unique hateful doctrines and beliefs…This list includes a “Jewish” group that is rabidly anti-Arab, a “Christian” group that is anti-Catholic and a polygamous “Mormon” breakaway sect that is racist. Many of the groups are vendors that sell a miscellany of hate materials from several different sectors of the white supremacist movement.”

More information can be found here.

6 Recommendations to Help Your Child Get Out of Master’s Commission

I recently had a request from a parent who’s child is in Master’s Commission, wondering what to do, how to communicate with their child, etc.

I think it’s important to remember that every child is different, and if they’re over 18, they may argue and fight you, but ultimately they’re still your child.

Here are 6 Recommendations to Help Your Child Get Out of Master’s Commission:

1. From a Twitter Reader: “Warn them of the signs to watch out for – abuse and being taken advantage of. Encourage their child to be aware of such things.” Print out some of the lists from this website that show what things we’ve been through in the past. Show it to them. Call them and tell them about your concerns. Tell them you love them and support them, but feel like they should be aware of what may occur and why it’s wrong.

2. Immediately put a stop to the funding of their tuition and expenses. If your child doesn’t have money from YOU, they will most likely end up leaving Master’s Commission sooner. Master’s Commission depends and RELIES on you, the parent, funding the student’s tuition and expenses. The students and staff in Master’s Commission are not allowed to work (in most cases and most programs). Therefore, when you, the parent, stop funding them, the child won’t be able to stay in the program much longer without needing a job. Personal note: If my parents had done this, my seven year stint in Master’s Commission would’ve been cut down to two or three years indefinitely.

3. Go visit the campus. Whether it’s “parent’s weekend” or not, go visit the campus where your child stays and works. Make unannounced visits to see where he or she is working and what they’re doing. Stay to see what they’re fed at lunch and dinner, and ask to see their dorms. Ask the staff or Director for a list of “rules” the student’s must follow, including a copy of any recent sermons he or she has preached. See if any Coram Deo’s, conferences, or other meetings have been recorded on dvd, or cd–especially private meetings. If not, ask the Director when their next Coram Deo (or similar service) will take place. Be in attendance. Stay for the morning prayer sessions and pay particular attention to what the staff person running the prayer time says and does.

Sometimes you may not witness anything out of the ordinary, as the Director usually is on his or her best behavior when parents arrive.

4. Pick up the phone and speak with the Director personally. Let him or her know you’d like some questions answered. Ask him or her about their dating policies. For example, at what point can a student date someone? Do they have to ask permission even if they’re on staff? What do they have to be accountable for in a dating relationship? To whom are they to be accountable? Ask him or her what the students eat and where they get the food. For example, is the food donated? Who cooks it? Who ensures the nutritional value? What training does this person have? Ask about the student’s schedule. For example, ask for a written copy of what the student’s each day. How often do they stay up all night working or practicing? Who monitors that they take their day off? Ask how often the group travels and where they stay. Do they stay on the floor? What hours do they typically pull on a road trip? Do they do manual labor for the church? If so, do they get legal work breaks?

5. Call the Senior Pastor of the church your student’s Master’s Commission group is connected to. See above for questions for the pastor (questions to ask the Director). Ask the Senior Pastor if he/she knows how often the kids work for the church and what duties they do. Are they paid for the duties they do? Do they get legal work breaks? How often are kids involved in fundraisers for the church or ministry programs? Do they get legal work breaks? Do they get paid to do these?

6. If your child is under eighteen years of age, contact the state Labor Department and report labor violations. Make sure you have a full report, including your child’s name, the church name, director’s name, type of work your child is doing and the hours they’re required to work. If they work throughout the night, or late at night, make sure to include that in your report.

Some more advice from the My Cult Life Facebook Fan Page:

If your questions or concerns were not addressed in this post, feel free to email me directly: mycultlife AT gmail DOT com or join us on Facebook and Twitter to ask all of us your concerns.

