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