A Pastor’s Confession

13 January 2014, 06:00



1178354_33782497I was the pastor of an ATI church.

There. It’s out. I said it.

So much within me is shouting, “No! No!” But it’s the truth. Somehow the church I served became an ATI (Advanced Training Institute-influenced) church. It was never my plan or desire, but I was naïve. I thought I could invite Gothard in and still stay separate.

I just wanted to do right. The burden of preaching and teaching was to proclaim the will and truth of the Lord and I saw so much compromise. All I wanted to do was help people see that Jesus would make a difference. When I took my eyes off Him and began to focus on behavior, the message I thought I was giving became something very different.

It began at a difficult point in our church’s story. A large group had just left in anger and those who stayed were more conservative, more focused on the Bible. One of the problems was in the youth group, so we didn’t have a youth group. We had always sung hymns because we liked them, so we didn’t have “contemporary” music. My family, the pastor’s family, homeschooled. Little did I know that we were set up to be a magnet for Gothard families.

The first family came almost on the heels of the last family that left the church. They came saying that they had wanted to attend our church but felt they couldn’t as long as certain people were in leadership. Now that “those people” were no longer part of the church, this family could come. They were active, positive, generous, and talented. They were just the kind of family we needed.

Others came over the next few weeks and months. Our youth group, put on hold because of the political problems, was never rebuilt. Somehow a youth group became spiritually negative. The fact that we sang hymns was great, but it was no longer because we simply liked the hymns. Now the music of our church was spiritually superior. Homeschooling, rather than being a choice for families, was promoted behind the scenes as a spiritual goal. Certain styles of dress, topics of conversation, and standards of “Christian” living became spiritually superior and expected.

None of this was official, of course. I never believed that hymns were the only right music of the church or that a youth group was categorically evil. The other church leaders felt increasingly out of control, but we all rejoiced to see new people and find what felt like new stability. The church grew steadily for the next few years. From time to time, pastors of other churches in the community would thank me for taking certain families off their backs. I couldn’t see the negative the other pastors had experienced. Eventually that was explained by the worldliness of the other churches.

I was naïve. I thought the fact that I didn’t suffer from the same spiritual myopia of the Gothard followers would ensure that the church was protected from their judgmental attitudes. I thought that I was still part of the wider Christian community. But those condescending attitudes radiated from our church. We were spiritually superior. Other pastors felt it and I supported it simply by not speaking against it.

It wasn’t long before we had more Gothard folks than others, at least when we counted the children. Visitors to our church wouldn’t stay unless they could fit in with the culture they felt as they entered the doors. People who had been here before the Gothard folks came felt increasingly under pressure to conform to Gothard standards, even though they had resisted attending any Gothard event.

We were a Gothard church.

Now, I have to confess that I had a part in this. My family chose to homeschool through ATI and attend the various conferences. It didn’t matter that we kept separate from the Gothard culture in many ways. As long as we gave implicit approval, we didn’t need to make it explicit. To this day, I believe that I did not speak on “Gothard superiority” from the pulpit, nor even suggest that all families should homeschool. I simply didn’t believe those things. But two messages came from me. One that spoke my focus on Jesus and my cautions about any gospel of works and another that showed Gothard to be the choice for me and my family. My naiveté allowed my people to hear something I was trying not to say.

Three things happened that changed everything.

1. An ATI family suffered a moral failure. Suddenly the Gothard way was not better in protecting families. Suddenly Gothard families couldn’t show their superiority unless they separated from this family, something they couldn’t do and stay in the church. Because this was an exemplary family in so many ways, other ATI families no longer had the assurance that they could protect themselves the way they thought.

2. The strain of the constant comparisons and criticisms was beginning to show in relationships within families and between families. One man told me boldly that he thought condemnation was a good thing among Christians. (He was very good at it.) Women started revealing health problems, many due to stress. Men revealed frustrations with finances and family expectations. Kids pushed behavioral limits. The joy of a Gothard community became hard to find. In the years just before our church’s situation, Gothard families were told not to gather in the same churches. They were to stay separate, ostensibly to have more influence. But I began to see it was because they would begin to hurt each other and drive others away. Since almost all of the meanness was behind the scenes, in quiet comparisons or words of judgment, I didn’t see it for a while. Eventually, like an infection, it broke through the surface and our church smelled bad.