Master’s Commission: Cult, Compound, Coercive

In March 2011, I was a guest on a North Carolina public radio program to be interviewed for my involvement in a cult. I was able to share my story about living inside a cult called Master’s Commission and the effects the coersion had on me. My fellow guests were religion experts, James Tabor, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; Sean McCloud, an associate professor of religious studies and American studies affiliate at UNC-Charlotte; Benjamin Zeller, an assistant professor of religious studies at Brevard College.

James Tabor has special significance in the discussion of cults. He wrote a book called Why Waco? which examines the FBI raid of Waco, Texas/David Koresh.

What happened in Waco?

In a 1993 raid by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the subsequent siege by the FBI ended with the burning of the Branch Davidian ranch outside of Waco, Texas, in McLennan County. Koresh, 54 other adults and 28 children were found dead after the fire.

[The FBI]…barricaded [the Davidians] in their building, seventy-six Branch Davidians, including Koresh, did not survive the fire. Seventeen of these victims were children under the age of 17. The Danforth Report claims that those who died were unable, or unwilling, to flee and that Steve Schneider, Koresh’s right-hand man, probably shot Koresh and committed suicide with the same gun. Autopsy records indicate that at least 20 Branch Davidians were shot, including 5 children. Waco: The Rules of Engagement claims that FBI sharpshooters fired on, and killed, many Branch Davidians who attempted to flee the flames. While the few Branch Davidians who did successfully flee the fire supported this claim, the Danforth Report concluded that the adults who died of gunshot wounds shot themselves after shooting the children. Independent third party investigations refute the Danforth Report. On the final day of the Branch Davidian siege in 1993, aerial FLIR film was shot by the FBI that seemed to show automatic weapons fire directed into the burning buildings. Former Senator John Danforth, under the direction of Acting Attorney General Eric Holder, conducted a 14-month, $17-million investigation that exonerated the government of any wrongdoing.

In 1995 [James Tabor] testified before Congress as an expert witness on Waco and has urged both government officials and media spokespersons to drop the use of the prejudicial label “cult,” and approach such new religious groups with a combination of critical evaluation and a sympathetic attempt to enter the world view of those involved.

(Source Wikipedia)


The cult I was in was called Master’s Commission. It was formed out of a mega church pastored by the TBN regular, Tommy Barnett. Phoenix First Assembly of God was a hub for televangelists like Joyce Meyer, Mario Murillo, and Jim Bakker to visit. On special occassions, we bussed in drug addicts and homeless people. It was here Master’s Commission (MC) ran for over twenty years, often posing as a secular group “City Conquest” to hold youth rallies inside public high schools and boost recruitment.

According to the MCIN website (the international oversight network for Master’s Commission), the history of Master’s Commission is as follows:

The idea for Master’s Commission was birthed while two men, Carmen Balsamo and Larry Kerychuck, were at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting Phoenix, Arizona. Larry was speaking a message entitled, “Who’s Your Hero?” and after that meeting they had a conversation with the brother of a Mormon missionary. This young man told Carmen and Larry that his brother was his hero because of his commitment to his beliefs. This young man had converted to the Mormon faith and forfeited a college scholarship to fulfill his 2 year Mormon mission in a rural part of America. The young man expressed how impressed he was with the commitment of the Mormon people to their religion and asked why Christians were not as committed.

As they walked away from that conversation, these two men desired to find a way for young, Christian men and women to give one-year of their life in service to God. They decided that they would first personally take that time frame and dedicate themselves to scripture memory, Biblical studies, outreach, witnessing and accountability to each other. They found, after that one-year period, their personal and Spiritual development was astounding and Carmen decided to offer an opportunity for others to be involved. Francis Graves, wife of church missions overseer Charlie Graves, was a great woman of prayer and came up with the name “Master’s Commission”. The initial group was 12 members and met daily at the campus of the Phoenix First Assembly of God Church in 1984. Tragically, in the early stages of Master’s Commission, Carmen Balsamo died from a sudden heart attack. Phoenix First Senior Pastor Tommy Barnett then introduced Pastor Lloyd Zeigler as the man to develop the program; Master’s Commission has exploded throughout his tenure.

