Thursday, December 11, 2014

Partial Redemption: Three Elders from Coast Hills Church Share Positive Impressions of Ex-Pastor

Last night, about 25 folks from Coast Hills Church met with three members of the board of elders at a private home in Laguna Niguel. They were there to justify their decision to fire pastor Ken Baugh. Ironically, they ended up releasing information regarding their own bylaw violations along with positive information that reinforced the case that they unjustly dismissed Baugh.  

The elders at the meeting included Greg Holmes, Bill Nixon and Rhoads Martin. One of those questions brought up the issue of term limits for elder board members. At Coast Hills Church, elders are limited to two (2) three (3) year terms. The elders indicated that they have not been following these regulations. The Coast Hills Church website, by the way, indicates that Gary Luke, a roofing contractor, has served as the chairman of the elder board for at least 12 consecutive years.  

For a quick look at what Ken Baugh is doing for our community right now, please check out the website for his The Institute for Discipleship Training. This website will show you the wonderful creativity, compassion for others, and intense scholarship which informs Baugh's ministry even today.


As far as I am concerned, the failure of the board of elders - including Gary Luke - to follow and enforce our church's bylaws is a terrible sin. It strikes me as a sign of considerable arrogance. For the elders at this meeting to suggest that their selfish desire to hold on to power over the rest of us - in violation of the Coast Hills Community Church bylaws - is somehow consistent with God's will is too bizarre to consider from a Biblical perspective. 

The good news for Baugh is that the elders saw absolutely nothing wrong with his service morally, ethically, or spiritually. In fact, they liked him so much that they even considered giving him a lower paying "teaching only" job. This is quite interesting since the Bible tells us that teaching is the primary skill required of church leaders. See, 1 Timothy 5:17 English Standard Version (ESV) which states:
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
Another bit of good news for Baugh is he had surprised them with his performance in the job of senior pastor. Initially, the elders had only expected him to last two years on the job. This was due to the challenge of taking over church leadership from the charismatic Denny Bellisi. Apparently, Baugh's level of success as both a manager and teacher impressed them. They kept Baugh on for almost a decade.

In general, the feedback I have received from those who attended this meeting is that they were still disappointed by the elder board's decision. For example, I received the following note from one of the attendees:
We are still stunned by the abrupt announcement and loss of an excellent pastor/teacher. Even after a meeting with three of the elders last night at our D-Group, (we) are not convinced of any solid basis for this decision. Trusting that God has better plans for Ken, and that we can continue to learn from his deep knowledge of the Word. In the meantime, I'm on Yelp looking for a new church that has similar substance to continue to inspire our Christian walk.
At the meeting, the grief over the loss of Baugh was painfully apparent. A number of people were openly crying. One lady expressed sorrow about Ken Baugh's absence, and said she only wished that she could have had a chance to say goodbye to him before he left. Among those who found solace in this gathering, I can report that they are grateful these three elder board members seemed to be open to new ideas and improved communications.  

For now, however, it is plain to me that the elder board does not understand that they made a devastating mistake. 

As a former business school professor, it strikes me that they are relying on magical thinking to distract themselves from the painful reality that they did immense damage to Baugh's national reputation by abruptly and recklessly dismissing him. Through this decision, they humiliated a beloved pastor and permanently scarred his national reputation. They also gravely harmed Coast Hills Church as an institution. They sent an unfortunate message that they apparently have as little respect for their pastors as they do for their bylaws.

Coast Hills is not a cult. In my view, the fact that the elder board is violating the portion of God's truth contained in the Coast Hills Church bylaws is cause for the rest of us to demand their immediate resignations. Rule breakers like Gary Luke and his fellow elders are bad examples to the rest of us. They are unworthy of leading our church. If they insist that breaking the rules is the new normal, then I will not be eating any of that elder chili.

John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.


  1. Dear Dr. Drew,

    I share your chagrin over the loss of Ken.
    Unfortunately, the Coast Hills Elders’ decision to terminate Ken damaged a great many of us. For a decade, we called Coast Hills our church home and grew dramatically under Ken’s passionate love of our Lord. Today, hundreds of our brothers and sisters in Christ are rudderless thanks to the elders’ failure to consider the ramifications of their decisions. Explanations such as “Ken lacked leadership” or “There is more to this decision than we can discuss” are insulting and simply unacceptable. As elders, their role is to guide, nurture and educate the congregation while protecting our best interests.

    Personally, I have always questioned the issue of elder tenure. The bylaws define term limits for a reason. Unfortunately, I believe their decision regarding Ken punctuates the importance of elder term limits. Nothing good comes from entrenched leadership that feels immune and detached from the body they have been chosen to represent. From my point-of-view, Coast Hills Elders failed to look after the best interests of a great many people.

    In my opinion, these men misrepresented their motives and failed to act in the body’s best interest. Whether absorbed by pride or simply lulled into complacency as a consequence of serving too long in their role as elders, these men failed to recognize that their duty is to represent us. They have failed to acknowledge that we are deserving of a voice in significant matters effecting the church.

    Certainly operational decisions such as new video screens or paint color don’t need or require input from the body. But, terminating our beloved Senior Pastor for no clear cause demands transparency. The days of decision making behind closed doors in smoke filled rooms under the guise of “doing what’s best for the church” is simply unacceptable.

    It is unfortunate that our paths did not cross at Coast Hills. I would have enjoyed the opportunity to get to know you.

    If you care to connect over a cup of coffee, feel free to email me at

    Best Regards and Blessings to you and Your Family

    Thomas Banks

  2. Thank you for your insightful comments. I'll send you an e-mail now. Some day in the future, I expect that the way Coast Hills handled dismissing Ken Baugh will become a case study in how to do it wrong.

  3. Wow. I'm searching for a good Church that focuses on the teachings of the Bible & am so glad for this feedback as this is one Church I already detest. They're like our government and all elders need to be removed.

  4. Was searching for a Christ based Church & want to thank you for your posts as this is a Church that is like our government - everyone in charge needs to go as their priorities are on their own pocketbooks and betterment. What a shame. Whats worse is these elders behavior in the eyes of our Lord. God help them. Pray for them that they may see their ignorance and greed and repent.

  5. Ken was paid a yearly salary including housing, vehicle, and clothing bonuses of nearly $340,000. Ken insisted the Elders remain on the board, and confirmed this at numerous staff meetings. When staff were laid-off or had their salaries reduced, Ken took pay RAISES. ITS ALL A FACT. This can be verified by viewing the accounting statements upon request. That's what we did. I confronted Ken about his outrageous salary, and his 2-day-work-week, he refused to discuss it.


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