3. In 2000, when Gothard came out with his first “Definition of Grace,” and said that all grace was merited, I rebelled. Finally I saw the error, the evil, behind Gothard’s message. My eyes were opened to the abuse happening and to the purpose of the message that caused the abuse. I began to teach on grace and the love of God and how salvation truly comes to a person. As I did that, I met strong opposition. In the next couple of years most of the Gothard families left our church.

I confess that I was foolish to welcome Gothard teaching into my church and my family. My good intentions really don’t matter much now. The damage touched so many families. I wasn’t directly responsible for the abuse or even for the error, but I enjoyed the growth and strength of the church too much to distrust what was coming in. I thought I could control it. We had the practical success that every pastor wants, more people and money than we knew what to do with. But under the surface an evil grew that hurt a lot of people.

I also admit that this is my perspective. Perhaps I excuse myself too much. Perhaps there were other factors that I have not yet understood. Perhaps those from my church, especially the young people, would tell a very different story.

To this day, I still do not consider that I was ever an ATI pastor, or even a Gothard teacher. I have talked with several pastors who said the same thing. They simply welcomed something that looked good without really understanding the danger. We rationalized and excused the growing problems because we wanted to keep the benefits. We stupidly thought we could keep ourselves separate and protect the people from harm.

For what it’s worth, I have paid a price, both personally and professionally. Many pastors of ATI churches have lost their ministries and have suffered in other ways. We ignored the cautions that were shared with us and we thought we could control the beast. What we didn’t realize was that the people were not listening to us. They were watching. What we allowed must be good, they reasoned. We opened the door for them to listen to Gothard and he became their teacher. The connection and loyalty we thought we enjoyed was a lie. And, when the reality hit, we paid a price.

There are many regrets in life. Deciding to play with Gothard fire is one of mine.

I am sorry.

All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.


  1. Leisl January 13, 2014 Reply

    Thank you.
    It is a salve on my heart to understand things from the other side of the perspective.

    "They simply welcomed something that looked good without really understanding the danger. We rationalized and excused the growing problems because we wanted to keep the benefits. We stupidly thought we could keep ourselves separate and protect the people from harm."

    I truly believe that my parents did the same thing. When I get in their shoes it hurts less. But as I, in my own life, continuously reap the consequences of their decisions my heart hardens again.
    Thank you for helping me remember, even for a moment.

    • V January 14, 2014 Reply

      I could have written the same. So sad. I'm sorry we ever heard of this man. ATI wrecked our lives, but so thankful we are free.

    • Mindy March 31, 2014 Reply

      Having an attitude or spirit of superiority is a HUMAN problem, not a problem of just one leader (1Cor12:21-27). And now is any one of us superior because we compare/contrast ourselves to ATI? This is ironic!

      I go to what is probably a liberal church. Although the teaching is line-by-line, the music and the way people dress would not offend any non-Christian off the street. Good? Bad? God will decide. No matter what church you attend, or what club, or what organization, or what website you read, it is made up of HUMANS. You will have these same problems.

      OH, and BTW, God has a history of using some real scoundrels to accomplish His work....Saul, David, Solomon, Samson.....YOU, ME....the list goes on.

      Bill has been a real scoundrel, and needed to be stopped (I am heartbroken for those girls and their families/friends and all the others!!); however, God can still work through him…even if Mr. Gothard doesn’t end up getting rewarded from God for that work.
      And, like Solomon, and like us, Bill taught/said things that he himself did not follow. We all do this, and God warns against it.
      And we are all in the same danger of working for God, then disqualifying ourselves from receiving His reward.

      It may be convenient for the anonymous pastor in this letter to shift his own leadership problems/failures onto Bill Gothard, since Bill's failure is in open public scrutiny....but how would this pastor's life and ministry stand up in the same scrutiny? And we will ALL stand before the one who has a right to be offended, Jesus Christ. The rest of us just need to be humble and consider our own obedience to Him and standing before Him.

      • 'Megan' March 31, 2014 Reply

        Imho, this isn't about whether or not God CAN use Bill, it's almost more about exposing how the devil has used Bill. Satan doesn't need to lure God's people down the path to perdition to get them away from God.. religion will do the job nicely.

