I have been following The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes’ investigation into the link between The Potter’s House Church and the Eastern Freeway truck crash which killed four police in 2020. “The truck driver, Mohinder Singh, claims he raised issues about his fatigue and delusions with his boss, Simiona Tuteru, also known as Simon, who laid hands on him and prayed before they agreed Singh would drive one last load.” Tuteru is a senior leader, former missionary, and pastor within the Potter’s House.

I watched the 60 Minutes investigation and read the follow-up articles in The Age this week. It brought back all kinds of feelings and memories of my experiences with this church several decades ago.

A Little History

The Potter’s House Christian Church (not to be confused with Bishop T.D. Jakes Church in Dallas) sprung up in the early 70s during the Jesus People movement, which saw thousands of hippies come to know Jesus.

Pastor Wayman Mitchell was a pastor who experienced hippies joining his church and welcomed them with open arms. The Potter’s House was born, a church focused on evangelism through movies, concerts, and coffee shops. Over the decades, they have established over 3000 churches in the US and 120 nations.

First Encounters

After two years of drifting from Jesus, I returned to my faith in 1979 and joined the local Assemblies of God (AOG) Church. I started sharing the gospel with my friends; many came to faith in Jesus.

My first encounter with Potter’s House was in the early 1980s when an American couple, Lynn & Linda Litton, came from Perth to establish a church in Geraldton. The new church began the aggressive evangelism that Potter’s House is known for and quickly gathered a core group of young people. I attended some of their movie and concert nights, but I didn’t resonate with the ultra-American aggressive approach of Lynn Litton. Neither did I appreciate his long, drawn-out altar calls that sought to drag as many people to Jesus as possible on every occasion.

Over the next few years, some people I had led to Jesus left the AOG church and started attending Potter’s House. I remember being very disheartened about this, but I also understood because there were some profound problems within the AOG church at the time.

Major Concerns

I was not surprised by any revelations about the Potter’s House on 60 Minutes. It showed me that little or nothing had changed in the church since my experiences forty years ago.

The church I remember was legalistic, controlling, aggressive, harsh, and judgmental. The leaders used fear tactics to control the members. For example, the AOG Church I attended had a weekly prayer meeting at 6 am. Because of my work as the breakfast announcer on Geraldton’s commercial radio station, I couldn’t usually attend the prayer meeting. But I did go when I was on holiday and in town. One morning, a young guy (I’ll call him Matt) came into our prayer meeting. He was breathless and agitated. He had slept in and was freaked out that he would miss the early prayer meeting at Potter’s House (our church was closer for him to get to). Matt begged our pastor to phone Lynn Litton and let him know he had been at a prayer meeting. There were consequences that he didn’t want to endure.

Fear Tactics

As highlighted by 60 Minutes, Potter’s House engages in fear tactics to attract new members and retain existing ones. In the early 80s, they repeatedly showed the dreadful “Christian” movies circulating then. Films like A Thief in the Night, A Distant Thunder, and Image of the Beast frightened a generation of young people, myself included. If you weren’t “saved”, this is what would happen to you, and it would all happen very soon. Of course, nothing happened, but we didn’t know that then. I now know that these films are based on a bogus interpretation of the Bible that a cult leader developed.

It doesn’t surprise me that Potter’s House still uses these same tactics on impressionable people. Fear is a powerful controlling agent that churches have used for centuries. Dangling people over hell and threatening them with demonic activity is not Jesus’ way. Attributing every human ailment to personal sin and demonic control is overly simplistic and downright dangerous.

Evangelism or Exasperation?

In Geraldton, Potter’s House started an aggressive campaign of street evangelism and a constant stream of so-called revival meetings featuring American preachers. The town was already experiencing an incredible move of God, and many people were coming to Christ, but the aggressive approach by Potter’s House people got the town offside. Admittedly, their tactics worked on some people, and a few people I knew became Christians and joined Potter’s House, but people were angry that they couldn’t walk through town without being accosted by some street preacher.

But There’s More!

Time and space don’t allow me to address all my experiences in detail, so here are a few other things I witnessed:

  • Potter’s House teaches insecure salvation.

You could quickly lose your salvation; you’d have to be saved again if you sinned. I have seen this more than once.

  • Potter’s House is judgmental of other Christians.

They used a term for those of us who attended other churches. We were “Lukeys”, slang for being a lukewarm Christian. We weren’t considered full-on for Jesus like the Potter’s House Christians. I now recognise this as the gnostic pride that it is.

  • Potter’s House exerts excessive levels of control.

Members of Potter’s House were discouraged from taking holidays (holidays were for lukeys) and told not to watch television or non-Christian movies or listen to secular music. All of these were “of the devil.” And they had to attend every service, prayer meeting, revival, and outreach night.

  • Potter’s House leaders need to be more trained.

Bible Colleges and formal training were the butts of jokes at Potter’s House. Seminaries were called cemeteries because your faith would die there. As a result, the pastors I knew about were untrained and ill-equipped.

  • Potter’s House echoes some of the practices found in cults.

While Potter’s House preaches the Christian gospel, many of their beliefs and practices should ring alarm bells. In my experience, there was an emphasis on getting to know unbelievers only to evangelise them. Those who left the church were shunned; families became divided and broken. Members were encouraged to only marry within the church. They were exclusive and tended to isolate their members by keeping them busy doing “the Lord’s work.”

I understand the appeal of churches like Potter’s House, especially for young people. They are zealous, radical, and uncompromising. Many of my friends were drawn to the church in the 80s, but they have all since left for the reasons I’ve stated above. Many returned to the Geraldton AOG church, which still thrives today under new leadership. Others are active in local churches in Australia and New Zealand.

I have written this blog as an encouragement to remain vigilant. Sometimes a church can look very appealing, but watch out for warning signs and listen to your intuition and the Holy Spirit.