Sunday, 28 July 2013

Destiny Church, Leith


Morning service, Sunday 28th July 2013, 11am
Preacher: Graeme Williamson

If you’re looking for the densest concentration of evangelical activity in the Edinburgh area (and why wouldn’t you be?) you might be tempted to pick Holy Corner as an obvious destination, but my vote goes to the more unassuming location of Casselbank Street, Leith, where within a few tens of yards of one another we find South Leith Baptist Church, Leith Free Church, and this morning’s port of call, Destiny Church.

Several people who’ve been following my mission had asked whether I intended to include Destiny, and it’s been on the list for a while, so I decided to pay them a visit today. Their website projects an image of a young, vibrant church with lots going on, and lead pastor Peter Anderson’s YouTube channel is full of enthusiastic hey-it’s-cool-to-be-a-Christian videos in which he “shares what’s in his heart” while standing just a wee bit too close to the camera.

Pastor Pete was not in evidence today. Maybe he was at Destiny’s Gorgie branch, but he left the job of preaching to the 50 folk in Leith to Graeme Williamson, an elder and head of pastoral care, and that’s basically where the whole thing started unravelling.

But before we get to poor Mr Williamson dying on his feet, let’s go back a few steps.

If you google “destiny church edinburgh”, the clever autofill suggestions will immediately bring up “destiny church edinburgh cult”, which is a bit of a worry. They also employ a psychotherapist … which I guess could come in handy if you’re planning to brainwash people. There’s a fairly sinister-sounding Destiny Church in New Zealand, but I haven’t been able to find out if the Scottish Destiny Church is in any way affiliated with its antipodean namesake. (Update 15/08/13: see post-script below)

Anyway, if you like the kind of “worship” that’s popular among three-chord strummers and five-note singers, as heard ad nauseam at Hope!, Elim, Life and Central, then you’ll be right at home at Destiny. Fifteen minutes of that at the beginning to get us all mildly in the mood … strum, strum, yawn!

And here’s another thing I’ve noticed about this kind of church. To them “worship” equals “singing”. I thought that worship included all acts of religious devotion, including prayer, participation in liturgy, reading and meditating on scripture, etc., and outside of church services acts such as charity, good works, evangelism and so on, and that in an even wider sense any act performed by a person who is mindful of God and seeking to recognise and proclaim his worthiness to be praised could be considered as worship. But these trendy churches seem to have shrunk “worship” down to its narrowest musical meaning. They even say things like, “We’ll worship again later”, as if what’s about to happen next (sermon, prayers, etc.) isn’t worship. Am I splitting hairs?

Okay, so back to the hapless Mr Williamson. I don’t know what pastoral care involves, but oratory doesn’t appear to be part of it, and nor does cogent argument. You know something’s going badly wrong when the preacher says things like, “You guys are really not that enthusiastic about your saviour, are you?”, “My, you’re a quiet bunch today!”, and, “Agree with me, please. Act like you’re alive.”

The theme of his message, he said, was “authority”, and he repeatedly invited the congregation to say with him, “I have more power at my disposal than I think I do.” The cruel irony is that despite all his chat about “rising up with new-found confidence” and “standing up in the authority that we have in Christ”, Mr Williamson himself commanded no authority, God-given or otherwise, to inspire his listeners, who responded half-heartedly to his commands to say “rule over”, say “golden rule”, say “destroy”, say “the same”, say “us” … say blah, blah, blah!

The sermon was part of a two-week teaching (Think I’ll be going back for part 2? Think again!) on spiritual warfare, in which context we were reminded of Elisha’s servant in 2 Kings 6, but there was also a detour round “the whole history of the world, starting in Genesis” and round various parts of the new testament, to wit, Colossians 2, Mark 6, Luke 10, Ephesians 1, Ephesians 2 and Acts 19. Snippety, snippety, snip, snip, snip! Chop ’em all up and fling ’em all into the pot, and too many verses spoil the broth.

What an absolute guddle of a sermon. Anyone done any gardening this year? Where is Jesus now? Yes, he’s seated at the right hand of God the father. What would you do if your boss asked you to transfer £100k and you only had permission to transfer amounts up to £10k? If you’re experiencing a demonic attack, come and hide in Jesus. All this and much, much more. He was all over the shop. And then to top it all off he talked about St Paul wanting us to get to the point! And your point, Graeme, was …?

I was relieved when it was all over and Graeme started to pray, but after a minute or so I realised that he was still addressing the congregation, eyes closed, as he urged us to give ourselves to Jesus: “All of you need to respond in some way to God.” Excuse me, Graeme, but I always thought that prayers were supposed to be addressed to God. You appear to be praying … to us!

