While Living Hope Church searches for a new lead pastor — having severed ties with its founder — the church says it’s also facing financial challenges revealed by a recent audit.
The Vancouver church is transitioning after John Bishop stepped down from his role as senior pastor in November, citing moral indiscretions and the need to seek alcohol abuse treatment. His wife, Michelle Bishop, who was also a pastor, stepped down during the Dec. 12 board of directors meeting, the board said.
Bishop denies any financial wrongdoing under his leadership.
A report emailed to church members Jan. 8 said that the couple’s “departure from the church has been total and complete. No severance or other agreement was made regarding their departure.” Most traces of the Bishops have been removed from Living Hope’s website.
Pastor Neal Curtiss took over as acting lead pastor at the church, which has historically hosted more than 3,000 people every week. The church, one of the largest in Clark County, opened in 1996 and is known as a church for people who don’t do traditional church, and may need second chances and grace.
Curtiss and other staff members found there were shortages when it came time to pay staff and expenses. Living Hope has a back debt of $180,000, and a few staff members had to be laid off, the report said. Many resigned voluntarily.
The auditors reviewed “payment of personal and business expenses, use of credit and debit cards, use of funds for purposes other than for which they were collected, and similar matters,” the report said.
John Bishop said the email report is not factual and that money was not mismanaged during his tenure. He said he has not been contacted by the church or the auditor to answer questions, and that the audit was initiated by Michelle Bishop to prove no crime had been committed under his leadership.
“There’s no scandal. … There’s not one shred of evidence,” Bishop said, speaking from a treatment center in Southern California. “I’m going through what I need to go through to make myself a better person.”
Bishop said he’s getting the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries involved to recover back pay. His two daughters and two sons-in-law were also let go from Living Hope’s staff, Bishop said.
Church leaders wrote that the operating budget was trimmed down to about $150,000 a month, which covers building payments, utilities, staff salaries and providing for the community in need. A couple of months ago, payroll alone was $140,000 each month, the report said. The board promised to monitor the financial statements and be transparent on how money is allocated.
“This is new to the church, but we are committed to disclosure of all financial information,” the report said.
Living Hope’s attorneys have advised leaders to focus on maintaining the church and later deal with legal issues when it’s financially viable. Large donations, one $15,000 and another $30,000, have been made recently to help the church stay afloat, the report said.
Members were encouraged to continue tithing and give offerings at services to help alleviate those financial shortages and keep Living Hope open.
At least one service time may be eliminated if financially necessary. The church currently holds four services at its main campus, three on Sunday and one on Saturday.
The members that make up the board of directors have shuffled several times over the last couple of months following the Bishops’ exodus.
Currently, the board comprises Kenny Fritzler, a longtime member and the leader of the church’s Living Free ministry; Skye Dahl, a church elder and leader of the church’s financial education workshop; and church elder Art McIntosh. The current board did not have any involvement in prior events that led to the current situation, the report said.
They are rewriting church bylaws, which were described as previously being insufficient. Old bylaws, for instance, said the board of directors only had to have three members, but Living Hope plans to expand the board to five or six members.
“We are extremely aware of the fact that through all of these changes in board members that there has been minimal communication to our very faithful congregation. We commit to weekly communications, we will be transparent and we will be trustworthy and faithful to God!” the report said. “There is much that needs to be done and many hands and hearts and prayers make the load lighter.”
In the past several weeks, guest pastors have spoken at the church and offered their support. The board of directors is also working through governing issues with Curtiss, Missy Hannon, the executive pastor of operations, and outside sources, including Matt Hannan, lead pastor of New Heights Church, and Bill Ritchie, retired pastor of Crossroads Community Church.