Church of the Highlands

Church of the Highlands Quietly Advances Controversial Pastoral Retreat Center

by Daily Banner

Church of the Highlands Quietly: Although there hasn’t been as much public information available about The Lodge Retreat Center since its September 2021 announcement, newly released images obtained by MinistryWatch reveal that work is still being done on the Church of the Highlands Grants Mill campus in Alabama.

The Lodge is a $4.5 million retreat complex where pastors, leaders, and their families would be “mentored, counseled, refreshed, and restored.” It is supported by the church’s Legacy gifts. An original leaflet describes the facility. Dino Rizzo and Chris Hodges, senior pastors of Highlands, are the visionaries behind the program. The Association of Related Churches (ARC) was founded by both of them.

Concerns about how Highlands and ARC restore morally bankrupt preachers to the pulpit with comparatively little repercussions were raised by the project. Some questioned if The Lodge would turn into a “safe place” to harbor and encourage unrepentant sin as a result of the purpose of offering atonement and redemption to broken leaders.

According to a former employee who spoke with MinistryWatch, when members expressed skepticism, the leadership compared Hodges’ approach to the Prophet Nathan addressing King David: only those with equal or more spiritual authority could dispute what God was pressing them to do. In an independent interview, a different member related a similar story and said, “We believe these people literally hear from God.”

When Hodges attempted to bring Rizzo back to his former position as senior pastor of Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after he had confessed to an extramarital affair in 2012, the idea for restoration was born. Hodges said he was unable to come up with a plan of action. “I yearned for a model to be present here so much. In 2014, he told Ministry Today, “It is a message of hope to those who have experienced some sort of moral failure or whatever.”

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Some pastors who resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment, or rape are among those who have gone through the restoration process. Among the cases are those of Caleb Treat, Josh Mauney, Jason Delgado, and Michael Hodges, the son of Hodges, who was ousted from his ministerial role at Greystone in 2017.

Micahn Carter is the example that is used the most. As part of his rehabilitation process, Carter moved to speak at Highlands after a staff member from Together Church in Washington State accused him of rape. Carter resigned and Highlands confirmed they were “no longer involved in the restoration process” as a result of the lawsuit’s escalation. Carter did, however, deliver a highly praised sermon at an ARC church in Orange County, California, in July.

The restoration plan may be similar to Hodges’ initial restoration plan for Rizzo’s reinstatement to pastoral ministry, despite the lack of a public, comprehensive description of it. 2013 saw Hodges collaborate with counselors and overseers to develop 31 standards that Rizzo was expected to meet, starting with leaving the ministry and serving as a supervising leader for a year. The measure also included therapy services provided by Emerge therapy Ministries and downtime.

In response to a question from Ministry Today regarding the benchmarks, Hodges said he could not provide specifics but did provide a list of benchmark categories: “One was in personal finance, which involves organizing your finances.” There were some in marriage, counseling, and physical health. Many of them have instructional purposes. He had books to read and seminars he had to attend.

Hodges mentioned a fellow pastor who committed suicide during a sermon at ARC’s Gather 2021 that addressed spiritual battle, sadness, comparisons, and loneliness. “Dino and I are in the middle of about 20 pastoral moral failures and restorations—right now,” he said, making a reference to burnout and melancholy.

The Pastoral Retreat Center does not scare everyone. One participant stated that the goal is to minister to these pastors in a caring manner so as to avoid the need for restoration, rather than focusing just on restoration.

Another person said they agreed with The Lodge concept if the leadership made an effort to compensate victims, report assaults, and assist law enforcement when necessary. One said that they would only support “helping these ‘fallen’ pastors deal with their guilt and to transition to new careers” if therapy and career training were provided.

There haven’t been many public information about The Lodge’s construction since the backlash of worries. While the Center was mentioned in passing on Dream Team Night in August of last year, in-depth reports are only available to Legacy members—the highest tier of financial givers. This autumn, in time for Legacy Sunday, which falls during the second week of December, is when the next private report is due.

For a response, MinistryWatch reached out to Highlands by phone and email. In response, Highlands released the following statement: “The goal of Church of the Highlands is to support pastors and their families in enhancing their integrity, marriage, and ministry. For these families, the Lodge at Grants Mill is intended to serve as a retreat setting, offering a space for training, prayer, rest, and camaraderie. The Lodge will be utilized as a venue for events as well as housing for visiting pastors.

This article was first published on MinistryWatch.

Jessica Eturralde is a freelance writer, TV host, and filmmaker who has been married to the military for eighteen years. She has three children. Yahoo, Huffington Post, and OC16TV are among the bylines.

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