Call it a false start if you will, because then he started praying again, this time sending his prayers in a more orthodox heavenward direction.

Then there was more “worship”, i.e. singing, although for half of the song they didn’t have the projector on, and the singer’s diction wasn’t the greatest so the uninitiated couldn’t possibly have joined in. And after that the “worship” continued as people drifted out in dribs and drabs.

I didn’t stay for coffee. I stepped out into Casselbank Street and saw the other two churches so close at hand, knowing that I could have chosen better. I even felt a little pang of nostalgia for the Free Church. At least you get psalms and a pukka sermon in there.

Post-script, Thursday 15 August 2013: 
Fittingly, I'm watching "The Social Network" as I write this. In an exchange between Mark Zuckerberg and his ex-girlfriend, she tells him, "The internet isn't written in pencil, it's written in ink." 

Once something's out there, it's out there, and what's out there about the New Zealand Destiny Church is that it's a cult, which is why I got the google autofill results I got (see above). And it seems that the leadership of the Scottish Destiny Church, which isn't affiliated with the New Zealand one, is now fighting a rearguard action to protect its brand identity and distance itself from any association with cults or cultic practices. 

So for what it's worth, here's my take. Destiny Church Leith (and Gorgie, Glasgow, etc) is just an ordinary church. They're evangelical and trendy, they're expanding and excited about it, they're supporting each other in their shared faith, and there's nothing sinister about them. Their style of worship isn't to my taste, but it's unlikely to wash anyone's brain or do any harm. 

I'm not going to change what I wrote about Destiny, because it's a reflection of my experience of the church, both the pre-visit web search and the day of the service. If I removed the comments about the google results, this post-script would make no sense and it wouldn't cure their search engine problem in any case. How you get an internet genie back in its bottle isn't something I can help with, but I hope I can offer an impartial view and maybe put in a friendly word for them.

So good luck to the people at Destiny (the Scottish Destiny, I mean). They seem like nice people, earnest Christians trying to do good ... not a cult. 

35 comments:

  1. ".....these trendy churches seem to have shrunk “worship” down to its narrowest musical meaning...." - if truth be told it's become a common, but I think unintentional, turn of phrase in quite a few churches to frame 'worship' in terms of singing only. I've heard it dozens of times here, there, and everywhere, (and often at our church), but in my experience it's not really meant to infer what it sounds like it's inferring. It's as if people don't want to say 'let's sing' for fear of diluting the call to worship - if that makes sense.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Let us worship God, let us sing to his praise hymn number X," used to be how most CofS services started. Worship = singing seems more common now than before -- one of those words whose meaning has shifted when nobody was looking. If a visual artist makes a painting or sculpture to acknowledge God's worthiness to be praised (second commandment aside), isn't that worship too?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I think in some places there's been a shift in emphasis towards worship where singing is seen as the primary manifestation it. Maybe it's because we like singing and (some of us) don't like sitting and listening, or maybe it's because singing is seen as a God-ward act, whereas a sermon is perhaps considered man-ward. Who knows. Our last pastor would regularly say that "we're going to continue in our worship through the teaching of the word" - in some ways qualifying what he would say about having a time of worship at the start of the service - when he was really talking about the singing bit.

      As you say, there's much more to it than singing a song or two. Your illustration of a visual artist validly worshipping God is a good example. As it happens, we have an artist who does just that every now and again during our singing times of worship - he gets his easel out, and paints away at the front while the rest of us are singing away.

      Delete
  3. As a member of Destiny Edinburgh and a trainee psychotherapist at Edinburgh uni I find it very offensive that you suggest that having a psychotherapist on staff is to 'brainwash' people. The church has a psychotherapist on staff to offer free counselling to people within the church who otherwise would be very unlikely to have access to it. Psychotherapy is not brainwashing, it is a talking therapy led by the client and the person you are referring to is fully trained and bound by a professional body code of ethics. If I wanted to train as a brain washer I could have saved myself a considerable amount of course fees and trained online through youtube. I actually found your review interesting and certainly don't feel the church is above constructive criticism, however, I found this particular inference totally unfounded and sensational.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well it's quite fitting then that somebody mention here that Destiny's psychotherapist was suspended and forced to resign for having a sexual relationship with a client who he'd moved into his home, having an affair with her right under his wife's nose. and that this client is also now a counsellor. Be very wary of Christian counsellors!

