COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — NBC4 Investigates has been looking into abuse allegations behind closed doors at Dwell Community Church, formerly known as Xenos Christian Fellowship.
After several former members accused the church of isolating and manipulative tactics, NBC4 Investigates asked to speak with church leadership about those allegations.
Dwell leadership declined an interview, but responded via email to questions sent by NBC4 Investigates. Below is the list of questions, along with the complete responses from Conrad Hilario, who holds the title of Senior Sphere Leader.
1. Former members say personal information shared in confidence with fellow members of disciplers was disseminated and used to shame/guilt them. How are perceived sins handled among Dwell’s membership?
Our church is a tight-knit community of people who love God and love serving our city. An unfortunate aspect of any community is people tend to gossip. Christians sadly are not exempt from this. Despite the Bible’s clear teaching on the subject (Prov.11:13) and our efforts to teach and equip members regarding the importance of being gracious and keeping confidence, people still gossip. We don’t believe it happens more at Dwell than any other church, school, or workplace, but it does happen. Jesus taught that love is the primary motive for real change (Romans 2:4). Thus, we teach that shame/guilt are destructive and ineffective at helping people grow spiritually.
2. I am attaching images from an evaluation form that disciplers supposedly fill out about members. Can you please explain why these very detailed questionnaires are important?
We utilize a Goals Worksheet in our Leadership Training Class (LTC) based on Appendix 1 (Goals for Discipleship) of Dennis McCallum and Jessica Lowery’s book Organic Discipleship (2006). It’s possible someone adapted or edited this material without the authors’ knowledge. The copyrighted Goals for Discipleship is in Organic Discipleship mentioned above.
Regarding the purpose of the Goals for Discipleship, Scripture calls on believers to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). In the spirit of this passage, the Goals for Discipleship is intended to help individuals consider areas of growth in their own life and in the life of the person they are mentoring spiritually. The book encourages individuals to go through the Goals for Discipleship together with the intent of finding new ways to grow with God. It’s not a file to use as a record of behavior.
3. Regarding ministry houses, you mentioned that living in these homes have helped people overcome destructive addictions. However, when I located ministry houses, I noticed at least one had liquor bottles and drinkware on the porch. What types of addictions are you referring to?
To clarify, many have found support and freedom from drug and alcohol addictions. However, the vast majority of our members do not struggle with substance abuse.
Unlike many churches, we do not prohibit drinking alcohol when done so in moderation. After all, Jesus drank alcohol with his disciples. The Bible teaches that drunkenness is a sin (Ephesian 5:18). We discourage underage drinking and drunkenness, but we do not monitor alcohol use at our member’s private residences. A ministry house is similar to many thousands of off-campus houses where college students choose to live together.
4. It has been alleged that upwards of a dozen people might live in a single ministry house. How many people typically live in ministry houses?
Our church has been on OSU campus for 50 years, and ministry houses have been a part of that presence since the beginning. The church does not own any ministry houses.
It’s difficult to estimate how many people live in a typical ministry house, since each living arrangement is unique and negotiated between the people choosing to live together and their respective landlord.
5. I have read the personal accounts from those who identify as former members of your church at the website, xenosisacult.com. What is your response to those allegations of abuse and manipulation? Do these stories encourage central leadership to hold home church/ministry house leaders more accountable?
It’s very hard to know how to respond to anonymous stories. However, we treat claims of abuse very seriously. We are not a perfect church, but we do have many safeguards to protect members from potentially harmful leaders. A leader is required to take 1.5 years of training classes. During class, we clearly and explicitly teach the limits to leadership authority. You can see the content we cover in class on our website, Leadership and Authority in the Church. We also require home church leaders to meet regularly with a staff member at Dwell, who personally oversees their home church. When a member has a specific complaint against a leader, they can contact one of the elders or bring their complaint to a grievance board, which will investigate mistreatment and give members an opportunity to be heard. Additionally, we require each home church to have a plurality of leadership as an extra measure of oversight and accountability.
6. I’d also like to point out that when we spoke on the phone in January, you told me you were unaware of a documentary crew looking into your church. However, I have since seen emails between you and members of the crew that were exchanged prior to our conversation. Can you please help me understand this?
This has been confusing for us as well. Two individuals contacted us about a documentary, saying they work for HBO Max. Later, they clarified that they do not work for HBO Max, but are part of Spiritwatch Ministries. During a Zoom call with them, they told us that they were pitching Vice News on a documentary about our church. No representatives from Vice News have contacted us. To our knowledge, Vice News hasn’t agreed to air their documentary. We would be happy to discuss this more to clarify any miscommunication on our behalf.