Pastor Lloyd Zeigler transformed this concept from a single 12 member meeting into the nation’s leading discipleship program with over 100 affiliated programs worldwide. He also developed the Master’s Commission International Network (MCIN) in 1995 whose purpose was to assist the development of other Master’s Commission programs nationally and internationally. Pastor Zeigler currently still oversees and directs his own Master’s Commission program, the MCIN, and is the Lead Pastor of Relevant Church in the North Dallas, Texas area.

Master’s Commission comes from a line of ideology that can be classified as fundamentalist, dominionist and charasmatic. In 2008, Bruce Wilson wrote about Sarah Palins’ link to Master’s Commission and The Third Wave. Palin attended an Assembly of God church (like I did), and prayed over the Master’s Commission at their graduation ceremony.

There’s also a link between Jim Bakker, a good friend of Tommy Barnett’s, and Master’s Commission. Bakker runs a Master’s Commission at his compound in Missouri which is responsible for “interning” at his TV show. Pastor Lloyd, the founder of Master’s Commission, still visits Jim Bakker for speaking engagements.

I first attended Lloyd Zeilger’s program in 1998, when I graduated from high school. They had recruited me from a rally at my public high school from the group City Conquest. Later, I moved to Texas to do my second year of ministry training in Master’s Commission of Austin, a group ran by Nathan Davies that has now moved to Lafayette, Louisiana. The group has changed it’s name from Master’s Commission as a result of the controversies brought up in this blog, and they now have a new director. The group resides in Our Savior’s Church, one of the many church “plants” by Daniel Jones. The photo below shows the church plants by Jones, a former Assemblies of God reverend who has links to Every Nation Ministries and the Louisiana Governor, Bobby Jindal and his wife who’ve spoken numerous times at their church. I left Our Savior’s Church in 2005.


The Unpaid Master’s Commission Intern, Legal or Not?

Are Unpaid Master’s Commission Internships Legal or

Not? OR: How to Out Your Pastor for Not

Paying YOU!

A Little Pebble Can Make a Lot of Waves

I just read this in a fishing magazine of all places. My dad and mom love Alaska, so we have a lot of outdoor adventure magazines around the house.

What’s odd is that I always knew I’d wanted to make a difference in the world somehow, but I never thought my blog might make a big difference. What’s unique about this blog is that it’s the only place that I know of that openly speaks about the spiritual abuse people have faced in Master’s Commission.

When I was in Master’s Commission, people would come up to me and say, “You’re a great woman of God,” or “You’re going to change the world,” or “You’re going to be a voice for the voiceless.”

I honestly think that a lot of what people said was sweet, but just very generic and sometimes very hokey (you know the type of old women who come up and wave flags over your head and speak in tongues like they’re on drugs? yeah, that’s hokey to me). But, what is so ironic to me is the fact that my little pebble-self has made some big waves since July, 2010.

Waves Were Made

Not even five months have gone by and I’ve been contacted by Lloyd Zeigler, co-founder of the Master’s Commission International Network (MCIN) and director of my former Master’s Commission group in Phoenix (now Master’s Commission USA in Dallas, Texas). We discussed some very heavy issues for months and I prodded him to take action over a letter documenting spiritual abuse and slavery-like treatment of staff members. He did take action and the group I was part of, Master’s Commission Industries (now Elevate 3D–who operate in Pods out of Our Savior’s Churches in Louisiana), lost it’s affiliation from the MCIN because of the contacts I made with over twenty former students and staff members, and the encouragement I gave them to write to Lloyd Zeigler. They did.

The MCIN Agrees With Unpaid Internships

Lloyd and I disagreed and ended up parting ways over a variety of issues I continued to try to bring into dialogue. I found out we didn’t agree on a great many points and I was not going to stop until things were better for future students and staff members.

Now, I’m on my own and no one is here to advocate except for me. Lloyd argued with me when I told him that seven year long staff members can’t be treated as interns.

It’s unethical and illegal, even if they’re willing to stay!