      • greg r March 31, 2014 Reply

        I don't think you gave the article a fair reading. I don't see where he shifted any failure or problem to anyone. What he said was 1)bill's teaching led to superior attitudes in some and 2)HE (the pastor) was at fault for letting it ride because of the 'church growth' and 3)he (the pastor) is sorry for what he did.
        Yes, this man doesn't care for Bill's teaching. But I'm not catching a superior attitude carried forward from his confession.

  2. SaraJ January 13, 2014 Reply

    Unlike so many parents and pastors who went through the same thing, you said "I'm sorry." It doesn't change what happened, but that's the first step to allowing those hurt under your ministry to heal. Thanks for this article.

  3. Clay January 13, 2014 Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It really makes a difference when those in leadership admit the wrong that was done, even though it wasn't malicious.

  4. EricB January 13, 2014 Reply

    Thank you! My wife and I have often discussed how few pastors we've heard of that have "recovered" from Gothard. I appreciate your honesty and humility. One of the most serious dangers of Gothard's teaching is his faulty definition of grace. Do you have documentation to the reference you made of his teachings from 2000? Or are you referring to his definition "the power and desire to do God's will"?

    • Jean January 20, 2014 Reply

      I am so proud of the young lady who is now allowing "recovering grace" to be read. I know the personal emotional cost to her has been very great but with her wonderful husband and Gods real grace she enjoying marriage and motherhood. I chose to reply to your note Eric as it was just last week, cleaning out old collection of papers that I came across the Gothard version of God's grace! I immediately tore it up with anger, almost, as I did any other ATI papers. My sister and I shared a beautiful oneness, with absolute joy, until they got sucked in by Bill Gothard. I felt unworthy, on the wrong path and very distant from my sister and family which has left deep wounds. I think they are free from ITL but somehow it is not the same. I wonder why? My faith in God remains strong.

  5. Katherine January 13, 2014 Reply

    Excellent post. Thank you for sharing this perspective.

  6. Renee January 13, 2014 Reply

    Thank you so much for writing this. Letters of acknowledgment, like this one, truly help the healing process.

  7. Judy January 13, 2014 Reply

    Many years ago, when we were in ATI, my daughter and I volunteered at the local ATI office. One of my chores was to phone all the pastors in our region and invite them to the upcoming Pastor's Conference.

    Easily 9 out of 10 pastors had a strong negative reaction at the mention of ATI. I witnessed a range of emotions, much like I would imagine the pastor in this article experienced - from anger to confusion to heartbreaking stories of broken lives, dysfunctional families, legalism and every other tragic malady. This was very confusing to me at the time, but I have come to realize that these poor pastors were left to mop up behind the spiritual abuse of Gothard's Christless graceless doctrine.

    After many many calls I turned to the young man who was office supervisor and told him of the calls. He just smiled and said "Yes, the Institute is not lacking for enemies."

    That should have been a clue.

    • 'Megan' January 13, 2014 Reply

      "Not lacking for enemies'... well that attitude hasn't changed one iota. Secondly, have none of the workers/leadership etc in ATI taken notice that their so called 'enemies' are ALL former members, or like this pastor, saw first hand the long term, horrible results of this program? How do they not SEE that this is a cult? I just have to remember how long it took me to be WILLING to open my eyes to the truth, much less accept it and figure out where to go from there.

    • Vera January 25, 2014 Reply

      I remember at one point seeing these disgruntled people through the Gothard Discussion List and being told by people that these people were the problem coming against this wonderful man who did nothing to deserve this. At that time, my children were still too young for me to notice the issues I would have when they became young adults. I saw what was happening especially the sins that were being revealed, but it was hard to blame ATI for that at the time. Now I see that legalism was part of the problem. These doctrines turn us into Muslims.

      If we are going to win this battle, we must use our biblical knowledge to fight what is being shared. It is the only way that Bill Gothard will come down from his throne and admit that his message is off. He won't be able to call us persecutors any longer once that happens.

      • 'Megan' January 25, 2014 Reply

        Well I really do not see him confessing his wrongs and repenting, or admitting his teachings were off. Nothing is impossible with God, of course, but part of me thinks if he was going to let God convict him about all this, he'd have done it by now. Of course, who knows, maybe him 'being found out' will do the trick. However it is highly advisable to make sure his repentance is sincere, so he doesn't trick people again. Not saying we shouldn't forgive him or try to restore, but that only works if he really, truly repents.

