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A NEW LANGUAGE

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

Vocabulary that constricts thinking

Chapter 3


Actual image from a “training” session.

Previous Chapters


"I cannot have a religious spirit around me or this church. I have to be the shepherd of this flock and ask you not to attend until the religious spirit is revealed to you through conviction of the Holy Spirit, which will bring you to a place of confession, true repentance, restitution (apologizing), and eventually and hopefully restoration into the church. If you spread this to others, it reinforces the spirit of religion and rebellion you have and non submission to the God ordained authority of this church. You are sincerely wrong and sincerely being led by the enemy right now." - Jon Feldschau 10.31.13

I said that. Over the phone. To a caring and loving church member who was wise and discerning. They were trying to tell me not to merge with Neal and Amie. And I regret saying it with everything inside me. But I won't sugarcoat anything in this blog or paint myself as someone who always did the right thing. I was part of the problem. I didn't step up when needed most. We jump back in time. Pre church merge. It's the fall of 2013. When God fearing and loyal congregants were sharing their concerns about the merge. And I fought them all. My weapon of choice? Powerful insider language. This post is about New Language: using biblical language in an abusive and controlling way to coerce people. Some of it was my fault and I will admit it and take ownership over it.


But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't asked to say those words to the loving church member.

For those who know me, the first paragraph in this post doesn't sound like something I'd say, even when angry. But within the first few months of knowing Neal and Amie, I already wanted to impress them with how I could handle tough situations with "power and authority". I wanted to prove how I had their back: loyalty. Please know I'm not placing blame on them, this was all me, but I wanted their approval; I needed to fit in, to show I was loyal.


Post by Amie, October 2022

A Note to Current Preston Followers

Some of you are reading this, against their recommendation, and know what I'm talking about. You're part of the "inner-circle" and have been instructed to ignore and to not read these posts...because I'm the enemy, or satan's b*tch, or a python, snake, anti-christ, devil's weapon etc...but you're still here...and it's ok. Some have already threatened physical violence against me this week. Please also know that by reading this you will not be coerced to the dark side or led down the wide path to destruction. That's not how it works. Even if that's what you've been taught or told. But you might be exiled from the cult...


A recent text sent to their following after people began "outing" their behavior online.

No weapon or lie. The cult leader is never wrong. Even when misquoting scripture. God is on their side. Side note: After this "insider" text was publicly shared on Facebook, they went through and unsubscribed a lot of people from their text group. Tighten the inner circle. However, if you'd like to subscribe to their texts and see what they post, just text "church" to (760) 388-7495 and you'll be signed up immediately, just like I am.


I'm also aware that some of you casually attend, are friends from a distance, aren't part of the "inner-circle" or have never experienced any of this. Good for you! Stay on the outside. Please. Because here is what happens when you cross the threshold...


Characteristics of a Cult


This word: CULT. It's been dropped since week one and hasn't received a proper introduction.

"Hello readers, I'm a cult, nice to meet you."

It's a heavy word, with a lot of interpretation. Through all the websites, books, research articles, documentaries, podcasts, counselors, professors, and therapists I've studied and learned from...this is the best list I have. Found on study.com. Their content is italicized and not edited. Although I did underline their second to last sentence.


Experts have determined a long list of characteristics of a cult to help people determine whether they or someone they know is part of a cult religious practice or political group. The following cult criteria and cult behaviors are the best way to determine what makes a cult:

  • A charismatic leader: Cults always follow a charismatic leader, living or dead, whose teachings are considered of the highest importance. This leader may be considered a genius, or may be considered a religious figure like a messiah or prophet.

  • Ideological purity: Members are strongly discouraged from questioning the cult's doctrine and any doubts are met with shame or punishment.

  • Conformity and control: Cult leaders often exercise an extreme degree of control over members' lives, including dictating what they can wear and eat and what kinds of relationships they can have. Conformity is also enforced by group members who police one another.

  • Mind-altering practices: Sleep deprivation, chanting, meditation, and drugs are often used to break down individuals' defenses and make them more susceptible to cult ideology.

  • Isolation and love-bombing: It is common for people in cults to be encouraged to cut contact with outsiders, including close family members. Within the cult, new members are often subjected to love-bombing, a practice where new initiates are showered with love and praise to bring them deeper into the cult and foster a sense of belonging.

  • Us-vs-them mentality: Cult members are often encouraged to see the cult as superior to life on the outside and to feel that those outside the cult lack understanding or insight.

  • Apocalyptic thinking: Preparation for a supposed apocalypse or cataclysmic event is a major characteristic of many cults, especially cult religions.