I shared with him a New York Times article about how the Department of Labor has been cracking down (for several months now) on business who have interns. Trust me, they’ll catch up to Master’s Commission soon enough–even if it’s through my personal contact to them (which I have).

Lloyd Zeigler stated his case: He’s known doctors who interned for a year and weren’t paid. He knew a zoologist who interned unpaid for a year. It was ethical to him, because Master’s Commission was giving value to the students who interned (for more than a year…even for fifteen years).

I explained to him that there was a huge difference. A doctor goes into the field knowing that he will spend several years studying very demanding biology courses, and then will take a difficult MCAT exam and will spend some time training in the field so that he can make a six figure income (or more).

Additionally, I know teachers who have earned their teaching credential by spending one or two years (depending on the school they attend) taking credentialing courses and student teaching. Student teaching is unpaid, but you’re warned about it early on. You’re also qualified to teach after the student teaching, and can earn a great salary, benefits and three months off in the summer. Not a bad deal.

“Interning” in Master’s Commission is not at all like becoming a doctor or a teacher. If a Master’s Commission student or staff goes into ministry, they rarely become a senior pastor. Most, if not all, become a youth pastor and/or a Master’s Commission director. These youth pastor jobs aren’t always high paid, and Master’s Commission directors do have the luxury of getting compensated financially out of their MC budget.

Why Master’s Commission Staff Members Don’t File Complaints

Why don’t Master’s Commission staff members file complaints, speak up, or report their unpaid “internships?” In my case, I had a very difficult time finding out WHO was the proper person to report this violation to. I spent time as a staff member unpaid, and other years was severely underpaid at $50-$150 a month.

The New York Times reports that, “…It is unusually hard to mount a major enforcement effort because interns are often afraid to file complaints. Many fear they will become known as troublemakers in their chosen field, endangering their chances with a potential future employer.”

I know this to be true. Many of my peers who served as staff members in my own Master’s Commission, or close-by groups in Texas complained to me about not getting paid or getting severely underpaid. However, none of them wanted to be the whistle-blower.

For good reason.

Master’s Commission carries with it a “don’t criticize” and “don’t question the authority” unwritten rule. If you do speak up about something you’re unhappy about, you’re often accused of being “ungrateful” or your spiritual life is called into question.

No “intern” or staff member would want to speak up and risk the chances of being labeled a troublemaker or endangering their chances of networking with a pastor who knows of Master’s Commission and respects the group. If your ultimate goal was to be a pastor, you wouldn’t want to speak up either.

Where To File a Complaint

The other question is where do you speak up, if you want to?

I considered several places. The “Christian” thing to do, in my mind then, was to talk to the pastors themselves. The ones I had an issue with. So, I did. That went nowhere, which left me a bit helpless.

Where else was one to go?

I went to Lloyd Zeigler, and let him know that these things were happening, and he should address them. Turns out, it took a few years for anything to change, and even then, not much has changed within the Master’s Commission International Network and their treatment of staff. I learned during those months that Lloyd didn’t even pay his staff members a fair wage (severely less than minimum wage).

I also learned that the position a Master’s Commission staff member is in it is less likely to draw attention from the Department of Labor if laws are violated because the way the groups are set up. Often, the groups aren’t set up as ministries within the church, but sort of under an umbrella. Not to mention, churches often aren’t scrutinized by the government, since they non-profit groups. They typically have to be reported to the government, by the intern his or herself.

Seek out an Employment Lawyer–Immediately

Another option that would resolve issues is for the staff member to contact an employment lawyer in the state that he or she served in Master’s Commission. If the offense happened in Texas, then you must contact a Texas lawyer who handles Employment Law.

What is the offense? If you were a staff member in Master’s Commission, or on any church staff, and were unpaid or underpaid, you have the right to file a suit against that group for back wages. You can search online for wage comparisons for the type of work you did and find the minimum wages that you should have been paid. Any job worked should have been paid minimum wage, at the very least, but jobs such as Administration have a minimum yearly salary that is required to be paid (even by churches). To ensure winning your case, you should speak to a lawyer within two years of leaving your Master’s Commission group, or church. Some lawyers will attempt the case after three years, and there are some cases where a lawyer may take your case due to the cult-like behavior of a group like Master’s Commission. In this case, a lawyer will file against the Master’s Commission group up to several years after you’ve left, especially if you can prove that you required medical attention or therapy after your years within the group.

