The Rev. John Bishop is stepping down as senior pastor at Vancouver’s Living Hope Church for moral indiscretions as he enters a restoration plan put in place by church leaders. Bishop said he plans to seek alcohol abuse treatment and might also receive marriage counseling.
The church along Andresen Road — nicknamed the “Kmart church” because it occupies a former Kmart building — hosts more than 3,000 people every week.
Specifics about Bishop’s departure will be worked out by the church and outside counsel, said Executive Pastor Duane Warren. The church recently found out about the indiscretions, he added.
“We’re taking this very seriously,” Warren said. “We’re trying to move forward.”
The 52-year-old who’s led the church for 19 years, said he’s “desperately sorry,” not just to his family and congregation, but also to the county. He plans to enter a treatment facility for alcohol abuse after Thanksgiving and also wants to attend marriage counseling. He’s been married to his wife, Michelle, for nearly 32 years, and they started the church together.
“I hurt a lot of people, and I want to make myself better,” Bishop said. “The church is struggling right now because people are mad.”
Bishop said that while he was on a mission trip in Cabo, Mexico, this summer, he went off the grid and didn’t communicate with people back home. Living Hope was in the city working on a mission project. It’s not uncommon for pastors to take a couple of months off to work on the vision of their church or to write a book, Bishop said, and he’s written several.
“I’m not making an excuse, and I’m not blaming anyone,” Bishop said. “I got tired. I got exhausted. I made some bad choices.”
Bishop and church leaders didn’t provide additional details about his indiscretions.
Bishop said he didn’t touch alcohol for most of his life because his father died from a drunken-driving crash when he was 4 years old. During his time off, Bishop said he’ll seek to understand why he used alcohol to cope with stress.
Living Hope has been hailed as a church for people who need second chances and grace, and it’s considered a church for people who don’t do traditional church.
“I never ever thought I would be on the receiving end of what I preached for almost 20 years,” Bishop said. “The funny thing about grace is I don’t expect it. … I deserve punishment, I feel.”
The church began with a handful of families in 1996. Over the following decade, the church merged with Prairie Community Church and Vancouver Community Church, and worked out of a space in the Vancouver Westfield mall. In 2011, Living Hope moved to the former Kmart building in central Vancouver.
During a Nov. 1 Sunday service, Bishop acknowledged that there had been some confusion and speculation about his absences over the last several months. He said staff took on the load without him.
“I found myself running — running from God and running from the call and my life. I haven’t been the best husband,” he said during the service, of which a video recording was posted on the church’s website.
The church’s latest series, called “Dead Man Walking,” focuses on rising up and finding strength after hitting a wall.
“The reason we’re doing this series is I need it for me. Nineteen years of ministry has taken a toll,” Bishop said during the sermon. “I want to say I’m sorry.”
During that service, he announced that he had no plans of quitting the church, and he urged the congregation to support him by continuing to attend church. Reciting from the 23rd Psalm, he said that he needed to listen to God’s words and rest: He makes me lie down. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
“When we rest, it’s about us and God. It’s not about judging someone,” Bishop said. “I can’t change the past. What I can do is find a way to be healthy and be the best me I can be.”
Church leaders haven’t decided whether they will use the current preaching team to fill Bishop’s role. Several pastors in the community and about 100 people came to Living Hope on Wednesday morning to pray that the church will move forward through this challenge. People also voiced their support on social media, saying that Bishop is a human with faults, who sins like everybody else.