Church Check: Live Oak Community Church in Lubbock, Texas



Basic Church Information


Church Name: Live Oak Community Church

Senior/Lead Pastor: Doug Halcomb

Elders/Leadership Staff: Church Staff

Address: 10710 Frankford Ave, Lubbock, TX 79424

Phone: 806-798-5583

Email: Questions@Live-Oak.org

Online Services: https://live-oak.org/media/sunday-messages/

Website: https://live-oak.org/

Social Media:


Church Specifics


Denomination: Non-Denominational/Baptist

Preaching Style: Topical

Worship Style: Contemporary

Governance/Structure: Board of Elders + Board of Directors

Membership Requirements: No

Tithe-Preaching/Compelled Giving: Yes

Financial Transparency: Unknown

Answered Questions: Partially

Affiliations: The church lists organizations they are affiliated with on their website, here.


Red Flags of Spiritual Abuse (Coercive Control, Exploitation, Opportunism, etc…)


The Red Flag Section of every Church Check includes my (Sarah Young) personal observations of each church and how specific characteristics, practices, or policies within a church may be considered spiritually abusive, coercive, controlling, exploitative, or opportunistic. I am not a professional psychologist or counselor. I base my observations on my independent studies of the literature on the topics of spiritual abuse, mind control, human behavior, and cults, as well as my personal experiences within local Christian churches as a Bible-believing Christian. To see references, sources, and Scriptural support for these observations and statements, please see the end of the Red Flag Section of this Church Check.


Financial Exploitation & Opportunism


There are multiple red flags of financial exploitation, opportunism, and financial abuse with Live Oak Community Church.


First, a sermon that was part of a series about the parables of Jesus called “The One About Fool’s Gold” teaches a handful of mistruths about tithing and money in relation to the Bible.


To point out every false claim and spiritually abusive statement in this sermon would take an entire post by itself, so to save time and space, I will just point out some of what I think are the worst offenders here:


  • Pastor Mark says at the beginning of the sermon that he’s using an analogy created by Dave Ramsey. Dave Ramsey, the popular Christian financial advisor and radio personality, frequently misinterprets Scripture to push tithing, applying it to all Christian believers today and claiming it as the first ten percent of a Christian’s financial income. As we’ve pointed out many times in the past, this is not the biblical definition of tithing, which was a Law in the Mosaic Covenant to the people of Israel and no one else. It wasn’t for money either, but food grown and raised in the Holy land of Israel, and nowhere else. The fact that Live Oak is using one of his analogies tells me they believe and teach the same lies about tithing that Dave Ramsey does.

  • Next, only about a minute and a half into the sermon, Pastor Mark, as a part of the analogy, hands $300 to a volunteer from the congregation and calls it a “reverse tithe.” Again, this is an unbiblical understanding of the tithing law. The pastor of a Christian church isn’t an Old Covenant High Priest or Levitical Priest. All Christian believers are priests in Christ and Christ is the only High Priest, so the idea that pastors could be recipients of the tithe in the same that High Priests and Levitical Priests were is false. And again, the tithe was never money.

  • Almost four minutes into the sermon Pastor Mark says, “Jesus talked a lot about money so we need to talk about it.” This is another false claim made by churches to excuse their preoccupation with obtaining more of it themselves. Jesus used money frequently in His teachings and parables as an analogy to discuss different, much more important topics. Money was not the topic itself. He also used food in His parables. In fact, He used it more than money. Does that mean churches should talk mostly about food? No. Clearly, Jesus wasn’t talking about food itself, but only using it as a tool to deliver a deeper message. The same goes for money. Only one or possibly two of Jesus’ teachings were about money itself, whereas He mostly spoke about God, salvation, the Kingdom of heaven, love, and faith.