        • Katherine Clemons March 4, 2014

          If he is ever truly repentant he will not want to be in any leadership position ever again. His sin will be so repulsive to him. Somehow I doubt I will ever live to see this.

  8. "Hannah" January 14, 2014 Reply

    The definition of grace as "the desire and power to do God's will," existed long before 2000. How did you not hear it until then?

  9. PastorATI January 14, 2014 Reply

    I want to be able to respond to comments and questions while remaining anonymous. I think everyone will understand. Please feel free to ask me questions directly.

    The definition of grace Gothard produced was a several-page glossy document distributed in 2000. It took the simple definition he used, which obviously had its own problems, and expanded it to something that attempted to be theological. Here's a quote:

    "The term unmerited favor would not apply to the favor that Noah received from the Lord, because that favor was based on his being a righteous man. "Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God."43" Neither would this definition apply to Moses, who found favor with God. "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.""

    The definition is no longer found on any ATI or Gothard site that I know of, but you can read it here:


    It's at the bottom of the list of files. You may have to join the group, which is mostly dormant, in order to read the files. Or RG may have it available as a file somewhere.

    Again, please feel free to ask me anything. If I don't know or don't want to answer, I will just say that.

    • "Hannah" January 14, 2014 Reply

      Thank you for clarifying. Yes, I do remember that publication. Really, it was what he'd been saying all along, just perhaps more brazen, and in print for the world to see. My own pastor justified it by saying there were "two types of grace: unmerited favor for salvation, and merited favor for sanctification," which I also now believe to be a lie from the pit of hell.

      I'm quite sure from this article that you were not my ATI pastor, due to your passive vs active approach. My own pastor was all on board with Gothard and pushed his people to new extremes. I wish you peace, and hope that some will find peace through your story.

  10. esbee January 14, 2014 Reply

    Now the music of our church was "spiritually superior."

    Thanks for this article but I think it hit me in a different way other than what was intended...I used to think I was "spiritually superior" just for agreeing with Gothard or that our church did certain things in a "godly" or "holy" way that "pleased" God based on Gothardism. At least agreeing with the parts I liked gave me that little extra edge of "I am spiritually better and more pleasing to God than those who do not follow this." And then at the same time feeling really guilty for not agreeing wholeheartedly 100% with everything Gothard put forth. But until I found this site I could not put in words just what was wrong with Gothardism. Now I know it is something called legalism.

    But............... I just now realized by reading the statement "spiritually superior" that I am still guilty of being "spiritually superior" towards those who are deep into living the Gothard way. (insert smiley with confused look here)

  11. callie January 16, 2014 Reply

    The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life.... I think we are all guilty and we are so proud of our humility. We enjoy the feeling of being spiritually superior and believing that our lives and families are going to turn out better than "those other people". It is all pride. A lot of people think Mr Gothard ruined their lives, when what really ruined their lives was pride, Mr. Gothard's, their parents, and their own. My own. What we all need to do is repent of the beam that is in our eyes. Then we can help Mr. Gothard get the speck out of his. I also am sorry for my pride.

    • BeverlyB January 16, 2014 Reply

      I understand what you're trying to say, Callie, and pride IS an issue. But the second verse you quoted about removing the beam in your own eye before pointing out others, was referencing personal sin issues against another person, not spiritually abusive leaders. If we wait to confront abusive leaders until we are free of all the pride in our own lives, no one would be confronted and abuse would reign. That was certainly not what Jesus meant, because Scripture speaks often about confronting those who corrupt the gospel. I do believe we should search our own hearts for pride and be led by the Holy Spirit. Simultaneously, I believe Gothard should be confronted for the false gospel he teaches and the many egregious ways he has not lived up to his own teachings or acted appropriately as a minister of the gospel. God never intended believers to sit around waiting until we are perfectly free of sin before acknowledging that a wolf is actively tearing apart the sheep pen. I think it's a both/and scenario. We should always check our hearts and rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit, but there are also other things that Scripture makes exceedingly clear should not be tolerated: Corrupting the core of the gospel is one of them---and that's what Gothard has done by turning grace into a matter of works. By corrupting grace, his teachings pollute the very nature of who God is, and his teachings have driven a lot of people away from God as a result. That's not a quick "let's remove pride" fix... it's a bit more complicated in my mind. Make sense?

      • RyanR January 17, 2014 Reply

        Well said, BeverlyB. This passage from 1 Timothy 5 is instructive:

        17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.