  • Time and energy: Followers are expected to dedicate huge amounts of time and energy (and often money) to the cult to the exclusion of their own lives, interests, jobs, and families.

One thing to keep in mind when looking through the traits of a cult is that a cult and a religious movement are not the same thing. Most religious movements do not isolate their practitioners from family, engage in love-bombing, encourage illegal and dangerous behaviors, or attempt to strongly control their members. Some cults position themselves as religious groups, but the distinction is important.


Is the hair sticking up on the back of your neck?

That last sentence really brings it home:

Some cults position themselves as religious groups, but the distinction is important.


I have a red face full of shame and anger. Once on the outside it's easy to see how the definition applies to what Neal and Amie are currently leading and also how they've led people, including myself, for years. After talking this week to ex-members who had experiences with them over a decade ago, the pattern has been consistent and very cult like.


But for those reading this from afar, let's break down what they are doing with the above definition of a cult as our guide:

  1. Charismatic Leader: Check. One of my first meetings in this valley was with a wise pastor in Kernville who has since moved to another church. He took me out to lunch at a Mexican restaurant, my weakness. He encouraged me, laughed with me, but before the meal was over leaned in across the table, lowered his voice, and gave me the following warning: Be very careful with the Prestons. They are slick, smooth talkers, convincing, and many have been hurt by what they are doing. This was 2013. I didn't listen, but he was right. It's the same warning I hear others give often. It's easy to believe something that sounds so good when someone so confident and believable is saying it. But it doesn't make it true.

  2. Ideological Purity: Check. Do not question the leader or be labeled as a Pharisee, as one who carries a religious spirit, or as one acting in rebellion. Don't believe me? Continue watching from the message I shared last week...do you see it?

  3. Conformity and Control: Check. We were even told what we could wear and couldn't wear on stage during services...see pic below. But with a much more serious tone, relationships, even marriage engagements, were asked to be severed for the "greater good".

  4. Mind Altering Practices: Check. As we take a deeper dive in later weeks you'll see how each service ended in a "declaration" chant and promoted On Track...you couldn't be a church member without being "On Track". But since we are referencing March 11, 2018's service quite a bit, below you'll see the video of that day's declaration. The words on screen are not bad, but in the context that day, we were the accusers, the rebellious, from Satan, and everyone chanted along.

  5. Isolation & Love-Bombing: Check. If you've kept up on this blog, you've already heard some of these stories. There are more to come.

  6. Us-vs-Them Mentality: Check. Each step deeper into the inner circle of trust and loyalty draws a harder and harder line. Choose us or be punished or thrown out. Also, more to come...

  7. Apocalyptic Thinking: Check. It's all about the new "mission" at hand. A 9-1-1 mission so to speak. Right now. We must act. This is the thing that will change our world that is ending soon. Let's list the missions just for fun-zees: Hear Us, Enforum, Joe's House, All For One, Triplefect, On Track, On Track Living Academy, Reco-Mission, Pioneer Preschool, Youth Group, Montessori, PYG (Play Your Game), Weekly Podcast, Protect the Kids. How many of those are still in existence?

  8. Time and Energy: Check. This one kills me. How many people have been asked to quit their jobs, great jobs, for the mission at hand? Many. Forest Service jobs, Firefighter jobs, college scholarships, jobs in education, etc. Add that to the hundreds of hours I wasted inside meetings with charts, graphs, shapes, and made up words. Where did it all go? Nowhere. A pastor once said, "If Satan can't make you bad, he'll make you busy."

Sunday wardrobe attire required to be on stage.


Safe People

At this point you might be wondering how anyone could be attracted to this in the first place? Every cult seeks out broken and/or damaged people. People who want safety, security, and love. A family. Enter the Safe People Selector. A "tool" designed by Neal & Amie that helps you, a hurt person, identify and eliminate "harmful people" from your life. Now, I take responsibility for this, yet again. I introduced them to a book by author Henry Cloud: Safe People. Cloud's books have sold nearly 20 million copies and truly do help people. However, any book can be dangerous in the hands of the wrong reader. It can be misquoted and advice can be twisted. Such is the case here. If you'd like to download a free copy of Neal & Amie's Safe People Selector, you can do so here.

Graphic from nealandamie.com

Here are the cliff notes.

  • The title: Neal & Amie's Safe People Selector

  • The ask: Pick a relationship and gauge it on their 4 "proprietary" characteristics: Authenticity, Truthfulness, Transparency, Helpfulness.

So far, ok, sounds like a good time. Judge people. But the idea of not allowing harmful people to harm you, it makes total sense. However, carefully read how almost every question under their 4 characteristics is a LEADING or LOADED question. What do I mean by that? Here's an example of each:

  • NON LEADING QUESTION: Is this person honest with you?