  • At about five minutes, Pastor Mark says, “...hey, we’re gonna give an account someday. We’re held accountable for what’s been entrusted to us. Our time, our gifts, our influence, and yes, our financial resources. Because they’re on loan…” This is a very legalistic claim. Are we, as Christians, going to be judged by God and asked to give an account for how much we donated to our church if anything at all? This isn’t taught anywhere in the Bible, and Pastor Mark’s twisting of the Parable of the Shrewd Manager to make this kind of claim is an abuse of Scripture, if that’s really what he’s suggesting. It may also be a form of spiritual abuse where the pastor is essentially scaring or threatening people with God’s judgment in order to extract money out of them.


I’ve only covered five minutes of this thirty-five-minute sermon, so these are far from the only statements of concern, but this will give you a good idea of what to look for, and how easily churches can twist Scripture, the Gospel, and logic, to pressure financial donations.


Second, there’s a video on the church’s YouTube Channel wherein Executive Pastor Mark Porter spends a few minutes pressuring financial donations to the church by linking your relationship with God to your financial donations to the church. See below for his specific statements and how they are red flags for spiritual abuse.


Near the beginning of the video, he says (emphasis mine):


“...when I give financially to the mission here at Live Oak, I’m really giving to God, that I’m trusting Him with all that I have. That I’m giving Him ownership not just over my relationships or over my work, but over my finances too. And that a financial gift is not really a financial step, but it’s a relational step as I step in a deeper intimacy with God. It’s really worship...everything I’m provided I’m just re-gifting to Him...giving is essentially agreeing with God that He is the Lord of my life and that He is in charge of all areas of my life….”


The fundamental problem with these statements is that Pastor Mark is equating a local Christian church with God Himself. He says when you give to Live Oak, you’re actually giving to God and trusting Him, but the truth is you’re giving to a local church that claims to work for the glory of God, not God Himself, and you’re trusting that local church to do what they claim they’re doing with that money, blindly, unless they have been completely financially transparent with you about how they’re spending that money. So far, they haven’t been financially transparent with me at all.


Also, the local church is not the New Testament equivalent to God’s House or temple. We, as individual believers, are the New House of God. And we are the new priests and priestesses ministering the gospel according to the law written on our hearts. (1 Cor. 6:19-20; Gal. 2:20; 1 Peter 2:9; Heb. 8:10; 2 Cor. 3:3; Rom. 2:15)


The point here is, the church, or any church, is not God, nor are they the House of God, and this kind of false equivalence can cause idolatry of the church. It’s also manipulative and being used to coerce financial support, which is spiritually abusive.


For some perspective, churches can easily avoid being coercive by simply asking for donations for this reason or that reason (such as a new project or mission) without saturating the request with statements that induce shame, guilt, or accusations and attacks on the faith and heart of the believer. When they use your faith and your relationship with Christ to garner submission to the church’s desires and demands as a mediator between you and God (Ex: Giving to the church is really a “relational step in deeper intimacy with God”), that is spiritually abusive.


Your relationship with God is not dependent upon how much, or if you donate money to a church at all. Churches aren’t God. They only claim to work in service to Him, but so you, and as a priest/priestess and minister of God and a part of the Church yourself, housing the Holy Spirit within you, any giving you do out of love for God and others, is giving for/to God. If you believe your church is serving God and doing Christ-centered work, you are led by the Spirit, and able to do so (your family is taken care of first), then by all means, donate to your church. But just know that your decisions to donate or not, how much or how little, is entirely up to you and between you and God, not you and your church, nor should it be compelled or pressured by them.


Pastor Mark continues. (emphasis mine)


“...I give recurring and the reason I just practically speaking how that helps me worship God is that I get an email when my gift comes out and when I get it in my inbox I can pray and thank God and be reminded that I’m not giving God a tip, but I’m giving Him what’s first…”


Here it seems like Pastor Mark is attempting to use the “first fruits'' argument that many churches falsely equate with free-will donations to the Christian church today, which is unbiblical. In the Mosaic Covenant with Israel in the Old Testament, the first fruit offering was separate from the tithe, not part of it. It also wasn’t money, but ONLY food from the lands of Israel, as was the tithe. In the New Testament, the phrase “first fruits” has been used to describe Christ Himself, the first Christians, and other spiritual blessings, but never money or possessions donated to a church. Therefore, this is yet another unbiblical and manipulative statement being used to possibly coerce financial donations.