        In my opinion, Gothard fits within the concept of elder here (whether he was Scripturally put there or put himself there is beside the point). Clearly he is a spiritual leader.

        RecoveringGrace has produced substantially more than 2 or 3 witnesses, and story after to story demonstrates that he has PERSISTED in this behavior (seriously, do a search on Google to find some of the articles from the 1980s where people were saying the same things - his teachings are erroneous about grace, he isn't behaving appropriately around young ladies).

        I think the rebukes on RecoveringGrace are absolutely appropriate . . . he shouldn't get any sort of pass (i.e., partiality) because he is Mr. Gothard, or because his seminar "saved" someone's marriage, etc.

        • Vera January 25, 2014

          I bring that out in my story. I wrote Bill about ten letters over the years telling him the issues I was having. Several times he told my daughter in front of everyone that I had written another one of my longwinded letters, which was no longer than what this pastor wrote. He clearly believed that someone so beneath him could not possibly have anything to say. He simply was not interested in what I or anyone else had to say. My conscience is clear that I attempted to reach him privately for over 6 years without success.

          I want to say too that I fault the many people I knew personally who knew what was what and didn't warn anyone. Somehow they believed that being quiet was the right thing to do.

    • Ileata January 16, 2014 Reply

      The Bible holds teachers accountable for their teaching. When shepherds lead sheep to dangerous pastures, the Bible does NOT condemn the sheep. I really don't understand that perspective at all.

      • 'Megan' January 16, 2014 Reply

        Ileata, I'm going to borrow that, for sure. The Bible does not condemn the sheep.

        • esbee January 17, 2014

          But the shepherds and sheep condemn the sheep!

    • "Hannah" January 18, 2014 Reply

      Oh dear. It's the old, "you ruined your own life" mantra.

      No. I was a child.

      What I did AFTER the age of 18, that was the part where I ruined my own life. That's when *I* made my own bad decisions.

      Prior to that, the bad decisions were made for me.

      • 'Megan' January 18, 2014 Reply

        As for the pride comment, while all humans have pride in abundance (some more than others), where exactly did we learn this pride anyway? Couldn't have come from following Bill's teachings, believing we were the 'best Christians', because he said that by living out his 'non-optional principles of life' we would become 'the best'.. So really we were following Bill's example. He led us astray then.

        • grateful January 19, 2014

          It has been my observation that those who were the most prideful about their "high standards" and super spiritual status (and then discovered "freedom") are now the ones that are the most prideful about their latest epiphany.

        • Vera January 25, 2014

          grateful, that would be in error. If you are receiving a righteousness by faith apart from the law and I am too and we are both set free from sin because of what Jesus is doing in our lives, it is impossible for either of us to be more righteous than the other. Take Michele Duggar. Her 19 children are not a sign of anything or a benchmark for righteousness. Her faith is but then if someone had no children but wanted just one and God did not open that door, their faith in God for no children is just as righteous as having faith for 19 children. Faith is the key that brings God's Spirit into our lives. Our lives could potentially look very different but we both have faith, are set free from sin and that is what pleases God and brings that power to be the son of God. There is absolutely no basis for boasting in this because it is God doing that in us. Standards cannot produce anything but pride as we compare our standards to each other's.

  12. Kim S January 28, 2014 Reply

    Thank you for apologizing. That is huge!

  13. Melinda January 28, 2014 Reply

    I am almost sure that I was part of your church... but maybe not. I am forever scarred... I do not blame my pastor at all. I blame the many ATI families who shunned me... and other families... who took away my church family... I mostly blame Bill... I know his ministry began as a heart to help save the youth of the streets... but he turned it into a cult, so he could be rich... and he didn't care. He didn't care he was taking away peoples true faith. I weep for his soul... and I truly hope he does realize his deception... I will never forget the shunning I felt because I could not make a decent loaf of bread for the longest time... I could not afford a BOSCH mixer... I did not enjoy sewing.. but I was good at it... I loved southern gospel music and could sing like a boss! but felt shame for the voice Jesus gave me. I cannot even read the bible without hearing his voice.. Bill Gothard's voice telling me what I should understand here... All I can do is pray because I do believe, I can go boldly into the the throne room of grace and make my petitions known. I also pray for you all who have been scarred and shunned.