  • LEADING QUESTION: Are they the real deal, or are they always trying to be someone they are not?

See the difference? The second question is directly from their Safe People Selector and can put doubt in your mind about another's "true motives". I believe it LEADS the hurt person down a path of mistrust with anyone outside the cult. Here's more examples straight from their Safe People Selector:

  • Will they take the truth and then turn around and trash you with it, behind your back?

  • Does it seem like their motivation is a cover up for a hidden agenda?

  • Do they deliberately withhold facts or details that would make a difference to you?

  • Is it all about them?

And here is their advice once the hurt person identifies or "labels" someone in their life as unsafe, "keep them at a surface level, this will save you from unnecessary pain".


Video clip taken from May 19, 2019. Triplefect church posted this edit on their Facebook page.


"Let's be good with being in a shelter. If you don't have people around you that are gonna make you feel safe, ditch 'em, kick 'em to the curb...Jesus modeled that." - Amie Preston May 19, 2019

Let me be the first to say, I don't believe Jesus modeled that. Which leads me to believe that if their "Jesus" modeled that...they might worship someone different. Cultish theology and vocabulary that constricts thinking.


Deep Breath Everyone

We have a long way to go. I don't throw heavy words around lightly. When I say cult, it's heavy. And now you understand why. This is all heavy. And please hear the following...


No one joins a cult. They join a movement, church, or family on mission. And no one leading a cult admits it's a cult.

And...

This blog is written each week. The entirety was not produced in advance. The reason: for one, it takes a lot for me to open up the history and dive in. It hurts. Every single time I open this wound. Even after healing, there is still a scar and I'm realizing how tender it is to the touch.


Plus, I'm hearing story after story of brokenness, hurt, and pain that has not been acknowledged or dealt with, including death...that story is developing...The wreckage is far more than I ever imagined. And it's not even close to a conclusion...


The Push for Power


Time jump. We are back in 2015. Neal wants to be CEO...of the church. The Elite 8 (Atchisons, Prestons, Nashes, Feldschaus) sat in meeting after meeting about organizational structure, business structure, and heard that only one person should truly sit atop the throne: Neal. Yet we were co-pastors. But starting in 2015 Neal couldn't wrap his head around shared leadership anymore. There had to be one "the buck stops here" person. That wasn't what we signed up for and it wasn't what we sold to the church members. Seemed extremely narcissistic.


In a later post we will dive into narcissism. But for now, here's a quick explanation:


Narcissists are never wrong. You know the type.

They don't need to apologize. They blame. They move on. Here's way to test a person for narcissism. Ask these three simple questions (tongue in cheek):

  • What is your website address? NEALANDAMIE.COM

  • What pictures and names are the largest on your published works? YOUR OWN FACES (Their "discipleship journal" has multiple full page pictures of them)

  • Have you ever heard them apologize for anything? NOPE


Inside cover of their “Traction Planner”

If the answer is your own first names, your own faces and no...well...as Jeff Foxworthy says...they might be a...narcissist.


2015 was the beginning of the end, and yet it seemed like it was still the beginning. It was also the first full year we saw true colors come out. And they weren't pretty. The "On Track" agenda was in full swing and I spent way too much time promoting the propaganda. As I listen back to recorded sermons, leadership meetings, and emails I sent; it makes me sick.


But I also think: Did I really believe all that? I must have. Now I'd analyze it as 80% belief, 20% daddy issues. Thank you therapy. But either way, I was in deep. For those who are reading this post and have no idea what I mean by "On Track"...count yourself fortunate. But it will be explained soon as the main way this cult manipulates and controls it's followers.


"I should be CEO"

To this day I've never heard another pastor refer to himself as a CEO, apparently Neal tried to be the first. And, as the Elite 8 (none of us actually referred to ourselves this way) sat and listened to the pitch, nothing made sense. And no one agreed to it. Which just infuriated the future CEO. James Ranger, pastor of New Life Church in Bakersfield, was brought in to help us come to an agreement. I truly thought he was neutral and was present to help both of us, until years later (after we left the Foursquare church in 2018), when he came to Faith Community to preach a message about trusting Neal and Amie. His true intentions and bias were revealed...watch below...





He referred to them as "nearly perfect". James has since pulled his church out of the Foursquare denomination after his best friend Bill (our Supervisor) was apparently removed as a pastor and leader with Foursquare. That is someone else's story. But for now...those of you trying to follow along with the new character developments...just know this: no one was crowned CEO in 2015.