The last comment made by Pastor Mark worth noting:


“...when we give, it’s a growth opportunity...of trusting God more and more as a disciple, as a follower of Him…”


This is another clear and direct equating of one’s personal faith and relationship with God and their outward submission to the church’s financial desires. Again, using God and your relationship with Him as a tool to garner financial support from you is exploitative and spiritually abusive.


Another red flag of financial abuse and exploitation would be the “Stewardship” section on the church’s Mission & Beliefs page, which also misapplies Old Testament passages to preach tithing.


Additionally, many of the phrases given here are similar if not identical to the false equivalency made in the “Give” video referenced above. They align your growth with Jesus to your “generosity” towards the local church, and even link your identity as a “Christ-follower” with the “posture of generosity,” including the un-Christian practice of tithing:


“A Christ-follower will have the posture of generosity when it comes to:...Giving of his or her financial resources through tithes and offerings to the local church. (We believe that returning 10% of my income to the local church is a starting place for Biblical generosity.)”


There are a number of problems with this statement. First, biblically speaking, tithes were NEVER financial resources, but food grown and raised in the Holy land of Israel. Second, they weren’t given to the local church, but to the High Priests and Levitical priests of the tribe of Levi. Churches and pastors are not the New Covenant equivalence of temples and priests. Christian believers themselves are. Your body is now the temple of God and you are a priest, with Christ as the only High Priest.


The Scriptural references used by Live Oak (Leviticus 27:30, Malachi 3:10, & Matthew 6:21) are misapplications of Old Covenant Law to New Covenant Christians, and are therefore irrelevant, and Matthew 6:21 could be used to emotionally manipulate people into donating to the church by suggesting that those who don’t donate are greedy and have a heart for their money rather than God.


Doctrinal Control as a Means of Authoritarian Control


The second red flag of spiritual abuse we see at Live Oak Community Church is the possibility of Thought Control as described by Dr. Steve Hassan in his BITE Model of Authoritarian Control. We include Dr. Hassan’s BITE Model and Influence Continuum in all of our Church Checks to help people discern for themselves whether their church is abusing them. One specific policy of Live Oak lines up, in my opinion, with what Hassan defines as Thought Control.


According to Pastor Doug Halcomb, in order to serve at Live Oak Community Church, you must agree to their Statement of Faith. Even though you don’t need to agree with “100%” of their beliefs in order to be a part of their “church family,” the website says you must still be “transparent” with them about your beliefs, because “...they are the foundation of our ministry, discipleship, leadership and teaching.”


While this expectation is reasonable at face value, this kind of control over the non-essential doctrinal views of individual Christians, particularly the Christians looking to serve at Live Oak, could be seen as a measure of Thought Control in that it “Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth,” as Hassan describes in his BITE Model.


It's perfectly normal for a church to expect a basic level of like-mindedness within its congregation regarding essential Christian doctrine, and while Live Oak may not take this policy of “transparency” to the extreme of requiring people to internalize the church’s every doctrine as truth in every area, at the very least, they require those serving in the church to agree with them on even some non-essential issues, thus putting their doctrine above the liberty of Christian believers, and conformity above individuality as described in Hassan’s Influence Continuum.


Denomination Confusion & Concerns


Another concern with Live Oak is the question of what they actually do believe. There are former attendees of Live Oak CC who have expressed concern, surprise, and confusion surrounding the church’s denomination. While Live Oak presents itself as non-denominational, pastor Doug informed me during our phone call that the church has "Baptist roots". One former attendee of the church has reached out and commented on the church’s lack of transparency when asked questions, and what they were told about the church’s denomination:


"As a member of the church, I asked Doug if their beliefs were Baptist. He repeatedly denied that the church was in any way Baptist in their beliefs. Then he continued to ignore my questions. He said he would ask the elders. They also avoided answering my questions about their beliefs.”