  14. linda February 1, 2014 Reply

    does anyone else see similarities between the way walk to emmaus works and gothardism? maybe it is my scars from bg training that make me so wary, but my "walk" sent me running away in alarm, and i later saw it splinter my church.

  15. JD Miller February 4, 2014 Reply

    I was the pastor of a church with a Gothard influenced family. When we first got there, I really admired the high standards that this family had chosen. However, it was not long before I realized that they were looking down on others in the church who had not chosen their same standards (that was essentially everyone else in the church). I soon realized that the standards that they held to were mainly external and while we saw spiritual growth in so many others in the church, this family seemed to continually struggle with bitterness and to resist so much Biblical teaching. I soon realized that since I was not preaching the same things as Gothard and was actually preaching the opposite of what Gothard taught in some cases, I had lost much credibility with this family.

    I pray not just for those who are caught up in Gothard's false teaching, but for the churches who are divided because of it. I am now a church planting pastor and although I do not want to pass up an opportunity to minister to those caught up in Gothard's teachings, I also want to make sure that I not allow those who refuse to be teachable on the dangers of his ideas to cause division. (IE I want to minister to those who are recovering, but I do not want to give a foothold to those intent on infiltrating).

  16. Ruth February 8, 2014 Reply

    I'm glad to see so many Gothard-indoctrinated have moved past that and found healing. As someone who attended a heavily influenced ATI church (but whose parents didn't buy all the Gothard business), I can say even just attending a church like this in my teen years was damaging. Before I even knew it, I, an intellectual girl who had an interest in arts and culture and who had leadership abilities, was on the outside looking in--in the church I had grown up in, that literally my parents help build. My interests and talents were soon frowned upon; I was told not to talk about school anymore, probably in part because I went to public high school, in part because some of the other girls were jealous that I had contact with boys who were not my brothers on a daily basis.

    I saw my mother, a very gifted and dedicated Sunday school leader, downgraded because of her gender; the same happened to the woman choir director (who I also looked up to because she was smart and fun). I soon felt less than, a girl who was terrible at homemaker skills, who knew she did not want to be at home, taking care of several children her whole life (sorry I would have been terrible at that). I laughed when someone asked me at 17 when my father would be looking for someone to court me. I was not as godly as the others, right?

    The worst was I didn't feel accepted, honored for who God had created me to be, in my church family. That hurt--a lot. Sometimes I wonder how I made it through without giving up on God, but I did, and am grateful those with far more Gothard influence have done the same. When I see one of my friends, a former head cover girl who still likes to dress up for church, worshipping alongside a fellow sister in Christ with dreadlocks and tattoos, I see the true beauty of Christ, the power of the cross, grace, and love. And I am grateful I am right there alongside them both.

  17. Anita February 18, 2014 Reply

    I was schooled in ATIA from around 1984-1987 and never felt like I fit in anywhere. I was from a conservative family and we had worked at many many seminars in Oakland, Ca, but I felt I could never live up to the standards expected of me. My family left ATIA before I finished high school. I had gone to headquarters for a Counseling Seminar at 16 years old and am so thankful that I did not gain a story like the ones told here.....so, so thankful. When I was married and had a few children we went to a conservative Baptist church on the hunch that if we could endeavor to be like some of our perfect friends, this would be the place to go. Within 1 1/2 years we realized that we were living in a bubble of ATI perfection that prevented anyone that didn't fit the mold from being accepted. If you came into this Gothardized church, with a short skirt, tattoo or extra piercing...I can guarantee you would never come back again because you would be so looked down upon. There was no love there. When we chose to leave, we were told it was the same as a divorce by the pastors wife.
    We also felt that if we could not reach the goal of being an ATI family ourselves with our children, we could only hope to fail. I think a lot of this explains the insanely high expectations I have had for myself over the years, the depression, the need to be perfect, to over achieve and demand it of my children as well. How many times was I given the impression that the amount of children I had was a measure of my spirituality?! How many moms have I witnessed falling apart because of the unrealistic expectation of perfection in their lives?
    My five children are nearly all grown and gone now except the last two, who will move on to college or jobs within two years...and I wish I could go back and do it all over again....with real grace, God-given Grace, not man-made expectation.