Another place to contact is the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU. In order to receive legal representation, you must find a local affiliate. You can do so here: http://www.aclu.org/affiliates.  I’ve reported my case to my local affiliate.

Find an Investigative Reporter

When Ted Haggard was outed for his sex scandal, Mike Jones (the callboy) turned to a news reporter, Paula Woodward, an investigative reporter at KUSA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Denver, Colorado. A news reporter, especially a local investigative journalist may be able to begin work on the story. (For more information, click here: http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/how_pastor_ted_got_outed.php)

I’ve contacted several investigative reporters, and have been emailing one in Lafayette, Louisiana.

I’ve also contacted Oprah, 60 minutes, CNN, Gloria Allred, and several lawyers in Texas and Louisiana.

Every local news station or news paper has an investigative reporter. You can google to find the official newsite and then look at their reporter’s profiles to find their email address. Most journalists respond to emails sent to them.

In addition, places like CNN, FOX News, or MSNBC are very interested in hearing these type of stories. They always have a contact page on their official website, with instructions to follow. You typically have to prepare a press release write-up, which can be a lot of effort, but you can always find sources online that can help you prepare a press release with your story. Include facts, such as how much you were paid (or not paid), how many hours you worked, what types of labor you did, and any other information that you think would be relevant to a media story.

How to Report to the Internal Revenue Service

Additionally, you can report financial indiscretions (such as political contributions, which are illegal or being underpaid as a church employee) to the IRS. On the IRS website, it talks about reporting a church to the IRS:

The IRS may only initiate a church tax inquiry if the Director, Exempt Organizations Examinations, reasonably believes, based on a written statement of the facts and circumstances, that the organization: (a) may not qualify for the exemption; or (b) may not be paying tax on unrelated business or other taxable activity. This reasonable belief must be based on facts and circumstances recorded in writing.

The IRS can obtain the information supporting a reasonable belief from many sources, including but not limited to:

  • Newspaper or magazine articles or ads,
  • Television and radio reports,
  • Internet web pages,
  • Voters guides created and/or distributed by the church,
  • Documents on file with the IRS (e.g. a Form 990-T filed by the church), and
  • Records concerning the church in the possession of third parties or informants.

The IRS must derive the facts and circumstances forming the basis for a reasonable belief from information lawfully obtained. If this information is obtained from informants, it must not be known to be unreliable.  Failure of the church to respond to repeated IRS routine requests for information is a factor in determining if there is reasonable cause for commencing a church tax inquiry.

You can find more information on the IRS auditing Churches here: http://www.irs.gov/charities/churches/article/0,,id=181365,00.html

My Tragic Love Story, The Final Chapter

The steps the pastor required for a man to date a woman in the discipleship training program was like a maze. These weren’t easy for the Tool, but I saw this jerk-for-a-boy turn into a vulnerable, trusting man as he tried to do what was required of him. It wasn’t his fault that these insurmountable rules had been set up before him, preventing him from dating. It also wasn’t his fault that I was extremely hot and intelligent—so much so that his own best friend wanted to date me, too.

The pastor that Tool had to approach was egotistical and had a huge God-complex. It was either his way or the highway. That was not something he learned from God—it was just something he flaunted due to his own insecurities. Tool didn’t know that the pastor didn’t respect him at all and constantly told me that he wasn’t good enough for me. He’d list the reasons one-by-one, and sadly, some of them were true: he wasn’t from a good home, he probably wouldn’t make a good pastor, he was rebellious, and he didn’t treat women well.

What pissed me off was not that Tool was right or wrong for me, but that someone ELSE was interfering in my love life at the age of 24 years old! Not only was this pastor making suggestions, he was out-right making my decisions for me. He was attempting to think for me, and teach me that his way of thinking was right and that there were no other options but how he thought.