While pastor Doug said that there isn't currently anything about the church that is particularly Baptist in nature, the fact that this is the church's doctrinal origin is information that attendees and potential attendees deserve to know. And if the church is intentionally withholding the church's denominational roots from asking members, it could be deceptive and manipulative in motive.


Impression Management


In considering the confusion over Live Oak’s denomination and whether they’ve been transparent with that or not, this could be a sign that the church is more concerned with managing their image and being appealing to people, rather than transparent and straightforward with people about the church.


If people can’t ask questions and get straight answers, the church is not being transparent, and a church requiring transparency from its members about their beliefs should at least show the same transparency to its members.


Impression management, or image management, is another red flag that a church may be spiritually abusive. To learn more on this particular red flag, I highly recommend Wade Mullen’s book, Something’s Not Right, which dives deeply into this subtle yet serious practice in too many Christian churches today.


As always, included at the end of this section are Hassan’s BITE Model and Influence Continuum to help anyone discern for themselves whether they are being controlled and abused by their church, as well as my BARK infographic to help Christians spot wolves in their church.


BITE Model of Authoritarian Control Handout Oct 2 2020
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Download PDF • 124KB

Influence-Continuum-2019UPDATED-1200x1038-converted
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Download PDF • 145KB

Questionnaire


My contact and questioning of the leadership at Live Oak Community Church was a little different from most other churches. Rather than emailing one or two people with my questions, I signed up for and took their Next Steps Course, which you can take online. At the end of the course, they ask if you have questions you’d like answered about the church, so I asked some questions there.


While Mark Porter, the Executive Pastor, responded to my request for more information on “Tithing” at Live Oak via email, pastor Doug Halcomb responded and requested that I ask my questions over the phone. The following answers are a combination of what I've found myself on the church website and the answers provided by pastor Doug during our phone discussion.


1. What is the church’s official position on the topic of tithes and offerings?

As we covered in the Red Flag Section of this Check, Live Oak CC is not quite clear about what they mean when they use the word “tithing,” although they use it somewhat frequently, and unbiblically.


This church compels and pressures financial donations to the church on the website and through sermons and series devoted to the topic of finances, stewardship, and giving. Although pastor Doug admits that tithing is an Old Testament practice, he stated that he believes Christians are called to "give even more" than the mere ten percent suggested by tithing. Please see the Red Flag Section of this Check for more information on the church’s teachings regarding tithing.


2. Does the church have official membership? If so, is there a membership agreement or contract?


While this church doesn’t have an official membership through which members must sign an agreement or covenant with the church, in order to serve at Live Oak CC or take any kind of “Next Steps” as a part of the congregation, they require people to take the Next Steps Course and be “transparent” about their beliefs as it pertains to the church’s statement of faith. There are agreements that staff and volunteers must fill out and sign as well.


We don’t have a copy of this agreement, so if you attend or are a former attendee of Live Oak CC and have one, please reach out and share it with us to add to the Check.


3. Is the church financially transparent or accountable to either the local church, a third party (such as an auditor) or the universal Church/the Body of believers?


The church offers an annual budget meeting open to the church, and pastor Doug also said that the church is open with their books to anyone asking (via an in-person meeting at the church, not through email or digitally).


However, I've requested to see the church's financial information, not to publish but just to observe the church's transparency, and I have yet to hear from pastor Doug regarding this request. I’ve emailed him twice over the past few weeks and although the church responded to my initial contact with them, they are now apparently ignoring me.


Pastor Doug's reasoning for not sharing financial information digitally was to protect the church from people with nefarious intentions, but this makes no sense to me. If the church isn't doing anything wrong financially, there is nothing to hide from people who wish to expose them.