      Delete
  4. Oh dear! In the context of that paragraph, do you really think that I was disparaging a whole medical/scientific discipline and trying to offend the people who practise it? Google was suggesting the church was a cult, I was trying to be a little bit tongue in cheek ... clearly I didn't pull that off.

    One point against me for failure to anticipate a reader's acute sensitivity to the mildest suggestion that any member of a vast profession would ever abuse his/her knowledge or influence in the context of a therapeutic relationship. No, no, surely even a psychotherapist who was a cult member would abide by his/her profession's code of ethics at all times, so that such a breach could never, ever happen in a million years.

    And one point against you for failure to exhibit a sense of humour.

    Result: draw.

    ReplyDelete
  5. yes, they are cultic using the same techniques as scientology.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. WHAT TOSH! Scientology is a cult, not recognising any other 'Church' other than their own. Destiny is a vast group of Churches freely recognising and working with other Churches and Christian organisations, giving out food parcels, and help where needed. How many people have you helped by feeding and clothing them? How many people have you helped getting free of addictions? Probably none.

      Delete
    2. Listen mate, i was in leadership at destiny church for three years and i can guarantee you that they are a controlling, dangerous cult. A business hiding as a church. corrupt to the core.

      Delete
  6. And Destiny is a cult, creating dependence, addiction, as well as a range of other mental health problems in anyone who gets too close. True

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have first hand experience of that little scam.

      Delete
    2. Give a socially excluded ex addict a title, put em up on a pedestal like a show pony, then the minute they misbehave........bang!!! your gone with your faith in tatters. a cult if ever i saw one.

      Delete
  7. I agree, they prey on vulnerable people, that's why they 'help' people and recognise that addicts are easy fodder as they will soon get them addicted to their organisation using mind control techniques. It's also why they maintain links with the more conventional churches which in comparison will appear boring to young people. Easy fodder.

    The history of Destiny Church is that it emerged from the New Frontiers International group and changed its name as a result of, well, Google it for yourself and you'll find out. Also, Google Mark Driscoll who is listed as one of the preachers they are proud (!) to have had as a visiting preacher. It is a dangerous place. Keep well away. The 'business' doesn't happen in the Sunday Morning service which is why the soulsearcher would not have noticed anything untoward at the service. It happens in their small groups in peoples homes.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I think you are wrong, I think it is Covenant Ministries they were before. Whatever, they changed their name for some reason ...

    ReplyDelete
  9. I heard it was Word of Life International or Destiny House

    ReplyDelete
  10. http://www.religionnewsblog.com/4264/they-said-id-go-to-hell-if-i-left

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know whether this is the same outfit. It could be - I note that the article goes back to 2003 - or then again, it might be a completely different group of people who just happened to give their church the same name. There was certainly no screaming or vomiting when I visited.

      Delete
    2. but they do do demon cleansing at their healing ceremonies because I've been there and seen it

      Delete
  11. Destiny Church was properly investigated, particularly its finances. The Owens and some of their leaders are very well off. Destiny operates on the principle of all monies given to branch churches is sent to the HQ in Glasgow...the church's affairs are far from transparent...question is what do the leaders have to hide. Time for the press and the media to take an interest in this crew.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Local News investigated them in 2009 after the church bought two flats across the road from one of their buildings in Pollockshaws for people entering their ministry. There were objections at the time from local residents and this was supported by their local councillor David Meikle. The paper reported that two businesses were registered at the flats both in the name of Andrew Owen - Destiny Recordings and Destiny Munchen but they had never told anyone that the property was going to be used for commercial purposes. The problem is that the organisation operates under so many different names that it would be easy to hide anything.

      Delete
    2. I'm sure there is a lot of other similar and not so similar stuff going on that has not (yet) been uncovered ... (ex-cult member)

      Delete
  12. Is this the same group that Helen (pink1) is talking about?

    http://forum.culteducation.com/read.php?5,151,page=2

    ReplyDelete
  13. There is zero in the media about Destiny's psychotherapist was suspended

    ReplyDelete
  14. I don't think I would be wrong in saying that all the criticism aimed at Destiny above is unfounded. Many things stated as facts are a million miles from accurate. If you want details of financial dealings of churches ask OSCR before posting on blogs. I would question the motivation of writing blogs of this nature. Are you seeking to build up the church of Jesus or tear down his bride? My wife isn't perfect but insult her and I will not be happy. Likewise Jesus and his bride.