  18. Sheryl March 3, 2014 Reply

    Met up with Gothard in the late 70's. Lots of stories...fast forward...everyone needs to go home and mind their own productive business...get a day job...the luxury of religion is not lasting throughout the generations the way it was when Gothard began

    • Michelle March 3, 2014 Reply

      @Sheryl: Um, that's kind of rude... "get a day job?" Is there a way you can state your opinion more clearly, and without putting other people down?

  19. Karen March 7, 2014 Reply

    It hurts to read this letter. I guess we were one of the ATI families that infested the churches. Stupidly we followed man made rules for 'righteous' living! I never thought of myself as more superior than others. I was trying to follow and obey God and His word.
    There are many of us hurting,, mainly our own fault,, for wasting years following a man rather than following God!
    I hope other Christians, non-ATI Christians will be gracious and forgiving of our attitudes!! Even if they aren't forgiving of us, certainly I hope my children will come with me on a journey that leads us to grace. It is not by works of righteous that we are saved and our works are like filthy rags!!

    • David March 7, 2014 Reply

      Of course, you are forgiven! I never believed Bill Gothard, but had my own brand of legalistic deception. What I found is that it exposed my unbelief and brought me to an end of trying to be right with God on the basis on something about myself -- made me fall to my knees and embrace the grace of God. It made me see that Christianity is Christ in us, not us doing stuff for Christ. God is a redemptive God. And He is always seeking to bring us into the Truth. This will always require that He expose the untruth in us, and bring us to repentance. But He is faithful to keep working on that.

  20. Terry March 11, 2014 Reply

    I am a former member of an almost entirely ATI church. It wasn't that way when we joined, but quickly became that way. We were homeschoolers, but not ATI. At the height of the madness we moved on because I could not understand the worship of Bill Gothard, and worship is what it was. Sure, he had some great principles, but really. This was clearly a case of man worship.

    I don't understand all the blame being put on Gothard though. I don't think he started out with the goal of owning a portion of God's Kingdom. He started out very modestly and over time he was deified by his devout followers. He is a man. Put any man in such a powerful position and you will reap what you sow. The only reason I post this here is because I see very little insight into what really happened here. Just my humble opinion.

  21. Steph March 24, 2014 Reply

    We were part of a Gothard church (or I should say one that was in constant war over Gothard) just outside of Oakbrook, IL. The pastor was all in for Gothard and IBLP and he was trying to drag us in (my husband led the youth). The church was in serious turmoil the entire time we were there and we ended up leaving after just over a year. If church members were involved in IBLP or ATI the pastor looked on them as holy and good and if they fought against the pastor's Gothard following they were enemies being used by Satan. There was constant effort by the pastor to draw IBLP members and volunteers and constant fighting by certain factions in the church against it. The pastor wanted the church to send us through the Basic seminar, but enough of the elders were against it that we were not permitted to go. To say we were naive is an understatement. We hadn't a clue and began to view the anti-Gothard people as enemies just as the pastor did. It was in the mid 90s and now I see so much of what was probably happening in the minds of all involved. Being neighbors to Oakbrook, there were likely many there who know the real character of the ministry and had already been though the early scandals. After getting into the homeschool movement while living overseas we went to the anger seminar. While there we bought the Success book and I began going through it. I though I'd use it for character instruction, but found myself unable to live up to it's standards. It sat on the shelf unused. I just couldn't see teaching our children to live up to a spiritual level I could not attain myself. I am so glad that we never did attach our children to all of this, but so many in the homeschool movement seem to just parrot Gothard teachings with their own little denominational or ideological additions. It scares me a bit to think that much of what we have followed is IBLP after all.

    • Steph March 24, 2014 Reply

      By Gothard volunteers I meant interns. Several came to the church over the year we were there. The pastor worked very hard to get them involved with the youth.

  22. Eric April 7, 2014 Reply

    Attended the week Conf. in Tulsa in '83 and Dalls in '85. I was a young 21 yr old christian, fresh from conversion, very legalistic. And a Gothard conference was probably the worse thing I could attend for my own spiritial health. But attend I did, and was placed under Gothard's own verion of legalism "return the toy soldiers or don'g get used by God" - he told from his own life. I had issue much worse that steeling toys. He also pressed to Fast on the sabbath - and how he would approach God before a meal and ask him if he should even eat it at that time. This all played right in to my already neurotic levels of legalism. It was the worse things I could've heard. I left the conferences with a horrendous wgt of legalism and expectation on my back. No joy at all. Just incredible pressure.

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