4. Which denomination does the church align with, if any at all?


This church presents itself as non-denominational, although their roots, according to pastor Doug, are Baptist.


5. Is the pastor available for questions or comments regarding the church’s doctrines or policies?


Since both pastor Mark and Doug responded to my inquiries, I would say 'yes'. However, now that I am trying to ask them about their financial transparency, they are ignoring me. So it may depend on the question being asked.


6. Is the church tolerant and accepting of differing non-essential doctrinal positions, such as regarding eschatology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and other positions regarding things like sexuality and lifestyle choices?


While there are multiple places where the church states they are accepting of different views on the non-essentials, they still require that people be “transparent” about what those differences are in the Next Steps Course and if they wish to be part of the volunteer staff.


For more of my personal thoughts on this topic and how it might be a red flag of spiritual abuse/coercive control, see the Red Flag section of this Church Check.


7. Does the church require its members to be baptized?


While the church offers baptisms, it doesn’t appear so far that they require it for church members/attendees.


8. Please describe what a typical service/meeting looks like in the church.


Here is what the Live Oak CC website says on their New to Live Oak Page:


“We are ORDINARY PEOPLE with problems and sins seeking an amazing God TOGETHER.

Live Oak is a CASUAL & COMFORTABLE atmosphere – we hope you will feel at ease.

You’ll meet FRIENDLY PEOPLE – they will help you find your way around but won’t invade your space.

You’ll experience MEANINGFUL WORSHIP in a creative, contemporary environment.

Our Pastors teach MESSAGES that make sense – Biblical teaching and real help for everyday life.

You’ll find a MULTIGENERATIONAL WORSHIP SETTING – Our student ministry meets on Wednesdays and our College Ministry meets on Tuesdays, which means teens and young adults join us in our main worship on Sundays…and we LOVE it!

You really can wear what you want. The majority of Live Oakers wear casual clothes. Right now we encourage you wear a mask too, although they are not required for anyone but staff and off-stage volunteers.

You don’t have to worry about being pointed out as “new” during the service, but chances are you will be greeted by many, because Live Oak is a friendly place and we love new faces.

During the teaching portion of our services, our Pastors show scripture on the side screens. You can still bring your Bible or pull up your online Bible, too. If you need a Bible, we have free ones in our foyer at Guest Central.”

9. How many people does the church have on staff, both paid and volunteer?


While the church website has a page listing the staff and another page (Mission & Beliefs: How We Are Structured) which lists who is on the Elder Board and the Board of Directors, there is no information sharing how many paid staff members and how many volunteers there are.


10. What is the pastor’s educational background?


Both Lead Pastor Dough Halcomb and Executive Pastor Mark Porter went to Texas Tech, but neither for Seminary degrees. Both have volunteered and worked for the church for several years in various positions before becoming pastors of the church.


11. How does the church discipline members with sin? Is there an official sin discipline policy?


There is no sin discipline policy at Live Oak Community Church according to pastor Doug.


12. How is the pastor compensated (income bonuses, benefits, etc…) and how is that compensation established (board of elders, church vote, etc…)?


The pastor's salary is set by church leadership, and according to pastor Doug, they have a cap that they will not go over to prevent a disproportionately high salary. Pastor Doug says the church tries to keep the salaries at 50% of the annual budget. I am still waiting to hear back on what his salary is and if he is willing to disclose that information either to me personally, the church, and/or the public.


13. What is the size of the congregation and any space or buildings used for church services or meetings?


According to the Lubbock Central Appraiser, the land owned by Live Oak Community Church is 193,100 square feet/4.43 acres. They also own a 6.84 acre property and a 9.9 acre property. What each of these properties is used for is unknown, but I believe the first one, with an assessed value of $1,158,600, is the church building.


The congregation size, based on their social media following, is probably somewhere between 500-600 regular attendees.


14. What is the pastor’s ministerial