    Thank-you

    ReplyDelete
  15. Home churches are the way forward perhaps? Small gatherings of people who truly wish to follow Yeshua and his example removing the politics and hierarchy involved in organisations, denominational or non-denominational. Modest and private worship, healing, prayer and fellowship - Home churches have none of the issues organised churches have. We don't NEED elaborate buildings or stages, just a modest gathering of people who believe in what Yeshua did and does. Some people around the world are gathering beneath the ruins of buildings and God moves in their midst. We can learn the word of God through private prayer - simply waiting for God in it's true sense. Resting in God and contemplating his creation' - Psalm 46:10 "Be still and know that I am God." - that's the true meaning I believe of Sabbath. Worship and study of God's word, I believe is a private thing between us and God and and is an everyday event, for anyone, anywhere- Fellow-ship on the other hand is another matter and can ALSO be done modestly without the expense of elaborate stages and buildings etc.. Small groups of people can make huge difference in compassionate giving too. Individuals can give - share the love of Yeshua - I've been to several difference organised churches and had some wonderful experiences but at the end of the day God really speaks to us when we are still and alone - I don't rely on churches to teach me, or develop my relationship with God - That's between God and I. Churches are a gathering for fellowship, healing and mutual praising, save the expense of huge buildings and musical equipment and administration etc and meet in the homes - leave the rest to God? Just my thoughts..

    ReplyDelete
  16. Result of this great Destiny Church: 1000 members, 600K income (not paying commercial rates or corporation tax as a "charity") yet only able to feed circa 10-15 persons a week with a £4 food parcel from 1-3pm one day a week based in no mans land in Leith.
    Praise Jeebuz eh? I could do more social good myself & they should be ashamed of their wate of time, money & snake oil sales.

    ReplyDelete
  17. soulsearcher wouldn't have been exposed to their doctrine of shunning family members who are not also destiny members or their doctrine of tithing: taking 10% of members income even if they end up homeless or worse as a result - all that takes place behind closed doors. enjoyed the review of williamson's attempts at preaching tho! lol.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. forgot to mention their homophobic attitudes as well, I'm sure soulsearcher would not have been exposed to that on a one off visit

      Delete
  18. A CULT IF EVER I SAW ONE. I HAD THREE YRS OF LEADERSHIP THERE I SHOULD KNOW. STAY WELL CLEAR FOLKS!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree . I spoke up about some word of faith preaching and they totally blanked me.

      Delete
    2. thanks for posting - so true, stay well clear for your good

      Delete
  19. Hello, last poster, I'd be grateful to be in contact with you. My email is rachel.hall0705@gmail.com as this organisation is damaging my family horribly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are a cult. Andrew Owen believes he is a modern day apostle and is referred to as apostle in the church.
      Money is massive to them and they have a big speech before every offering about giving sacrificially. Prosperity gospel.
      All razzmatazz all singing all dancing but no real substance.
      We went for sometime but realised that simmering in the background is something that is not right. Avoid avoid avoid

      Delete
  20. destiny seems to be in a bit of trouble about andrew owen inviting over that american televangelist creflo dollar to speak at the secc. the free church of scotland has spoken out about it asking them to 'uninvite' him. with other churches had the guts to do the same.

    ReplyDelete
  21. There is NO doubt that Destiny Church is focused on money. Before every collection they give a massive speech about giving and sacrificial giving. There is more than just an overtone of prosperity ministry about Destiny. Give £10 and God will give you back more. I am not how they interpret the bible. Yes God can give you so much but lets be honest, the promise of riches where more spiritual than materialistic
    Andrew Owen or should I say The Apostle Andrew Owen as he is known within the Destiny church. Is a false preacher.
    The church is wrapped up in gifts of the Spirit but during my time there I saw no gifts, apart from the congregation handing over their cash. Very few of them had any real biblical knowledge. Ask them a biblical question and they will reply "I just love God."

    The preaching from the "pastors" is weak weak weak.
    My wife and I left after 5 months.

    There is a cult element about Destiny.
    You are persuaded to accept all that they teach. If you say anything against Andrew Owen, you may as well have insulted God.

    Yes it will appeal to those who have little or no biblical understanding. Lots of music, people throwing their hands in the air shouting Jesus Jesus Jesus. Some entering a trance like state....

    They will offer you courses on getting rid of generational curses, freeing yourself from the bondage of some sin. Yet in my mind that just confuses people.
    Yes Christ forgives you but guess what, you also need work on this or this or this...

    I would warn people to stay far away from this church as possible

    If you want to be involved with a good church there are many that preach the word of God without all ADD-ONS

    ReplyDelete