There were layers of emotional abuse that began to reveal themselves.


Emotional Abuse vs. Conflict

(copied from Safe Horizon's Website)

To understand emotional abuse, we need to understand the difference between emotional abuse and normal conflict.


Conflict is a normal part of any relationship and is a healthy way for two people to express emotions, identify an issue, and have a chance to talk through whatever issue is bothering them.


Emotional abuse involves nonphysical behavior that belittles another person and can include insults, put down, verbal threats or other tactics that make the victim feel threatened, inferior, ashamed or degraded.



Neal began to think of himself as superior in leadership. He would often talk down to me, label me as someone who "settles" and doesn't "pioneer", and refer to himself as "the tip of the spear". If I came in with a new plan or program, it was either "part of his vision first" or "was in direct violation to the mission". His ideas were the best ideas; his vision and direction were the only ways to lead the church. In nearly every meeting he took control. He would say he "heard from God" and ask me if I had something different I "heard from God". When I would respond with no, because I hadn't heard directly from the creator of the universe, he would run with his God-idea or program. And I let it happen. If I raised questions too often, it would get ugly and James Ranger would come to town, sit us down, and ask us to play nice. Below is an email I sent Neal after one such occasion on 6/23/15. It's a big one...

(Click on the arrow to expand)


Email Sent to Neal 6/23/15

I really wanted things to work out, wanted to keep the peace, wanted to just get along. I was emotionally drained and began thinking: "maybe I am less of a leader, maybe I am a settler, maybe I'm not suppose to be a senior pastor....maybe... So I compromised my own leadership voice. I gave in to nearly every new mission. I cowered instead of standing up. And when I asked for advice from my "neutral mentor", James would reinforce that he believed Neal was a "one in a thousand" high caliber leader, leaving me to question myself even more.


I believe this began a two year itch for even more power...bring on the four year old children...

Pioneer Preschool


Nothing says "we want to influence the next generation" like an institution for preschoolers. Here is the story. As time goes on I can understand the motivation behind initiatives started by the Prestons. But at this point, I fully believed it was a genuine heart for children. Jessica was our preschool director until Amie illegally demoted her to teacher...then removed her completely. Here is the quick but important story. And it's not pretty. Jessica, her husband Chris, and I, got to chat about all of it again this week. And parts were difficult to relive. I treated them badly. I talked over them, didn't take their concerns to heart, and in the end, watched another family walk away in pain. Let's skip to the quote from Neal and work backwards from there.


"You are being insubordinate Jessica"

Insubordinate /ˌinsəˈbôrdənət/

adjective

defiant of authority; disobedient to orders.


What grievous thing had Jessica done to deserve this? She questioned authority. While on a quick trip out of state our Preschool Director received word that Amie had been changing and moving things in the preschool classroom; as well as removing Jessica's office and converting it into a homeschool room for her own children. When Jessica asked Amie about it, her response was, "The kids are happier now". Not an apology, justification. After Jessica put her blood, sweat, and tears into building a successful preschool program for six months, she's out one day, and everything had been changed, without warning. Parents were upset that things had changed as well, they informed Jessica, and in turn Jessica informed Amie. What happened next is par for the course. Neal calls Jessica and tells her, "You're not coming in to work tomorrow, we need to meet and discuss your future and position here." When Jessica asked why, Neal responded by calling her insubordinate. How dare she question God's anointed preschool leader? It didn't make sense. It still doesn't. As hurtful as it was, we had to laugh a little on the phone the other day, because it's so absurd. Jessica went on to list all she was doing well, the list was extensive. Neal didn't budge. He never does. She was being demoted from director to teacher and now Amie would be the (dictator) director. So Jessica tendered her resignation, not wanting to be a part of a program that would be operating illegally, as Amie didn't have the credentials to run a legitimate preschool.


Why tell this story? Because it shows how over and over the Prestons treated people that questioned even the most simple of things. And it shows how I did nothing to stop it. They were treated like threats, instantly shunned, outsiders. Us vs. Them.


Much of 2016 was the same struggle. Here's one of my journal entries as an example.

(Click on the arrow to expand)


Journal Entry: Big Deal Issues - 3-25-16

That journal entry says it all. I am beat down, tired, full of regret, and damaged.

3 Months Later...It's June 23rd, 2016. A normal Thursday. With extremely high winds. A small fire ignited near Erskine Creek Road...within hours we had to evacuate from our home. Two weeks later all hell broke loose. A clash of both money and power...


Footnote: As always, Jessica & Chris have read their story in this chapter and approved it's release. And they invited us to visit them in Texas. Can't wait for that trip.


My Ask

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